Reflections on SOCAP


In mid-September, CSIL representatives attended the Social Capital Markets Conference, along with business leaders, impact investors, social entrepreneurs, and other inspired individuals who are using business as a force for social change. The conference made a big impression on our team and we are excited to incorporate what we learned into our work. Check out what CSIL’s Strategic Initiatives Assistant, Ben Grimmig, has to say about his experience.

What did you learn about “social impact” that surprised you, or that you didn’t already know?
I attended a session on the intersection of impact investing and social movements – particularly the Black Lives Matter movement. What I found very interesting about this session was the assertion by one panelist that SOCAP attendees are more likely to invest in Africa than they are to invest marginalized communities in the U.S. He claimed that Africa is “sexier” – despite the need for investments at home. I found this to be an incredibly powerful statement. This same individual also stated that the most important investment will be made in educating minority students in how to use technology, because if they do not have this opportunity, technology will be used as a tool of oppression. This was the most personally impactful session that I attended.

What did you find particularly awesome about the conference?
One of the sessions that I particularly enjoyed focused on the future of food – particularly engineering plant-based proteins as alternatives to meat. I had initially only attended this session to support Seth Goldman, the founder and CEO of Honest Tea, but I found the discussion to be incredibly illuminating – and its such an important subject because we all make decisions about food several times a day. The panelists discussed how our society is currently grappling with two food trends – on one end of the spectrum is the un-doing of food (with companies like Honest Tea marketing their simple, organic ingredients); while on the other end of the spectrum companies are re-doing food (engineering meat substitutes using technological advancements). While the two trends seem to be at odds with one another, they both depend on transparency, and the panelists argued that GMOs will be “sexy” in a few years as long as companies are honest and transparent about their use. The panel also drove home the importance our food decisions have on climate change, and how a meat-based diet has negative environmental consequences. Lastly, the panel touched on a theme that was prevalent throughout the week in SOCAP – how do we democratize these solutions and make them available to everyone? Essentially, how do we get these alternative protein options available not just in Whole Foods, but in all stores? The panelists believe that scale and price efficiencies are attainable with time.

What is the biggest challenge that you noticed?
Something I discussed with some other participants was the overall effectiveness of a conference like SOCAP. The conference is quite expensive, in a beautiful venue, with amazing food and drinks – and I asked myself whether or not this money could have been spent elsewhere (actually investing in marginalized communities). However, SOCAP certainly helps to legitimize the industry and the connections made have a lot of value. A big theme for the conference is metrics, and I think it would be really neat if SOCAP published some sort of impact report about the value derived from hosting the conference.

What are your key takeaways from the conference?
This was my second time attending/volunteering at SOCAP and I would just like to say how at home I felt at the conference. MIIS and FMS has such a large presence, and its really special to know that we really are considered leaders. I really felt tapped into the network. While at the conference, I reconnected with Pomona Impact and Agora Partnerships – discussing potential FMS fellowships with both organizations.

Sites DOT MIISThe Middlebury Institute site network.