Our Common Future conference was held in Detroit, Michigan at the end of October 2017. We have a Part One and a Part Two to give you the top ten. We will interview several guest speakers that help shape our community. They give us some insight into the work that they do to empower entrepreneurship and Impact Investing.
Welcome to the Bonfires of Social Enterprise. This is Romy, and we have something very special for you on this episode. Our Bonfires team was invited to podcast from the Our Common Futures conference which was held in Detroit at the end of October 2017. I was not able to attend but two of our very experienced colleagues, Jennifer Davis-Papa and Natalie Hazen, caught up with some very high profile attendees and speakers at the conference. They came back with so many great discussions that we had to do a Part 1 and a Part 2 to give you the top ten.
So, on Part 1, you will hear interviews with Dan Cardinali, President, and CEO of Independent Sector, Joyce Cade-Hitchye from the organization, Of Impact, Angela Barbash from the financial firm, Revalue Aaron Seybert of Kresge, and Angela Rogensues of the non-profit, Playworks.
Let’s get started with Dan Cardinelli of Independent Sector. He begins by answering Natalie with some organization history.
Dan Cardinali: Well, first of all, Independent Sector is a 38-year-old organization that is founded with two very simple principles; that our goal is to bring the sector, the whole sector together. Grant seeking, foundations, corporate foundations, and ... Excuse me. Can I start that again?
Dan Cardinali: Independent Sector was founded 38 years ago with two very simple purposes; to bring the sector together, sector spanning, so we have grant seeking organizations, nonprofits, and grant-making organizations like philanthropy and corporate foundations.
The goal of this gathering is for the community to come together in a non-transactional way. Not to cut deals, but to collectively take stock in what's going well and what's not, and how we as a sector can come together, catalyze activity, and be part of accelerating social change. That's what Independent Sector does.
And then we learn from that conversation, and we translate that into our public policy work. Primarily in Washington, but increasingly we partner with state organizations to make sure we're aligned with the policies that are really going to strengthen the sector.
Every year we gather, historically every year we gather the sector together in this vital meeting ground, this conference. We realize collaboration is the way of the future. Early on as were designing for this, we said, "Look, who are the strongest sector spanning organizations we can partner with." The Council of Michigan Foundations is one of the strongest state level, regional association working in philanthropy. The Michigan Nonprofit Association is a similar; it's one of the strongest nonprofit association.
It made perfect sense to say, "Hey! Let's put our heads together, and let's design together." And that's what we did. It's been a phenomenal experience.
Natalie: Wow. That's fantastic. I like how you're getting everybody together in the sandbox to play well together, in essence.
Dan Cardinali: Right. Well, the goal I think is playing well together. I think also means struggling to do what we hope happens here. Which is to push each other. Each of us have a different purview. We look across the whole sector nationally. The Council of Michigan Foundations has their lens working with philanthropy here in Michigan. Although, they are also a national player. They've a really great purview, and similarly, the Michigan Nonprofit Association has their purview really on what's going on here in Michigan and understanding the national context.
We all have strong opinions. We're all leaders in our own right. The work we did in terms of really finding the common ground among ourselves, I think then got reflected in the conference. We've been really pleased with the kind of seamlessness with which our teams have worked together, and the design of content. So the meaning that's coming out of this, the learning is actually synthetic for the whole sector. It's not anyone of those federally, or locally, or just philanthropy kind of getting the lion share of the learning.
Dan Cardinali: The nice part is interesting. I think it's more of the respectful part. When you really listen to the other and realize they're coming at this one from a place of deep goodwill and a deep level of experience. You're forced to listen pretty thoroughly. And then each of us, and I have to say our partners were phenomenal in allowing themselves to be stretched and stretching us. What we found is what we learned a fair amount here.
I was just talking with our team that Independent Sector is in this mode right now being a startup in a legacy organization. We after doing a lot of thinking at the nation level, a lot of listening, looking out to the way the world was changing, realized that our responsibility was to kind of called the question for this sector. That we need to change, and we need to evolve and actually pretty quickly.
Our work here in Michigan grounded us in the very practical realities of where the sector is at. We figured out together the pace with which that change needed to take place. It has been an invaluable contribution as we go to L.A. next year. We've rebranded kind of the work it will now be this wonderful gathering for the social sector called Upswell. You can go to the website, upswell.org. It is not the Independent Sector conference anymore. It is the sector's conference. Much like South by Southwest is for the tech industry. Upswell is going to the gathering for this sector.
We learned that in a really important way here in Michigan. It was through that collaboration that helped us really say, "How do we develop a place where those who are in transition can find themselves comfortable and be stretched. Those who are on the front edge of innovation will also be excited and can push further. And those who are skeptical can put a toe in the water and find like-minded folks kind of asking questions and exploring."
Natalie: Wow. That's fantastic. You're grabbing everybody from, no matter where they are in the spectrum really.
