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“Do the most important thing.” – Paul GrahamSimple, elegant, and something that has likely been said over millennia—this has been the phrase that has echoed over and again in my mind since I saw Paul Graham speak at the 2014 Launch Festival in San Francisco.

Paul Graham at #Launch 2014
Paul Graham, at Launch Festival 2014

 

In his afternoon keynote on the first full-day of the conference (Monday, February 24, 2014), Paul shared what he has learned at the helm of Y Combinator (YC)—arguably the accelerator that catalyzed the launch of hundreds of other accelerator and incubator programs designed to spur innovation and provide an alternative pathway for thinkers and founders to become companies.  He reflected on the past decade, the kinds of founders YC has selected in the past, his changing role in the organization, and his announcement that he will be stepping back from day-to-day operations at YC.

He said that when he meets with founders he often prods them to identify their most important next task—-and to focus on doing exactly that thing.

It is apt advice for the entrepreneur and especially so for a mission-minded social entrepreneur serving multiple stakeholders.

All too often founders can get distracted, sidetracked and perhaps overwhelmed, causing them to spread ourselves thin and focus on multiple targets simultaneously. But, in practicing Paul’s advice, much of the surrounding noise dissipates and is replaced with focused attention and follow-through.

I hadn’t heard Paul speak before, and was struck by his easygoing, open style. After hearing him, I imagine this as a typical, garden-variety talk between Paul and a founder:

Paul: “Hey [Founder], so what’s the most important thing right now?”

Founder: “X”

Paul: “Yeah, go do that.”

On a sunny Friday in mid-March 2014, social innovation-minded leaders, thinkers, and students gathered at the beautifully designed (and LEED Gold certified) Lokey Graduate School of Business at Mills College for the 6th Annual Center for Socially Responsible Business (CSRB) Conference. The theme for this year was “Achieving Social Impact: To Scale or Not to Scale?”Speakers addressed the critical issue of “scale” for a social impact venture—how is it defined? How can it be effectuated? How does it apply to various organizational forms? How does the conversation about “scale” change based on sector?These questions and more were addressed through keynote speeches, panel discussions, and hosted lunch table talks. Overall the day was enriching—complete with insightful speakers, engaged attendees, and a wonderful opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals in the impact space.

It was great to be able to share our book ideas and progress with fellow attendees, make connections, and hear valuable feedback on our research and focus areas. Below are a few snapshots from the day.

CSBR at Mills College 2014
Lorry I. Lokey Graduate School of Business, Mills College
CSBR at Mills College 2014
Deborah Merrill-Sands, Dean of the Graduate School Business at Mills
welcomes attendees and convenes the conference.
CSBR at Mills College 2014
Kat Taylor, Co-Founder and CEO of One Pacific Bank delivers
a compelling keynote about the story of One Pacific Coast Bank,
and how it is has viewed and pursued scale. She concludes in song :)
CSBR at Mills College 2014
Moderator Cecily Joseph, VP of Corporate Responsibility at Symantec facilitates
a discussion exploring “To Scale or Not to Scale?” exploring the why and when of the
concept of scale with panelists representing a variety of CSR initiatives at for-profit
companies and startups.
CSBR at Mills College 2014
One point that Kathy Mulvany, Senior Director of Corporate Affairs at Cisco
underscored was that partnership is critical for scale.

 

CSBR at Mills College 2014
Jessica Steel, President of UrbanSitter and former Pandora executive,
shared the compelling story of how Pandora amassed 200M users
and how her new startup is choosing how to scale, and how not to.

 

CSBR at Mills College 2014
The conference was expertly organized by the campus Net Impact Chapter, together with the CSRB. It was held at the architecturally breathtaking Business School building, which is LEED Gold certified. Complete with a living roof.
CSRB conference at Mills College
Moderator Steve Wright, VP of Poverty Tools and Insights at the Grameen Foundation
facilitated a panel discussion on “Scaling Strategies” and outlined
three types of scale: expansion, replication, and collaboration
CSBR at Mills College 2014
Lalitha Vaidyanathan, Managing Director of FSG shared valuable insight through a case
study that underscored the importance of the scale of the solution matching the scale of the problem.

 

CSBR at Mills College 2014
Paul Herman, CEO and Founder of HIP Investor (Human Impact + Profit) reframed the
discussion of scale based on companies, institutions, movements that have mobilized
1B people and underscored the importance of valuing talent as an asset rather than a cost.
CSRB conference at Mills College
In a breakout session on scale as applied to public education reform, Angela Le (left) Manager of Growth and Special Projects at KIPP Bay Area and Brian Stanley, Executive Director of Oakland Schools Foundation discussed technical and adaptive problems in scaling and how charter schools have found ways to scale.

