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This blog promises to explore social innovation. And at SOCAP 2011, there was a unique opportunity to do so by talking with individuals coming from diverse sectors of the field.

If you have been following recent posts and interviews on Innov8Social, you will have seen a few of these perspectives represented.  The interviews (or perhaps more aptly, interview-ettes) are 1-2 minute introductions that provide simple insight into the missions, goals, and structure of the various organizations represented. Enough to give a you a feel, with info on where to go to find out more.
Waiting for the punchline
And, just as no human is an island–social innovation does work in a vacuum. More often than not, you need the dialogue, the critical ‘buy-in’ from different sectors, to make an idea take off or continue.
So, in case you missed the individual posts, here they are compiled in one place. Four unique individuals representing four fascinating ventures. You can click the link associated with each video to read the full article where you will learn more about the organization and find related resources.
4 Perspectives at SOCAP 11, in Video

Impact Investing at SOCAP11: An Interview with Absolute Impact Partners



One World Youth Project’s Executive Director at SOCAP11


Namaste Solar’s Co-Founder Talks About Being a B Corp at SOCAP11




DayOne Response Waterbags Deliver Clean Water After a Crisis, SOCAP11

More on SOCAP11 from Innov8Social

You can follow our coverage of this year’s conference by clicking on the SOCAP11 tag on Innov8Social. You can also catch up on tweets from SOCAP11 (Sept 7-9 2011) @innov8social on Twitter and can search #SOCAP11 on Twitter for related tweets.

B Corporations In Different Forms

SOCAP11 (Social Capital Markets 2011) brought together a confluence of people, ideas, and dialogues from around the social innovation sphere. It was especially interesting to hear about various corporate forms that social ventures had decided on.I had a chance to talk with Blake Jones towards the end of Day 2 of SOCAP11. We had both attended the same breakout session on benefit corporations earlier in the day.

His company, a b corporation, is also a cooperative.

Meet Blake

Blake co-founded, Namaste Solar, a B corporation based in Colorado. (Reminder: B corporation is a voluntary certification, benefit corporation is a new corporate form for social innovation that has passed/is being introduced in various states. You can read more about the differences between B corporation and benefit corporation)

Here is a quick interview with Blake explaining what Namaste Solar does and why and how they decided to pursue the B corporation certification.

Watch the Interview

 

More About Namaste Solar

Namaste Solar is an employee-owned cooperative that installs solar systems in homes and businesses.

Namaste Solar is proud to be a B corporation and exists to benefit all of its stakeholders, including community and environment.

They may be looking for impact investors in the future.

Follow SOCAP11 Coverage

You can read posts about this year’s conference by clicking on the SOCAP11 tag on Innov8Social. Following up on tweets from from SOCAP11 is also possible by following @innov8social on Twitter and searching #SOCAP11 for all related tweets.

I recently had a chance to visit a happening hostel in Washington. Over breakfasts, dinners, and activities it was exciting and intriguing meeting the eclectic group of hostel-goers and hearing their stories.couchsurfing logoOne new concept I was quickly educated on was couch surfing. CouchSurfing.org that is.

And as VentureBeat reports, just last week CouchSurfing made the bold move to reincorporate as a for-profit B corporation and begin its new identity with a $7.6 million investment from Benchmark Capital.

The big move, which involves establishing a physical headquarters in San Francisco, will also likely expand CouchSurfing’s loyal 3M+ user base.

How CouchSurfing Works

“At CouchSurfing International, we envision a world where everyone can explore and create meaningful connections with the people and places they encounter…” CouchSurfing mission statement

New users can sign up using the simplified sign-up page and can choose to verify their address (which requires using a credit card and having a postcard with a code sent to your address) and are invited to make a recommended minimum donation to the organization, as a good faith show of their desire to be part of the couchsurfing community.

Once you’re on, you can search for “couches” in various cities. CouchSurfing users are peer-reviewed or “vouched for” through badges on the site. And the site mentions multiple tools and measures that have been implemented to ensure safety but clearly states (in multiple places) that surfers should use their individual best judgment when making the decision to surf, host, or meet up with individuals from the site.

