Posts

As a follow-up to Innov8Social’s recent interview with Kate Michi Ettinger, I wanted to share a reflection on part of the conversation we had after the recording.

Reframing What It Means to Be a Social Entrepreneur

I have known Kate for over a year now, through our participation in Impact Law Forum and other social entrepreneurship events and conferences. It was a sincere pleasure to have the opportunity to learn more about her the breadth and depth of her work.

We chatted after her interview and she shared a sentiment that reframed my perspective on social entrepreneurship. As you may know, the recent months have brought on exciting projects such as the social innovation book project co-author Shivani Khanna and I are working on, and my role in curriculum and business development at entrepreneurship education startup (Thinktomi). These responsibilities, in addition to feeding the blog (admittedly, less frequently), can sometimes feel overwhelming.

In talking to Kate—who juggles multiple roles, each incredibly demanding and each with its own layers of complexity, she said one line that particularly resonated with me— “this is what it means to be a social entrepreneur.”

As self-identified social innovators we have to balance the sometimes-chaotic, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants, 24/7 ish demand by taking care of our health, seeking balance, and finding solace in what can feel like a perfect storm. In our efforts to do this, we set the stage to finding new ways to engage in the tasks, and work required to make social enterprise ideas into reality.

It was the perfect sentiment at the right moment–and helped reframe my own view from seeing these as challenges to ‘handle’ as invitations to redefine balance and innovate.

In reflecting on her observation this past week I feel that in the brevity of life, it is a sincere and humble honor to be able to dedicate my time and efforts to projects I believe in—even if the balancing act requires a little additional creativity and focus :)

 

notebook and pen

 

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.
As we begin to notice a familiar crispness in the air—the characteristic calling card of fall, it seems like the right time to reflect on the summer and what is ahead. The bundle of traditionally warm months was momentous in a number of ways for Innov8Social and for my connection with the social innovation movement.

Explorer to Contributor

In a number of ways, the summer signified a move from explorer to contributor. The past two years have been a humble exploration of social innovation through covering events, interviews, trying out new types of content on the blog, and connecting with thinkers in the field. And now there is a new pull and push to create something useful, valuable and accessible.
The urge manifested in a campaign to write a book to map and guide a broader audience through social innovation and emerging best practices. Meeting Shivani gave the project wings to soar higher and with better vantage points, and our decision to crowdfund the book on Indiegogo gave us an automatic litmus test to validate our idea.

The Book, Beyond Crowdfunding

In the month since the campaign ended, we have been transitioning from ‘fundraising mode’ to ‘author prep’ mode. Shivani has been traveling to Africa and South Asia for a social enterprise consulting assignment—forcing our hand in creative, innovative remote collaboration. Just before her latest trip we met, outlined on Google docs (using an Apple TV and LCD to project and edit our outlining document on the big screen) and pitched each other chapter headings, workflows, and headlining organizations to interview and feature.
Where much of my work has focused on social innovators with a “Silicon Valley” mindset—utilizing tech, considering scale, and concerned with issues such as formation, funding, and business models—Shivani continually challenged and pushed my ideas of social innovation with what she has seen, heard, and read about of vital work happening abroad.
As she embarked on her latest trip to Bangladesh, we devised an intense reading list for each other featuring works ranging from Stanford Social Innovation Review to Jugaad.  As with any project—having been at this one for the past few months together—we now have a better idea of timeline. We know a few things: 1) we will have to write the book together, at the same time (remote writing will inhibit the collaboration process and writing chapters separately could create disparate voices and perspectives) and 2) we are focused on quality first and timeline second.  What that means for you: it may be better to think of this book as one for the new year rather than a holiday gift!

Hearting Design

 

Another element that wove itself into summer was design. I participated with a team in the first ever Human Centered Design for Social Innovation online course by +Acumen and IDEO.org. It was illuminating in a number of ways and has made me more aware of design—i.e. considering the end-user and whether the design really meets the need and use, and what (if anything) would be a better fit.
The process underscored my love for design. I also re-designed my business cards (using half-cards plus photos I took and edited) and am working with GoodJoe to launch a design contest re-envision the Innov8Social logo. More to come!

