Posts Tagged ‘collaboration’

The Right People are Showing Up for This Year’s SOCAP Barn Raising

March 28th, 2013

Somebody told me this morning that, though she’s fully engaged and willing to help raise more funds around the project we are working on together, she knew that I was trying to build something beyond just this project, that this project was just a part of something bigger. But she wasn’t sure of just what the whole picture looked like.

“If you get everything you want funded, what would that look like?” she asked. “If we get funding for everything I want to get funded, and people sign up,” I told her, “my five- and eight-year-old grandsons will live in a more connected but locally resilient world with better tools to adapt.”

As one aspect of that meta endeavor, teams are coming together to build various parts of the projects that will show up at SOCAP13, with the conference being kind of a milestone to show their progress and help motivate them to reach goals.

Joseph Steig, yesterday, signed up to lead the mobile, digital, and device portion of the content in the health track at SOCAP13. He’s the driving force that could result (pending board approval) in Village Capital launching a health-focused cohort of its seed-funding program. It would launch the first week of September in San Francisco during SOCAP13.

Also on board in that emerging collaborative are the women from RIVET – Amy Lockwood and Leslie Ziegler – who are focused on creating the first digital health accelerator that’s focused on the developing world.

They will have Indian-based entrepreneurs and American-based entrepreneurs focused on mobile, digital, and devices to serve the market of the poor in India, with the idea that some Jugaadinnovation – some innovation created in the unique environments of India – will come to the west once they get it going. Ziegler was the Creative Director and Chief Evangelist at Rock Health, a San Francisco-based incubator for early-stage domestic digital health start-ups. So, though her new accelerator is internationally focused, we’re going to rely on her expertise and connections to guide us to the best Bay Area and Silicon Valley-based startups.

Our domain expert in health is Dr. Doug Jutte, a neonatologist and public health and population expert who leads a new research facility funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Jutte brings in the lens of housing and health now seen through a holistic lens by affordable housing and public health practitioners as a tool that is starting to transform the system, lowering costs while it improves health for individuals, families and communities. Up until a couple of years ago, people working on affordable housing did not talk or share notes with people working on health care, even though they often focused on the same people living in the same apartments. A holistic approach is proving to be the way to create healthy communities at lower cost.

One of our key design principles is that we at SOCAP create the intersections where you meet valuable strangers. To get the most out of that, you have to know how to partner quickly, flexibly, and understand the rapid math of give and get as those partnerships emerge.

Amy Lockwood, of RIVET, does that well. RIVET is in partnership talks with Dasra, the India-based accelerator, and will be part of the Sankalp event, and plans to be involved at other venues as well. It’s easier to partner with people who have a clear partnership strategy and know how to make projects come together, and Amy Lockwood seems to be particularly good at those aspects. I’m glad to be part of helping her and her team reach their goals, using our convening platform as a way to coalesce resources toward a timeline where things show up at SOCAP13, then using the conference and the people gathered to add momentum.

For the Village Capital / RIVET working sessions at SOCAP, which will be open to the public, we are going to use the Good Pitch format that my business partner, Tim Freundlich, has used well before. The format allows alphas for a project to get to show their generativity instead of their teeth, by either a) offering an idea, b) offering a referral or c) offering a follow-up meeting. Compared with other similar set-ups, the Good Pitch format is more a porpoise pool than a shark tank.

If you want to learn how to be an effective investor or mentor to a fast-moving startup in a hot sector where there is deep mission insurance; where the technologies are targeting diseases that mostly afflict poor people, for example, these Good Pitch sessions with VilCap and RIVET – assuming we pull them off – should be ideal.

If we don’t achieve that jointly timed launch, we can talk about the process of moving together toward that goal and where we each are heading, and how we are collaborating; the organizational and scheduling and curriculum overlap ties might need to be looser than we imagine at first; we don’t know yet.

In the meantime, VilCap has signed up to help RIVET figure out a lot of the elements of their launch, answering questions and providing guidance. They’ve been doing that for other accelerators for a while now, some not at all focused in the innovation space.

