Convening Thoughts

There are two parts of my job that I really enjoy. 1) listening to social entrepreneurs, and 2) finding mentors for those entrepreneurs. To do those things well, I go to a *lot* of conferences. 

This past spring, I went to two conferences that were of the “let’s put a lot of really smart people in the room and see what happens” variety. One of them did very it well. One of them didn’t. (Sorry, no link for the second one – I try to be specific in my praise, but general in my concerns.

The Agora Partnership’s Impact Investing In Action conference pulled together very specific industry leaders with very specific goals. Every workshop that I attended was designed and implemented as conversation among the entire room. We were given a starting point, and then the space to move that issue or project forward. We all felt a part of the process. And we were grouped according to our areas of expertise, and the companies we were interested in.

The other conference grouped an equally smart set of folks together, and then divided us by tax status (government, entrepreneur, university, non-profit, etc.). We were asked to come up with the starting point on some of the biggest challenges we faced. Grouped with a bunch of people working on very different issues, it took us a few hours to get there. And once we got there, our contributions were minimized. (Note to those who will know what conference I’m talking about – several of the facilitators were excellent. But the process was counter-productive.

The William James Foundation is in the mentorship business. Our team has been bringing people together to discuss social enterprise for more than a decade. Two things we’ve learned: give the participants a starting point for their discussions, and make sure everybody feels that their contributions are valued. 

Congratulations to Agora Partnerships for getting it right.

Ian Fisk