Bringing together over 1,500 people from 75 countries, SOCAP 11 was a rendezvous for social impact investing, entrepreneurship and innovation. It lived up to its tag of ‘Where money meets meaning’, and saw a global gathering of everyone: NGOs, investors, foundations, social enterprises, consultants – in other words, almost everyone who is interested in this space.
SOCAP created a unique platform where prior web-based interactions and communications ensured that there was interest generated from both ends of the spectrum – investors and funders as well as organizations looking for funding. The online community also facilitated the setting up of meetings prior to the conference. There were plenty of networking opportunities provided during the conference as well.
The event itself was designed so that there were multiple tracks touching upon issues of relevance – such as Design for Social innovation; Technology: Inclusive and investable; People Powered Capital, etc – and there was a take-back for everyone. There were side events hosted by organizations including Halloran Philanthropies, Acumen Fund, TONIC, GIIN and ASPEN which brought together a more targeted group of social investors and investees.
We run a hybrid model between SwitchON and ONergy in rural India with the aim to create an ecosystem that can facilitate last-mile energy access in rural India. While ONergy takes care of the distribution and servicing of renewable energy solutions, Switch ON adds value thorough awareness, capacity building and training. We arrived at SOCAP with the aim to connect with organizations with similar wavelengths for technological partnerships and funding support for our activities.
Having participated in such forums for impact investment in India before, this event, taking place against the beautiful backdrop of San Francisco, exceeded my past experiences and expectations. It provided us with the opportunity to connect with a whole bunch of people working in the social development space.
The renewable energy investment space is still dominated by expectations of impact, profits and scale. That sounds like what we are all aiming for, but it is far from on-the-ground realities. Social investment is widely seen as coming with its own baggage of commitment, patience and selflessness, which investors may find burdensome. If you’re an investor looking for any kind of growth in this space, you must be willing to take a risk.
At the same time it was inspiring and reassuring to meet so many entrepreneurs who have chosen to work in the development sector, forgoing big pay cheques for the satisfaction of following their passion and vision, including Simpa Network, Eye Netra, Bliss, Bio Sense, Barefoot Power, Milap, etc. There were many opportunities for enterprises in this space to find synergies in their work, and to share learnings, pitfalls and innovation, but mostly to reinstate their faith in their work.
Social impact funding is still a new and not well-understood space between entrepreneurs and enterprises – there are bridges that need to be made. Networking events such as SOCAP are important for making initial connections but it takes much more effort and time for anything more meaningful and significant to materialize.
To conclude, such events are great, but at the end of the day what matters most is the work on ground – as it will speak for itself. And as an entrepreneur that’s where the focus should be!
Ekta Kothari is Secretary of Switch ON