Scaling feuds and supersized smoothies: Expectations from a SOCAP first-timer

Some 3,000 people from 70+ countries will descend on San Francisco this week for a major event in the impact investing calendar. First-timer Candice Hampson, investment director at Big Society Capital, is on her way, armed with a few big questions – and some fashion ambitions

The SOCAP (Social Capital Markets) conference is happening this week in San Francisco, bringing together over 3,000 impact investors and social entrepreneurs from around the world with the aim of increasing the flow of capital toward social good.

This will be my first time attending and I am really excited (and nervous). Once I finally figured out how to log into the conference app and networking site, I received some genuinely lovely (plus a few dodgy) offers to connect with people I’ve never met, and a few people I haven’t seen in years. As my profile lists me as an ‘investor’, batting away potential ‘opportunities’ that unfortunately aren’t relevant to my organisation is par for the course.

This year, SOCAP features twelve (!) tracks of conversation: Impact Investing, Sustainable Agriculture, Opportunity Zones (a particularly US-centric policy track), Catalytic Capital, Racial Equity, LatAm, Future of Work, Indigenous Communities, Power of Story, Refugees, Impact Tech, Meaning and Wildcard. As you can see, I’m already overwhelmed. What has really struck me is the absolute deluge of information and sessions available, with many unfortunate overlaps (as sessions start every 15 mins!) and I can already tell I’ll be torn into a million pieces trying to fit it all in.

As a non-white, racially ambiguous Egyptian-heritage, Canadian-Brit, I’m very interested in what the Racial Equity track has to say, and what commonalities we have with the challenges facing Americans in this space. Also curious as to what actions Americans in the impact space are taking to address these challenges.

As a non-white, racially ambiguous Egyptian-heritage, Canadian-Brit, I’m very interested in what the Racial Equity track has to say

The UK’s social investment sector has made some great strides over the past few years, through the Diversity Forum, the Diversity Champions network (who share stories of how they are addressing unconscious bias in their recruitment, investing and operations), and through commitments to not speaking on all-male panels. Many of us have also signed up to the Diversity Manifesto. Our sector does, however, still have a long way to go and changing the diversity composition of leadership across a sector takes time.

I’m honoured to be speaking on a panel in the Catalytic Capital track, talking about what Big Society Capital has done to promote this in the UK, and discussing how more mainstream institutions could (and maybe should?) get involved. I’ll be speaking alongside Reuben Teague of Prudential Financial, and Christine Looney of Ford Foundation about how each of our organisations have made trade-offs in different ways to achieve more impact. This session will be based on The Economist’s Beyond Tradeoffs series in partnership with Omidyar Network that explores the misperception of a necessary trade-off between returns and impact.

Having recently published an in-depth study looking at how to get more social enterprises to scale in the UK, this is another theme I will be on the lookout for. Who is doing scale well? How is the debate evolving between those who believe in scaling organisational size versus those who believe in the spreading of social innovation outside organisational structures – is the divide between the two healing or widening? Who’s right? What is the role of tech in the future of the social sector, and how can we keep up?

How is the divide between the two [views on scale] healing or widening? Who’s right?

What I am ultimately hoping to get out of this conference are some tangible actions that I can bring back to the UK that will – as SOCAP promises – “increase the flow of capital toward social good”. That, some new friends, and some supersized portions of wheatgrass smoothies.

There is also the ever-important question of what to wear – one of my main goals is to make Impact Alpha’s Best Dressed list. I will keep you posted!

More coverage from SOCAP coming soon on Pioneers Post. In the meantime, sign up to the SOCAP19 Digital Experience to follow the events remotely.

Photo: SOCAP18 by sreel photography, courtesy of Social Capital Markets