This past weekend Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government hosted one of the world's leading forums to engage in dialogue, debate, and expression around social enterprise: The Social Enterprise Conference. I attended this conference 3 years ago as a delegate, and left that conference in 2009 impressive by the breadth of speakers and topics covered. This year's schedule was equally packed, and the weekend convened over 1,600 people.
SoJo initially approached the Social Enterprise Conference to get involved by either hosting a workshop on taking ideas into action or providing post-conference support to all delegates by making our online resources accessible to all delegates. Ideally, we would have loved to provide a lot of great support to the delegates this year, most of whom are interested in building social ventures, but this conference will be around next year, and now that we're connected with the organizing team we will be sure to connect with them well in advance for the 2013 conference.
We were instead invited as a Media Partner, which I was excited to accept, as there was still a lot of value in informally networking with the delegates and attending the sessions. I will be posting information from the different workshops I attended on theSoJo.net
for everyone to reference, stay tuned. Among one of the most interesting sessions, was an interactive workshop facilitating more effective meetings.
I used my 'media' privileges to get special access to the speakers and most of the people whom I spoke with are excited about getting their knowledge and content available on SoJo. In terms on building content partnerships, this conference was a big success.
In line with our efforts of making knowledge more accessible through the use of technology, @The_SoJo did an open call for questions to our community, that should ask while present at the conference. After-all, this was a fabulous opportunity to pick the brains of leading researchers, and practitioners in the field of social enterprise. We were asked how to successfully build the hybrid model among non-profits and for-profits. After attending a couple of sessions on funding, legal structure and many hallway chat, there was no conclusive answer. My biggest take-away, is that a lot of focus is being placed on building a business model for non-profits and methods of enabling [larger] for-profits to be more mindful of stakeholder engagement, but no-one was talking about organizations that lie right in-between both structures. Sorry @eszterer, but rest assured, SoJo is committed to finding an answer!
My biggest disappointment was the environmental footprint left from the two-day event. Plastic water-bottles, disposables for every meal and a 130+ page conference manual, all multiplied by 1,600 over two days = a lot of waste. For a student-run conference on Social Enterprise with sessions on sustainability and the environment, I would have hoped to see the organizers lead by example and pay special attention to these details.
Similarly to my experience in 2009, I left this weekend impressed with the energy among this year's participants and am excited with the meaningful connections that arose from our participation.
I just submitted an application on SoJo's behalf to a prestigious and well-known fellowship. SoJo was named a semi-finalist, and came within the top 10% of over 3,500 applicants. This is an honour and validation that SoJo is on the right track.
Phase 2 of this rigorous application process required a video, detailed competitive analysis, 30 mini essay questions, reference letters -- all to complete within two weeks. This fellowship is a huge opportunity for SoJo, that if successful will give us the needed financial and network support to accelerate our journey. On the other hand, I need to be equally mindful of the time that is required for this one application and the less than 1% success ratio of applicants. SoJo is a moving ship; we are incredibly under-resourced and are in the midst of growing. It is an exciting time, however extremely demanding which requires that we be even smarter about how our resources get allocated. In pursuit of my resolution to work smarter, not harder
, I set parameters and only invested a small number of hours into this specific application over the weekend.
Individuals looking to apply for Grants are often in the same conundrum. Do you spend time just doing the work, or do you spend time telling other people about the work you intend to do, and hope that the time invested in applications will realize into direct benefit to your project?
I'm interested in hearing how you dealt with a similar situation, and reconciled conflicting priorities on your time.
Today marks the initiation of a partnership with Simpl Co. Over the past weekend, Simpl in collaboration with Google organized Interactivism
, a hackathon for youth to create ideas and products to help young people get into the work, training and education that is right for them. A fascinating event, which brought together bright minds from across London to share ideas and get inspired from one another.
SoJo partnered with Simpl to make our online resources available to participants at Interactivism
, providing them with the tools that they need to act on the brilliant ideas they prototyped. A very symbiotic partnership where both partners offer complementary services in pursuit of achieving similar goals. Simpl is an online marketplace that connects people with the goods and services they need to do good in this world. SoJo strategically used Interactivism
as a launch pad to formally kick-start the relationship between both organizations.
You can read more on the Simpl Blog
This is the first tangible Pipeline Partnership that came out of my recent trip in the UK. We have many more in the works, and I'm excited for all of the synergies and collaborations to occur in the immediate future. SoJo is committed to bringing together the highly fragmented social innovation sector. If you're in the sector providing support to social innovators -- odds are we can support you in your mandate. Please get in touch
to explore potential collaborations!
SoJo has a very unique perspective: we have direct experience working with early stage social entrepreneurs, we are redefining what entrepreneurship means, and we are in the same trenches with the people who we serve (which is quite rare).
Earlier today I was invited to speak on the topics of redefining socially conscious entrepreneurship and online professional development to the staff of one of Canada's largest charitable foundations. SoJo is employing a unique and innovative approach to online learning and training to young social entrepreneurs. It is very encouraging to know that other prominent organizations are interested in what we have to say and genuinely want to learn from us.
Over the course of our informal conversation, I had the opportunity to share SoJo's story, our values and approach to supporting and catalyzing young entrepreneurs. By that same token, I used this as a platform to make bold statements on why youth need more support in the early stages and why current infrastructure does not meet their needs. In hindsight, I realized that my words could have been interpreted as a direct attack to the organization that so graciously hosted me.
