A chance meeting on a panel with Kevin Jones, founder of SOCAP, meant not only that I got invited to attend SOCAP but also that I was asked to join Kevin at the plenary session to discuss the potential of a North-South partnership for more effectively coordinating the agenda of the impact investing space. We decided to use the opportunity to announce a partnership between SANKALP (a platform focused on grooming social enterprises and making transactions happen based in India) and SOCAP. I was going to SOCAP after 5 years and naturally I was curious about how the world at SOCAP has remained similar and how it has changed. What is new and, more importantly, what are people attending SOCAP looking to do?
The first and most important thing one notices at SOCAP is the size. SOCAP is big! The backdrop of Fort Mason makes it even more imposing and at times intimidating – and it may be the imposing nature and large size could also be seen as SOCAP weaknesses. As I happened to be on the plenary, I had the privilege to be known to some people who attended the panel and that made it easier for me to get talking time with people.
My biggest observation about SOCAP is that it is potentially a good reflection of San Francisco and California culture to an outsider. It is irreverent, it is open and it is unabashed about its views. The desire to change the world is palpable at SOCAP as it is with SOCAP founder Kevin Jones. A lot of people who come to SOCAP want to see what role they can play in changing the world. SOCAP is the right destination for these people in this part of the world as they feel comforted seeing how many more are grappling with similar questions and looking for answers.
An equally important point that I noticed at SOCAP is that it attracts a lot of young people. These people are the future participant in the space and they learn a new language of giving and participation in changing the world.
Additionally SOCAP has a unique language; terms like good capital, good community, shared thinking and shared economy are used as the first language. These terms are rarely heard at other places, including the SANKALP Forum in India, where the terms sustainability, scale, return and impact are more common. This maybe shows the influence of the cultural context and people’s motives for association in the use of language. At SOCAP people are driven to do good while in places like SANKALP that are in developing economies people are driven by the sustainability of the initiatives while the good is subtext.
The investor community
The investor community at SOCAP can be divided into three or four broad groups. The first group is impact funds that are making investments and understand their market segment well. Unitus Seed Fund, Khosla Impact, etc are the better known but there are some which are not as well known in our context such as Bronze Investment, Island Capital or SONEN Capital.
The big and small foundations playing a crucial role in taking the impact investing world forward were pretty well represented, and some of them such as Rockefeller Foundation were present at a pretty senior level. The role of impact investing seems to be a major interest area for these foundations. Many family foundations are looking to the bigger ones to guide them and take the lead.
The third group comprising development finance institutions (DFIs) was thinly represented. While the US DFIs such as USAID and OPIC were present, the only international DFI I could identify was from the German DEG. Again it could simply be because I did not spend enough time interacting with all panels or it may be that DFIs are still not able to understand the role of SOCAP in the space.
The last but the most important group is small investors, individuals and some high net worth investors, not large enough to have a family office but too large to be ignored. My impression of these is that some of them are highly qualified to play a long-term role in acting as the guide for the rest. Charly Kleissner and his wife Lisa are top of my list as people who would provide leadership to this motley group and would be able to guide them to do the right things. They have put their capital to work and through TONIIC they have done a remarkable job in finding like-minded people to join them in this quest for social good through investments and capital.
SOCAP attracts social enterprises and I was curious to see if the investors do try to meet them and make investments. From whatever I heard, it will take more time and hard work in building trust for this to really happen at SOCAP.
My final impression of SOCAP is that it has an incredible ability to bring very diverse concepts together. Where else do you hear about oceans, biomimicry and artistic creativity as part of an impact conference?
The SOCAP and SANKALP partnership to start a North–South dialogue on impact investing and to harmonize language and action worldwide was the icing on the cake for Kevin and me as a very fine week, which can inspire many more people to join the good economy, came to an end.
Vineet Rai is founder of the Aavishkaar group of funds, Intellecap and its subsidiaries Intellegrow and Intellecash, and chair of the board of Villagro.