In its 15th year and the first in partnership with Sorenson Impact Center, SOCAP22 brought together more than 2,000 attendees from over 35 countries. Presenters, entrepreneurs, investors and changemakers gathered with intention and enthusiasm, committed to taking action.
Over the course of the four-day event, the “moments to movements” themes were prevalent as attendees focused on the interconnectedness of global systems and the need for capital to flow at a greater scale and speed to support solutions and innovations. Below are key takeaways from the event, highlighting how the impact community is working together from across systems, sectors and industries to uplift new ideas and build a better, more equitable world.
Without considering and including everyone, we won’t succeed in the change we seek.
To build an economy centered on equity, justice and inclusion, we need to bridge silos and lift up the people and communities who have been historically underserved. This theme was explored in multiple conversations at SOCAP, focusing on female entrepreneurs and BIPOC and LGBTQ+ founders. Content ideas provided through the SOCAP Open process were required to bring to the stage diverse backgrounds and perspectives. SOCAP worked with partners to create an Indigenous Access Fund to ensure native voices were heard. Registration costs were covered for all speakers, making sure a registration fee didn’t prohibit participation. And as a special focus, SOCAP featured the work, opportunities and challenges of those living with disabilities — an all-too-often forgotten group of more than a billion people worldwide.
In the presentation “Disability as an Asset,” Regina Kline of Enable Ventures, backed by the Sorenson Impact Asset Management Group, highlighted the 1.5 billion people around the world with disabilities who are held back due to the lack of basic accommodations. Regina urged that we need to “design in a way that has everyone in mind from the beginning, to put our humanity at the center of why we create and how we create.” She added, “We need to have the intentionality to build on-ramps to the economy. We need to focus our capital and our commitment toward innovations that are lying in plain sight.”
Regina was among those who reminded attendees, “Less than 2% of venture capital is invested in female founders and entrepreneurs.” Y. Elaine Rasmussen of Social Impact Now challenged any excuses for these noted disparities: “I refuse to believe that 98% of women or BIPOC people who went in front of investors had a bad pitch. There’s still embedded racism and sexism that happens in investing.” She asked investors to consider, “What are the biases you’re bringing to the conversation?”
CJ Grimes of WorkMoney expanded the challenge to the way our democracy is built: “Democracy is supposed to do something — create an America where people can lead better lives. …That’s not what’s happening for an awful lot of folks.”
In a session focused on improving access to economic mobility across the LGBTQ+ community, panelists discussed the challenges that LGBTQ+ founders face as they are often excluded from investment opportunities. Of the session, Megan Kashner of Colorful Capital said, “Participants and allies leaned into a conversation about the strengths and opportunities inherent to investing in LGBTQ+-founded companies as well as the fraught and difficult decisions that founders have to make in determining when it is safe or advisable to come out to a potential funder or partner.” Michael Tringe of CreatorUp added, “What’s exciting to me is that the people in this room today are the step forward toward linking impact investment with opportunities to create real, sustainable change in the lives of people in our LGBTQ+ community.”
Is ESG worth saving?
Can ESG be decolonized? Will it move us closer to justice? Can it move us fast enough toward effective systems change? Throughout the conference, investors and speakers explored ESG in light of recent conversations and debates.
In an Oxford-style debate on ESG, six speakers expressed arguments on whether ESG is worth fighting for or if it should disappear. Debate moderator and Sorenson Impact Center Senior Fellow Matthew Bishop said: “We are going to explore the question of whether ESG is a first step in the right direction — whether that step has really taken us very far or if we should be taking other steps instead to get us further much faster.”
The conversation extended beyond the opening plenary into multiple sessions throughout the event: In one session, SOCAP content guide Alexis Bunten of Bioneers said, “For now, ESG is a great way to quickly determine what to invest in. What does that tell us about folks working so hard that they can’t take the time to really get to know what’s happening in the businesses and communities they are investing in?” In the panel “Greenwashers Beware: Using ESG for Good, Not Evil,” panelists said it’s important to clarify what ESG is — and what it isn’t. Engine No. 1 Managing Director Yusuf George said, “ESG is about managing risk, and impact is about driving outcomes.”
Learn and trust in lived experience to make the biggest impact.
In order to determine the best, sustainable, equitable solutions, we must ask, listen, and trust in the lived experience of those closest to the issues at hand. Throughout the week, many sessions named not only engaging stakeholders meaningfully but pausing to ensure all stakeholders are at the table.
Through embracing, empowering, and uplifting viewpoints that have not been given their deserved space, we open opportunities we couldn’t imagine alone. Bringing those voices into the room is critical to successful, impactful outcomes, as shared by Alex Flachsbart of Opportunity Alabama in a session about the Rural Opportunity Zone and Recovery Playbook: “How can you look at a 10-year time horizon and try to do more to authentically engage, not just on one project but on community need across the board? None of the individual deals that we’re talking about are going to be successful unless the wraparound is there, all the things needed to uplift the community. Until all stakeholders are involved, you aren’t going to see drastic improvement.”
Successful public-private partnerships drive change.
In a session identifying opportunities to use underutilized public and government assets to fund community development projects, speakers Ben McAdams, Sorenson Impact Center Senior Fellow, and Jonathan Tower of Arctaris Impact Investors shared their experience in creating successful public-private partnerships. Jonathan shared, “We’ve seen failures to collaborate. Governments tried to do it alone. Private investment couldn’t do it alone. But when they do it together, you end up with a better suite of solutions.’”
These partnerships are maximized with effective data and data sharing, as evidenced in higher education. The MAPS project, presented by Sorenson Impact Center’s Dr. Allison Boxer and Benedict College’s Dr. Roslyn Artis, is one example. Allison said, “Higher education needs data-driven investment; we need to equip decision-makers in higher education with tools to create a more equitable system. Investors and other partners can use MAPS data tools to ask questions and understand where investment is needed most in higher education systems. … A more equitable system is going to take investment.”