Friday Roundup – 6/3/2011: Was Europe ready for SOCAP? Yes!
This week was SOCAP/Europe-week!
Since 2008, SOCAP has doubled and tripled its size before finally making the leap over to Amsterdam. Eight months ago, just after the announcement of SOCAP coming to Europe, Jonathan Jenkins of UnLtd asked: “Is Europe ready for SOCAP?” himself giving a hesitant “Maybe not!”- answer. Now, we all know better: “Yes, it was” as Jenkins tweeted on the last day of the conference. For three intense days more than 600 people from 50+ countries gathered in Amsterdam to connect, exchange ideas and kick off new initiatives or just give the extra push to existing ones.
While still in its infancy, the impact investing space seems to be slowly, but surely maturing. From great excitement and pure optimism (at least with those active in the sector) the approach seems to becoming more pragmatic and focused (though nonetheless still mixed with entrepreneurial optimism): In several panels at SOCAP/Europe you would hear people saying that “impact investing is not a silver bullet.” Microfinance was repeatedly looked at as a reference point from which to learn. Moving impact investing from niche to mainstream, while protecting the mission was among the major concerns.
While financial sustainability of social enterprises is commonly accepted as of essential importance, a variety of sessions showed that grants are still part of the game. Whether it was the Worldbank Development Marketplace reporting on its pipeline building activities giving grants to social enterprises to get them ready for investment, DOEN and others developing “layer cake deals” using all available financial “ingredients” (grants, loans, equity), or social entrepreneurs realizing that the transition from subsidies to self-reliance may be based on a diversified income that may also include non-repayable funding. The gap between impact investing and philanthropy might not be as wide as often perceived.
In terms of how to keep moving ahead, Jenkins and many others highlighted the need for those working in the space to find their particular niche and push ahead. At SOCAP/Europe we could already witness that measurement systems, marketplaces and investment strategies become more and more granular, adapting to specific needs.
All in all, the conference showed a great awareness among participants for the promising opportunities in the social capital space. A comment by Paul Blyth of Microplace quite well summarized what is needed most:
“It is about the plumbing! There are billions out there that want to invest in social investment. That is clear. People want to invest along with meaning and values. There are loads of brilliant people out there with great ideas. Why isn’t the money flowing? … It is because the plumbing that links the one to the other is not there.”
Next to nurturing social entrepreneurs and building funds, regulation is an essential part of the puzzle! And Mirjam Schöning of the Schwab Foundation reminded us: “It took microfinance and biotech industries decades to reach where they are.”
So there is probably a long, maybe stony, yet exciting way in front of the social capital community. But as we have seen at SOCAP/Europe – we will get there step by step. Let’s see what news will come from the next SOCAP conference back in San Francisco!
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