Conferences can be hit or miss, but congrats to the students of Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School for putting on an extremely well-run, informative, and energizing social enterprise conference this past snowy Sunday in Boston.
Linda Rottenberg, Co-Founder & CEO of Endeavor, a nonprofit that identifies and supports high-impact entrepreneurs in emerging markets, talked about business solutions to development and creative capitalism and how we must focus on systemic change and shoot for measurable impact on a country's GDP. She suggested that the question has moved from "What is social enterprise?" to "What has social enterprise achieved?" Later in the morning,
Peter Kellner, Co-Founder and Managing Director of the newly-launched Uhuru Capital Management, spoke -- correctly, in my opinion -- about how social enterprises must compete in transparency and accountability.
After lunch I watched the tail end of the Pitch for Change Competition Finals, an "elevator pitch" contest for new social enterprise venture ideas. From cows to bikes to online screenwriting platforms, I was impressed. Just sitting there I met Nick Sowen, who works with ToughStuff International, a fantastic company in the works making personal -- and cheap! -- solar panels to charge cell phones in Africa.
The afternoon's Keynote Panel included William Drayton, Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Ashoka: Innovators for the Public; David Gergan, Professor of Public Service and Director, Center for Public Leadership, Harvard Kennedy School; Jonathan Greenblatt, Co-Founder, Ethos Water; Lecturer, UCLA Anderson School of Management; and Clara Miller, President and Chief Executive, Nonprofit Finance Fund. My turkey sandwich and a long week of social enterprising were making me a bit sleepy at this point, but the consensus seemed to be that, with the significant downturn in the economy, there will be (a) a potential for a broader base of donors rather than a deeper base, (b) a rise of ethical brands, and (c) a flight toward value and values. One of the panelists remarked that, in today's new world, service is the new greed.
The panelists were also asked if there was one thing they would tell all of us about social enterprising. Drayton: You have permission to persist. Don't let anyone tell you that you can't follow your dream. Greenblatt: Look to the horizon. Find that point and go for it. Gergan: CHARGE!