 

CSBR at Mills College 2014
Nikki Silvestri, Executive Director of Green For All delivered the afternoon keynote
and shared a powerful narrative of her family and path into social impact.
What better way to start of the new year than by joining social innovators, social entrepreneurs, and non-profit leaders for a day dedicated to applying lean methodology to the social sector!Innov8Social is proud to be a media partner for the Lean for Social Good Summit on Wednesday January 24th 2014.

Join in for sessions including:

  • Introduction to Lean, by Lean Startup Machine
  • Incubating Social Change
  • Funding Panel – How to talk to your funder about Lean, with Code for America

2 For 1 Discount: 24 Hours Only!

And for the next 24 hours, you can grab a 2-for-1 discount to the event using code: LEAN2FOR1

 

Join other thinkers, thought leaders, and social innovation explorers at this unique event focusing creating impact and value.

On the third Tuesday of September, as on many 3rd Tuesdays of most months, MIT-Stanford Venture Lab (VLAB) hosted a panel on an emerging, disruptive technology. On the docket for the month of September—and fittingly nicely with back-to-school overtures at your favorite retail outlets—was titled “Education Technology Tsunami: Common Core Disrupts K-12”.The event focused on education technology opportunities and innovation (edtech) geared toward students in grades K-12 amid widespread adoption of Common Core standards.Now, in the off chance that the preceding sentence contained multiple words with which you are not used to seeing in the same sentence—you’ve come to the right place. This post is just the trampoline to provide both a soft landing and willing launch you deeper into this expansive field.

VLAB Edtech panelThe event took place on the Stanford Graduate School of Business School, in the expansive Cemex Auditorium. It brought together over 400 educators, entrepreneurs, developers, investors, students, and those simply interested in learning about the topic—and, as you might suspect there was a broad spectrum of familiarity with the topic.

This talk was a perfect opportunity to seek depth by gaining introduction to key concepts, topics, questions, and challenges in the edtech space.

Instead of providing a summary—this post outlines a few recommendations, factoids, and topics imparted.

 

The Panel

 

1. Buzzword: Common Core Standards

As explained in the introduction, and in the brochure, “The Common Core Standards, adopted by 45 US states imposes learning and testing which adapts to a student’s ability in real time.”

You can read the full Common Core curriculum requirements here:

 

2. Issues with Adoption of Common Core Standards

Moderator Tina Barseghian outlined a few issues with the adoption of Common Core that have been raised:

  • Some schools don’t have the necessary technology to implement it.
  • Some teachers don’t want to be held accountable for its implementation.
  • Some question its adoption saying that teachers weren’t part of designing it.
  • Conservatives say its a liberal conspiracy.
  • Some call its adoption a “Trojan horse” introduced in order to let corporations profit

She also articulately noted that the merits of Common Core as a concept were not necessarily the focus of the panel discussion. But hearing them helped add depth and color to the conversation.

 

3. How will Common Core Impact Edtech?

One statistic presented estimated that $60B will be spent on edtech by 2015. This slide provided a helpful, visual overview of current players in the edtech space:

 

4. Book suggestion: One World Schoolhouse

This book by Salman Khan, founder of Khan Academy, was mentioned a few times throughout the evening. It was brought up in the context of Benjamin Bloom (see below for more on Bloom’s Taxonomy) and the effectiveness of “mastery learning”. Washington Times did a review of Khan’s book last year, here.

 

5. Buzzword: Formative Assessment

The panelists easily agreed that trendy buzzword “formative assessment” has multiple definitions. One definition presented seemed to appease and empower, was that formative assessment is “actionable assessment happening in real time.”

The New York City Department of Education dedicates a page of their website to formative assessment strategies, and this is a topic that a number of edtech startups (including panel startups MasteryConnect and Illuminate Education) are focusing on.

6. What do Large Education Companies like Pearson look for in edtech startups?

Panelists Scott Drossos (Sr. VP at Pearson) and Karen Lien (from Imagine K12) were on-hand to provide a perspective on acquisition and funding potential for edtech startups.  It was mentioned that Pearson actively seeks to partner and invest in promising enterprises that address needs in the education space. In evaluating edtech startups, large education companies like Pearson evaluate factors such as:
  • Is the business sound?
  • Is the leader stable, driven?
  • Has the startup addressed monetization?

