by Elizabeth Lynn, Special Projects Consultant for Lake Institute on Faith & Giving
Two unlikely conferences this fall—both equipped with hip two-syllable names—helped me to think about faith and giving in a different light.
The first of these was SOCAP, which stands for Social Capital Markets. Started in 2008 by an Episcopal priest and a venture capitalist, and held annually in San Francisco at the bayside Fort Mason Center for the Arts, SOCAP brings together several thousand investors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders who are seeking, in the words of the organizers, to “increase the flow of capital toward social good.”
The engine for increasing capital flow toward social good is the practice of impact investing, in which individuals and institutions put their investments into businesses and social enterprises which create social benefit alongside financial return. The global impact market is large and growing larger, with as much as $500 billion now invested for social impact—and within this economy, SOCAP functions as an actual marketplace, where impact investors meet social entrepreneurs and make deals.
The money is part of the SOCAP buzz; the conference fairly thrums with the hunt for value to be found and seized. But the meaning is there as well. SOCAP is a place where profoundly thoughtful and difficult questions about the relationship between capital and social good are pursued, on the main stage and in smaller sessions.
It was these questions, and the conversations they provoked, that led me to think about faith and giving in a different light. How, I wondered, might congregations learn to see all their assets as forms of capital that, with just a little more support and imagination, could be put to work to yield social as well as financial benefit? What might that mean for mission and community engagement?
The second fall conference I attended was Upswell, the recently re-designed annual gathering of civil society leaders and changemakers hosted by Independent Sector. Held in a different city each fall (it was Chicago this year, Pittsburgh next), Upswell aspires to be “a community, not a conference,” with a variety of events chosen by stakeholders, lots of local engagement, and conversational formats that attempt to shake off that old conference feeling. Think short talks and sitting on cubes vs. endless panel sessions and sitting in chairs.