In August, the Patricelli Center announced that – through the generosity of Tim Freundlich ’90 and Bob Miller P’99 P’02 – Rachel Lindsay ’05 and Raghu Appasani ’12 were awarded SOCAP13 scholarships. Earlier this month, Rachel and Raghu attended the Social Capital Markets conference in San Francisco. You can read their reflections below and watch highlights from SOCAP on YouTube.
For four days at the beginning of September a group of 1,900 people gathered at the Fort Mason center in San Francisco to talk about social entrepreneurship and impact investing. SOCAP, the conference organized by Social Capital Markets, gathers together people with a diverse set of interests and experiences around developing and financing socially and environmentally conscious businesses –from specific health and environmentally conscious food products, to new technology developments for the developing world, to the legal and financial implications of different company structures.
Wesleyan’s Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship provided my ticket to the conference, and San Francisco provided a stunning week of 80-degree sunny days, on the edge of the bay overlooking Alcatraz, the Golden Gate Bridge, and brief glimpses of the colorful America’s Cup boats. As the board member of SosteNica, a Sustainable Development Fund providing investment opportunities for North Americans in Nicaragua, and the Communications and Sustainability Director of the Social Business Network, a non-profit that works with Fair Trade Cooperatives, there were many speakers and panels that applied to my work and interests.
Some speakers were very well known, such as Bill McKibben, who made a strong statement about divesting from oil by participating in a panel over skype. Over the week I met countless other leaders who I found equally inspiring and relevant – like Donna Morton, who spoke eloquently about her work using renewable technology projects in First Nation tribes in Canada to strengthen cultural identities as well as energy independence, and Sarah Fritscher, coordinator of Louisville’s Farm to Table project, who skillfully conveyed the complex – yet concrete – needs of farmers that local markets and consumers should be addressing. The conference ended with a fiery address by Van Jones that brought everyone down to earth by openly addressing underlying yet unspoken issues of race and inequality.
The conference was a great way to network with people who are developing technologies or offering financing relevant to my work with fair trade agricultural cooperatives in Nicaragua. But equally exciting was the opportunity to dive into ethical discussions with other conference attendees about how to put social theory into practice in the investment and business world. A fellow Wesleyan alum, Joy Anderson ’89, who is a pioneer of “Gender Lens investing”, organized early morning meetings to demonstrate how we should examine every aspect of a business chain to see how it might better benefit, include, and value women in every role possible – from worker to entrepreneur to fund manager or investor. The work I am currently doing with Social Business Network in Nicaragua to recognize and place value on the unpaid traditional work of women in agricultural communities is just one example of how we can push industries to examine how their structure affects women and how it can better serve them. SOCAP was a great place to bring our innovative work and contribute to a larger discussion of how we can all – as employees, entrepreneurs, consumers or investors – be putting theories of social and environmental justice into practice through better business.
SOCAP was great! What I got most out of it was learning about the diverse paths and opportunities available in the social enterprise field. There are many more innovative ways to approach social impact than I could have imagined. For example, in the health sector alone (run by Dr. Doug Jutte) I was able to learn the various ways in which healthcare can be financed from everything from innovative insurance systems to private-public partnerships. Another speaker who I really enjoyed was Vineet Rai, who is taking VC tactis and strategy and applying it to rural development in India. Overall, I spent a lot of the time at the conference meeting with others individually. I even got the chance to sit 1-on-1 with Tejas, the CEO of Unreasonable Institute for 1 hour to discuss MINDS and receive advice on moving forward! In addition, I was able to meet with folks from a wide range of foundations from PSI, to Mualgo, to Draper Richards Kaplan. From DRK, I actually met with Mira Wijayanti, a Wesleyan alum, who is a portfolio associate there!