On a sunny Thursday afternoon, over 150 people packed an auditorium at the scenic Wharton San Francisco campus to hear about relevant issues in the social innovation space.
The event—The Wharton Social Impact Conference—was held on April 4th 2013 and featured two lively panel discussions by impact investors and social entrepreneurs.
The conference was organized by Wharton SF business students and was attended by colleagues, thought leaders in the field, aspiring social entrepreneurs, and members of the community interested in the topic.
Panel 1: The Impact Investors
The first panel brought together four prominent leaders in the impact investment space. Geoff “Chester” Woolley of Unitus, a VC firm that invests in scalable businesses serving East Asia that address poverty. When asked about what kinds of social enterprises his firm funds, Mr. Woolley said that Unitus is more focused on funding great entrepreneurs rather than financing individual ideas. He emphasized the importance of having a talented, cohesive team.
Next up was Ed Marcum of Humanity United, that funds efforts to give voice to the underrepresented and advance human freedom. He was followed by Penelope Douglas of Social Capital Markets (SOCAP)–which oversees HUB co-working spaces as well as the SOCAP conference. She emphasized that markets + business are crucial levers of change in social enterprise. The final speaker of the panel was Raj Gollamudi of Omidyar Network who spoke about various forms of capital and the increasing importance of patient capital or slow money—to fund major innovation.
Panel 2: The Social Entrepreneurs
Each successive speaker brought more to the table and delved into a particular unique facet of their social entrepreneurial experience. Leila Janah of Samasource was poised, articulate, and eloquent in explaining her non-profit’s commitment to alleviating poverty through job creation.
She was followed by Alicia Polak of the Bread Project whose candor and openness about creating a local job training & culinary program was disarming, instructive, and entertaining.
Always a crowd favorite, Back to the Roots co-founder Nikhil Arora recapped his journey into social entrepreneurship and touched on the remarkable growth and media their gourmet mushroom kits have garnered. Next up was Jill Vialet of PlayWorks who enlightened the audience about the importance of play and her company’s innovative approach to facilitate play-inspired recess sessions.
Erin Gruwell of Freedom Writers literally brought the crowd to tears with her story of her work challenging her inner-city high school students to write a book. Her passion for her work and her students touched not only the audience in the room but many thousands who watched the Hollywood movie based on her story, Freedom Writers (She was played by Hilary Swank)
In asking one of event organizers, Raghavan Anand about what he took away from the event, he shared his 3 key takeaways, “1) There is value in attaching meaning to money and seeing what impact it can make rather than the raw purchasing power; 2) As the quote goes, ‘Success does not drive happiness but happiness drives success’,” and he pointed out the passion that was felt when the social entrepreneurs explained their work. Finally, Anand noted “3) Happiness is not the end-game. Meaning is, as Viktor Frankl said. And you derive meaning by giving to others, and leaving your impact on the world.”