Elly Brown

Gearing up for the 2012 Harvard Social Enterprise Conference

NextBillion is heading to Harvard this coming weekend along with 1,500 attendees and 75 speakers to cover the annual Social Enterprise Conference. The student-run conference, jointly produced by Harvard Business School and Harvard School of Government, is in its 13th year and boasts a wide array of keynotes, panels, a social business plan competition, and a career fair – all embodying three themes: Innovation, Inclusion, and Impact.

The conference is designed to encourage debate and action around these themes so attendees can gain new tools and ideas to inform their own work. These themes are important levers in creating a sustainable and effective social enterprise sector as a source of positive change.
Innovation: Conceiving of and testing creative solutions to address economic and social inequalities in sectors such as health, education and urbanization.

Inclusion: Expanding boundaries of economic markets to include otherwise marginalized populations, increasing the quality of their lives and achieving a sustainable route to economic growth.

Impact: Scaling effective models and engaging the public to create positive change while maintaining the integrity of the social mission.

Here are some of the highlights of the conference to look out for:
(Some recommendations come from the conference organizers who attended a weekend planning retreat to a remote setting with no electricity, wood-burning heat and no distractions.)

  • Young entrepreneurs keynote including Kavita Shukla of Fenugreen, Lauren Bush Lauren of FEED, and Taylor Conroy of Destroy Normal, moderated by Daniel Epstein of Unreasonable Institute. The keynote highlights the ‘out of the box’, ‘upside-down’, and human-centered approaches by three young social entrepreneurs that are changing the field of social innovation.
  • Timothy Prestero, CEO of Design that Matters (speaking on the Importance of Prototyping in Poverty Alleviation panel). Design that Matters, started by MIT grad students, is an innovative nonprofit that leverages volunteers in academia and industry to design new products and services for the poor around the world.
  • Vikram Akula’s networking reception speech on Saturday night. Vikram founded SKS Microfinance in 1997 and led the company’s successful IPO in 2010. Under his leadership, SKS scaled to a peak of 7.3 million active borrowers in 2010-11. Vikram resigned in November 2011 after 14 years with SKS and is now managing a mobile banking social venture in India.
  • Panel discussion on social enterprises in China. The panel will explore China’s social enterprise landscape, examine the challenges in the current system, and share their outlooks on future developments.
  • Business plan pitches by 12 innovative social enterprise startups from graduate students spanning the globe at the Pitch for Change Competition.

Alex Gregor from the Business Development team of Acumen Fund and myself will be covering and live tweeting from the conference this weekend. We hope you already purchased your tickets as the conference is now completely sold out. If you find us at the conference, we’d love to hear from you on what aspects of the conference you found interesting. If you’re unable to join the conference, please let us know which sessions are important for you to hear about. We’ll do our very best to cover these topics for you!