Top Ten Takeaways from the Social Enterprise World Forum

Last month Calgary hosted the annual Social Enterprise World Forum. Here are Charmian Love and Tim Draimin’s top 10 takeaways from the conference.

1.   System Change. The Next Frontier.

While “entrepreneurship is about the creation of tangible value,” says the godmother of social entrepreneurship, Pamela Hartigan, “in the case of social entrepreneurship, it is about creating systems change.”

 2.   The Social Enterprise Movement Is Tax Status Agnostic.

Calgary was the sixth SEWF and the first to be tax status agnostic. For example, the competition for TRICO Foundation’s Enterprizes were open to for-profits and nonprofits. “Social entrepreneurship,” said Pamela Hartigan, “… is paving the way toward a much larger transformation of capitalism where the creation of positive social change through markets will be the key to success rather than the result of a special kind of business.” The corollary is that blended value can produce change regardless of its tax status. Ultimately the biggest impact of social enterprise will be its ability to help kick-start the shift from traditional capitalism to Capitalism 2.0, or what John Elkington calls Breakthrough Capitalism, or Umair Haque’s constructive capitalism.

pamela hartigan

Pamela Hartigan spoke at the Social Enterprise World Forum

3.   Heroes Welcome. Teams Required.

Not everyone can be a social entrepreneur, says Pamela Hartigan, if it doesn’t stand for “promoting disruptive business models” and transformational change that addresses root causes.  At the same time, visionaries require teams to make change. While Pamela highlighted that only a few are social entrepreneurs, many people can be involved in the entrepreneuring (Pamela’s term) efforts to make societal change happen.

4.   Disruptors Need Bridging and Receptive Innovators.

Al Etmanski, the co-founder of Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN) and social entrepreneur behind the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP), described entrepreneuring systems change roles slightly differently. He says that “it takes three distinct types of innovators or entrepreneurs to achieve broad systemic change: Disruptive, Bridging, and Receptive.” Al’s Disruptive Innovator is the social entrepreneur. Bridging Innovators excel in identifying big ideas and leveraging their connections, reputation and resources to make the value of the disruptive innovation clear to the system. Receptive Innovators are the institutional entrepreneurs or intrapreneurs, who are skilled at advancing the big idea throughout the system. All are required.

5.   Events Can Kick off the Conversation.

MaRS Centre for Impact Investing and TRICO capitalized on the unique character and size of SEWF by hosting a half-day lead-up event: Canada’s first gathering of impact investors. The event began with an update from Sir Ronald Cohen, video-conferenced in from Washington where he had just hosted the G-8 Impact Investing meeting. Also joining this landmark event were federal and provincial ministers and their delegations from across Canada who also attended Canada’s first-ever national social enterprise gathering by government policy makers.

6.   Labs, Labs, Labs.

It appears there is a huge push in Canada to develop labs to support multi-sector collaboration in solution generation and scale up.  How these activities happening across the provinces stay connected to each other – and learn from one another’s successes and failures – will be instrumental in making sure this movement transcends the fad-ism that some fear will consume their activities.

Stickynotes

The Social Enterprise World Forum hosted several Finance Solutions Labs that generated plenty of ideas

 7.   Top-down support from across party lines

From Federal Minister Jason Kenney to Ontario Minister Eric Hoskins to Alberta Premier Alison Redford, intergenerational and cross-party support signal growth for the social enterprise sector. Whether through an openness to explore addressing the needs of the sector through policy reform or through investment funds or tax credits for social enterprises – the bottom line is that very senior levels of government are watching and ready to do something different. The question will be how to make their interest leap from conceptual conversations to practical and pragmatic action.

8.   Community capitalism.

Dr. Wanda Wuttunee has devoted her research to understanding how Aboriginal values interact with capitalist values. Opening the conference alongside Dr. Ilse Treurnicht of MaRS and Mary Gordon of Roots of Empathy, Wuttunee asked attendees to reflect on the unique lens indigenous experience provides to enterprise and economic opportunities. The term “community capitalism” reflects her emphasis on the need for economic development to be in sync with Aboriginal communities. There are under-valued benefits in seeing the economy through this perspective.

9.   Resiliency Required.

The SEWF taking place in Calgary was a metaphor for the change needed. This is about resiliency and an ability to pick up when times get tough. This was most pointedly drilled home by the Mayor of Calgary indicating that only 52 days earlier the venue for the evening rodeo was under water due to mass city-wide flooding. As he pointed out, responsive community cohesion led to a quick recovery.

 10.   Value – for whom?

One of the most re-tweeted one-liners from Ilse Treurnicht, CEO of MaRS.  Harvard’s definition of innovation is invention with value.  But Ilse rightfully asks – “value for who?”  This is a powerful reframing of the role of innovation and how it must be leveraged as a force for good.

5 Trends in Corporate Social Innovation

Innovation

c/o Case Catalyst

Businesses are doing social innovation. But some of them are doing it without referencing the words social or innovation when developing their strategies and projects. From our vantage point in London, UK, we have seen the following five trends as big corporations begin experimenting with new ways of working towards a triple bottom line – and changing the systems in which they operate.

1. Pre-Competitive Collaboration 

Hyper-competitors are joining forces to change a system as a united front. Consider it a ‘coalition of the willing’.  For example, Nike, Adidas, Puma and 13 other highly competitive apparel companies came together to launch the Zero Discharge of Hazardous Chemicals project, focused on developing a shared roadmap on how to eliminate the discharge of hazardous chemicals from their linked value chains.

2. The Finance Frontier

Companies are increasingly seeing the financial system in which they operate as an area ripe for disruption. Puma has done this by publicly disclosing their EP&L statement (Environmental Profit and Loss), which values their use of natural capital across the supply chain. Unilever is pushing back on the financial status quo by refusing to provide quarterly earnings guidance to investors.

3. From Open Innovation to System Innovation

Truly disruptive innovation requires more than just changing the rules of the game. It requires new team formations, new stadiums, new equipment and new referees.  Doing this well will involve more than a wide-reaching ‘open innovation’ platform.  By working with stakeholders across the system, they can drive innovation within (and beyond) the system in which they operate.  For example, Nike has partnered with NASA, USAID and the US State Department to run LAUNCH, uncovering truly radical sustainable innovations in fabrics and materials.

4. Looking Back to Looking Forward

At key milestones – including 50-, 75- and 100-year anniversaries – companies are celebrating by projecting the impact of their company at the next milestone. SwissRe is celebrating their 150th birthday with an ‘Open Minds, Connecting Generations’ project to engage employees and stakeholders around what comes next.

5. The Rise of the Corporate Venture

My personal favourite trend of 2013 is the rise of Corporate Venture Capital units within companies. These internal Venture Capital teams are increasingly setting their sights on areas that have traditionally fallen into the social investment camp. At the recent Global Corporate Venturing Symposium, the discussion included investments in health care services, sustainable products, renewable energy and providing access to emerging economies.

Editor’s Note: Charmian Love and the Volans team aim to help a new form of capitalism find its wings, mobilizing breakthrough capitalists from across the business, government, investment and entrepreneurial spaces. They call it Breakthrough Capitalism and their team will be bringing together Canadian breakthrough capitalists at MaRS on November 7th where we hope a new trend begins!