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Meet Jonathan Lewis

As part of our series of podcast episodes recorded live from Opportunity Collaboration in Ixtapa Mexico, this was a special episode with lifelong social justice advocate, social entrepreneur, and new author, Jonathan Lewis.

Amid the setting of a bustling breakfast hall, I had a chance to catch up with the founder of Opportunity Collaboration himself to learn more about his work, book, and the impetus behind founding “OC”.

By way of introduction, Jonathan is the author of The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur and Founder of MCE Social Capital, an innovative social venture that leverages $110 million of private capital to finance tiny business loans to deeply impoverished people, mostly women, in 33 countries in the developing world.

He is also Founder and President of the Opportunity Collaboration, an annual strategic business retreat for 450 senior level anti-poverty leaders from around the globe. In addition, Jonathan is the co-founder of Copia Global, an Amazon-like consumer catalog serving the base of the economic pyramid in Kenya.

In addition, he is a Trustee of the Swift Foundation. Jonathan also serves as a General Partner of Dev Equity, a social impact investment fund in Latin America. Jonathan has taught social entrepreneurship at New York University, the University of California (Berkeley) and lectured at universities around the world. He is a recipient of the Social Venture Network Innovation Award and a regular HuffPost Contributor.

 

Learn More

 



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Meet Opportunity Collaboration

October 15-21, 2017 marked the 8th annual Opportunity Collaboration event that convened 400 global changemakers committed to building sustainable solutions to poverty and supporting the impact ecosystem through their work.  This gathering brought together social entrepreneurs, impact founders, impact investors, foundations, academic faculty and administration, impact media, nonprofit executives and more.

Spanning multiple days, and taking place at an all-inclusive venue, this unique unconference/conference/leadership retreat/international changemaker gathering gives participants ample opportunity to engage with each other, deepen connections, step away to reflect, recharge, and connect with the ocean and outdoors. This comparative abundance of time and opportunity nicely lends to exploring and furthering collaboration with others in the space.

I had the chance to attend Opportunity Collaboration as a Boehm Media Fellow, and through the opportunity had a chance to co-facilitate workshops on topics related to social media and digital distribution and also create podcast episodes live at Opportunity Collaboration. You can find all of the related podcast episodes here.

In this podcast episode, you will hear mini-interviews and soundbytes recorded over various days at Opportunity Collaboration to help get a sense of the event, how to make the most of it, and what has inspired people to return year and again.  Listen in or scroll below to learn about the guests and connect with and support their causes.

Listen to the Episode

Meet the Episode Guests

Learn more about the individuals and organizations featured in this episode.

Guests



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How to Talk to Impact Investors at Conferences

There are a few precious venues in which social entrepreneurs and impact investors can effortlessly mingle and connect. Conferences can be one of these special venues. In theory, it seems like the perfect thing to excitedly approach a potential investor with a pitch, deck, and ask. However, in practice, social entrepreneurs are wise to set expectations and adapt their approach to the situation.

In this episode–recorded live at Opportunity Collaboration in Ixtapa, Mexico– Antoine Cocle, who founded a capital advisory firm for social entrepreneurs looking to raise capital, shares his insight on how founders can make a good first impression and put their best foot forward.

 

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Meet Antoine Cocle, CEO and Founder of Kaya Impacto

Antoine is the CEO and founder of Kaya Impacto, where he leads the growth of the company as well as the investment advisory services. Before founding Kaya, Antoine led SVX Mexico’s Venture Services and was the Managing Director and Co-Founder. Previously, Antoine consulted for a Mexican High Net Worth family helping them develop an impact investment thesis and was Director of Entrepreneur Services at Agora Partnerships, where he managed the accelerator and the Capital Advisory Services area. Before dedicating himself to fostering social entrepreneurship, he was working in the financial sector, at AXA and JPMorgan.

Antoine has a Master’s in Public Administration from Columbia University and a Master in Business Engineering from the Solvay Business School (Belgium).