CouchSurfing as a B Corporation

CouchSurfing explains its decision to incorporate as a B corporation in stating that “as a B (Benefit) Corporation, CouchSurfing will be part of a group of innovative businesses that deliver products and services with a commitment to social and environmental responsibility, transparency, fair work conditions, and doing good for the world.”

They mention that incorporating as a for-profit entity will better position them to receive funding, make improvements to the website, and evolve their systems along with their community’s needs.

CouchSurfing’s decision to incorporate as  B corporation speaks to their commitment to their initial mission and vision, and to keeping with the ideals of the organization. As they mention in a released statement,”Becoming a B Corporation makes us accountable to our core values. And you can check out the full audit that B Lab, the non-profit that issues B Corp certifications, recently completed of our social responsibility.”
  
What won’t change?
  
CouchSurfing promises that their mission and vision will stay the same. And that “CouchSurfing will never make you pay to host and surf”.

How can social innovators and supporters understand the legislative process better? 

Simple, get involved.
That’s what Innov8Social did this past week when we joined a number of social enterprises, state legislators, and policy makers at the State Capitol in Sacramento to observe and testify in support of AB 361 in a Senate Committee hearing.  AB 361 is the California bill that would establish a new corporate form in California. Businesses that elect to incorporate in this new form (i.e. as benefit corporations) would do so with the purpose of creating a general public benefit with their business.
What is a general public benefit?
The legislation outlines a general public benefit as a “material positive impact on society and the environment“—taken as a whole and assessed under a 3rd party standard.

AB 361 at CA Senate Committee on Banking and Financial Institutions

The June 29, 2011 hearing for AB 361.AB 361’s sponsor, Assemblyman Jared Huffman delivered the first remarks to the California State Senate Committee on Banking and Financial Institutions, chaired by Juan Vargas.

He outlined key points of the legislation, which was submitted by a number of his constituents.  A few key points he noted:

  • incorporating as a benefit corporation would be completely voluntary
  • benefit corporations would be required to show material positive impact
  • benefit corporations would be required to meet higher standards of accountability and transparency
  • benefit corporations would create a way for consumers to contribute to social impact through their patronage
  • the concept of stakeholders (including the environment, community) would expand on the fiduciary relationship that exists currently between corporations and shareholders to maximize profit.
  • a version of the benefit corporation bill has already been passed in 6 states
Several witnesses then delivered testimony on the basis of their support of AB 361. These supporters included:
  • Ryan Williams of Method — a scientist at Method–a company that aims to do more than business as usual spoke about Method’s aim to improve the world we work in through supporting infrastructure changes such as AB 361.
  • Don Shaffer — an investor and President & CEO of RSF Social Finance attested to the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been invested in B corporations and underlined the interest of investors in funding social enterprises.
  • Donald Simon — an attorney and partner at Wendel Rosen Black & Dean and Co-Chair of the Legal Working Group & Founder of 2 environmental non-profit organizations pointed out the social entrepreneurial roots already tied to California and the need to update the arcane view of fiduciary duty in the state.
  • John Montgomery — an attorney and Co-Founder of Montgomery & Hansen and Co-Chair of the Legal Working Group behind the bill noted that AB 361 would make California a leader in social enterprise.
  • William Clark — attorney and partner in Drinker Giddle and Reath LLP who has been integral in formulating the model benefit corporation legislation that has been passed in 6 states.  He mentioned that he and B Lab (the organization co-sponsoring the bill) have been working on California’s legislation for the past 2 years.
A number of other witnesses provided brief testimonial support for AB 361 including leaders from: svt group, green age 360, One World Futbol, inNative, Worklore, Innov8Social, and others.
Was there opposition?

There were speakers who voiced opposition to AB 361. This included members from the California Association of Non-profits who were concerned about the impact AB 361 could have on state non-profit organizations seeking funding, noting a potential competition for resources.Attorney Steven Hazen also voiced concerns about the impact of any modification to fiduciary duty standards and the impact on shareholders. He also noted his support of AB 201, a bill proposing the creation of a blended corporate form called a flexible purpose corporation.