It is my hope that the staff of this foundation left the session with more critical questions to ask themselves and insights that may influence their thinking. I was speaking to an audience who have the power to make changes; this foundation in particular has significant reach in the region and has the financial resources to make meaningful impact in the lives of millions. If SoJo can influence or contribute to shaping their agenda and subsequently their social impact; then this is a big win for us (and the world).
I'm learning to dance the fine line between sharing my knowledge and pushing boundaries, while still speaking to an audience without being polarized or dismissed. I'm eager for the conversations that lie ahead of us and what will come out of those conversations.
In addition to providing direct support to youth interested in taking their ideas for social good into action (which remains our primary focus), SoJo has started to engage in high level conversations, to help shape broader policy agendas with organizations.
The last time we had a mass recruitment like this was in May when we recruited our Analysts
. Everyone who has been part of SoJo thus far have been instrumental in bringing SoJo to where it is today
. Some have left SoJo and moved onto other opportunities. With a smaller team and more work to do, we are incredibly excited to bring some fresh blood and energy to the team to help us achieve our goals in this next phase. This time around though, we're looking for fewer generalists and have more specific roles to fill. Now that SoJo's approach better defined, we have a clearer idea of who we're looking to bring onto the team and how their contributions will directly impact SoJo's overall goals.
In early stage start-up mode, the expectation is that everyone does everything. As I review the job postings, it is clear that we're starting to outgrow early-stage startup mode and creating more structure to the organization. SoJo is growing up.
If you are looking to join SoJo or know someone who is looking for a meaningful opportunity to contribute to an organization that is committed to making significant impacts in this world, then please visit the postings online and spread the word: http://www.thesojo.net/about/team/join-the-team/
SoJo is on the lookout for amazing talent to join our growing team of individuals passionate about supporting youth in their journeys of making our world a better place. 2 months into the launch of an incredibly successful public Beta, we have an imminent need of expanding our team to develop Phase 2 of SoJo. This is a primary focus, and thus I have allocated about half of my schedule this week alone to meeting prospective candidates.
Content Partners: Organizations and individuals who will make their content available on SoJo's platform
Network Partners: Organizations that will openly endorse and promote SoJo within their networks, helping us build our community base
Pipeline Partners: Organizations that offer complementary services to SoJo and will integrate our online resources in their core programming. This third bucket is what gets me really excited, as it proves that SoJo can be the glue that binds this fragmented sector together!
Although everyone was open to learning more about SoJo and were pleased that I made the effort to reach out to them as I saw value in collaborating -- a good number of the people whom I met were surprised to see SoJo invest in an international trip while we are still in Beta. For an organization that is still bootstrapped, investing in a week-long international networking trip could be seen as premature. My rationale however, is that investing in the relationships with the individuals who can support SoJo's mandate makes good business sense, as those relationships may materialize into strengthening SoJo's product and reach.
London is a city rich in history and character, which was well-reflected in the meeting venues such as tall glass towers, loft-style shared workspaces, coffee shops, publishing houses, a museum -- and even afternoon tea at Kensington Palace. Likewise, of all of my international travels I've never been so disoriented. I learned very early into this trip that Google Maps is not always accurate; that streets do not follow a grid, and thus are incredibly difficult to navigate; and that underground Tube transfers between trains can take up to 10 minutes, even if you're in the same station! I'm thankful that everyone was understanding of my tardiness -- next time I'm in London however, I can no longer play the "this is my first time in the city" card.
It's safe to say that SoJo's first cross-Atlantic networking trip was a huge success. Time to focus my time on building our product and organization so we can deliver on the promises made during the trip.
With over 20 scheduled meetings and many more informal conversations, SoJo's first cross-Atlantic networking trip felt like a whirlwind that came and went. Three types of partnerships were developed over the course of this visit:
Our public beta has been live for 2 months now, and with such positive feedback and traction in North America, now feels as good of a time as any to make our mark globally. SoJo is an online tool. Although our team is based in Canada, our platform is freely accessible to anyone who has access to the Internet. That being said, having a physical presence in the regions we're looking to expand our reach is equally important -- as nothing replaces the value of face-to-face contact.
The United Kingdom is significant for two reasons:
1-Grow our Community: there is a vibrant community of young social innovators who need our support in taking their ideas to action.
2-Form Partnerships: there are many organizations based in London that (similar to SoJo) are building the infrastructure to support youth in their endeavours to do good in this world. SoJo cannot operate in isolation and must collaborate with other established institutions to more effectively deliver on our mandate and support other organizations to achieve mutual goals.
Leading up to this trip, I did not have a professional network in London. Instead of feeling intimidated by charting into unknown territory, I spent the past month being resourceful and creative, tapping into my existing network for referrals and sending cold-emails to total strangers worth connecting with. Although I only have a handful of meetings confirmed, I'm confident that my schedule will quickly fill up, as I'm hoping to get referrals while I am here.
Exhausted from only a few hours of sleep on an overnight flight from Toronto, I'm writing this post from the train en route to Central London incredibly excited and pumped thinking about what this upcoming week has in store...
Over the next 7 days, I will be engaging in a highly anticipated and intense networking trip in London, UK.