Postcard from SOCAP

SOCAP is like drinking from a fire hose.”

I was told this several times prior to attending my first SOCAP.

Now in its eighth year, SOCAP (Social Capital Markets) is the largest gathering of social entrepreneurs, non-profits, impact investors and philanthropists. Held at Fort Mason Center, a former waterfront Army post in the Marina district of San Francisco, SOCAP15 mixed plenary sessions, side meetings at outdoor picnic tables, thought-provoking breakouts, and food truck-laden receptions.

The 2700 attendees were solutions-focused, global learners, and provocative thinkers. These weren’t people who had all the right answers. They want to ask the right questions.

I felt right at home.

So with an open mind and a ton of questions, I jumped into the spray of the fire hose.

Here’s my SOCAP15 top 10 list:

1. Pragmatic Impact Investing. “Is impact investing an asset class?” “Is Modern Portfolio Theory (MPT) still modern?” These are hearty and pragmatic questions. I relished hearing experienced investment leaders explore them. Because I’ve been asking them myself.

While I’m a traditionally trained investment professional, impact investing just makes sense to me. I decided the best way to learn more was to become an impact investor.

In doing so, the classic definitions I’ve been trained in make less sense. Judging by the packed room for a SOCAP breakout session on the topic, I don’t think I’m alone.

Mid-session, it struck me that this was the first time I’d seen a four-woman investment panel (outside of the cliché “women in investing” panel). For this session, top impact investment minds was the chief criteria. And this panel delivered.

2. Gender Lens investing. I still have much to learn about gender lens investing. I do know there’s much data to support it. But what is it, exactly? I’ll dig into this more in the future, but for now, I’ll say this:

It’s not about counting women as workers, leaders, or consumers. It’s bigger than that.

Gender shapes how men and women relate to each other. So given its importance in society and culture, we should consider it in finance in the same way we’ve incorporated behavioral investing. A whitepaper “State of the Field of Gender Lens Investing” was released during SOCAP and said it best– “At its core, gender lens investing incorporates a gender analysis into financial analysis in order to get to better outcomes.”

3. Deval + Deborah = New Phase for Impact Investing. Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick recently joined Bain Capital to build out Bain’s social impact investment platform. Blackrock, the world’s largest asset management firm, hired former Robin Hood Foundation president Deborah Winshel to launch BlackRock Impact.

When Deval and Deborah were on stage together, I thought “This is big.”

While there’s some fear of the “big players” diluting impact investing’s “impact,” I’m not concerned. Bigger players, assets, and expertise will help all of us flush out the multiple flavors of impact investing.

4. What’s Your Story? Company, non-profit, or individual, you need to nail your story. It doesn’t just happen. It’s strategically planned, carefully crafted, and designed for your intended outcome.

I attended a packed session with Hatch, a concierge to storytelling tools. While their free service is designed for social enterprises, its application is much broader. I’ve already shared with two clients, and I’m running my own story through their process.

5. Social Capital Matters. kountable helps entrepreneurs in developing countries like Rwanda turn their social capital into financial capital. So imagine how fun it was for me to partner with the entrepreneurial kountable team to help them leverage their social capital and bring an innovative investment offering to impact-minded investors at SOCAP.

While “impact investing” is still being defined, it feels almost synonymous with private equity investing, especially when in Africa and Asia.

And that’s a huge opportunity for kountable– mixing a technology platform with short-term trade finance, kountable brings something unique to both entrepreneurs and investors.

6. SOCAP TV. If you know me, you know I love TED Talks. So I’m thrilled that SOCAP videotaped their own.

Over three days, 48 speakers delivered creative, bite-size presentations on the Fort Mason improv theatre stage. It’s a brilliant programming addition, designed to keep ideas following post-conference; SOCAP will share each one on their social media platform throughout the upcoming year (get on the SOCAP email list).

If all of the SOCAP TV pitches were all as creative, funny, and impassioned as the two I saw by Andy Lower of ADAP Capital “Getting **it Done: the Four Hour Due Diligence” and Philip Berber of Enable Impact “Can Impact Investing Learn from Online Dating?”…well, then I can’t wait!

7. A Panoramic View of Impact Investing. Fran Seegull is Chief Investment Officer of ImpactAssets and Cathy Clark is Director of CASE i3 at Duke University. I’m already a fan of Fran’s work, so I’ll mention Cathy’s.

Knowing that it’s difficult for social entrepreneurs to translate what they are doing to what investors want, CASE has crafted a series of free online learning modules. They are also allowing impact ventures, impact investors, and advisors to beta test Smart Impact Capital modules. I’ve signed up—it’s a great way to learn more.

8. Bravery in Virunga. I somehow missed that Prince Emmanuel de Merode would be among SOCAP’s plenary session speakers. When he walked on stage, my brain snapped out of impact investing mode. I refocused on the words of a man who brought me to tears when I watched the movie Virunga before gorilla trekking in Rwanda this Spring. Prince Emmanuel is bravery. He is humility, love and perseverance.

The illegal exploitation of resources is the underlying driver for a Congolese civil war in which over six million people have died. It’s the most tragic war in terms of human suffering since WWII.

See the movie, and click on the links above. Let’s make the Prince’s visit worthwhile.

9. The Demise of ESG Funds. I’m a huge fan of SASB (Sustainable Accounting Standards Board), which is developing sustainability standards to help public companies disclose material information for investor decision-making. I’m not alone– their leadership was applauded in virtually every investment-oriented session I attended.

When public companies are required to report financial and sustainability standards, and both are used to identify the most investment-worthy companies, we won’t need specialty ESG (environmental, social, and governance) and sustainable investing funds. Morningstar is also pitching in, launching ESG scoring for all global mutual and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

I ran into a former colleague at SOCAP and shared my hope that the ESG fund he manages gets merged away. It will be his success– and all of our success– when these factors are just a part of long-term investment decision making.

10. I Heart San Francisco. San Francisco is an amazing city. It is my love, it is my home. But there was something extra special about having friends from across the country and the world in my own neighborhood. The “October Summer” weather was epic. The U.S. Navy Blue Angels were flying overhead. And on the last night of the conference, the jaw-dropping sunset over the Golden Gate Bridge made everyone halt their conversations to concentrate on their cell phones.

It’s OK. It made for the perfect SOCAP postcard.

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Jodi Morris Written by:

Venture Guide to High-Achieving Seekers. Success Coach. Venture Travel Curator. Impact Investor. Traveler. Writer. Global Connector. When we connect to others' stories it changes our own. Let's Venture!