We’re also glad to see our own HUB Ventures “spin out” from the HUB and SOCAP “incubator” and go out on its own. Wes Selke and Rick Moss have done a great job with it: some graduating companies have been invested in by top-tier firms like Andreessen Horowitz, some have raised multiple millions in follow-on rounds, and one has sold for $15 million, looking just at the financial side of their success. And many of the surviving companies are doing really good and increasingly big and important things in the world, in the United States, and some locally in San Francisco on the impact side. We look forward to continuing to work with them and continuing to make the HUB platform a core of what HUB Ventures offers.

A SOCAP conference is a circus led by volunteer teams like the ones I’ve written about here. The goal is that they show up as real, and moving toward solid achievements by September, but they are usually just in active formation at this time of the year. It’s like a collectively-built barn-raising version of Cirque du Soleil to save the world. It’s kind of a wild ride.

We have discovered that our platform helps people be a little more daring, a little braver, together, than they would otherwise be, to tell a little bit bigger story, about where they want to go, and that somehow, doing that helps them get a little farther than if our platform didn’t exist. We enable a kind of emergent innovation and daring for people who want to redesign our economic system on the fly. People are bringing their A-game this year. It should be fun.

We are also finalizing plans to have Ben Metz run the panel picker tool and process, so that 20% or so of the content at the conference is crowdsourced, with the community coming up with the content and voting it in. We don’t have all the answers. So, we are building in collective intelligence tool methodology at every point in the process that we can, thus creating a wider diversity of input as we start to build a networked system.

The overall conceit, the dream of the conference is that we are building an operating system to accelerate the good economy, using a phrase that our producer and my wife, Rosa Lee Harden, borrowed with permission from Colin Mutchler of Louder. We borrow from everybody.

Mark Beam, a SOCAP co-founder now with Halloran Philanthropies, provided a lot of the ethos behind our collaborative approach. We just want to assemble the smartest tables; we don’t have to be the smartest people at the table. SOCAP is a collective intelligence product.

A Report from Turin, Where All Roads Lead to Civic Entrepreneurship

December 6th, 2012

After a stimulating four days in Turin, Italy, I am writing from a train heading across the northern part of the country.  In addition to the great Piedmont wine and food (and the snow covered, sun-drenched Alps that are looming outside my window), it was an opportunity to plug into an electric conversation that is unfolding in Europe right now about how social innovation can transform cities.

Our host was Torino’s City Council, who is targeting 18 – 35 year olds to help both drive entrepreneurial solutions to some of the city’s more pressing challenges as well as stimulate economic growth and job creation in a city and country that has been hard hit by financial crisis.

Joining the conversation were national foundation leaders, public officials, and university faculty, as well as local entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial enablers (all in an incredible 100,000 square foot innovation co-working space/fablab. There were social innovators from across Italy including folks from Make a Cube in Milan and a Naples team who were fresh off launching a civic innovation challenge. The head of European social innovation catalyst Euclid Network shared his assessment about activity emanating out of Brussels, and a city leader from Birmingham, England offered her perspectives on helping citizens become local problem solvers through technology.

Why share all of this?  Because it’s a great example of the kind of idea-sharing and collaboration that we need to help accelerate an important movement.  As we think about strategies to jumpstart our economy, reduce the burdens of government, and enable a broad base of citizens to develop disruptive solutions for society – all roads lead to civic entrepreneurship.  More often than not, this entrepreneurial energy is pouring out of cities – sometimes through intentional cultivation and sometimes out of pure serendipity.

How can we help foster these place-based efforts?  Cities ranging from New Orleans to Detroit and Seattle to Miami (not to mention communities around the world) are trying to figure this out.

Yet as each of us experiment with new programs and strive to support local innovators, there is much to be gained from learning with one another.  For instance, what are productive strategies for developing, recruiting, and retaining next generation problem solvers in a city? What programs, physical spaces, events, and investment strategies spark innovation and help accelerate the growth and connection of local civic entrepreneurs? What are the appropriate metrics and realistic methods to measure impact? How can we better connect policy-makers, the media, and corporations to the entrepreneurial conversation?

As we have each independently tried to address different aspects of these questions we have learned a lot, stumbled a few times, and seen a lot of promise in the road ahead – but now it’s time to come together and learn from one another to help us reach this potential.

