Sunday, May 06, 2007

Social Innovation Forum 2007

I attended the 3rd edition of Root Cause's Social Innovation Forum last week. The event is unique in its focus on bringing innovative leaders in the non-profit sector to the attention of funders and supporters that have the resources to help these organizations succeed. The Social Innovators are organizations that have a new model to address a social issue, show leadership in their field, and are results oriented. This year's Social Innovators are:

Strong Women, Strong Girls
Actor's Shakespeare Project
Boston Urban Youth Foundation

From a sustainable business perspective, I was not sure what to expect. There is something "different" about non-profit focused events compared with corporate events. The people there are looking for organizations to invest in (meaning donating money), though I tend to think that they may or may not assess the organizations' potential to pay-off on that investment by affecting social change. There is the small problem of measuring social change, one of the things that Root Cause is trying to help address. I suppose the same challenge, assessing CSR / ESG activities on shareholder and stakeholder value, faces the corporate world.

The passion the participants have for their missions and their organizations was amazing and energizing. They displayed in abundance the entrepreneurial spirit we all have inside us somewhere. Throughout the two presentations I attended, Building Impact and Strong Women, Strong Girls, I was supremely impressed with the founders' knowledge of their organization's purpose and vision and their articulation of their vision. Both sessions experienced small technical glitches, which can all too easily derail a well rehearsed presentation. The founders continued on without a hitch, continuing to tell their story and share their passion.

In a brief conversation with Lisa Guyon, Founder and Executive Director of BuildingImpact, I was reminded to be disciplined about my own assumptions. We quickly found that we shared a passion for sustainable business, and discussed home composting and living in yurts. In fits of cynicism tied to our current energy gluttony, I have thought about living in a yurt, but I am 98% sure my wife would not go for it. I expected to talk to Lisa about her organization, but as with many compulsive entrepreneurs, she has many more ideas for saving the planet. It was fun to share her energy.

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