SoCap, Social Investing and Africa

This past week has been incredible. First BarCamp Africa at the Googleplex, then the inaugural SoCap (social capital) conference in SF. My mind is still spinning with ideas. Amazing and inspiring people, tremendous opportunities, so much to be encouraged and enthused about...I moderated a BarCamp panel on social, cultural, political and development issues in Africa. A fabulous diversity of perspectives -- from documentary filmmaker Amie Williams' experiences of the Kenyan political violence through the eyes of a teenage girl, to Joseph Nganga's efforts at alternative energy and rural needs thanks to companies like Vipani, to Josh Goldstein's work with Google regarding internet policy and the specific needs of Africa (and a Fletcherite like me!), to Ken Banks' initiative to deploy technology to community health workers and hospitals in rural areas, to Kjerstin Erikson's organization FORGE that works with post-conflict refugees in Zambia and beyond. Other highlight breakout sessions included an African music and dance journey, brainstorming about the likes of the XPrize, and taking an extraordinary Google Maps adventure above, below and around the continent.Less than 48 hours later, I found myself at SoCap. Along with some 700+ other people -- double the original capacity, from what I understand -- packing into Fort Mason and eager to meet others interested in going "beyond microfinance" and pushing the double bottom line and social investment envelopes further.There were more than 50 breakout sessions organized by the SoCap team, plus an unconference day facilitated by Jerry Michalski. Particularly noteworthy organized sessions included New Spin on Old World Development, Design in the Developing World, Venture Philanthropy and International Government Investment, Sustainable Energy Investments for the BOP, New African Capital and Scaling US Social Enterprise (that's only a small fraction of what was on tap). The day was capped off by an engaging, challenging Oxford-style debate regarding whether profit maximization is the best way to reach and assist the poor. I lost count of how many times I heard the word "philanthrocapitalism"...I must say -- and not only because of my connection to Jerry :-) -- that the unconference day was the best of all. Not only because it allowed participants to own and direct the discussions themselves, but also because this format finally provided "something different" at this type of conference. A forum to connect with others on one's own terms and with one's own thoughts in the open. A chance to let discussions take tangents, which 99% of the time lead to even better things. An opportunity around every corner to be surprised, challenged and reminded about the myriad avenues to build community.A sampling of the unconference sessions I attended (can we say, custom-tailored to what's most relevant to me these days?!):

  • "Legal / structuring 101" for social investing (including VC folks, entrepreneurs and a few lawyers for good measure)
  • Social impact metrics and measurement parameters
  • Franchising social enterprises (including e.g., microfranchising)
  • Fortune 500 companies: Can they innovate via social investment?
  • Social investment in Africa
  • Alternative exits, with an emphasis on legacy

I'm looking forward to staying in touch with so many people from SoCap (big question: might we work together someday?) and look forward to SoCap 2009 already. As for BarCamp Africa, I'm not sure if it's an annual event but definitely think it should be -- and its relevance will be felt again quite soon, as exactly 3 weeks from today I'll be Ethiopia-bound!