 

Recorded Live From Opportunity Collaboration

This episode is part of a series recorded at Opportunity Collaboration, a multi-day conference convened to bring together changemakers, funders, media, and academia to dive into sustainable solutions to poverty and furthering the social impact economy and landscape.

You can find the full Opportunity Collaboration series of The Impact Podcast here.

 

 



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How to Podcast, Recorded Live at Opportunity Collaboration

This meta ‘how to podcast’ episode came from a few conversations about the challenges, inertia, and decision paralysis that content creators can face when considering launching a podcast. It was recorded and published live from Opportunity Collaboration 2017 in Ixtapa, Mexico. The episode features a candid conversation with award-winning radio, print, and photo journalist, Peter Aronson. We are are both joining OC this year as part of the Boehm Media Fellows program and we both come to podcasting from unique perspectives.

Tune in to hear our candid conversation on how we podcast, do’s and don’t, the ‘why’ behind our work, and a few of the tools and equipment we have found helpful in producing, publishing, and distributing our podcasts.

Listen to the Episode

Meet Peter Aronson

Peter Aronson is an award-winning journalist with a total of two decades of experience working in radio, print, online journalism and photography. His radio work has been featured on NPR, Marketplace and Voice of America. He has produced two 30-minute radio documentaries and has won national and regional awards for his work.

He has reported from the mountains of Mexico and the Moskva River, from Microsoft headquarters and from call centers in India. He has traveled by canoe into the jungles of Nicaragua to report one story and climbed to a remote hilltop village in Nepal to report another.

Peter speaks six languages, two of them fluently. He’s worked as a producer-editor for MSNBC.com and as a vice president in the corporate world — in India. Now he is focusing his energy on two things: drinking water for Mexicans, he is co-founder of Biluu, and photography. In the past year, my photographs have been exhibited at the Museo Soumaya, the Museo de la Ciudad de Querétaro, and in New York City.

You can find Peter’s full bio, awards, and work here.

Resources

Here are a few resources we mentioned in the podcast episode. These are not necessarily recommendations or endorsements, but came up in discussion.

Books

  • Sound and Recording: Applications and Theory

Podcast recording, editing, publishing apps

  • TwistedWave
  • Bossjock

Podcast hosting

  • Libysn
  • Soundcloud

Equipment

  • Blue Yeti Microphone
  • Binaural microphone (for 3D sound)


Check out this episode!

Meet Reel Impact Film Festival

This is a very special episode with soundbites from presenters, finalists, and organizers from the inaugural Reel Impact Film Festival (RIFF) by One World Training.

RIFF brought together a robust community of impact film lovers, filmmakers, and film funders for an evening of screenings, workshops, and conversation.

 

Listen to the Episode

 

Meet One World Training

We first met One World Training when it was named Palo Alto Impact Center.  A name change and many events later, One World Training is becoming a force in the Silicon Valley social impact community through organizing events, facilitating conversations, and bringing together impact investors, social entrepreneurs, and advisors in the space for constructive dialogue and interaction.

Join the Next Reel Impact Film Festival

Happening November 16th, more information and RSVP here

 



Check out this episode!

I just finished co-teaching Gen Z students in a 3 week immersive, intensive, experiential course on social enterprise on as part of the Summerfuel Social Enterprise program at Stanford University. My students were 14-18 years olds hailing from all of over the US and countries including China, Brazil, Spain, Japan, France, and Russia. The one thing they had in common was an interest or curiosity in social entrepreneurship.

The experience of teaching for the better part of 5 hours each day taught me a few interesting things. About working with Generation Z students. About teaching. And, about how social enterprise is received and can be shared. I wanted to share a few of the most actionable takeaways here.

Gen Z students, who are they?

An article in Huffington Post notes, “Generation Z, as they have been coined, consists of those born in 1995 or later. This generation makes up 25.9% of the United States population, the largest percentage, and contribute $44 billion to the American economy. By 2020, they will account for one-third of the U.S. population.”

To say that this generation is our future is no understatement.

I was most curious about how they might identify problems and issues that they find compelling. Many American Gen Z-ers have had formative years under a different political administration, were youngsters during the “Great Recession” when it happened, and have grown up with technology and social media in a markedly different way than generations before them.