 

7. Buzzword: Bloom’s Taxonomy

For those unfamiliar with the study of education and teaching theory, the work of Benjamin Bloom was referenced. He led groundbreaking work in the field of education and mastery learning over the expanse of five decades up until his death in 1999.  One topic that was raised during the panel discussion was “Bloom’s Taxonomy”. Here are brief descriptions and depictions of this concept:

Wikipedia: Bloom’s Taxonomy is a classification of learning objectives within education.

NWLink.com: Bloom’s Taxonomy was created in 1956 under the leadership of educational psychologist Dr Benjamin Bloom in order to promote higher forms of thinking in education, such as analyzing and evaluating, rather than just remembering facts (rote learning).

image credit: PSA-NW

[full disclosure: I serve on the Executive Team of VLAB as the Outreach Chair. Fuller disclosure, I became involved as a VLAB volunteer after covering an event for Innov8Social!]

On September 12, 2013 Harvard Club of Silicon Valley organized an event focused on the rise of the “Maker” movement. The intimate gathering, titled “Meet Your ‘Maker’: The New Movement for Urban, Micro, & Craft Production” took place at the industrial chic Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco.Essentially, expansion of manufacturing technologies coupled with rise of conscious consumerism is creating new markets for the democratization of the “making of” things.Tempting notions of a “de-industrial” revolution, or “new industrial revolution” as Chris Anderson explains in his book Makers, the movement suggests alternatives to centralized locales for manufacturing. Instead, the movement highlights pathways of success for entrepreneurs focusing on using high tech and high touch to create strong brands, loyal fans, and innovative products.

Maker Event by Harvard Club SV

The Panel

The panel included:

The Maker Movement, Why Now?

Panelists noted a few factors that contribute to the growth of the maker movement, including:
  • Lower barriers to entry. New tools such as 3D printing and access to industrial manufacturing tools empower experimentation, which in turn drives innovation.
  • New toys. Facilities such as TechShop and the rise of micro-manufacturing creates new possibilities in decentralizing manufacturing.
  • Making v. manufacturing mindset. Distinguishing makers by their personal stories, artisan craftsmanship, and the rise of events such as SFMade (see also SJMade, Palo Alto Made, etc.) is creating a viable market for makers in an ecosystem generally directed by manufacturers.
This is a fascinating field—both in the enterprise sense as well as in terms of law and policy that is emerging to facilitate the maker movement. Stay tuned as we explore various aspects of the maker movement.
When enough people, especially those not otherwise connected with each other, recommend something, it can do wonders to capture your imagination and fascination. That happened with Santa Clara University’s Global Social Benefit Incubator program.

Global Social Benefit Incubator (GSBI)

Though I learned about GSBI while researching social innovation startup accelerator and incubator programs, over the past few months I have heard it mentioned in various conversations with social innovators and entrepreneurs in the space.

Then, at the Womens’ Social Entrepreneurs’ Panel hosted by GABA at the Kiva offices in SF, a few panelists were also graduates of the program—and were doing absolutely fascinating work. My interest was building, and every subsequent mention of GSBI was akin to a “Klout” moment on my personal interest pique-o-meter.

Attending a GSBI Accelerator Showcase

GSBI accelerator showcase

More recently, SCU hosted a GSBI Accelerator Showcase on campus. The pitch event featured over a dozen social entrepreneurs, hailing from around the globe, who presented pitches and status updates on their endeavors directly to impact investors and the broader philanthropic community.

These driven problem-solvers were educators, artisans, farmers, and engineers—but took on the role of social innovators in the face of deep-rooted issues in their communities.

VentureBeat covered the event noting that “of the 202 enterprises that have completed GSBI programs since its inception in 2003, 90 percent are still in business and can boast of having positively impacted nearly 100 million lives around the globe and raising $89 million in funding.”

Thane Kreiner, Executive Director of the Center for Science, Technology, and Society, at Santa Clara University, which is home of the Global Social Benefit Incubator also published a recap of the event on NextBillion.

The pitches were direct asks for funds to help social enterprises cross the proverbial chasm in scaling to the next level.  Here is a sample of a few of the asks:

  • Clinicas de Azucar requested $3.3M to scale low-cost diabetes solutions to reach 200 clinics in Mexico.
  • Avani requested $500K to scale sustainable textile production by women to 101 villages in northern India
  • Nishant Bioenergy requested $600K to scale production and distribution of energy-efficient, sustainable, cookstoves.
  • Literacy Bridge requested $500K to scale their accessible (non-literacy dependent) audio solution for teaching agricultural practices to rural farmers in Africa
  • Drishtee requested $3M to scale their solution to extend last-mile distribution of products to remote regions in India.
  • Iluméxico requested $250K to scale solar grid electricity solutions to open 30 branches in 10 states in Mexico.
  • Husk Power requested $5M to scale mini powerplants and provide electricity as a service from 5K to over 25K households in India and East Africa.

