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Day One of SOCAP12 Highlights Women's Role in the Future of Impact Investing

Image credit: Nick Gower

SOCAP got off to a strong start yesterday — with an unusually heavy focus on social change strategy and tools, for a conference known for its networking and inspiring speakers. Even with my experience with impact investing, I was learning about new ways to connect with investors, accelerate social enterprises and unlock capital for social change. Here are my highlights from Day One:

SOCAP '12

Jackie VanderBrug (founder of Women Effect Investments): During the morning mix of SOCAP celebrities and heroes, Jackie’s presentation stood out with an even mix of passion and detailed sensibility. She focused on an overreaching theme of the week, gender lens investing — putting capital to work to advance women and girls and explained that, “Gender lens is not a screen, but a tool to illuminate opportunities, increase impact and drive financial returns. … This isn’t about taking half of the population off the table.” She also quoted the World Bank: “Gender equality is smart economics.”

Joel Solomon (Renewal2) & Kristin Hull (Hull Family Foundation): Although thought-leader Patrick Gleeson (Meyer Family Enterprises) was scheduled yet absent from contributing to this panel on Whole-Portfolio Activation to Mission, Solomon and Hull gave excellent examples of successful and not-so-successful strategies to generate impact throughout their whole portfolios.

Hull shared her experience transitioning her family foundation to 100% for impact in less than one year (maybe she should join the Investing Pledge) and finding tools to the dominant paradigm that is our biggest obstacle. She even shared what she considers could be opportunity on the brink of failure, doubling down on a N. California solar company that she may soon be managing. But moderator Marian Moore (of Play Big) reminded us of the Hopi prayer that tells us, “Don’t look outside yourself for a leader.”

L-R: Marian Moore, Kristin Hull, Joel Solomon

Solomon, even with the incredible progress that he has made with Renewal2 (moving $100s of millions for impact) set his sights for the future. He plans to continue to engage (billions of dollars) investment models and strategies to support people and organizations that are taking risks and being pioneers.

Sister Corinne Florek (Dominican Sister): Of the tribe that originated Impact Investing as SRI over 30 years ago, Sister Corinne Florek brought guts and class to the CDFI discussion. CDFIs (Community Development Financial Institutions) provide credit and financial services to underserved local communities. CDFIs have a requirement to be extra-transparent, since they receive federal funding, have an IRS designation, and must be audited. Sister Florek reminded us that SRI started with Bob Swann protesting WWII, as a “moral imperative” trying to find an economic model where we don’t need war. Tough questions were asked, such as “Why do we need a market rate of return when our money also does good?” and “Why are there not close to 50% women on boards even when an organization’s mission is to empower women?”

Near a war cry, she demanded impact metrics, saying, “If you don’t push social impact accountability, they won’t do it,” and “Will you finally join me on this walk?”

Jonah Sachs (Free Range Studios): With the release of his latest book, and internet movie (Winning the Story Wars), Sachs shared his insight in building the brand and message around The Story of Stuff at Free Range Studios. The Story of Stuff gradually reached 20 million viewers, but when Grocery Store Wars reached 20 million in weeks, their clients did not have the capacity to harness the enthusiasm for social change. He cautioned against too much attention to scale; rather that entrepreneurs should focus on a strategy where everything they do carries their story. Lastly, he reminded us to stay mission-focused by realizing that “the hero is your audience,” and entrepreneurs should ask “what values can you share with them.”

Entrepreneur Spotlight

SOCAP welcomes more than 100 scholarshipped entrepreneurs from around the world to this year’s conference. Volunteer Sara Day Evans, who is also here to talk about Prosperity Collective, her social impact accelerator for innovations in farming, forestry, fiber, and fuel, has been living with them in the Fort Mason Hostel, connecting them with mentors and impact investors, and generally ensuring that they have a great SOCAP.

One entrepreneur that particularly resonated with me was Dana Frasz of Food Shift, which is working to solve the problem of food waste: “The extent to which we are wasting so much food in this country is putting a huge strain on our planet and our global resources. We have an enormous opportunity to shift all this waste into something positive for our communities. We believe we can create the next service sector as part of the green economy by investing in food-waste reduction. 

"In addition to an educational awareness campaign, Food Shift is launching a bicycle food recovery program in Oakland that will save businesses money, create jobs and feed the hungry. We are looking for sustainable brands that believe food waste is an urgent issue and can help amplify the message, to purchase advertising on our bike trailers to help us launch our job training program, and to sponsor our work toward a more just and sustainable food system.“

Tune in tomorrow for Steve Tiell's special report and highlights from Day Two.


Nick's experience has centered around socially and environmentally focused investment management, analysis, and outreach. At HIP investor Nick manages corporate and private venture evaluations and related consulting, client development and market research, and industry-wide awareness-building. Prior to HIP, Nick consulted… [Read more about Nick Gower]


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