Additionally, many students in my class grew up familiar with social impact brands such as TOMS and Warby Parker. I was surprised to note that most had not heard of the Grameen Bank, Kiva, or microfinance. And, many mentioned that they do research companies before making purchases and in the past have chosen (or not chosen) to buy something based on the company’s core values, impact, or past actions. I was also humbled to note that none of these bright, globetrotting teenage problemsolvers had ever heard of my website Innov8social, podcast, or book (though they did each leave with a Kindle version:). Ah, so is the harsh reality of truth.

Our “accomplishments” aren’t received in the way we think they might be

Perhaps it is a consequence of living in a world lit by social media—with its abundance of celebrities, influencers, experts, gurus, and chief-of-somethings. Or, the fact that we have all become creators in one sense or another; but I found that my Gen Z students were not easily impressed.

Definitely not by my background—author, speaker, social entrepreneur, licensed attorney. These things didn’t “show up” for them in a relatable way. Additionally, we had an amazing host of speakers—many of whom are dear friends and colleagues in the social enterprise sector. And, after each speaker, I debriefed with students and noticed a broader trend.

“Accomplishments” to these accomplished, motivated, and pre-career students were a bit empty on their own. It was our stories that connected the dots for them and made what we have done with our time come to life. It was sharing our essential “why” that helped things make more sense.

When I shared with them how my mother’s fight with cancer has instilled a sense of urgency in my work, how moving over a dozen times growing up has affected the way I relate to the world, and my own deep questions about the future of social entrepreneurship in the current climate, I saw them open up in a different way. They shared a few of their own stories and connected the dots about “why” this topic or space matters at all. And more importantly, why it matters to them personally.

When our speakers shared their journeys and the perceived vulnerabilities that have become their strengths and the core of their social enterprises, the students were able to receive and process that differently and in the context of their own journeys.

It was a gentle reminder to me, that in a world with so much digital noise, our authenticity remains our key currency.

Teachers are master innovators

It’s after lunch and the only thing standing between twenty-five teenagers and a sunny California summer afternoon in Palo Alto is your one-and-half hour class. Good luck, right?

Exactly.

Our daily afternoon classes were among the most challenging to plan for considering there was often a significant amount of content, but also that attention spans seemed to decrease exponentially as the minutes ticked by.

I learned to innovate in a few creative ways. If I saw eyes glazing over or the twitching of fingers under the desk (yes, students, I could definitely tell when you were surreptitiously using your phones ;-) I would make up activities on the spot to put them back in the driver’s seat. Questions with partners or practice pitches or “getting out of the building” to gather user feedback. These activities did more than command attention, they gave them a chance to be in the familiar role of creator once more.

My ‘innovations’ sometimes fell flat too. Thinking that content might be more appealing using short videos, I embedded somewhat frequent 1-5 minute videos in my slide deck and utilized a few TED talks already part of the curriculum. Though we discussed each video after, student feedback at the end of the course was that there were too many videos. More interaction please, they suggested.

All of these experiences make me deeply appreciate all of the teachers, instructors, and professors who taught and continue to teach us. Like how our elementary school teachers likely consider what they teach based on the relation of the class session to recess or lunch. Or how summer camp counselors trade stories with each other to come up with the most fun and engaging team building activities. Or how every single undergraduate and law school professor knows that when our laptops are open, and in-between taking notes, we were reading the news or checking our email—and they adjust their lectures to engage us and hold our attention in different ways.

Entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs are recognized and rewarded for innovations that serve as unique solutions to persistent problems. Teachers innovate and problemsolve on a daily—if not hourly—basis, in part, because their user feedback isn’t a survey, poll, or questionnaire away—it is their class of students right in front of them, IRL, and in real time.

Good and 10% better, go ahead and ask

When I attended a public speaking workshop called “Own the Room”, one of the presenting groups ended their mini pitch with two questions that have reshaped how I ask for feedback. They asked “What did we do well?” followed by “what can we do to be 10% better?” Boom.

The elegance and effectiveness of these questions together struck me then, and the questions became a core part of the course as well.

