Great ideas deserve to be heard and rewarded — here at the 2016 Big Social Conference, that’s exactly what happened
I have a big idea, with a big mission that needs big investment and big shots to make it happen. So I knew where I had to be and polished another layer of skin for a battle of the business cards.
After two minutes of sidestepping an East London street in front of two glass entrances, I finally barged into the restaurant to ask a waitress where the Barclays Accelerator was for the Big Social Conference. Surprised by the combination of a rustic, high-end bar and effortlessly trendy 20-30 somethings dashing purposefully around, her upbeat giggle assured me that I had walked into the right place and I was told to head straight upstairs.
Instantly the conference delivered what it said on the tin: an ease in engagement and conversation that felt somewhat like a university reunion, a ‘social’ event. Unlike typical conferences there was a lack of ego, yet every title was beyond impressive — especially the mission behind the companies.
At one point I even bumped into the MD of Barclays Investment Bank who strolled in with an entourage heading into a glassed partition — picture the movie Ocean’s Eleven. After catching him to ask a couple of questions on the involvement of investment bankers with social entrepreneurship, I found myself planning an invasion to figure out what was going on behind that glass wall. My fantasy was quickly fulfilled. An egg had rolled away from the mother ship in the form of two young American gentlemen being incubated to develop an uber impressive technology called MARK Labs — imagine social finance that measures and manages corporate responsibility — and yes, that mental link you made right there is spot-on; I kid you not, one of these young guys was the image of Zuckerberg, except better looking. The other more Wall Street. Look out for them in my coming vlogs.
It’s clear that something has been shifting the motives of business: an understanding that social enterprise is not a charity but a business that generates revenue and generates change. An understanding that a company’s impact is way beyond building a park for a local community, but about integrating parts of the business to participate in solving a social or environmental issue.
One of the highlighted conversations was how this developing industry can define and communicate that to a wider audience. How to attract and inspire younger generations to be social entrepreneurs. Those in the 18-35 category, defined as millennials, seem to be the target of big business on the whole. Not just because statistically we are set to have the most disposable income, but because our attitude is to take things into our own hands — look at the power of social media. W care more about social correctness and we’ve had to survive one of the toughest economic ‘errors’.
These attributes naturally make for promising minds that effect change and place favourable weight on our fresh ideas for a solid future. So why was I one of the few millennials there? Forming a Social Enterprise defined as a Community Interest Company (CIC) is not an exclusive tree-hugging members’ club. It’s as clear as deciding to tackle an issue you care about and putting a business around that or finding a way your business can equally focus on leaving a legacy for a better world.
I’m familiar with that little voice as an early stage start-up: ‘does some big shot in business really want to connect with me?’ The answer my friends is hell yeah! Business cards were in my hand as soon as I said Idea.
Typically, there’s always an overzealous competition for money in business, except in the game of social entrepreneurship. There seems to be an abundance of grants, funds and investment available for thorough business models. UnLtd the Foundation fro Social Entrepreneurs who were the host of the conference, are a major forerunner for backing social entrepreneurs.
Collaboration is key, another major factor that illuminated the conference. Partnerships were being formed in-between workshops and forum discussions with no-holds-barred.
This industry is big, but it’s about to get huge. Huge scales, huge business and giant stars. I look forward to keeping you ahead of the game …
By Vicky Ngari-Wilson