“Purpose will supplant information as the core of our economy.”  – Aaron Hurst

When we reflect on the 2013 Social Enterprise Alliance (SEA) Summit in Minneapolis, two concepts will endure. First, the Summit coined the term “purpose economy” as the defining element of the 21st century. Second, the summit launched the concept of leveraging policy change as a major thrust of the social enterprise movement’s overall strategy.  This sea change started with the inspiring Van Jones who said it best – “[i]t is possible to turn the latest economic breakdown into a breakthrough.” Aaron Hurst, founder of the Taproot Foundation and author of a new book on the subject, provided the spark that lit the fuse. His above-referenced quote – “[p]urpose will supplant information as the core of our economy” – became the rallying cry for this transformation.

The theme of the conference itself – “building an economy on purpose” – signifies a new way of thinking about the movement through six building blocks of the social enterprise economy. We’ll cover the “greatest hits” in each of these areas from the conference:

  1. Knowledge, Information, & Best Practices: The most pervasive buzzword at the conference was IMPACT. In this context, “impact” references measurement of impact, impact investing, and showing our impact through storytelling. In each of these cases, impact emerges as the new bottom line of the social sector. It is the currency that the most successful organizations will use to scale their ideas.
  2. Marketplaces for Social Enterprise: In order for social enterprises to thrive, it is important for us to create a marketplace for social enterprise. “Marketplace” means places to buy products and services. “Creating a marketplace” means raising the awareness of consumers about “buying social enterprise,” similar to the fair trade and buy local movements. Kevin Lynch, CEO of SEA, set an ambitious goal for social enterprises to eventually generate 10% of the GDP.
  3. Supportive Public Policy: SEA earned policy victories at all levels of government with the introduction of the federal SEEED (Social Enterprise Ecosystem and Economic Development) Commission Act and proclamations for Social Enterprise Week by 12 governors and mayors from across the country. Our founder, Suzanne Smith, spoke about these policy developments and emphasized “long-term gains are more important than short-term rewards.” In other words, while this success is important, SEA is poised to pursue the long-term movement-building necessary to create change. To that end, SEA released a policy platform and toolkit, authored by Social Impact Architects, to help social entrepreneurs advance policy in their own communities.
  4. Capital Flow to the SectorIn order to start and grow social enterprise, capital is a critical part of the equation. Currently, there are many exciting areas to celebrate – social impact bonds and the rise of impact investing. However, more needs to be done to work with funders, investors, and policymakers to eliminate the structural (and often archaic) barriers to capital in the social sector.
  5. The Best Talent: Another hot topic involves how to harness the talent of baby boomers wanting to give back and millennials wanting to find a meaningful career. It’s not just a concern of individuals – more and more companies want to support their employees in giving back to the sector through movements such as A Billion+Change. The supply is available – the question is: are you ready? A Billion+Change has a great readiness roadmap for those who want to learn more.
  6. Care for the Mind, Body, and Spirit: With all this work in front of us, the zen luncheon speaker Debbie Alvarez-Rodriguez made sure that we knew what was important – “as transformational leaders, you need to be committed to moving from substance (i.e. the day-to-day) to significance – to what actually makes a difference.” This is often hard to do, but is incredibly important at all levels of organizations. For more on how to achieve this, check out our blog on Entrepreneurial Culture.

We were pleased to participate as a sponsor of this outstanding conference, as well as to serve as a key strategist for the policy building block. With this momentum, we can’t wait to see what happens over the next year!

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