Photo Essay

As you may suspect from my posts here and on Flickr, I have an amateur’s fascination with photography. Here are a few photos from random, compelling events from the summer. Enjoy!
small airplane propellers

 

cappuccino dove peace
human-centered design for social innovation
Japanese garden
japanese garden
recycled, reused, repurposed
classic cars in downtown
kids at play in summer
golden gate bridge
After launching and creating content for Innov8Social for the past two years—including 33 interviews (and counting!), over 200 blog posts, and coverage of dozens of events,  I have partnered with Shivani Khanna, a business strategy consultant in the space and we are excited to announce that we are co-authoring a book on social innovation! Check it out:

The book

Our book will present a framework for understanding social innovation through first-hand interviews with leaders, entrepreneurs and changemakers in the space. It analyzes breakthrough innovations to identify a set of best practices that create both economic and social value.
We are excited to use our lenses of law, business, writing, and entrepreneurship to better understand how existing social enterprises are forming (i.e. legal structures), what kinds of business models they are using, how they measure impact, and what they would have done differently.
Hear us explain more…

 

How you can help

Our vision for the book is for it to be user-friendly, with visuals and graphics to walk through concepts and data. This is a book aimed for the entrepreneur with an idea, the leader trying to implement social impact within the framework of creating business value, and anyone trying to adopt a mindset for social innovation.
To do this book right we want to find the best possible graphic artists, copy editors, and support team.

 

1. give & receive

Contribute to the campaign and receive perks, such as the book (early release eBook and/or signed paperback), as well as opportunities to meet thought leaders, and/or have us present our findings to your company or organization.
Not only will you receive the book—but as one of the supporters who make it possible, you’ll be in it! See your name in print on our thank you page.
Contributions can be made until Friday, August 2nd at 11:59PM PST.

2. share & find

You can also support through sharing with your network and over social media.
Here are a few sample tweets:
Social Innovation Book Project: Creating Value-Based Ventures  by     
Check out the social innovation book project!  by     
You can also can share on Facebook, Twitter, and G+ directly on the campaign page: http://igg.me/at/socentbook/x/3492348

3. suggest & connect

Do you know of any networks, groups, listservs, or organizations that this book would appeal to?

Let us know below…

We are excited for this project and look forward to keeping you posted on its progress!

Learn more + support the efforts!
http://igg.me/at/socentbook/x/3492348

 

“Pasos cortos, vista larga.” I heard this saying, which translates to “short steps, long vision”, straight from hip hop star, investor, and entrepreneur Pitbull at his recent concert at Shoreline Amphitheater. A quote his mother would often repeat became his mantra for creating his own path. It was timely, because it eloquently and succinctly describes my thoughts […]

Dear Mom,Today you would have turned 60. I couldn’t miss the opportunity to wish you :) I’m sure we would have organized a big get-together. You would have overseen the food and decorations with your characteristic good taste and attention to detail.  Let’s be honest,  there would have been some stress in making sure the event met your vision—but once it was in full swing laughter, great food, and the company of friends and family would have been in abundance.  Maybe we would have tried to surprise you (i.e. circa your 52nd bday—we had you pretty well that time).  Or, maybe you would have leveraged your birthday to plan a family trip or cruise—turning a multiple of 10 gives you a mega bargaining chips, which come in handy when negotiating busy schedules and noncommittal planners.Best of all, you and Mina Aunty would have put together a fun aunties’ event.  You know the ones where you all get together, dress to the nines, and basically take over a poor, unsuspecting establishment with your laughter, jokes, and vibrant stories.

 

paper heart

There are so many things that I think you would have loved. Like the iPhone and iPad. Whenever I taught workshops on how to use them at the Apple Store, I always imagined what you would have thought of them. I have a feeling you would have taken to them like a fish to water. They are absolutely incredible. You would have used them to look up recipes, check out the latest kitchen gadgets, and maybe even FaceTime across the world.

I asked you once, between the time things were serious and very very serious, about whether I should practice law. You were steadfast in supporting my own vision of my connection to the field. I think of your belief often and feel it in the family’s unconditional support.

I wonder what you would have thought of my journey and of Innov8Social. I would have loved to share with you the amazing experience it has been, the people I have met, the ideas that continually expand my mind, the innovation I have seen in action, and the possibilities to improve the world in ways that we had never imagined before.

We all think about you, and love you always.

Happy birthday Mummy :)

love
neetal

We have talked a lot about social innovation together. We’ve looked at bills that have passed that give social enterprise new legal structures, fellowship programs for the field, and tools social entrepreneurs can use as they climb the proverbial mountain where money meets meaning. 

the importance of staying grounded

One thing we haven’t covered is the importance of staying grounded.