Separating good and constructive feedback is helpful not only for the audience—the givers of feedback— but also the receiver of the feedback. Additionally, asking what didn’t go well or what didn’t you like is not always the most constructive mode for the presenter or facilitator. Likewise, asking “what can I do better” can be so open-ended as to inspire no response at all. The giver of feedback may not know whether to start from ‘if you change every single thing about this presentation’ or ‘what’s low hanging fruit that can make this better’.

However, asking in a way that is relatable and quantifiable, i.e. improving just 10%, proved actionable for both sides. More students ‘popcorned’ responses to that question and they also seemed to feel more comfortable doing so after being able to compliment, applaud, and celebrate the strong points of the speaker, video, or session.

Go ahead and try it. One thing I noticed is that with Gen Z students growing up in a gamified world where they are rewarded for having an opinion by way of upvotes, downvotes, and vote-outs—they do have opinions on nearly everything. And our changing digital landscape has trained them to decide what they think quickly and to articulate the same with helpful clarity.

Just as we are being trained to engage in more human-centered design involving copious user feedback, so too are our future feedback givers being trained to give really good feedback.

Used in the right way, this can be the start of a great feedback loop.

We are our networks

Overall the experience of teaching a subject that is closely related to my personal and professional profile was incredible. It was also a reminder that we not only have networks, but we are a reflection of our networks.

Co-instructor Alessandra Clará, who taught parallel content to her own class of twenty-five students, and I—though meeting for the first time—found many significant overlaps. From social impact events that we unknowingly both attended to our broader beliefs about the role of “infrapreneurs,” i.e. those of us working to build the broader infrastructure for successful social entrepreneurship, we easily found common ground and enjoyed challenging each other based on our individual experiences and communities.

Similarly, the program was organized through the experienced and organized Summerfuel program team. Each Summerfuel team member exuded qualities of openness, ability to create an inclusive environment, and connecting with students in meaningful and fun ways. As someone who moved frequently up until high school, hadn’t I appreciated these “ambassadorial” qualities when I saw them in friends, leaders, and mentors?

We had the chance to reach out to our networks to finalize guest speakers. And, our networks responded. We were fortunate to have human centered designers, educators, social entrepreneurs, content producers, and venture capitalists including: Tiffany Yu, Shalini Sardana, Heather Arora, Brendan Barbato, Ryan Oliver, Regina Sanchez-Gonzalez, Ramil Ibrahim, Jordan Edelheit, Nitin Pachisia, and Alison Berman. They individually and collectively made the topic and space more real to students and asked insightful (and sometimes challenging) questions to help spur deeper thought and engagement.

Our networks are not exclusive of us. Indeed, we are part of them. And, our individual work often reflects some of the core challenges and strengths of the broader space.

What Next?

The morning after final pitches had been made and the judges’ top picks recognized, we were back in class. We started with the question “What Next”. After the highs, lows, and deep work that went into each team’s social enterprise, what could be next for them? I shared a few platforms, fellowship programs, and opportunities that could be relevant to their social enterprise ideas. These included D-Prize, Catapult, The DO School, +Acumen courses, and more.

The program has also been a good catalyst for reflecting on what is next for my work with Innov8social and Innovate Impact Media. There is a great deal that has been learned at the intersection of high school students and social enterprise. I look forward to exploring this nexus further through customized Impactathon® offerings. If you are a teacher or educator who wants to bring an immersive social enterprise experience to your school and students, I would love to connect.

One student wrote in the evaluation survey: “I have discovered so many things about myself that I didn’t know in terms of creativity and teamwork and I feel like this will really help me in future projects and challenges that I will face throughout life. I have been able to listen to amazing people and social entrepreneurs talk and now I [feel] more comfortable and confident when I hear the words “social enterprise”.

When teaching, we can never really know what lasting impact we have. Though, we sometimes can see a glimmer in the distance.

We are in a profound moment of polarity.

We see it in the news, where the polar ends of political, religious, cultural, gender-conscious, racially-aware spectra voice their opinions with fury, feist, and without apology.

