Last year was the inaugural Social Capital Markets conference. In September 2008, we were amidst the financial meltdown and the 2008 election. The "vibe" conveyed the visceral fear inherent in having to make key decisions while only knowing Worst Practices. "Confusion" was an understatement.
I was honored to participate on a panel about financing trends in the non-profit world -- and it was packed; we didn't know what interest would emerge, yet there it was. The room was packed not only with non-profit folk and funders, but others trying to develop new ways of thinking about solving the social capital growth problems using non-profit infrastructure. Like the Skoll World Forum, the brilliance in the room can be blinding.
Yet the biggest take-away from me happened when listening to the final panel, moderated by Matthew Bishop of the Economist,
"This house believes you can maximize social returns by maximizing financial returns."
It crystalized my own thoughts: it is completely impossible to behave as though we have any idea of the risks we face in the future. That's the nature of risk. That's what disruption is. And when we stop dead in our tracks in a panic, it's because we have suddenly realized: we didn't plan for this! We didn't even begin to think it was a possibility! What do we do now?
One person who has written astoundingly about risk is Robert Shiller (of "Irrational Exhuberance" fame), whose new book is about human behavior, co-written with Berkeley's George Akerlof, called "Animal Spirits."
He was recently interviewed by Charlie Rose, at which point he mentioned that a key component of the recovery will be the ability for people to become optimistic again, to have hope (and plans) for the future. We need to resume our ability to dream.
And that's why SoCap09 is something I would not miss for the world. We can't dream until we understand these issues. For me, the debate question was upside-down. It should be: How can we maximize financial returns given our drive to maximize social returns.
There are many people who have talked about at least one aspect of Social, Intellectual, Physical, Environmental/Health Capital in addition to Financial capital. Now it's even more important to focus on the Spiritual. If we don't have the ability to dream our dreams, conceive what we want to build, fall in love and create a home and family -- what's the point?
The question isn't how to fit what we love into the structure of our money-making, the question is how to be productive given our need to engage with our lives.
And the point is this: it's not about "Do what you love and the money will follow!" or asking "What color is your parachute?" It's true that the conflict is felt at an individual level, but the issue is a systemic one. We have to create a structure that reflects our values. We have to understand what we need to measure. We need to connect what happens in a company to what happens in the school to what happens in the health service and the water supply and the air quality... in a clear, actionable way.
While I was an affiliate at Institute for the Future, I was talking with Kathi Vian
and she mentioned to me that it takes 30-50 years for an idea to be
adopted once it's "discovered." Last year at the SoCap08 conference, I
relayed this to Sean Stannard-Stockton who referred to the concept in a blog post which then resonated widely.
Now is the time.