 Thus, between a group committed cities, we are launching a learning collaborative that will facilitate best-practice sharing, catalyze collaboration among our respective innovative communities, and hopefully create new market and investment opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors alike.  Criteria for participating cities includes: a commitment to engage and contribute to the conversation, a track record of experimentation focused on fostering citizen-led innovation, a willingness to try new things and share the results.

We are kicking off this effort now – trying to understand what cities are up to and starting the conversation. We will then bring the conversations to next year’s SOCAP – further connecting the dots – and build on the energy that will inevitably emerge as we look to build out our collective impact and make the world a better place.  Stay tuned to the Good Capitalist, or join the conversation by emailing me at

Christopher Gergen is CEO of Forward Impact and a founder of Bull City ForwardQueen City Forward, and HUB Raleigh, a fellow with Fuqua’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University, Innovator in Residence at the Center for Creative Leadership, and co-author of Life Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives.  Follow: @cgergen.

Image: Google Images

Introducing Two Themes: Place-Based Innovation and a Focus on Health

December 6th, 2012

Launching with this issue of the Good Capitalist are two of what will be our continuing focus areas in the run up to the forthcoming SOCAP conference in September of next year.

The first: we will be writing about (while taking part in) a study project meets learning and IP sharing network that’s looking at what’s working for the pioneers in place-based innovation organizations; from incubators like GoodCompany in Philadelphia, to Bull City Forward in Durham, to what we do in the networks of HUBs in the United States from Seattle to Los Angeles to San Francisco and Berkeley, to cooperative communities like Vuollerim in Swedish Lapland.

Christopher Gergen, who has written an article in this newsletter, is going to be leading the learning group, and I will be part of it and also write about it for the Good Capitalist, as I expect will Christopher from time to time. It’s our hope that members of the learning group will be creating content to appear at SOCAP that will highlight what’s working around the country and around the globe in the sphere of place-based innovation. Christopher will be leading that theme, and I’m just along for the ride.

The second focus area launching with this Good Capitalist issue is on health, or maybe Health; imagining healthy families, healthy communities, and a healthy planet as one way to conceive of the goal toward which market-based, non-profit, and publically-funded poverty alleviation efforts are aiming. Using health as a frame changes the aim from stopping something to creating what we want to create. The game changes from reactive to proactive.

This shift is very appealing, and it’s consistent with what we intend to generate in the spaces we create. So, we’ve had some internal dialogue among the HUB and SOCAP team about adopting Health as the core theme for SOCAP13. We decided that putting the entire next SOCAP conference under the banner of health would make some people think the conference was too narrow and not for them. So instead we are going to make health an uber track, or even potentially a mini conference inside SOCAP13.

The health track will be the story of one person. We are looking at the frame of designing the United States healthcare economy for the benefit of an urban woman with chronic type 1 diabetes who is also keeping grandchildren. There is a confluence of technology and policy that could make this hypothetical patient an extremely powerful pivot point healthcare customer. This confluence would justify designing the economy around her from the standpoint of financial return for investors, lowered cost of delivery, higher degrees of self-managed health, and positive social change.

Her position in our societal balancing act makes her an obvious candidate of much attention when we use the lens of the permaculture principle that states, “make the least change for the greatest effect”. The urban grandmother would be the focus of a truly blended value economy, one where valuable things have respect and social worth, and things that cause damage pay the price.

With Obamacare, the urban grandmother is going to have a lot of powerful insurance forces that want her to live a healthy life, a life that lowers the long-term cost of health care provision to her. And there are amazing, low-cost mobile apps that can help her keep up with her blood sugar, her serotonin and depression levels, her activity levels and more, so she knows when to eat a snickers or when to take a walk to feel better.

Diabetes is a disease that can be managed by an informed person willing to do what it takes to get healthy. A health care economy designed to help the urban grandmother change her behavior – empowered by information and a community helping her take advantage of that information (maybe her teenage grandchild who checks her smart phone apps for her) – is a powerful one.