For those of us who see ourselves as problemsolvers driven by impact, we may feel overwhelmed and even momentarily paralyzed by the din of feuding opinions, the viscidity in reaching common ground and commonly-held beliefs. Where delivering and distributing social impact has often been associated within the purview of government and agencies, a new reality leaves these channels for impact less available and less accessible for those purposes.

However, those championing inclusion, innovation, and gamechanging innovation still have an important lever to pull. Business. Specifically, impact-driven business.

Social entrepreneurship has never been more important than it is right now.

Divisiveness around the role of government to support citizens, by default, seems to favor business, scaling, and job creation as measures of success.

Fortunately, changemakers have also increasingly been tinkering with business as a medium for change over the past decade or longer. This exploration has resulted in the passage of new legal structures including benefit corporations and social purpose corporations in over 32 states and jurisdictions that solidify the legal precedence of for-impact + for-profit companies. It has also led to creative and adaptive business models that seek to prioritize impact and account for impact. And, the foray into business practices is paving new ways of measuring and reporting impact; so that our accounting of social impact is not abstract and anecdotal, but a measurable means of evaluating success. This field of championing social impact and business is maturing as new kinds of capital-raising–including impact investing, community notes, and crowdfunding–are letting investors choose where their money grows and rests.

We realize that far from immobile, we are finding new muscles and new ways to move, connect, fly. Far from overwhelmed, we are building the scaffolding for a future that hasn’t been fully envisioned and architected.

Can social entrepreneurship be a common language?

It bares question whether, in this moment of polarity, we can turn to business as a common language.

Fortunately, social entrepreneurs not only speak the language but have become experienced in bridging gaps of knowledge and resources toward cultivating communities of conscious consumers, investors, and achieving new milestones in success.

We are seeing that beyond language, social entrepreneurship is a mindset. One that individuals across aisles, across industries, and across business and enterprise can adopt to create change and inclusion in their own ecosystems.

To be an effective way to express and empower impact, we need broader and deeper engagement in social entrepreneurship.

I have spent the better part of six years, since founding Innov8social, on the path of exploring, sharing, and building ways to make social entrepreneurship more actionable accessible. Spanning blog posts, podcast episodes, a book, live events, and now, consulting–I feel my personal life’s work entwined with this work of inviting, educating, and helping launch social entrepreneurs.

Here are steps I have found helpful in feeling more comfortable to create and grow as social entrepreneurs:

  1. Learn what social entrepreneurship is
  2. Define the impact you seek to make
  3. Understand the legal options for formation and fundraising
  4. Explore (and invent) business models
  5. Measure social impact, and the effects of the absence of social impact
  6. Tell a compelling story and share it personally and professionally
  7. Lead with empathy, clarity, and with impact-aligned team members
  8. Raise capital that fits your goals and your impact
  9. Always remember that we are problem-solvers first. Be ready to problemsolve thoughtfully and often
  10. Build your networks big and small–that serve to challenge you, empower you, and give you a forum of inviting others into the space and empowering their success

Social entrepreneurship will not reach its potential to create impact and shift the norms of business as a spectator sport. As millennials, Gen Z, and “Zoomers” look to start businesses and engage in meaningful work–I have little doubt that we will discover new ways of delivering impact through the medium of business.

 

Neetal Parekh is the founder of Innov8social, author 51 Questions on Social Entrepreneurship, host of The Impact Podcast, and convener of Impactathon. She consults with social entrepreneurs, companies, and institutions to help them reach their impact potential. On Twitter and social media: @innov8social

Last May, Innov8social hosted its first live event—IMPACTATHON—at the creative and collaborative Tech Shop in San Francisco. Today, I am thrilled to announce we are partnering with UCLA to host the first university Impactathon at UCLA Anderson on Friday April 21st 2017 as part of their Social Impact Week!

 

impactathon at ucla anderson

 

Register for IMPACTATHON at UCLA Anderson, Friday 4/21

Impactathon brings together the best of seminars and TED-style talks along with hands-on ideation and collaboration for a powerful experience focused on helping participants take social impact ideas and ventures to the next level.