When you’ve chosen  impact-driven goals, where your actions pursue profit but are not driven by them, and where risk of failure is incredibly high—it might be easy to feel a sense of self-righteousness about the cause you are addressing, the expertise you are developing, or the kinds of people you prefer to associate with.
This is a friendly note to say, resist giving in.
However understandable it may be to develop a sense of overconfidence about your expertise or social innovation knowledge, it is potentially dangerous in a field that demands creative thinking, endless collaboration, and a good listening ear.  Forgetting the inherent “we” of social innovation could interfere with your efforts to create a positive impact.Avoid developing a social innovation ego, and recognize it when you see it in others.

 

The sliver lining, is that humility reminds us to stay grounded.

Just about as often as a room can be crowded by social innovation egos, you will meet someone who is humble, genuinely curious, and generous with their time, knowledge, and experience.  Through interviewing various leaders in the field I have seen and experienced it.

Take for example, Nathan Pham of GoodJoe. While interviewing him about his social enterprise I shared an idea I had been thinking about hosting a social innovation unconference (that post will be out soon). Instead of politely smiling and nodding and reminding me how busy he is, he began brainstorming on how we could make the grand experiment happen.

Or, Gene Takagi of Neo Law. Though we have met in person exactly twice, he has been incredibly supportive and generous over all modes of social media. He exudes genuine dedication to the field and support for those exploring it.

Another snapshot of humility is Kim Meredith of Stanford PACS. (her interview will be out soon). She heads the department that oversees philanthropy and that is home to the Stanford Social Innovation Review.  In interviewing her I was absolutely struck by her warmth and genuine passion for the field.

There have been countless others who I have met once or regularly stay in touch who remind me to stay grounded through their own energy and poise.

So, what do you do when you encounter egos in the field?

One line of thinking is to first start by checking your own behavior. That is, just like you check your phone to make sure it’s off silent when someone else’s rings at a movie theater; when you observe ego creeping into a social innovation effort, it can initially be the perfect reminder to make sure you’ve checked your own at the door. By reframing the situation and choosing not get caught up in a battle of might, you may provide just the gentle reminder and space to help others stay grounded.

After that, however, the water becomes murkier.

If a certain viewpoint or personality is overtaking a social innovation effort, do you back out or dive deeper? A great deal likely depends on personality. If you work best in a collaborative state, you might do better to find like-minded collaborative-thinkers. If you, instead, thrive in banter and don’t mind the debate then stay, challenge, and fight it out until a resolution is reached.

Lose yourself in service…

Some may say that the social innovation seeks to disrupt traditional business, law, and finance precisely because they have been driven by over-zealous egos. To that end, we may need to check ourselves to ensure that while doing so, it is for the purpose of serving a greater good. Then we can measure our own involvement by how we can best serve the greater cause.

Gandhi once said, “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” And perhaps the best way to find the path for social innovation is to remember that its essence lies in service.

Albert Einstein famously said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

It is profound, especially coming from one of the preeminent thinkers of our time. The sentiment is a pointed call not only to find our true passion, but to be bold in defining our own measures of success.
It fits especially well in emerging fields like social entrepreneurship. Standing at the crossroads of social impact and entrepreneurship is exciting and alluring, and, at times undefined, frustrating, and challenging.
“So you mean social media, like Facebook?”, “Oh, right, but how are you going to make money?”, “That’s nice, but really how do you measure impact..is there some kind of a stock exchange?” “Will startups really use new legal structures for social enterprise when the existing ones are so well-defined?” “Yeah, but do you really think social entrepreneurs are going to be able to get funding?” “Honestly, in the long run is it even going to make a difference, after all business is business, right?”
The questions, adapted from many heard and overheard, help to angle and define an emerging field. They remind us that if we measure social entrepreneurs by traditional yardsticks of enterprise or non-profit—they may look like fish climbing trees.
Pineapple Perfect

Instead, social innovators have to stand out to fit in. Defining new measures and changing the conversation of what success and failure are keys to reinvention.

And, as per Einstein’s quote, it is important to not try to be something you are not.
Case in point, the pineapple.
A pineapple would make a terrible banana. It’s skin is too tough and prickly. It can’t be peeled with ease. It’s sweetness is accompanied with a sharp tangy taste. It would be the worst banana of the lot.
Thankfully the virtues of a pineapple are not locked away in its failure of being a banana. The beloved unofficial state fruit of Hawaii has found its stride and audience, with over 14M tons grown and sold each year.So the moral, don’t be that guy who judges a fish for not being able to climb a tree. Instead, be the pineapple you were meant to be.