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What do you need to do your job better? Reporting on SOCAP/Europe

   /   Jun 20th, 2011News

In Amsterdam from May 30th – June 1st, the SOCAP/Europe conference brought together 650+ people from around the world to discuss money and meaning. The result was a packed 3-day conference involving panel discussions, open space sessions and movie showings that explored topics from impact measurement to solar technology solutions.

I decided to ask one key question to the investors, entrepreneurs and other industry actors: What do you need to do your job better?

Here are the top 4 responses I heard:

1. Investment: Access to investment was the number one answer from both the social businesses and impact investors: Social businesses need investment to scale and investors need social businesses to invest in.

Josh Roxin, director of  Rwanda Works, for example, is looking for investment to support RW’s health related social ventures. One such venture is the Kivu Dairy by Rwanda Works and the CODERU dairy cooperative. Kivu Dairy is designed to provide a reliable wholesale market and premium prices to farmers across Rwanda. This venture includes collection centers (the first is currently open and operating in Gisenyi) which will serve as support hubs — providing low-cost feed, medicine supplements, breeding services, remote training, on-site seminars, and veterinary care. Roxin explained that their latest project in need of investment is fortified dairy products – such as yogurt – to improve child health in rural Rwanda.

On the other side of the coin there are many investors eager to find investment-ready businesses. One way to address this demand is to support social businesses so that they can grow until they are investment-ready. The Big Venture Challenge, launched by UK-based Unltd earlier this year, is a competition looking for the top 25 UK social entrepreneurs in the hope of being able to support them with training and capital to be able to scale.

2. Talent: Another overwhelming response was the need for talent in the social capital and investment field. Most of the conference-goers interviewed mentioned how important it is to have talented and creative people involved in every aspect of a successful social business. Root Capital’s Nate Schaffran, expressed that finding reliable, talented individuals to invest in and work with on the ground is something that they are always looking for; whether this means a subsistence farmer with good business sense or a reliable on-site auditor.

3. Patience: The third most commonly expressed point was the need for patience. This message is well expressed by one of the leading actors in this field, Acumen Fund, which refers to “patient capital” as having the following characteristics:

Long-time horizons for the investment
A goal of maximizing social, rather than financial, returns
Providing management support to help new business models thrive
The flexibility to seek partnerships with governments and corporations through subsidy and co-investment when doing so may be beneficial to low-income customers.

Numerous investors and social businesses at SOCAP/Europe stressed how important it is for investors to understand the patient capital reality before entering impact investing.

4. Success Stories: From the opening panel discussion to the last coffee break, people were trading success stories. There is a lot of amazing work going on out there, and sharing what worked and why it worked keeps innovation spinning. Here are some of the success stories represented at SOCAP/Europe:

Barefoot Power
Viva Sierra Gorda
Uganda Carbon Bureau
Liberty and Justice
John Liu’s film and story “Hope in a Changing Climate”
The Unreasonable Institute
The DOEN Foundation

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