The last two weeks has been a whirlwind of intentional conversations with like-minded, social purpose organizations. The B-Corps Champions Retreat and the following week of SOCAP17 were both intense conferences of shared themes and desired outcomes. A couple things linger in my mind from these social impact conferences:
The short distance the social impact investment community has traveled to date and where it is on the arc of its lifecycle trajectory.
The emphasis on personal improvement.
So how far have we come? My first year at SOCAP was 2009. That was the same year when I first learned about B-Corps companies at the Sustainable Industries Journal forum from Stephanie Ryan of B-Lab. It was directly after SOCAP09, in November of 2009, that Green Canopy bought its first project and our work to build the company began full-tilt and relentless. The first years of Green Canopy were about survival and getting the organization right. Today we have the capacity to expand the scope of our community beyond the Pacific Northwest region. In 2013, we certified as a B-Corps, but my first B-Corps retreat was two weeks ago. This was followed up by SOCAP17, my first year back since 2009. In the eight-year span between first learning about B-Corps companies and SOCAP, and today, this community has grown significantly and become a legitimate investing force and philosophical approach.
When looking at the lifespan of contemporary impact investing in the SOCAP17 booklet, the movement is younger than many of us, just turning 40 years old. If we are investing for this generation but also for generations to come, then we are in the infancy of a multigenerational movement determined to continue to grow, learn and transform global society and economy. We are on the early side of the impact investment lifespan for sure. We have a long way to go and the urgency of the issues we are addressing with our labor and capital create impatience on behalf of just about everyone in this community. Throughout both conferences it felt like most people were understandably feeling the impatience of our youthful movement. Like we just want to be older and more mature than our short 40-years will allow.
And then when we couple our youthful impatience with the urgency our work demands, impatience compounds. Which, perhaps, is the reason so many conversations at both conferences discussed the importance of personal, emotional, and spiritual growth in the practice of social entrepreneurship and impact investing. If the antidote to anger is patience, then the lack of patience leads to anger. The importance of love in our work requires patience, yet patience decidedly lacks urgency. Perhaps in order to productively hold this dichotomy through the transition to a new paradigm, a focused determination that allows for grace and patience when organizing with a sense of urgency requires each of us to develop increased mindfulness within swirling storms.
Celebrating our collective “wins” and taking stock of our successes happened throughout both conferences as well, and from my perspective there is a lot to celebrate in the progress we have collectively made in just the last eight years. When I first learned about B-Corps companies in 2009, there were 205 certified B-Corps, in 28 states and in 54 industries. Today there are 2,310 certified B-Corps, in 50 countries and in 130 industries. SOCAP has tripled in size and become an international affair. It is drawing investment firms representing more capital than most people seemed to think possible just a few years ago. Bringing values into our investment analysis continues to seem obvious once seen; like suddenly being able to see a number hidden within the page of little colored dots. The more people’s eyes identify that opportunities to make money work for positive change are hidden in plain sight, the more obvious it becomes that when we direct our resource toward changing the world for better, the world indeed gets incrementally better.
I am entirely grateful to be part of this community and movement, and I look forward to continuing with the dual edge of graceful patience and urgency, toward building and investing in the future we believe in.