At Impactathon at UCLA Anderson, participants will also learn how to effectively craft and share social enterprise stories from the famed Red Bull Amaphiko Storytelling Lab.

 impactathon at ucla anderson, interactive workshop for social entrepreneurs

 

Join this event to:

  • Engage and hear from other founders, aspiring founders, social intrapreneurs, entrepreneurs, thinkers and doers in the social impact space.
  • Listen to honest, candid experiences and perspectives from thought leaders and trailblazers; hear about their successes and challenges and how they continually pivot to puruse both profit and social impact.
  • Get a special guided tour of the UCLA Anderson Accelerator and learn about how to build your brand through a high-energy storytelling workshop by Red Bull Amaphiko.
  • Work in small groups to build an idea and ‘mini pitch’. Beyond the idea, you will have a chance to build relationships with motivated, talented individuals aligned with a shared goal of creating social impact that can create community beyond Impactathon.
  • Enjoy a fun networking lunch with peers.

 impactathon at ucla anderson, interactive workshop for social entrepreneurs

Agenda

9:15 a.m. – 10:00 a.m. – Registration and breakfast

10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. – Introductions and Keynote Talks

11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. – Storyteller Lab by Red Bull Amaphiko

12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m. – Networking Lunch

1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. – Impactathon Workshop

4:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. – Pitches

4:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. – Judges debrief and awards

Meet the Speakers

Kaitlin Mogentale, Founder/CEO, Everytable & Groceryships*

Kaitlin Mogentale was a college senior when she watched a friend juice a carrot. She was appalled to see that as much as 75% of the vegetable was wasted, leaving behind vibrant heaps of carrot pulp. Calling up juiceries across Los Angeles, she found that most were sending their pulp to the landfill (as much as 3.5 pounds are wasted per pound of juice produced!). After that fateful moment, Kaitlin’s traditional career trajectory was turned upside down as she began to build Pulp Pantry, a social enterprise turning neglected resources such as juice pulp into value-added products.

Somya Munjal, Youthful SavingsSomya Munjal, Founder/CEO, Youthful Savings

Somya has one clear mission in life – economic empowerment. By working hard, understanding the economy and business, she believes all can be empowered and live a better life. She is a social entrepreneur with a passion for helping people through financial planning, education and impact-driven entrepreneurship. She is the founder of Youthful Savings, CPA for the People, LLP, Audacious Endeavors, LLC and the author of the forthcoming book Audacious Endeavors: How to Light Your Inner Fire and Change the World Through Socially Conscious Business.

 

Andrew Mcdowell, With Love Market and CafeAndrew McDowell, Founder/CEO, With Love Market & Cafe

Andrew McDowell is the Founder and CEO of With Love Market & Cafe. With Love (www.WithLoveLA.com) is a community-centered business venture, seeking to address injustices and inequalities disproportionately affecting the minority community of South Los Angeles. As a for-profit business with a non-profit community development arm, With Love is working to create a sustainable, replicable model for healthy food access, employment and community empowerment in urban poor/under-resourced  communities. Andrew is a graduate of Occidental College, resident of South LA, and member of Church of the Redeemer, in South LA.

 

 

 

impactathon at ucla anderson, interactive workshop for social entrepreneurs

More About Social Impact Week at UCLA Anderson

Social Impact Week at UCLA Anderson, which kicks off this Friday, features events, talks, and workshops focused on social impact, impact investing, and designing for social impact.

Join us! You can register for Impactathon at UCLA Anderson here. General admission is $15, the event is free to UCLA students, and scholarships are available.

Don’t miss this incredible opportunity to #goanddo!

 

impactathon at ucla anderson, interactive workshop for social entrepreneurs

I went to SXSW this year. It pretty much rocked my world.

It was my first time to South by Southwest, the 10-day festival that has been bringing together a combination of music, film, startup, social impact, tech, and interactive media sessions since 1987. I was there to speak about social entrepreneurship, mentor, attend, connect, and meet unique, passion-drive people from around the globe and around Austin. Though there for just the first few days, SXSW — or “South by,” as it’s referred to by seasoned festival-goers and Austinites — proved to be an immersive experience not only embodying the culture of an incredible city but also cross-pollinating the quirky-creative-progressive vibe of Austin.