Did AB 361 pass?

After about an hour of testimony and answering of questions from Committee members, AB 361 went to vote. It was passed by the Senate Committee on Banking and Financial Institutions 5 (in favor) – 1 (against) – 1 (abstained).

It passed through the Committee.

What’s next for AB 361?

It is due in the California State Judiciary Committee next week where it will face a similar process of presentation, witness testimony, and questioning from Committee members.

While in social innovation exploration mode, last month I reported back from an interesting conference on sustainable enterprise, in which we learned a few key buzzwords in the field.  One was the “Green MBA“—with special focus on triple bottom line accounting.

Which makes me wonder, is there a parallel “social innovation” LL.M course of study?
An LL.M is a postgraduate law degree (a Masters in Law) that is typically a one-year, full-time program. It is often pursued to specialize in an area of law. For example there are LL.M programs in taxation, environmental law, international law, and intellectual property.
With legislative innovations such as the benefit corporation and B corporation gaining traction, it seems that it would be useful and helpful to have attorneys who specialize in this emerging field.  Four pioneering states have already passed benefit corporation legislation. In California, the benefit corporation bill (AB 361) passed a vote in the state assembly 58 to 17, and New York’s benefit corporation legislation (A4692-A/Silver) is heading to the governor’s desk…With the connection between social innovation and law becoming a little more foreseeable than Mrs. Helen Palsgraf and harm caused by an ill-fated newspaper-wrapped package, it is food for thought to consider what tools and methods law students and attorneys have to study this subject further.

It would be great to hear feedback on any programs you know of, you can also find Innov8Social on Facebook and connect on this topic there.

 

If you are exploring signs of responsible business, you will likely come across the terms “B corporation” and “benefit corporation”…and while they may sound like synonymous buzzwords in social innovation, they are actually distinct concepts.

Here are 3 key differences to help keep them straight:

1. B Corporation is a voluntary certification.  B corporation certification recognizes companies that are purpose-driven and which create benefit for the community, the environment, and employees–as well as for shareholders. B corporation status is conferred on companies that apply with a passing score on the B Rating System and that agree to take steps to legally expand the fiduciary duty beneficiaries beyond shareholders.  The certification is granted by an advisory committee from B Lab–a non-profit organization dedication to B Corporation certification.
2. Benefit Corporation is a legal corporate structure.  You’ve likely heard of corporate structures such as a C corp or an S corp, similarly, benefit corporation is a new class of corporation that serves society and the environment, as well as shareholders. As of June 2011, four states have passed benefit corporation legislation (Maryland, Vermont, New Jersey, Virgina).
3. Becoming a Certified B Corporation is one way to meet statutory requirements for Benefit Corporation status. This is true for states that have passed benefit corporation legislation.
Walk into a grocery store these days and you will likely find that shortage of options is not an issue. Whether choosing flavors of bottled water or growing locale of a bushel of apples, you are the king, queen, and chief justice of choice.So what does that make you, me, and the billions of other buyers of goods and services—are we consumers…or voters? And what factors will tip us over the edge in deciding whether to pay or pass on something.Here are a few common factors that come to mind when deciding whether to buy a grocery product:
– cost (price, cost per serving, sales/promotions, incentives, bulk/bargain buys)
– nutrition (low calorie, low fat, high protein, gluten free, not gluten free, etc.)
– availability
– expiration date

but with a shifting focus on sustainability, health, and reducing our carbon footprint, a few more factors can come in play:
– was it grown locally?
– is it organic?
– fair trade?
– were hormones/pesticides used?
– did the company use sustainable practices?
– is the company a responsible employer?

voting or shopping

All of these various factors can complicate a simple grocery run for bread and milk—to say the least.

Certifications and badges can help guide our choices. For example the Guayaki bottle of organic mint yerba mate tea on the right features a mini display case of badges denoting its various certifications. And these can be decidedly helpful—if we know what they stand for & if we are on board with the certification process.