(Note: videos of the pitch event can be seen here and will be posted on YouTube here.)

The Courage to Try

The pitches represented more than a singular idea. In social innovation, as in entrepreneurship, ideas often come “into vogue”concurrently—i.e. if you are thinking of a new innovation or improvement, there’s a good chance someone is thinking along the same lines too.

This simple realization humanizes the social entrepreneur’s experience and also takes it out of the abstract. These entrepreneurs who venture into the dimly lit space of creating value and impact aren’t necessarily the first, they are the the ones courageous enough to grab the torch and stumble into the darkness to test out their potential solution.

In the coming weeks I look forward to interviewing a few of the leaders of GSBI to learn more about the program, the selection process, how the institute has evolved, and what the organizers have learned from hosting an annual accelerator/incubator program for social innovation.

 

Apply to GSBI by October 31

Applications for the 2014 class of GSBI are available now and you can apply until October 31, 2013.

Application for GSBI are here.

 

GSBI accelerator showcase
GSBI accelerator showcase
One of my favorite parts of participating in SOCAP is learning about relevant new tools and resources in the social innovation space. Here are 5 interesting ones I learned about via #SOCAP13 webcasts.

5 Social Innovation Resources from SOCAP13

 

1. Book: Mission in a Bottle


Mission in a Bottle: The Honest Guide to Doing Business Differently–and Succeeding by Seth Goldman and Barry Nalebuff

On Day 2 of #SOCAP13’s morning plenary session included a presentation by Founder and CEO of Honest Tea Co., Seth Goldman. He introduced the new book he co-authored with co-founder (and former professor) Barry Nalebuff. Interestingly, it is written as a comic book—a format Seth touches on in his talk.

As we set out on writing our own book on social innovation—we are constantly seeking to hear honest narratives of entrepreneurs who have set out create value and impact. After Seth spoke I immediately ordered an ebook version of the book. At the time, I didn’t realize it was primarily in comic book format so I do lose a bit in the way of color and size but am delighted to see a unique, visual take on sharing their story.

You can take a look at Seth Goldman’s talk at SOCAP13 below.

 

2. Report: 2013 GSMA Report on Scaling Mobile for Development

Report: Scaling Mobile for DevelopmentHarness the opportunity in the developing world
(Aug 2013)
by GSMA Intelligence, with support from Rockefeller Foundation

In an afternoon session on Day 2 of SOCAP13, Matt Bannick of Omiydar Network moderated a panel titled, “Priming the Pump in Action: A Sector-Based Discussion on Mobile Impact.” The focus of the session was to parse out case studies of use and scale of mobile for impact and development.

Mentioned a few times in the session was an in-depth report prepared by GSMA regarding the use of mobile technology for development. Considering that mobile technology in the developing world has become the basis of innovative social enterprises tackling issues ranging from access to healthcare (MAMA), access to finance (M-Pesa), to reporting of labor conditions (LaborVoices).

Priming the Pump in Action: A Sector-Based Discussion on Mobile Impact

 

  • Monica Brand, Accion Frontier Investments Group
  • Matt Bannick, Omidyar Network (moderator)
  • Faith Sedlin, Range Networks
  • Corina Gardner, GSMA






3. Conference: Sankalp Unconvention, Annual Summit in India

SankalpForum.com




During SOCAP13, Conference Co-Founder and Convener Kevin Jones sat down for an armchair conversation with Vineet Rai Founder of Intellecap and Aavishkaar. Rai organizes the largest meeting of social innovation minds outside of SOCAP called “Sankalp”—which translates to “pledge” or “determination.”

Sankalp was founded in 2009 to connect social enterprises and investors but has grown to a broader platform to bring together thought leaders, industry experts, policymakers and global social innovators.

The Sankalp Unconvention Summit 2014 is scheduled for September 4, 2014. You can read the in-depth 2013 PDF Sankalp conference guide and watch videos from past conferences.

 

4. Publication: 5 Characteristics of a Social Entrepreneur by Greg Dees of Berkeley

 

Greg Dees
Professor, Thought Leader
in social entrepreneurship
(photo credit: AshokaU)

In Berkeley Professor Laura Callanan’s introduction to her insightful talk, “The Surprise Social Entrepreneur”on Day 2 SOCAP13, she referenced a list of characteristics of social entrepreneurs as set out by Professor Greg Dees.