This is an economic design that would reduce the cost but bring higher quality health care. It’s an economic design that is already creating a flood of innovative digital health and mHealth startups that are getting real venture investment. (mHealth, or mobile health, is a term that refers to the use of mobile devices in support of public health, such as text message reminders to take medications.) It’s a space where mission creep is not a risk for an impact investor; if you are serving chronic type 1 diabetes “customers” you will be serving and empowering the poor and helping them become more able to better manage their lives through a combination of tools and behavior change.

For startups targeting that valuable urban grandmother client as their focus, it all boils down to: step 1, integration of the plethora of mobile apps into something it’s easy to manage and not confusing to someone trying to put together a diabetes management plan; and step 2, adoption.

Putting the power of health decisions and data gathering into the hands of the urban grandmother is a great idea, lowering costs while increasing quality. But, take note, it’s a market where new entrants need to be sure they enter in a culturally sensitive way. In this new arena of prescribing jointly managed behavior change as the path to health, there are a lot of power relationships that have to be tended to with high awareness of the difference between a well-meaning intent and the potential impact on the recipient.

All of those cultural complexities – the clear social good of bringing powerful technology tools to poor people that can increase both health and agency – make this a really interesting story that I think can point to how we could Accelerate the Good Economy, which is the theme of the next SOCAP.

Where this story will go, I don’t know. This is the kind of project that lends itself to creating a documentary and maybe attempting to make it a transmedia story (using web, mobile, real world, poster contests, and other means to influence social action and carry an activist’s goal forward).

The transmedia approach may be a potent framework for actually redesigning the health care economy the way this story is exploring. It would mean bringing in lots of voices, including of course those of the people we are trying to help. Partners who could help put these pieces together and make it happen have emerged. It could be that the resources will arise to enable this story to reach that place of change-making potential. Either way it will be part of a major SOCAP13 focus that I and perhaps others will continue writing about in the Good Capitalist. Stay tuned.

Limited Partners in Impact Funds Are Calling the Shots, Research Shows

December 6th, 2012

Playing well together while the world is shifting cultural competency – rather than master of the universe bravado – will be the skills of the new impact investors.

Impact investors are digging ourselves out a hole caused by our ignorant rush toward a rigid, linear metaphor: the split between the “return first” impact investor and the “impact first” investor.

That’s one of the things I came away thinking after a talk with Jed Emerson and Cathy Clark about their continuing investigation into the nature of the impact investor, the fund manager, and the new breed of far more active “limited partners” in those funds. Talking to them, I learned a lot that helped me make sense of what I’m seeing in the social capital market.

“As fund managers look at managing for a broader set of performance returns – rather than simply financial returns – we are paying the price for the (framing) of impact investors being either impact first or return first,” said Jed Emerson. “That has perpetuated a bifurcated conversation. What we need is an integrated conversation about value creation,” said Emerson, who has put a lot of his thoughts about this topic on his Blended Value website.

The work of transforming a limiting metaphor and making a new metaphor function as the guide for managing performance is only one of the shifting dynamics that Jed and Cathy have uncovered as impact investing and its market continues to take shape. In fact, that is the message of their research at the moment: there are a lot shifting dynamics along multiple relational dimensions; evolution is rapid; and (given how complex the task of impact investing is) things are rather on course and on schedule.

In traditional venture funding, the general partner (or fund manager) is the one with the theory or thesis to test in the market, while the limited partner just hands over the money and has no control over strategy. So, the biggest take-away for me from their interim research is the realization that the limited partner is no longer limited. In impact investing, the party in what’s called the “limited parter” role – the foundation or aid agency or large non-profit – has become the active partner, the one who has the theory. And the fund manager (or general partner) is hired and charged with executing that strategy.

The relationship seems similar in many ways to that of strategic philanthropy: with the non-profit grantee being the service provider and the foundation the one with the strategy, the theory of change that’s being tested.

In strategic philanthropy, the foundation (or funder) has the strategy and the theory of change. Non-profits are “hired” or funded to see if that theory of change can be built out to show a proof of concept. The traditional pattern has been: once the concept is proven – in, typically, a three-year grant cycle – either another philanthropic donor will take it over, or government will see the service provided as its role. Social enterprise has arisen to fill the gap in the philanthropic market: to fund things that can go to scale, or at least be financially sustainable and provide the necessary infrastructure or service.

