Relationships, with a capital R
In western superstition, Friday the 13th is thought to be bad luck. In 2012, nothing was furthest from the truth, in the small corner of the world where the Investing Within: Innovative Financing Strategies for Domestic Social Ventures occurred on the Mills College campus in Oakland, Ca.
Upon arriving at the conference I was eager to hear what these panelists had to say and see what I, as a social impact obsessed MBA candidate could take away to enhance and inform my own entrepreneurial aspirations. Before the opening day session even began, I was struck by how open and accessible conference attendants were as a whole, many of who were also, self defined social minded entrepreneurs.
For those paying attention, from the very first session, a theme arose:
PEOPLE – – – ENGAGEMENT – - RELATIONSHIPS
Successful endeavors require engagement with humans.
Successful endeavors require relationship development.
A panel discussing social venture financing quickly emphasized the importance of relationships, though they never actually used the word relationship. The panelist from Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund (SV2) shared how grantees have to be asked by an “expert” to submit a proposal. It left me to ponder, how is an enterprise found by this mysterious giver of funds, this secret money circle, if not via a positive, beneficial relationship, somewhere with someone? For One PacificCoast Bank, the ideal investee is one that they can provide something beyond just financing. They want to feel good about the work they are doing. The panelist literally said, “feel good about the work we are doing.” This feeling can only be created in the space of relationship. At the end of the session, an audience member asked a question, that I believe was never actually answered but was directly related to relationships and engagement for social enterprises. This is the question I heard, in my own words: How do people from different social, geographic or racial backgrounds enter the space with and be known by entities like SV2? It’s a valid question. One that wasn’t really answered but I’d like to take a shot. In my opinion, it is all abut relationships. It’s about who you know and who knows you.
As I digested this first session, I was left with this thought: In the world of social impact, what is the role or responsibility of higher level social venture funds, investor circle’s and impact banking to deliberately seek out a larger circle of engagement, into communities that are traditionally ignored and as of yet not socially trained to engage from the bottom up? Within the context of the current “social impact” trend, what is the responsibility of those who are funding and investing to initiate engagement? To not wait for firms, start-ups, or social enterprises to find them, as is the usual game. Which works, for the most part for those who are in the know and /or already in relationship with the investors/funders in some context or by proximity. What about the up and coming social impact players? The ones with innovative social impact ideas from within the very communities social impact funders are seeking to effect? If they truly want to embody the label and ideal embedded in the term “social impact investing” is there any responsibility on funders/investors to engage top down?
The session on founding a social venture impeccably kept up the theme of engagement and relationships. Revolution Foods founder said she has potential investors “come and serve food to the kids.” Placing these folks on the front lines, where seeing the human context, engaging the community was a great way of triggering heart strings. One of things I learned while working at a grant and investment dependent non-profit: The quickest way to an investor’s funds is through the heart. Find their heartbeat, make a connection and you find your money.
All of the panelists for this session reiterated a couple of poignant and important factors for founding a social venture:
- Networking and attending events – Building relationships and being in these relationships has a great deal of power to help get ideas, to inspire you as an innovator.
- Strength of business partnerships – A strong, trusting and honest business partner relationship was key to success for each panelist.
Relationships, with a capital R.
This is what I got from Friday the 13th’s Investing Within Conference. And while superstition might not be at play, serendipity is. When I got home from the conference and sat down to do my usual evening read, the first article I came across was titled: 3 Rules for Building Business Relationships.