I had not heard of this specific list referenced. In looking up the list and Professor Dees I see him as an early adopting and leading social enterprise thinker. To put it in perspective, I launched Innov8Social in 2011 to study the “emerging space” of social innovation. Professor Dees? He published his list of characteristics in 2001.

He has remained close to the evolution of the movement having held positions at McKinsey & Company, Yale School of Management, Harvard Business School, and Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. He also serves on the board of the Bridgespan Group and World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council for Social Entrepreneurship. Professor Dees is on numerous advisory boards including Volans, REDF, Aflatoun, Business Leadership for Tomorrow, the Limmat Foundation, and the Social Enterprise Journal.

From “Meaning of Social Entrepreneurship” by J. Gregory Dees (published in 2001) 

Social entrepreneurs play the role of change agents in the social sector, by:

  • Adopting a mission to create and sustain social value (not just private value),
  • Recognizing and relentlessly pursuing new opportunities to serve that mission,
  • Engaging in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning,
  • Acting boldly without being limited by resources currently in hand, and
  • Exhibiting heightened accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created.

 

http://www.uniteforsight.org/social-entrepreneurship-course/module2

 

5. Book: The Business Solution to Poverty

 

During the morning plenary session of Day 3 of SOCAP13, one of the speakers was Paul Polack, co-founder and CEO of Windhorse International. A newly minted 80-year old (he noted celebrating his birthday two days prior) he spoke earnestly about his life-long dream of transforming business as usual and extreme poverty.

Paul outlined 3 movements that he said were in the “crossroads” between success and failure. This, from someone who has been immersed in poverty solutions for decades, was particularly insightful. On his radar were: 1) the movement to end extreme poverty as in need of new and innovative solutions;  2) the need for social impact to finds ways to demonstrate commercial profitability at scale; and 3) the need for big business to shift from designing and selling mindset of over-consumption.

He also introduced the new book he and co-author Mal Warwick released titled “The Business Solution to Poverty.”

Want more? Here are a few Storify compilations recapping SOCAP13:

 

If there is ever a frenzy similar to Chicken Little proclaiming “the sky is falling” that is 1) constructive and 2) applied to the social innovation community—it is that in preparation of the annual Social Capital Markets gathering in San Francisco. Affectionately abbreviated as “SOCAP”, add “#” at the front and appropriate two-digit year at the end for digital perfection, the conference brings together thousands upon thousands of thought leaders, movers & shakers, investors, and companies squarely in the social innovation sector.

SOCAP, the Holy Grail

So, you might ask, this must be your premier event of the year? I.e. your little blog on social innovation must erupt in rainbow colors and neon lights when this conference comes along—and you must gingerly pick out an appropriate consumer-conscious wardrobe, arrange your specially-ordered greenstock Moo business cards, and otherwise prepare yourself for a tsunami of information. Absolutely and kind of.

Welcome to SOCAP11
#SOCAP11: Go Big or Go Home

In 2011 after I found out about the event just months after I began my blog (and left my full-time job), I made the huge decision to pay the nearly $1K to attend the event. And so I did meticulously select a wardrobe–which paid homage to both the color green as well as the dangers of greenwashing–, I made arrangements to stay with a close friend in SF, I mapped out the public transport routes. And, I tried to meet anyone and everyone I could at the event by exchanging cards, LinkedIn-ing with impressive turnaround times, and creating #bff-level twitter friendships.
The event did hold muster. I interviewed a number of fascinating, driven individuals for Innov8Social—enabling me to launch a YouTube channel, wrote handfuls of posts, and otherwise tried to absorb as much of the event as I could. Not only that, having paid full sticker price, I wanted to make sure I continued my learning outside of the event. I used the conference info app to continue connecting with people after the event—meeting over coffee, Skype, or rollover minutes.
It was energizing, electric (concept further explained here, kindly scroll down), and eye-opening. But, as you may know, as a social innovator with an appetite for the future that can sometimes exceed resources in the wallet—paying to play without a fiscal sponsor was not necessarily a scalable solution. A blog is a tricky thing and while it has lent to some incredible interviews and consulting opportunities, it requires a discipline that is at times more aligned with “lean”, “bootstrap”, and “survival” than anything more lofty or luxurious.
(for your perusing pleasure, Innov8Social’s coverage of #SOCAP11 including interviews, session recaps, and photo essay.)



