April 22, 2015

Last weekend, I attended the Social Venture Network Spring Conference at Paradise Point Resort in San Diego. One of the best aspects of the conference was getting to know a number of professionals who are using business to affect social change. The folks I spoke with over dinner and drinks represented nearly every major sector of the economy - from manufacturing to finance to entertainment. Similarly diverse were the social causes discussed and analyzed. Sessions were held on Climate Change, the Keystone XL Pipeline, race and police brutality, criminality, corporate money in politics, as well as GMOs in our food. In addition, some lesser known subjects, like mindfulness in business, were presented through small, interactive workshops. 

Conference Themes

Becoming a Change Agent is Hard: Everyone had war stories of prolonged periods of adversity in their socially-conscious businesses, and those who were successful were able to endure and maintain a positive outlook. For example, Laura Roberts of Pantheon Chemical told a story of meeting with nearly 500 potential lenders and investors before anyone was willing to commit capital to her new, environmentally-responsible chemical company. 

Voice Matters: Companies and organizations have the ability to tell meaningful stories through their products, public appearances, social media presence, branding, and charitable giving. Voice is central to corporate identity, and, when used properly, can promote both social and economic ends. Spend time reflecting on your company's voice and how best to project it.

Pick an Issue and Own It: Most businesses and organizations at the conference through all their weight behind one issue, tying it into their corporate identity. Fearful of diluting one's message, though, companies seemed to be resistant to embracing multiple causes and standing for everything. The popularity of social issues will wax and wane over time, but it's up to us to continue our work diligently and consistently. 

Artists in Residence

There were a number of artistic performances throughout the weekend, which was a welcomed break from the deep thought and engaging discussion. Two artists in particular impressed me. The first was a spoken word performer named Kane Smego. At first, I was nervous when he appeared on stage, since I'm not typically a fan of this medium. Kane, however, has a unique view of the world and expresses it in a rhythmic and colorful way. Below is a video of Kane Smego. It's produced by the Atlantic but is not from the SVN Conference.

The second artist was a poet named Silvi Alcivar of the Poetry Store. Armed with a small desk and typewriter, Silvi wrote beautiful poetry on command and made to order. I picked up a poem for my wife and came home with a one-of-a-kind gift. Thanks, Silvi.