My 2009 in review

I was just writing an update to some great partners of mine and realized I needed to include a recap of 2009 for some context on what’s next. That of course reminded me that I’d yet to post one. So here goes.

Into the wild.
Into the Wild

2009 was a pivotal one for me – a year of transition. It was full of new adventures and an unexpected closure of an old one. 2009 started with a bunch of excitement and energy around the Social Venture Commons, VenTwits, and A group of us had come together and were sweating out an experiment in peer-producing some apps that we thought could help people come together and build a better world by using public micro-messaging. We had some encouraging feedback on the concepts but we missed the mark and didn’t get enough traction (users or funding). We had felt we were constantly 2 weeks ahead of ‘everyone else’ and when we took stock of what we felt we’d need to get to a viable venture, we just couldn’t do it with what we had. I had failed at guiding us through to a viable product and estimating what it would take to get us there.

At the same time, my past life in energy and finance rose up and I became engaged in designing a financing framework around what the Green Energy Act Alliance hoped would make Ontario North America’s leading jurisdiction for renewable energy (it did) and particularly community power. The Act was tabled in May which then prompted another engagement to help the CPFund plan for a transition to the new reality. That plan, if successful, stands to be a great example of social finance and turn the renewable energy finance sector on it’s head.

Closing out the summer, my social finance sojourn continued with the opportunity to co-lead a Canadian contingent to the Social Capital Markets conference. Next came the privilege of doing a review of Vartana – an ambitious project that aimed to change the way the charitable sector banked in Canada. And then things shifted.

On my birthday I learned that a company I founded was in discussions on being acquired. Those talks came to fruition in early October, and while not a big exit by many standards, for our lean life it was/is a big turning point. It meant taking a breath and taking stock. It meant getting ‘our house in order’. It meant saying thank-you to those who’ve supported me.

An adventurous chapter with an unexpected plot twist was over. Thankfully it’s part of a book that I love… one of those books I just can’t put down.

SoCap09 – a journey, my mission.

Image by ***Images*** via Flickr

Coming to SoCap09 has proved to be a good opportunity to integrate a number of threads I’ve been exploring over the past few years. Accelerated by an exploration with Jeremy Heigh and crystalized through provocative conversations with Stephen Huddart and Tom Reis, here’s the perspective I now find myself now arriving with.

We know complexity is rising and change is quickening. The systems of society are reaching their limits. Our interventions are having more impact. Repercussions ripple up, down, across systems.

We’re responding with rigor, improving our understanding, building models, measuring, and evaluating our progress. And yet we know better than ever that while we aim for impact, change is erratic.

Adding to this we have the mess of mobile, open, and the social web. We don’t know yet fully what it means but we know it’s playing a role. We know it’s not just about tools and technology, it’s about culture and community.

So now, for SoCap, I’m coming clearer on my agenda. In addition to my role with the Canadian contingent, my invitation to discuss Community Power as the next asset class, the upcoming launch of ChangeMediumI’m playing with the opportunity in using ‘social media’ to improve the way we sense and respond to events, intersects and shifts in systems up, down, and across the layers of change (e.g. venture, portfolio, mission). While I have ideas and intentions on what that looks like – I know I can’t know what it will end up.

If this interests you too, track me down and we’ll see where this goes.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Reason – a manifesto for impact investment.

Bust of Chekhov at Badenweiler
Image via Wikipedia

this post an experiment in co-posting – with thanks to Jeremy Heigh

Impact is no reason to invest. Impact is an outcome.
Investment is a choice. A choice for a reason. A choice of reason.

Reason is not static. Reason evolves.
Teach a person to fish, they fish. Pond gets over-fished, they go hungry. Every system is part of other systems. Every action affects others. Nothing stays the same.

Impact is easy. Reason is hard
Impact is a measure. Reason is understanding. As systems collapse and collide, impact becomes erratic and un-predictable. Reason responds, metrics reset, action adapts.

Impact is “what happened”. Reason is “what’s next”.

Beyond metrics to sensing and foresight
Our work creates change, in times of increasing change. Our pace of success depends on our ability to 1) sense the evolution of now, and 2) foresee where the dynamics lead.

Sensing “now” demands a new set of filters and criteria. Today, in a world deluged by data (which change every day), relevancy matters more than volume, frequency and timeliness. Curation counts.

Foresight clarifies “next”. It acknowledges that the future is unknown but leverages fit, character, and ability to absorb new opportunities. It seeks to understand a kind of gravity. These elements attract opportunity. Knowing their gravity and reconciling with emerging demands enables analytical understanding of what might come next.

We live in a fulcrum.
Social issues are surging in the face of a flagging economy. We are global. Our systems have failed. We haven’t yet chosen new ones. A window is open. The world is begging.

Grasping the potential of this moment depends on four key outcomes:

  • Wake the senses: Define, quantify, and validate are just the beginning. Up the ante. Sensing now. Map change. Feed foresight.
  • Create clarity: Honor complexity, obliterate complication. Let things be inter-connected but do not confuse. Invest simply, with reason.
  • Quicken the pace: Change is accelerating. Change is changing. Our ability to sense and respond needs to keep up. Investment needs to adapt.
  • Deliver returns: Without returns, investment is unsustainable. Know your reason, find its returns. Invest. Deliver.

If change comes from within, we must change ourselves to achieve the change we seek.

It is in our nature. It is in our grasp.

We can sense it. We can see it.

We must do it.

“Man has been endowed with reason, with the power to create, so that he can add to what he’s been given. But up to now he hasn’t been a creator, only a destroyer. Forests keep disappearing, rivers dry up, wild life’s become extinct, the climate’s ruined and the land grows poorer and uglier every day.”

Anton Chekhov in Uncle Vanya (1897)

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

Framing our future: SoCap09

socap09_150px_wI’m looking forward to this year’s Social Capital Markets conference. Last year I came way with a sense of a movement – a long term movement that was working with the balance of social and financial objectives in service of a better world for all. I’m sure this year will do much of the same – bringing the best of the movement together to share their progress and inspire those who are looking to explore ‘the intersection of money and meaning’. If you are interested in this space, it’s the place to be.

This year though, I’m going with a more ambitious agenda. Jessica Margolin hit on something in her SoCap09 post – encapsulated in these 2 quotes:

“For me, the debate question was upside-down. It should be: How can we maximize financial returns given our drive to maximize social returns.”

“The question isn’t how to fit what we love into the structure of our money-making, the question is how to be productive given our need to engage with our lives.”

Since the last conference we’ve seen the depths of shifts underway in the financial system come along with continuing instability in our political and ecological systems. If we weren’t clear last year the core systems of our society are in transition. And since last year’s conference, we’ve seen the birth of the most accessible, participatory medium in history and the start of what Om Malik calls an interaction society. While it’s great to see people working on shifting our existing institutions and systems, we’re coming to this conference with a capacity for reinvention unlike any time in history.

The opportunity to me in this gathering is to create a space for a new conversation… a sub-track for folks interested in hacking new systems that support a civilization founded on the answer to more human questions than how do we maximize production.

This week’s #SoCap09 twitter chat should help kick that off. We’ll be looking into the question of how is social media changing change? I’m curious to see what threads emerge and what we can take into the conversation at the conference.

The game is changing more than we realize and in ways we don’t yet understand… so let’s ask some questions… let’s hack some solutions… let’s get to it.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]