Dan Cardinali: That's the goal, right? The sector is huge. People often forget that, right? There are 11 million workers, and then if you put in the number of volunteers in America, one in four Americans, one in four Americans are involved in civil society. And yet we don't have a sense of a collective identity. Part of Upswell's aspiration is, we know that social change is happening all over America and citizens, really just Americans. People who are here in this country who are just deeply passionate about being part of community, are doing great work all the time. We want to capture that energy and share it out. So the notion of Upswell is that we're deeply locally engaged, but nationally relevant. Anybody can find their place in that conversation.
Natalie: Wow. That's fantastic. I like that, but now next year we're in L.A.
Dan Cardinali: We're going to be in L.A. next year. We learned a lot here in Michigan. We sent a team here back in January to live here in Detroit for a month, and to go through a human-centered design program from a local organization here trained by Stanford, and to fan out into the community. That fundamentally changed how we thought about the conference. We're doing that on steroids in L.A.
We've already identified a group of community base leaders who are actually here in Detroit who are learning about what's going well and what isn't. They will become a community of changemakers over the course of the year helping us plan. So place leaders are already learning from what kind of national discourse looks like. And then turning to their home community and saying, "Wow. We have a lot to learn, and we have a lot to teach. And let's make that happen next year."
Natalie: Wow. I love the gathering of the information but yet not just sitting on it. You're actually moving it forward and taking some action on it. That to me is incredible.
Dan Cardinali: That's great. I appreciate you saying that. We believe one of our roles is this notion of recalibrating the tension of how the sector learns. Historically over the last 20 years, a lot of the sector leaders, the big institution, elite coastal institutions, got to kind of say what the important issues were and set the agenda. We think actually communities in dialogue with those elite institutions will create a much clearer and acute understanding of what actually the core issues are. That we then collectively need to catalyze activity and drive change.
Natalie: Right, right. There's always a, making an impact to everywhere that you can go right?
Dan Cardinali: That's exactly. That is exactly right.
Natalie: How do you feel that the conference is going so far, and what has been the highlight or inspiration to you?
Dan Cardinali: Personally, I am kind of over the moon. We were quite nervous going into this last year at our conference. We had about 800 folks come. This year I think we've come close to breaking numbers for our conference. We're well over 1400. It's an example why collaboration is so important. The Council of Michigan Foundations and Michigan Nonprofit Association, not only brought their folks but their folks had a place here and contributed. The traditional folks that we brought were in dialogue with them in a much richer way. I'm very proud and very, very excited that that meaning-making has already begun to take place here. We learned a great deal about that.
The collaboration and the quality of the content ... I was coming back from a dinner last night out in the community with about 30 people. We were at a local nonprofit talking about what is it going to take for our country to become stronger. I've met a diverse group of people. On the bus ride back, a colleague of mine, that I've known for many years said, "You know, I've come to this conference a lot. Most of the time it's been maybe, you know I knew most of what I was going to, and I'd get an occasionally good idea." She said, "I have been challenged and stretched in this conference." So I'm deeply proud that was a collective effort among the sector itself. Stretching itself to grow and learn. It feels to me that is ... If anything Independent Sector can do, we believe in catalyzing leaders into transformative work. It felt to me in that moment; she was saying, "I've feel like I could go back now ready to take on harder stuff."
Natalie: It sounds like it was just a great moment where she was refreshed and renewed in all that she is learning and ready to, as you said, make it into action. Push it forward.
Dan Cardinali: I think that's right. I love to notion of renewal. John Gardner, who founded Independent Sector, said we have to constantly be in renewal as individuals and as institutions. So absolutely I think the conference is the gathering of the tribe, the celebration, the eating and breaking bread together, and hanging out, and laughing. I think the other component of what she said is that I had the assumptions about how I think about creating change stretched and challenged.
And now I don't feel like I am destabilized, but I do feel like I have to go back now and reexamine and bring in what I've learned in the context, and really see if I can push my work forward. To me, this notions of a safe nurturing place to grow is really a tender achievement. And again, that came through collective effort. We couldn't have done it on our own.
Natalie: I think that's fantastic. You're creating this space for everyone to just really be thought, partners.
Dan Cardinali: That's right. That's right. That's exactly.
Natalie: I like that a lot. So in terms of your views for the future of impact investing. How to you see impact investing really tie into your mission, and where do you see impact investing in the local markets really heading?
Dan Cardinali: That's a great question. So I think impact investing is ... What I'm excited about impact investing is that there is a period when it was treated as kind of the be-all and the end-all. It was going to solve this issue of scale. It was going to be market-driven solutions to drive effective practice out there. I actually still believe that's what it can hold. I think there is now a sober and clear-eyed understanding of the strategies that really, I think the work you all are doing is a good example of really the embeddedness it requires in community. The marrying of those with capital looking to use market-driven solutions to drive change. And the kind of ... prior to hopping on the podcast, you use the notion of training Olympic athletes.