Here are a few lessons from SXSW I learned from my 2017 experience.

Lessons from SXSW

 

Stay Weird

If you go to Austin you will likely run into “Keep Austin Weird” stickers, logos, hashtags, etc. It’s a slogan, an anthem, and a call to action. (an interesting aside, it seems that the original creators of “keepaustinweird.com” lost out on the trademark to the slogan…an interesting tale explained more here). The original intent behind the phrase was to “counter Austin’s descent into rampant commercialism and over-development” but over time it has evolved to become a badge of individuality, creativity, and community.

The lesson here is to not only identify the “other,” “counter,” “unique” aspects of our work or brand, but to find ways to lean into and celebrate it. For social entrepreneurs, building a business that prioritizes impact and a bottom line, can sometimes put us out of sync with traditional business and non-profit communities. But, it is that precise distinction that should be valued, championed, and developed.

Ultimately, what is weird about us and our work, is what makes us unique — and findable amid the noise of media. If we can find a niche of users, clients, investors to support our vision and work, we don’t need to ‘fit in’ but can be more easily seen and recognized by standing out.

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Experience over Handshakes

SXSW is an alternative universe where experiences are just around the corner, at an interactive lounge down the hall, or at the next happy hour. Some of the most meaningful conversations happened with folks I met after they reached out via the SXSW app or vice versa, at a session, or while shuttling to and from venues via local car-share app “Fasten”.

Where many events like this are built around the customary exchange of business details, at SXSW there is a premium on having a meaningful experience together. The length of the event — 10 days — admittedly facilitates organic and planned experiences.

In 2 days, I met with an impact investor, connected with CEO of a DC-based nonprofit social enterprise; engaged a new friend and documentarian to informally cover my talk; reconnected with friends from college, a recent fellowship, past podcast episodes; had one of the most ‘real’ conversations with a fellow female social enterprise founder about what it takes to actually scale and grow an impact-driven business…and even sighted a few celebrities to boot. I connected with teachers who purchased my book in hopes it could help their entrepreneurial high school students further their work and had some incredible discussions with mission-aligned leaders in New York and Washington D.C. about hosting Impactathon sessions in those cities.

These experiences, a small snapshot of what is possible in a multi-day event, provided fodder for reflection, inspiration, and clarity. With each of these connections, we had a moment in a place where people think bigger and make the impossible yesterday’s news.

It made me re-think how I evaluate investing in experience over product. The things we have may come and go, but the experiences leave impressions, raise questions, build relationships, and can inspire and guide our work far longer.

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It’s Always the People

One of the memories that stays close from my time at Apple was the credo each retail specialist carried with them which declared that, for Apple, “our soul is our people.” This simple phrase definitively conferred importance and value to individuals, relationships not distinct from the company brand, but central to it. I often echo this sentiment when considering my work and team.

As social enterprises grapple with how to attract and retain excellent talent, they can also look to that simple sentiment when considering how to cultivate a culture of respect and resilience.

Fast forward to SXSW which takes place in a city that has been consistently recognized as “friendly”. Among the designations Austin has amassed are: top five friendliest city, one of the most dog-friendly cities, LGBT-friendly city, and bicycle-friendly city too. The friendliness I encountered with people from Austin was consistent with the rankings, and I think it spilled over to the interactions between conference and festival goers too. It is the culture behind that kind of warmth and welcoming that has helped put SXSW on the map as a ‘go-to’ event for innovators, collaborators, thinkers, and doers.

It has also made me think about how a more open attitude can facilitate our next level of growth. How connection, collaboration, and respect can help relationships transcend given roles to become part of a lasting connection, that we re-visit, contribute to, and grow from over time.

I look forward to continue growing from the lessons from SXSW, and of course, to staying weird :)

Austin, #howdy 🤠 . . #sxsw2017 #sxsw #austin #socent #impact #downtown #goanddo

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