#SOCAP12: The Lost Year

In 2012, the timing and resource flow weren’t aligned to purchase another ticket. I did apply for other avenues such as a press pass or volunteer role but was not a lucky grasshopper on either count. #SOCAP2012 will remain the “lost SOCAP” for me as my work and study schedule didn’t permit online participation and my resources (or combined ingenuity) didn’t pave the path for actual participation.(Link to official #SOCAP12 webcasts is here)

#SOCAP13: Go Big, at Home

As SOCAP2013 rolled around I was again determined. I entertain innovation regularly and laugh in the face of closed doors and one-line rejection emails. Surely, this time around there would be some way to connect with the Holy Grail of social innovation events in the SF Bay Area.  Thinking about how my readership has grown (200K visitors have wittingly and unwittingly happened upon the site and  40+ amazing people have shared their time for an interviews), I tossed my name in the hat for a press pass once more. And, what the heck, for a volunteer role too.
This time, though, there was yet another avenue. Like a natural gas-powered organic food truck emerging from the SF fog, there was a new, accessible, potentially promising path to earn a golden ticket and contribute to the curriculum. And it was called SOCAP Open. We could pitch ideas for a session, gather support and buy-in via social media, and await determination from the SOCAP illuminati. Considering that co-author Shivani and I were in the concluding stages of finalizing our social innovation book idea and crowdfunding it, we pitched an idea that was forming the backbone of our book.  Maybe it could be a win-win-win and win for all. We could participate, gain access to the event, share some great learnings from writing the book, and engage in a meaningful dialogue that could in turn impact our content.
A few things added hairs of complication to the plan. Namely 1) we are still in the outlining phase of the book; 2) despite our humble yet valiant social media efforts, our session idea was not one of the 23 selected (out of 124); and 3) my volunteer and press pass queries must have lost in the proverbial metadata haystack, as I did not receive a response to either.
The SOCAP organizing team was magnanimous in offering a considerable discount for those who submitted idea. I think I lost track of both time and common sense, and did not act on the offer.
But this year I was determined not fall in the abyss and completely miss out. So I did what any #socent worth her salt would do—I looked for a quick and easy solution that would get me closer to the action at a fraction of the cost. I rigged my iPhone to my TV using the appropriate tethering Apple dongle and I streamed the sessions live online.
“What do you want to make absurd in your lifetime?”
social innovators Premal Shah (Kiva), Robert Gomez (filmmaker),
Donna Morton (Principium), and Bill McKibben (350 org)
“Accelerating the Good Economy”
Opening session – #SOCAP13

In 2011 I always grimaced when I was late to a plenary session—I hate missing keynotes, especially when they include jokes and funny anecdotes. This time, my strategy worked with true atomic watch precision. I sat directly in the center of the couch with my laptop poised in start position on my lap, and an appropriate array of remotes to my left. I had readied myself with plethora of open tabs—including Twitter, the official #SOCAP13 schedule, Wikipedia for unfamiliar concepts, and Linkedin & Facebook to share update and consult bios of the upcoming speakers. And then, I waited.

As soon as the plenary sessions launched, so did I. I tweeted, I facebooked, I even took handwritten notes. I would have thrown my business cards at the screen in hopes of networking, but that seemed excessive. I did email speakers who shared their addresses with the audience in hopes of following up. Moreover, I learned and absorbed.
I could let my mind wander around and through the concepts—and I myself could do the same in the kitchen and patio—as I listened. It was a much different experience than #SOCAP11 but it was a determined one. I learned much and truly appreciated the conference organizers’ efforts to let us simple humans connect with the grandeur taking place at the Holy Grail.

(to be sure I was actually tuning in and not just clicking on sponsored posts on FB, here are 5 resources I learned about from tuning in to #SOCAP13)

#SOCAP14: ________ ?

Stay tuned for a few concrete learnings about #SOCAP13—the home edition. And, know that you don’t have to take my word for it—those videos that I partook in are still available. As we wait for even newer ways to potentially participate in #SOCAP14, we can prepare ourselves by staging a viewing marathon of SOCAPs of years past. I can just imagine the happy tweeting of updates from the plenary sessions—nevermind that they took place months (or years) ago—and the throwing our business cards at the screen in gleeful appreciation.
NetIP North America (Network of Indian Professionals) strives to “serve as the unequivocal voice for the South Asian Diaspora by developing and engaging a cohesive network of professionals to benefit the community.”

dare to give back #netipconf2013
“Dare to Give Back” Panel at #netipconf2013 : (from right) Seena Jacob, Bookwallah;
Golda Philip, Hospital for Hope; Neetal Parekh, Innov8Social
[adapted from photos by Kavita T.]

