"If no one shows up, I'm looking forward to listening to you guys anyway" we said to each other.
The 'we' was Lorin Fries, Head of Food Systems Collaboration at the World Economic Forum and Ava Lala from Geneva Global and I. We had been invited by Jeff Glenn to speak on a panel at the Harvard Social Enterprise conference on the topic of 'systems entrepreneurship'.
The conference itself was on a Saturday. The Saturday before I moved our family from NYC to San Francisco, our apartment in boxes, the day before 20 4 year olds' were due to descend on my house for my daughters birthday party, and I had to catch a 3am flight to get there on time. Will this really be worth it? I thought to myself.
My doubt was compounded by what I had to say in my presentation. That social entrepreneurs are a different breed to social entrepreneurs. I described in some detail my experience as Co-Founder of The Finance Innovation Lab. How we had built an infrastructure of support for the social businesses in the financial system, but that when we looked up for support ourselves, we found it hard to find peers, let alone the awards, incubators and conferences the social enterprise movement enjoyed. Bitter? Well yes slightly.
But actually you know, it was worth it. My co-panelists were two sassy women who regaled fascinating stories of convening the CEOs of the worlds biggest food companies for tough talks at Davos and convincing major actors around sex trafficking in India to work together.
And seventy people turned up. Seventy. This was a major milestone for me. I have been tracking the emergence of the field of systems change practice in earnest for the last four years. You can read a publication I co-wrote with Tim Draimin on the topic last year, Mapping Momentum.
Sure, running the Lab was lonely, but if I was doing it again now, I'm not sure I'd feel so alone. SSIR has published 7 articles this year with 'systems change' in the title. HBR and Fast Company boast another a cluster each. Organizations from Acumen to Skoll to WEF are extolling the virtues of a systemic approach to social problems. Forum for the Futures School for Systems change has launched its Basecamp training program on systems change and funders are getting serious about how to support this kind of work. Things are moving in the right direction and I can't wait to see where we are this time next year.
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