Guayaki notes its approval as a B corp—which is of special interest to me as that entails a number of other factors including social and environmental considerations.

Do certifications make a difference when you shop?
And do companies actually benefit by being evaluated for certifications?

Whether we see them as such or not, our purchases ($.25 or $25,000) are also votes for a particular product, brand, or type of product. Just as you cast a ballot for your favorite candidate, ‘voting’ for a product makes a statement to companies, suppliers, buyers, and retailers.

Arguably, however, no matter how aligned with our values a product may be, if it doesn’t meet our basic consumer instincts (i.e. do you love it? is it a good value?) it may not make it off the shelf and into our carts.

So, consumers or voters? I would venture to say both—and to examine further—we may see ourselves as consumers first and voters subsequent.  As ever, am curious to hear broader feedback :)

I had the chance to attend the Sustainable Enterprise Conference in Sonoma this past Friday. It was an opportunity to get plugged in on local efforts, campaigns, and ventures in the realm of sustainability.It was a great experience—I was struck by the sense of community within the sustainable enterprise movement. Like a tuned ecosystem–many of these companies collaborate, pool resources, and both support and are supported by a growing infrastructure of conservation and social responsibility  Here’s a high-level overview of the event and sessions I attended (note: there were a number of other workshop options)…with links so you can continue your research into the various orgs, speakers, and concepts mentioned.sustainable enterprise conference
Welcome by Genevieve Taylor (Partner, CircadiaOne), Brad Baker (President/CEO, Codding Investments), and Robert Girling Ph.D. (Author).Keynote address “California Legislation for a Sustainable Future” by California State Assemblymember for the 6th Assembly District Jared Huffman, JD

Keynote address “Ecological Sustainability and Economic Drivers” by Maggie Winslow, Ph.D. (Academic Dean, Presidio Green MBA)

Keynote address “Green Energy in the Golden State Under a Brown Administration” by Panama Bartholomy (Deputy Dir., Effiency and Renewables Division, CA Energy Commission)


Workshop: “Straus Family Creamery Strategic Planning” panel including Edward L. Quevedo (Sr. Counsel & Chair of Sustainability Practice, Paladin Law Group, LLP), Sarah Isabel Parriott (Sustainability Strategy PM, Paladin Law Group), and Deborah Parrish (CFO, Straus Family Creamery), with special guest Albert Straus (Founder of Straus)

Keynote address “Pulp Non-Fiction: Changing the Paper Industry” by Jeff Mendelsohn (President/Founder, New Leaf Paper)

Workshop: “Behind the Scenes with B2B B Corporations: Building the Vision and Infrastructure to Shape, Support, and Scale the Sustainable Business Economy” panel including Matt Reynolds (CEO of Indigenous Designs), Jonathan Storper (Partner & Chair of Sustainable Business, Hanson Bridgett LLP), and Carolyn McMaster (Principal, ThinkShift Communications)

Workshop: “Localization and Sustainability: Tales of Success” with panel including Mike McGuire (4th Dist. Sonoma, County Supervisor), Tom Scott (VP and GM, Oliver’s Market), Nancy Bailey, (GM, Quivira Wineyards & Winery), and Evelina Molina (Co-Founder, North Bay Institute of Green Technology)

Lessons Learned, Call to Action and Closing Statements by Oren Wool (Executive Director, Sustainable Enterprise Conference)

Read More:

You may have heard of a for-profit corp and a non-profit corporation…but there’s a good chance you haven’t met B yet.

A B corporation is one that integrates business objectives with social standards and sustainability considerations.
B corporation certification requires meeting specific criteria with regards to:
  • transparency
  • social & environmental performance
  • enhanced legal accountability
  • documentation & business practices
It’s a fascinating and innovative approach to addressing the challenge of marrying social considerations with the inherent duty of a business corporation to create profit for its shareholders.But don’t take my word for it…you can learn more about what a B corp is in their intro video:

Read on: