SOCAP18 Haas Student Observations
SOCAP18 was held on Oct. 23–26 in San Francisco and convened over 3,000 impact investors, world-class entrepreneurs, and innovative cross-sector practitioners dedicated to increasing the flow of capital toward social good. Graduate student leaders from Haas’ Institute for Business and Social Impact were given the opportunity to attend and they share their observations and learnings below.
Brett Weikart — EWMBA 2020 and Center for Social Sector Leadership Student Advisory Board
SOCAP is such an interesting event because it is a forum for investors from across the spectrum of funding sources. Professionals from venture capital, philanthropy, corporate foundations and mission-driven investment funds all come together to discuss the challenges and opportunities in the social impact sector. Industry professionals refer to this mix of socially-minded investors working together for social good as “blended capital” (referring to the blended sources of capital) and each SOCAP conference brings new examples of its successful implementation. One example I was able to explore further was in the field of fishery management. A majority of the world’s at-risk populations depend on fisheries for both nutrition and employment, but decades of mismanagement and overfishing have left these resources at risk of collapse. A multi-pronged response is necessary to address this challenge. Over the last year, venture capitalists have invested in technology solutions to improve the efficiency of fishing vessels, mission driven funds have invested to increase the economic diversity of coastal villages, and philanthropic grants have been written to strengthen local social services such as healthcare and education. The impact of this investment is multiplied because of cross-sector cooperation among all investors in the region. There is still plenty of progress that needs to be made, but this application of blended capital has effectively mobilized a wide range of investors to protect vulnerable marine resources and the communities that depend on them.
Jessica Heiges, MDP 2019 and Center for Responsible Business Patagonia Lead
One particularly intriguing session was on integrating circular economy practices into the fashion industry. Speakers included representatives from Plug and Play Fashion for Good, Alante Capital, Adidas Ventures, Indigenous Designs, and Apparel Impact Institute. The diverse perspectives fostered a fascinating discussion, predominantly around the importance of incorporating circularity into the design phase of products. This includes innovation both within preexisting design teams but also via investing in startups that are tackling that issue. Aside from design, other important areas for incorporating circularity are in overall supply chain management. The most prevalent example of this is the Higgs Index, which aims to increase transparency and accountability across the apparel industry. Finally, all panelists mentioned the need for consumers to continue to demand more environmentally and socially equitable practices; companies can change practices, but are only likely to take on that risk if they are forced to do so by customers. Overall, it was exciting to hear about the successes and optimism in improving the fashion industry. There is still an enormous amount of work to be done, but positive change is certainly happening!
Alex Epps, MBA 2019, Equity, Gender and Leadership Student Advisory Board and Net Impact Leadership Team
Much of SOCAP focuses on investment in underserved communities, often presented through the lens of the investor. In panels and talks focused on diversity and inclusion, they are often in the context of international development, financial inclusion, and helping people at the bottom of the pyramid.
Bringing a fresh perspective to SOCAP, this year’s “Race in the Writer’s Room” panel brought together leaders of organizations who are promoting greater diversity and inclusion in entertainment and the arts more broadly in the US. The organization Color of Change leads campaigns to advance equity in the realms of news and media. Rashad Robinson, president of the organization, spoke about the Hollywood Culture Project, an effort to embed more writers of color in Hollywood’s’ primarily white writers’ rooms. The initiative also connects writers with experts to inform the content of shows and movies. For example, the typical plots of legal procedural shows reflect falsehoods about how the justice system actually works, and experts are trying to fix that as part of this project.
Mauricio Mota, Co-President of Wise Entertainment, told the story of bringing the show East Los High to Hulu. Through many attempts to convince studios that audiences were ready for a Latinx-focused show, Mauricio and his team ended up financing the first season themselves, and it eventually went on to become one of the most popular streaming shows. Bird Runningwater, Director of the Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program, spoke about its place in Sundance since its inception. As more opportunities for arts education have become available to indigenous artists, Bird has seen the emergence of tribe-specific styles in film.
It is encouraging to see content at SOCAP that does not involve an investor or venture capital lens. In addition to highlighting diversity and inclusion efforts, SOCAP should continue to have diverse speaker panels as in “Race in the Writer’s Room.”
Bird Runningwater, Director, Sundance Institute’s Indigenous Program
Mauricio Mota, Co-President, Wise Entertainment
Rashad Robinson, President, Color of Change
Deborah Cullinan, CEO, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA)
Brad Crist, MBA 2019 and Haas Impact Investing Network Managing Fellow
I enjoyed Kat Taylor’s discussion of Beneficial State Bank and the investing philosophy that underlies it. Beneficial State Bank is a triple bottom line financial institution that provides commercial banking services to underserved SMBs, nonprofits, affordable housing developers, community organizations, as well as individuals and families in the Bay Area. What impresses me about Beneficial State Bank is its emphasis on investing in local and employee-owned businesses. Kat highlighted the Bosch Corporation as a prominent example- 92% of the Bosch company is owned by a nonprofit trust which votes for the benefit of a variety of shareholders. Companies like Bosch with meaningful employee ownership structures tend to be more competitive, resilient during economic downturns, invested in their local communities, and trusted by loyal customers. This model of “steward ownership,” or “capitalism 2.0” as some might say, helps keep companies mission-driven and in service of society (not the other way around).