Nov 01, 2012

Looking Back, Progressing Forward: SOCAP 2012

Sarah Brooks's picture
Sarah Brooks
Director, Social Innovation

This was my fourth year at the SOCAP (Social Capital Markets) conference at Fort Mason in San Francisco. It gets bigger and better every year, and this year was the largest to date with 1,600 attendees from over 50 countries. What's unique about SOCAP is the chance to hear directly from the most progressive foundations, financial advisors, impact investors, and social entrepreneurs. It's fascinating, and hopeful. Convener Kevin Jones has said SOCAP’s intention is "to create a big tent" where people who don't typically interact can meet and do business in a friendly environment. Since my first conference in 2009, I’ve noticed a common theme in this big tent is a clear effort—on both the part of the funders and the entrepreneurs—to find a common language.

As an artist and designer it is an inviting environment. The world of finance and financiers has always been somewhat mysterious. And though I've gained a working understanding of finance through experience, it's a view from the ground—based in practice. At SOCAP I get a chance see beyond my limits, and use my design skill set to contribute to that common language in a meaningful way.

During the first conference, I jumped in as a volunteer to develop SOCAP’s social media strategy. I gathered 15 videographers to capture the truly amazing stories of friendships and partnerships made, deals done, and epiphanies had. I also observed there was barely a designer in sight. There were lots of conversations about how to build a movement at the intersection of money and meaning. And there was a plethora of dedicated, visionary entrepreneurs. But those entrepreneurs had either a strong background in business, technology, or community building. Not design. It struck me as a giant gap. I wanted to evangelize the power of design as a strategic lever so, each successive year, I've worked with the producing team to incorporate design thinking into the conference and draw more designers into the mix.

Last year, I curated a "Design For Social Innovation" track. I brought together 24 designers and design educators for a series of interactive workshops that both modeled the human-centered design process and provided an opportunity for attendees to participate in hands-on workshops. We worked on how to understand audiences, refine a concept, and prototype and iterate. Our hope was that people could take this experience back their own organizations and utilize learnings as they designed products and services.

This year we took it one step further. Ben Metz, formerly of Ashoka U.K., stepped into the Creative Director role for SOCAP. He and I came up with the idea to create a design workshop series focused around key SOCAP themes. Our goal was to leave people with more than a sense of possibility, a stack of business cards, and a mild “brainstorm” hangover. We developed six sessions:

  • Markets for Good
  • Blueprint to Scale
  • Gender Lens
  • Blue Economy
  • Re-Writing the Term Sheet
  • Redesigning Finance

Designers and content leads were paired together. Content leads provided a thematic ground from which the designers created the structure of the workshops, and served as lead facilitators. Each workshop utilized 3–4 designers who facilitated breakout groups and led them through a series of exercises. We saw people connect and bring together disparate ideas in creative ways. It also showed us how to work in new ways as design facilitators.

We're still gathering data from the content leads and facilitators to see what worked and what didn't so we can iterate the process for SOCAP13. We'll be sharing insights from the designers over the next few weeks. Stay tuned.

See more from "Our Thoughts."