Dare to Be You

One of the manifestations of its mission is the conference held annually at a different compelling metro in North America. The 2013 NetIP conference convened in the heart of downtown San Francisco on Labor Day weekend. The canvassing theme “Dare to Be You,” created a framework broad enough to accommodate a range of topics and bold enough to highlight breakaway paths South Asians are increasingly pursuing.  There were speakers from the CIA, entertainment, entrepreneurship, and even a relationship expert on hand to share what they’ve learned while also showing the potential of unconventional pathways in the process.

NetIP Descends on San Fransisco

Being in the backyard of tech and social innovation, the event also included features cognizant of the SF/Bay Area milieu.
For example, the event hosted its first ever “Fast Pitch” session in which entrepreneurs pitched early-stage startup ideas, and answered tough questions from a panel of experts in hopes of gaining valuable feedback and possible scoring a win on an enticing prize suite of products and services.
Another distinctive feature—which fellow event/conference enthusiasts can appreciate—was the unique pocket-sized program. Measuring just a few inches by a few more inches, the pamphlet could fit in the palm of your hand, in an oversized pocket, and definitely in any size bag or purse.  It was a “fit and light”version of its traditional full-size counterparts—half the calories with the same great taste.

Dare to Give Back

I was honored to join a panel titled “Dare to Give Back” which was designed with the focus of sharing stories of social innovation from those who have launched projects in the field. The panel:
The time slot of Saturday morning at 10:30 AM to noon did a couple of things. It likely dissuaded the faint of heart—whose interest in this topic hasn’t peaked or who didn’t realize there were sessions that started before 1pm on a Saturday. And, it brought together those who were inexplicably compelled by this topic. That latter group made the session an exceptional exercise in sharing, learning, being vulnerable, supporting each other, and generally getting fired up.
In our introductions we learned so much about each other. Not only was Golda working with an amazing team with audacious goals of creating rippling impact in healthcare for hundreds of thousands of villagers, she is also the youngest sister of two college friends who are phenomenal leaders in their own rights. Connecting with her brought back fond memories of undergrad leadership, and her quiet eloquence served to inspire those thinking about giving back in health care capacities in South Asia and beyond.
Seena disarmed the panel, audience, and attending media early in the session. Her vibrancy and honesty about the ups and downs of being a social innovator and nonprofit leader were genuine and uncoated. Bookwallah has maintained its vision of sharing storytelling and books with children in South Asia, but she quickly pointed out how the methods of effecting the vision have pivoted to adapt to actual and unforeseen needs and challenges the project faced. Her story and passion moved members of the audience to find out how they could help. A participant in one of sessions later in the day, wrote her a check on the spot to contribute to her work.
dare to give back #netipconf2013I shared what I have learned in launching a blog on social innovation, understanding the need, setting (and re-calibrating) expectations, and–most importantly–the actionable learnings about legal structure and business models for social innovation and social enterprise.

Power of Sharing

The session went from great to exceptional when we shifted the spotlight from the panel to the audience. With over a dozen audience members and nearly an hour left on the clock we invited attendees to introduce themselves and their ideas for stating a social enterprise, nonprofit, or what drew them to the session.
The responses were remarkable. Not only did we learn that attendees hailed from Washington D.C., New York, the Bay area, and the Midwest—we heard about work they have been doing, resources they have to offer, and the ideas that are just seedlings looking for ways to develop. As each person “pitched” their giving back aspirations, remarkably, everyone in the room conspired on ways to help. Golda, who herself is based in DC, was keen to follow up with the east coasters for a local DC follow-up gathering. Seena offered her organization as a volunteer opportunity for those looking to connect more deeply with projects around literacy.
There were attendees practicing law in one field but trying to find out how to help victims in more impactful ways outside of work hours. Health care professionals voiced interest in volunteering in South Asia in the developing world in new ways. One attendee shared a personal story of attending the session in honor of a dear friend dedicated to service, who passed away suddenly some years back—and how she actively sought ways to honor her friend’s memory.As people felt more comfortable and encouraged, they opened up and said aloud ideas that may have just seemed to be fleeting but whose repetition was cause for notice.

Singing the Body Electric

I remember picking up a Ray Bradbury book called I Sing the Body Electric! at a garage sale as a middle-schooler. I had been so taken by Fahrenheit 451 that any book by the author caught my eye. I can’t honestly remember any of its the short stories—-but the title has stayed with me.