The role of the general partner as responding (rather than leading), with the fundamental goal and shaping of the fund being directed by an institutional limited partner (such as an aid agency or a foundation) is a big shift. The VC’s traditional role – or at least the myth they are playing out – is that of the risk taking, theory devising, swashbuckling leader. The dominant myth is VC as the master of the universe, though historically they might get looked as not a lot different from a pirate. They are used to relating to their limited partner investors in a “let the professionals be in charge, while you sit down, relax, and just be a truly limited partner, hearing how we are progressing to our goals,” kind of way. They are like cowboys bringing home the beef to the ranch.

They are used to thinking of themselves as the masters of the manor, and this new relationship could feel to some of them like being turned into a valet for the people with the real power and money.

Working with the institutional investors who are starting to move into impact investing (from the public sector or from the philanthropic sector), fund managers are valued by their powerful “limited partners” for their specific, differentiated expertise in a vertical niche. But it’s the institutional player (limited partner) who is running the chess board and using the fund manager (general partner) as one of its specialist pieces.

Playing that kind of role, with the power distributed in a new way, the fund manager has to endorse the goals of the limited partner. The fund manager has to sign for this new kind of game with a clear head and heart. And – like an architect reporting to a property owner and developer with a vision on what to build – the fund manager has to reasonably foresee being able to execute against those goals in the specific area the limited partner wants to see changed. As in the dialogue between an architect and a property owner with an idea, the property owner sketches out a vision and also brings many of the key co-creating partners, contractors, stake holders to the table to get the job done, And the architect is called on to advise what plan it would take to get there.

Impact investing is not a place for people who imagine themselves to be masters of the universe, or who just don’t like being told what to do. It’s for people who do well (and even enjoy) working in an extensive relational and collaborative dialogue, managing a lot of varying voices. Collectively working on impact is the way it will work. And this is a new way of operating for venture investors who take their myth from Silicon Valley, where the cowboys lead the charge. The new impact investor is much more like Ginger Rogers listening and gracefully responding to someone else’s lead than like Gene Kelly bouncing impetuously around the dance floor and expecting the partner to follow.

Business schools developing a curriculum that could lead students to careers in impact investing need to incorporate a whole new way of viewing what an investing professional is, and what kind of approach to relationships with limited partners will work. With the investor charged with implementing a strategy devised by a set of limited partners – who want more kinds of value created – the fund manager can no longer charge forward with a simple investment focus.

They will need the kind of 21st centure cultural competence that my friend Graham Leicester talks about in his new book Dancing at the Edge: Competence, Culture and Organization in the 21st Century. Cultural competency in managing stake holder relationships will be key for the new, blended-value-imbibing impact investors as the social capital market matures.

As reported in Clark and Emerson’s interim report on the research they and Ben Thornley of Pacific Community Ventures are doing, when a major foundations says “if they got in a learning dialogue” with the fund manager and the portfolio companies they’d consider it a win, that calls for a level of communication between the general partner and the limited partner that business schools will need to teach.

Finance is just a tool in the impact investing market, it’s not a game where the intermediaries can easily inflate their power beyond what is warranted. Is there a link between this, perhaps more appropriate, limitation in the general partner’s power, and the fact that fund managers are finding ways to be exceptionally creative? When trying to manage for blended value with a broad group of active stakeholders involved, and working on the toughest problems in the world, the report says that fund managers are finding work-arounds where the traditional venture and private equity models don’t work.

The reduction in direct agency for the professional, general partner, investor is not an aspect of the impact investing market that is likely to go away. That’s because an impact fund is managing to a multidimensional set of expectations: a blend of financial, social, and environmental results where the externalities and unintended consequences are increasingly integrated.

Making sure you and your portfolio companies are doing good in the way they treat their communities, their employees, their vendors, and in the positive impact created by their product or service means managing in a relationally dense ecosystem. It doesn’t mean charging forward to a single, simple goal of either high revenues and high profit over time or high and rapid exit.

Collaboration, communication, and cultural competency within multicultural settings will be what’s required to succeed. When you change a myth, and move toward the creation of integrated, blended value, rather than the bifurcated return first or impact first framing, you also change the skill set and the job description for a lot of people.