If you’re like us, you returned from this year’s Social Enterprise Alliance Summit feeling inspired and reenergized. At the conference in Los Angeles, we made connections, shared collective knowledge and celebrated our diversity. For those of you who weren’t able to join, we’ve summarized a few highlights and takeaways from our time together. And look out for the latest Leading Good podcast, an interview with Steph Speirs recorded live at Summit.
The power of collective knowledge
Although SEA has hosted Summit since 1998, social enterprise is still a burgeoning field. The rules of the game are constantly changing, and there are no one-size-fits-all approaches to solving social problems. Steph Speirs of Solstice put it well during her plenary: “Everyone in this room is working for a world that doesn’t exist yet, and that is entrepreneurial.”
As a nascent, constantly-evolving sector, we can all benefit from collective knowledge. Your organization may have mastered branding and marketing but struggle to measure your impact. Another might have impact measurement down but lack a clear marketing strategy. We all have insights to offer — and we all have things to learn. Attorney Marc J. Lane stressed the importance of connection and collaboration, arguing that “if you don’t know if someone else exists, you don’t know how to share information, learn from one another and contribute to the universal goals you share.” That’s the beauty of Summit; it connects social entrepreneurs and social enterprise leaders, offering a platform for sharing information and supporting one another.
Uplift your constituents
One common theme at Summit ’17 was understanding and empathizing with key constituents. Annie Lascoe of Conscious Period encouraged us to rethink our messaging to ensure we dignify those we serve. “Have integrity in language, people first. Men and women who are homeless — not homeless men and women. The beauty of social enterprise is that it’s not about us. We need to take a step back and listen in order to maintain the integrity of our work.” Jessica Jackley of Kiva and ProFounder offered practical advice for including the voices of our constituents: “Don’t be afraid to bring those communities you’re supporting in. Ask them what they think. Ask them how it sounds. Does this represent you well?”
This inclusion ensures that we are empowering, rather than exploiting, the population we serve. Howard Brodwin of Sports and Social Change put it this way: “The two keywords are inclusion and connection. You cannot have inclusive economies without connection, and that’s what we’re here to do, create economically inclusive communities”
Perfect your product
Another common theme was the importance of a good product, independent of your social mission. Your social message is important, but it’s not enough. To survive as a social enterprise, you’ll need to offer a high-quality product or service that can stand alone.
Stephanie Cocumelli of TOMS told us: “People want you to win — but they’re not going to push you forward with a product they don’t want.” You can open with your mission, but follow-through with a superior offering. As Laura Zumdahl of New Moms/Bright Endeavors so clearly articulated, “people might be interested in you because of your mission, but ultimately if you don’t have great quality products, the right price point or aren’t delivering as well as other companies, you are disposable at any given moment.”
Community and self-care
In the opening plenary, Amelia Franck Meyer of Alia Innovations spoke about dealing with constituents who have suffered past trauma. She encouraged social entrepreneurs to surround themselves with like-minded people who will serve as a supportive, understanding network. “We need you to fill your bucket, remember to take care of you, to think about your own need for rest and love and deeper relationships — because it will help all of us. When you feel safe you can make others feel safe.”
And ultimately, that’s what Summit ’17 was all about, fostering connections and creating a community of entrepreneurs who share best practices and support one another as the field continues to grow and evolve.
Did you make it to Summit ‘17? What were your main takeaways? Let us know in the comments below.