1969 ... 'I Sing the Body Electric' - Ray BradburyWhen you engage in something you are passionate about—be it sports, fashion, art, tech, or service—there is a certain electricity that is generated when you recognize that common passion in others. Even though we had each descended to this session from different parts of the country, with varying levels of experience and interest, and different end goals—our common passion for service and working on ideas bigger than ourselves created an unmistakable melody of positive current.

The April 2013 gathering of Impact Law Forum was held at IDEO.org‘s scenic office in San Francisco.

Leading the session was Sean Hewens, IDEO.org’s Knowledge Manager + In-House Counsel

Sean Hewens, IDEO.org: law + human-centered design

Sean started by asking a simple question to the audience…

Sean Hewens, IDEO.org: law + human-centered design

Participants were asked to write 3 words they thought of when they heard the word “lawyer” on Post-its. The initial batch of responses was small…

Sean Hewens, IDEO.org: law + human-centered design

 

…but definitely expanded as the evening continued.

 

Sean Hewens, IDEO.org: law + human-centered design

The exercise was a great example of an emerging field, human centered design (HCD).  It was especially meaningful to hear Sean’s perspective on the field since IDEO and IDEO.org have been at the forefront of developing human-centered design approaches and applying them to pressing world issues.

What is human-centered design (HCD)?

Sean explained the field by contrasting it with the traditional approach to design, which involves  planning/drawings to show look and functionality of a product. Instead, human-centered design is a problem-solving approach to innovation. Sean explained that it begins with a deep empathy with a customer’s needs, hopes, wants, etc. and helps create innovation rooted in people, and the broader context that shape the way they live.

What is IDEO?

IDEO has gained ground as a leading design firm and international innovation consultancy. Founded in 1991, IDEO has worked on such iconic designs as Apple’s first mouse, Nike sunglasses, as well as with with top global brands on organizational development. IDEO arguably became a household name in 1999 when 60 Minutes and then NBC Nightly News aired a segment about the unique process-based approach to design. You can take a trip down memory lane…

What is IDEO.org?

IDEO has been involved in social-sector projects for over a decade. As Sean explained, in December 2011 IDEO.org was launched as a non-profit focused on design solutions with a focus on poverty alleviation. He reiterated that IDEO.org selects projects based on their anticipated impact on society, the environment, and/or people affected.
As explained on the “About” page of IDEO.org

What are Sean’s tips for designing for law?

Sean shared a number of surprisingly specific tips on how attorneys can begin to adopt a design approach to law.

1. Never use Times New Roman
2. Use one space between sentences, not two
3. Learn the creative suite, to make documents appealing, compelling, “pretty”
4. Use Keynote instead of Power Point
5. Be visual, i.e. use Post-Its and other ways to visually map solutions
6. Remember, you are smart + you are creative!

 

How did Sean go from a traditional path of law into law + design?

After completing an undergraduate degree at Columbia, Sean started his career in the Civilian Complaint Division at the NYPD. He worked primarily on drug law cases, which motivated him to pursue law school so he could reform drug laws. After law school, he detoured in to corporate law. He kept a journal during his four years as a corporate law and noticed a trend—he did not regularly interact with people, he was not happy.Sean Hewens, IDEO.org: law + human-centered designHe took a major leap by enrolling in a design program, which began to influence his approach to design. He was inspired afterwards to launch a non-profit called Smallbean to put used personal electronics in the hands of Tanzanians and travelled to Africa to create a technical hub. The project was incredibly eye-opening, but left him in a difficult financial situation. He classified the project as a “failure”, noting that failure is actually a win in the HCD world. The HCD approach is to fail fast, fail early, and iterate.

So, he did.  He and co-founder Ross Lohr launched Project Repat. The premise is that 90%+ of donated t-shirts and clothing is shipped to Africa. Project Repat would enter the local markets in Africa to reclaim t-shirts and re-sell in America, with 100% of proceeds given to the local African economies. Since its founding, Project Repat has shifted focus, you can read more in the update here.

Those experiences excited Sean to take his design + law approach to new frontiers, leading him to IDEO.org

Sean’s parting thoughts?

Get out there. Understand and observe. Work with other disciplines. Consider the system you are working in (or with). Make solutions visual. Prototype early and often.Don’t just be a lawyer…find opportunities to design.

Dive in!

+Acumen and IDEO.org are teaming up to offer a 5-week course called “Human Centered Design for Social Innovation.” Teams of 2-5 can sign up here by July 3rd. Hear Sean talk about the course below

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