I think that has been a missing piece. That there is this incredible commitment to these change makers, who are so poised and so capable. And our assumption is that that passion is sufficient to driven them forward. And yet we know there are really technical supports that will unleash their capability and channel that good sentiment, those values in the market-driven solutions. So I'm very bullish.
I want to call out something about impact investing that I think is going to be a limiting factor unless we partner with a set of institutions that can help, whether it's on the kind of B Corp or the pure social enterprise, or the nonprofit social enterprise. This notion of the tools required for ongoing quality improvement for outcomes. Not for profit, but for outcomes. Creating meaningful social change is actually very, very difficult. There is an emerging body of work. I have to call an example.
Project Evident, which is a startup, is developing a set of strategies for cost-effective tools to help startups or second stage kind of organizations begin to put together what's called strategic evaluation plan. Part of that is understanding how to get the right sets of incomes, but the key to the strategic evaluation plan is understanding the marketplace for results. So that a social enterprise is aiming in a market-driven way. So that its results, when it produces good outcomes for kids and families or whatever it's trying to do. There is actually pickup and payoff at the end.
I think sometimes there is a misalignment between what in fact will ... One, first of all, how do you drive effective outcomes for difficult, intractable problems? And then two, who or how are those going to be picked up and scaled?
Natalie: Right. Now I think you've hit several amazing points. The marketplace, what we're seeing and noticing is that the marketplace when you are creating your business is sometimes not really thought of. Its, yes you want to go do a great thing, have some wonderful impact, but if that marketplace isn't there for your product to help generate your business, you have to go in and create that marketplace. Then that is something we're noticing has been missed as to your point. That you really have to think about that marketplace. Is it already there? Is it waiting for me? Or is it something that I have to go and pioneer on my own?
Dan Cardinali: Yeah. It's an extraordinary important point. Something we're committed to at Independent Sector is working with ... we're working right now with Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to look at what we can do as an organization to create a much more rational marketplace for results. So that social enterprises don't have to have dual challenge of both innovating breakthrough strategies to create social good and market, field building or the market making that then scales that work. It's too much at any one time.
We think by virtual of our sector spanning world and public policy capabilities. We have a partnership with an organization results for America which is looking at the public policies that could be put in place that will incentivize government to really reward institutions, organizations for profit and nonprofit that are delivering really material value to society.
Natalie: Excellent. Wow. Thank you so much for your time this morning. I got you up early. You were ready to rock and roll.
Dan Cardinali: I'm ready to rock and roll. I had a lot of coffee this morning. I'm super excited to be here.
Natalie: Well, thank you. So how do our listeners touch base with you at Independent Sector?
Dan Cardinali: Sure. First of all, we would love for folks to engage with us. Your listeners are learning and seeing things that often we are not. So I would really invite them to engage with us. There are a couple ways they can do that. One, our website which is independent sector, and I still misspell Independent so don't fell bad, but it is one-word independentsector.org. And then on our website, there's lot of ways to engage. We publish blogs. We invite folks if they're interested in blogging, let us know. We loved to hear their thoughts.
And then if you go to Upswell.org you can sign up. And we're going to use that platform as a way to engage with folks. And because Upswell is really about kind of the whole shoot and match. We would just invite folks, please sign up, and we will begin to reach out ... and we want their thoughts. Then maybe opportunities for them to curate ideas and present on a national stage.
Natalie: Well, there you have it and to all of our listeners out in L.A., alright. Ball's in your court. Jump on board, right?
Dan Cardinali: Yeah, we look forward to seeing you next year. November 14th through the 16th.
Natalie: All right. Well Dan, thank you so much. I so appreciate it.
Dan Cardinali: Really great.
Thanks, Natalie and Dan! What a great way to kick off the conference and plant seeds for next year in LA. By the time we are done listening to these great guests, we will probably all be booking some tickets.
Next up, Jennifer catches up with Joyce Cade-Hitchye with the organization, Of Impact. Jennifer had some specific questions for Joyce on the conference.
Jennifer: Jade, I'd love to get your ideas and thoughts about the conference so far, and also a little bit then about how that ties into what you do every day.
Joyce: Well, basically, I love this. We've been coming the last couple of years when the Michigan Nonprofit Association converges with the Council of Michigan Foundations. Actually, funny story; can I tell you?
Joyce: Okay, couple of years ago, we attended and, I'm a talker, so I loved the tie that this gentleman was wearing. Right? It ended up to be the president of the Council of Michigan Foundations. He remembered our little encounter years later when we went to another event in April. He told me, "You're coming to the ..." before I was even on the ... what do you call it? His website. Their website. I was like, "Of course! I can't wait to come and enjoy this!" It's really a good ... yesterday we went to the Michigan Nonprofit Association luncheon. Lots of good information. Was sitting right across from,...