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What Does the Future Hold for SOCAP?

A conversation with new SOCAP Global President Robert Munson

The Sorenson Impact Center recently assumed leadership of SOCAP Global, a long-standing player in the impact economy space. Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with the new SOCAP Global President Robert Munson and find out more about SOCAP’s plans for the future.

AL: Please tell me a little bit about yourself.

Sure, absolutely. I’m the Managing Director of marketing, communications, and storytelling at the Sorenson Impact Center. As part of that role, I also lead our annual convening, Sorensen Impact Summit. I’ve now taken on the leadership position at SOCAP Global. My background is in campaign politics and public affairs, and, most recently, before finding my own personal North Star in impact, I was in sports marketing for both professional and collegiate sports.

What is the perspective of SOCAP’s new leadership on the impact space?

I think the space has changed dramatically, both during and post-pandemic. It’s a multi-tiered, multi-vertical space now. Of course, it all centers around investing and entrepreneurship, but, generally speaking, the way that we view impact as a field is across multiple verticals, so we see it in academia and research, data science, journalism and media, as well as investing and entrepreneurship.

Robert Munson on why Sorenson Impact Center assumed leadership of SOCAP

What audience do you see SOCAP serving?

All of them. I think that’s a special position for SOCAP. SOCAP attracts both folks who are new to impact and folks that have been in the field for many years, before it was even called impact. All the industry professionals in the multiple verticals. I’ll hearken back to my sports marketing days — I look at SOCAP as kind of the Super Bowl of impact. If you’ve ever been to the Super Bowl, it’s really a convening of the industry of sports. Everybody gets together, we all meet, talk, learn from each other, drive each other, and that’s SOCAP’s role in the impact space.

Great hall at SOCAP conference

In our industry, there are a host of annual conferences that happen every year. How do you think SOCAP differentiates itself from all the other ones?

It’s the big tent. And that’s the biggest difference, and in the annual calendar of events there are very specific, niche verticals that conferences address and look to whether it’s CSR, ESG or impact investing specifically, family offices, etc. SOCAP is the literal big tent that we gather under to talk with each other.

Will SOCAP continue to be “the big tent” in the future?

I think that’s a critical position that SOCAP holds within the space, and it’s uniquely positioned in that way. And when Sorenson looked at this, we saw that, frankly, the world needs SOCAP. Without SOCAP as the big tent convening for our space, we lose that opportunity to cross-pollinate. And I think that’s extremely important: for journalists to talk to researchers, investors to talk to data scientists, students to learn, entrepreneurs to be in front of allocators, and for all of these things to happen at once, because it is representative of the entirety of the field of impact — which is a wide, broad field now.

SOCAP Global’s new President, Robert Munson, discusses themes for SOCAP22

SOCAP has primarily been in the Bay Area. Will you keep it just in the Bay Area, or add some satellites? I saw recently that SXSW will be doing a SXSW Sydney in Australia next year.

That’s awesome. Honestly, it’s early for us, you know we just made the announcement a month ago. San Francisco is an incredible home and has been for SOCAP for a very long time, and it really has been an epicenter, not just for radical conversations about impact, but radical conversations, generally speaking. So, it has that culture and that feel and that community that I think a lot of our attendees are looking for. There’s no question that this conversation is happening all over the world, and we want to reflect that, but certainly for now, San Francisco is our home, and I would expect that to continue. It’s still early though.

Is SOCAP interested in cultivating any other partnerships?

I’ll tell you one thing that’s been really amazing in this process is the response and the reaction of the long-standing partners of SOCAP. SOCAP doesn’t belong to us; SOCAP is a community asset and the partnerships that have been so valuable to the conference over the years — they’ve come back in waves for us. Some are even increasing their investment in the conference because they recognize the need.

We’re looking ahead, 2023 and 2024, thinking about multi-year partnerships, thinking about playing in some new sandboxes because impact has grown beyond the niche sort of component and conversation that it was 12 years ago. That’s in the future. The conference for 2022 is right around the corner so we’re busy putting that together and thankfully our partners have been great helping us to do that.

Presentation at SOCAP

Can you tell me more about the upcoming SOCAP22?

Here are couple of important dates to know – first is SOCAP Open. SOCAP Open is the democratization of content at SOCAP. The way that most of the content exists at SOCAP comes from this; anyone can go to the open process and submit an idea. And then those ideas are voted on by the SOCAP community; so they decide what they want to see, hear, and engage with at the conference. So that’s currently going on right now, the deadline for that is July 13. It was originally July 6, but we’ve had a lot of demand, so we’ve extended it to July 13. And then we’ll have a voting process and announce the content that will come.

The entrepreneurship program will have a small cohort this year, probably only around 30 or so folks because we have a very condensed planning period. The deadline for that is at the end of the month of July. So those two things are on our website and people can go ahead and submit for the open and submit for the entrepreneurship program.

And the actual event happens October 17-20.

Any thoughts on how SOCAP might evolve under the new leadership?

I think the first thing is: we have a new location this year. That’s big news in the SOCAP space – we’re at the YBCA in San Francisco and there’s a number of reasons for that. The first and most important is accessibility. Fort Mason was a beautiful and amazing facility, but it’s sort of out there in San Francisco, and not particularly accessible with public transit. YBCA is right in the heart of San Francisco, surrounded by hotels, public transit, and restaurants. It’s a beautiful facility. I don’t know if you’ve ever been there, Allison, but it’s full of color and life so you sort of walk in and you just stand up straighter and you smile brighter and it’s just a beautiful space to convene. So that’s number one. They’ve been a great partner with us.

Also, this year we’re really focused in terms of our themes on the idea of radical collaboration. We think there’s urgency in the world of impact today and we can go down the long list of why, but with that urgency comes the need for urgent collaboration, particularly after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. So if you look at our themes, they all scream urgent collaboration, time is short, we need to get together, we need to find solutions. So those are the things we’re focused on right now as well as further into the future.

We’re certainly focused on growing our entrepreneurship program. SOCAP has had a program for years that has brought 100 to 150 early-stage entrepreneurs to SOCAP; the program is linked up to the conference itself and helps to connect those entrepreneurs with allocators. But you could have gone to SOCAP for years and never known that existed, because it’s kind of worked in parallel to the conference itself. We want to further integrate the entrepreneurship program and grow it. We’re looking for partnerships to help us do that in the future. So, those are some of the things that are going on. As we work to execute the event for 2022, we’re also thinking more broadly about a vision for 2023 and beyond.

Allison Lee is co-founder of Alpine CSR Advisors, which specializes in CSR/ESG strategy and implementation, with a focus on business and social impact metrics. She has over fifteen years of experience in CSR research and consulting, and has partnered with Fortune 500 corporations, foundations, academic institutions, and other nonprofits globally.

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