Rob Katz

SOCAP09: So What? 3 Reasons Why You Need to Be There

Yes, another social enterprise conference is around the corner, and you’re thinking, “Do I really need to be there?” I hear you. A friend of mine came back from a conference the other day complaining that the panel discussions were endless self-promotional shills (typical) and there was hardly any time for real learning, discussion, debate and development (also typical). Even worse, the coffee breaks were short and there was no networking reception, so all she got for her trouble was an e-mail box full of unanswered messages and tired feet from walking around in a business suit all day.

In this light, I hear about SOCAP09 and my first reaction is, “So what?” Otherwise known as, why bother going? Well, I AM going, and in the interest of transparency, here are the 3 reasons why you need to be there, too.

Reason #1: It’s the people, stupid

Conferences are learning experiences, to be sure, but you go because face to face interaction is more important than ever in a hyper connected world. You simply can’t substitute Twitter and LinkedIn and blogs (except this one, of course!) for the real action that happens when you meet face to face. So if you’re looking to travel all the way to San Francisco, you’d better expect to meet the right people. And SOCAP09 is looking like it will deliver on that.

I’ve had a sneak preview of the partial attendee list, and trust me, SOCAP09 will be a good mix of investors, practitioners, foundations, government, and NGOs. But more investors than a typical social enterprise conference…which raises the bar for everyone else. Check the SOCAP09 site for their featured attendee story – updated regularly – to get an idea of who’s actually coming. What’s more, NextBillion will be running a short pre-conference series on BoP players coming to SOCAP (stay tuned…).

Of course, it doesn’t matter that the right people are in the room if there’s never time to network. SOCAP’s schedule includes plenty of time for informal discussions and the Fort Mason Center lends itself to side meetings, if that’s your thing. In short, if you’re coming to SOCAP, bring lots of business cards – you’re going to meet the right people.

Reason #2: From 101 to 301/401

I’ve been to many conferences where the content stays in the introductory (Social Enterprise 101) mode and never gets into the meaty discussions. I think that there were some good 101 panels at last year’s SOCAP08, but from the looks of the panels and plenaries this year, SOCAP09 is stepping up to the next level, maybe even beyond. It’s incumbent on the panel moderators to ensure this happens, but so far, Kevin Jones has this set up for success. What can you expect? Deep discussions along the lines of “What next? Is this real? Can we measure it? Can we value it? Who else is doing it? What failed?” and more. In short, the serious, 301/401 level stuff. Nathaniel Whittemore at gives a good schedule overview; check it out (and the actual schedule) for details. Of course, if you’re looking for an intro into the social capital space, maybe SOCAP09 isn’t for you – unless of course you spend the next few weeks boning up on the basics, using, Social Edge, NextBillion and other online resources as a starting point.

Reason #3: If you don’t like it, you have no one to blame but yourself

Yes, that’s right – it’s YOUR fault. Well, not really, but if you go to SOCAP09 and complain that your issue/passion was never discussed, then it really is your fault. That’s the beauty of Day 3 at SOCAP09 – the Unconference. It’s a day where participants sign up to lead sessions and the conference is essentially organized chaos. But as we know from wikinomics and crowdsourcing, this kind of open it up and see what happens mentality can lead to some strong outcomes. Personally, I hope that many of the presenters from Day 1 and Day 2 will stick around to be participants on Day 3 (I know I will) and see where it all goes.

So there are MY 3 reasons for going to SOCAP09. What are yours?