Friday, August 28, 2009

The Not To Be Missed Unconference Day at SOCAP09

"Three full days of rich content. Over 100 speakers. A special unconference day. In its second year, the Social Capital Markets conference brings together the broad ecosystem of funds, foundation and individual investors and donors, and for-profit and non-profit entrepreneurs using business to make a positive difference. If you're an investor or donor, entrepreneur or executive, your task is simple: be at SOCAP09."

About a month ago I had the opportunity to interview Kevin Jones of GoodCapital and the organizer of SOCAP 2009. One of the subjects we touched upon was the third day, the “unconference” day of SOCAP09. This topic interests me a lot as I see people coming together to just talk in many number formats as an incredibly powerful tool for supporting each other, building on ideas and creating new initiatives. Many people night choose to leave after the second day, thinking- what the heck is an “unconference” day and is it worthwhile to hang around? Whatever you do -don’t miss it!

There are, for sure, fabulous speakers and attendees coming to this year’s SOCAP09. But the opportunity to dialogue on the topics of mutual interest and co-create new ideas, should not to be missed. Here’s why, in Kevin’s words.

LH: Tell me a little bit about your organizing the SOCAP09 conference in Sept. I am particularly interested in that third day is an open space type format, because I use a facilitation tool, Appreciative Inquiry, that uses Open Space within its format. How are you structuring that?

KJ: Well we did it last year in that traditional sort of Open Space Technology format, where somebody says : “I want to talk about this” and we will see if people are interested and they vote with their feet. Oddly enough we had fifty grids and there were fifty topics. I have never seen it where it was a perfect open grid format.

And most people stayed for the third day and the ones who stayed almost uniformly said it was their favorite day. But on the first day people were afraid of it because they hadn’t been to something so unstructured. These are people from maybe financial services or international aid agencies, investment banks, social venture funds and all of them are used to something structured; it’s structured capital, it’s institutional. So that the idea of a free play day, based on the quality of the people we had convened was scary to some of them. But they became converts because they saw the density of the content, so the whole breath of the market was there and that the convening was right. We had brought together the right people and they trusted these people like Sub-Saharan African funds working on water or aid agencies doing some innovative things. They trusted the convening they trusted the content and the context and then they were able to do it their own way. That was neat.

We kept on trying to put a grid on it. It was hard not to put some form on it. But we decided to keep it like this.

So, we had people working on particular sector together like Sub-Saharan water in Africa or we had people working in a particular region, the South Americans or whatever and the groups were organized around these. Although we designed the event really well, you still never catch all of the interest and so groups formed, maybe there were five people around a topic like equitable sustainable energy in West Africa. And for those five people it was really valuable to come together.

LH. I really applaud that. I get frustrated when I go to a conference; you get inspired, you walk out and okay, then what?

KJ. That’s why we built the Hub too. SOCAP09 is once a year. The Hub is for every day. All these social entrepreneurs want to help each other, because they all need help.

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