Entrepreneurs Empowering Communities: The 2013 National Conference on Volunteering and Service


Calvert Foundation COO David Kyle fielding questions on best practices in hiring and start-up development, from the newest Points of Light Civic Accelerator cohort.

Today, individuals are able, and institutions are expected, to leverage their human and financial capital to address social problems. The power of this idea brought together 6000 individuals over the course of three days for the 2013 National Conference on Volunteering and Service. Represented were community organizations, media, businesses, and government agencies, some with highly adversarial relationships (imagine, Donna Brazile and Karl Rove sharing a dance), calling a temporary truce to promote the importance of supporting the needs of their communities.

The conference was hosted by Points of Lights, which capitalized on the concentration of socially-oriented organizations as a field experience for the newest cohort of its Civic Accelerator. Over 170 start-ups applied for nine slots in this 12-week boot-camp for social entrepreneurs. The cohort was selected based on the potential of their ideas to inspire and empower others to use their talent, money, or voice to engage in education, economic development, environmental sustainability, and technological issues in their communities. The Accelerator's approach is gaining traction—since its inception three years ago, it has launched 120 ventures and engaged 450,000 people nation-wide.

While these teams seek new ways to address embedded social problems, they work to answer questions familiar to any entrepreneur attempting to scale-up their non/for-profit ventures: What is the best use of available capital? When is the best time to develop new products? What are the priorities when making hiring decisions? Over a break-out session and dinner, Calvert Foundation COO David Kyle lent his expertise in hiring and organizational planning. Chief among his advice to the cohort was the need for prudent financial management, transparency, accountability, the consideration of employees as individuals, and promoting a high learning curve as part of hiring culture. The next few weeks will see these teams develop from start-ups to investment-ready, with clear ideas of their market-fit and the specific populations they seek to serve.

As guest moderator of the Community Revitalization through Social Entrepreneurship Forum, Calvert Foundation President and CEO Lisa Hall led a discussion on the paradigm shift social entrepreneurship is creating in business, charity, and community empowerment. Six founders of socially conscious for- and non-profits comprised the panel: Bill Shore (Share Our Strength), Nick Vilelle (Cause Bar), Darius Graham (DC Social Innovation) and Ross Baird (Village Capital), with closing remarks from Jonathan Greenblatt, Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation at the White House.

During their discussion and the Q & A that followed, the panelists recognized the continued utility of philanthropy in supporting projects without cash-flows, projects for which consumers are unable to pay for a solution. Social entrepreneurship complements and extends the reach of philanthropic investment by promoting sustainability, combining the strongest tools of several sectors to disrupt previously immovable social problems. From the stage, the founders urged their two-hundred-member audience to eliminate the trade-off between social-responsibility and practicality by working to provide communities with services they already use, but at a lower cost. They were advised that, as part of a wave of social innovation, entrepreneurs must communicate their goals in the context of a wider national dialogue, demonstrating the relevance of their work to those issues.

Perhaps the most succinct and resonant encapsulation of the conference's theme was made prior to the conference itself, in a meeting room given over to the Civic Accelerator's cohort. When asked to about the importance of technology to social entrepreneurship, one of the program's coordinators stated that while technology is an important driver of social innovation, it is simply a facilitator, and not the end in and of itself. The power to transform communities still fundamentally depends on engaging and empowering the people there-in, and in their ability to decide that they will make an impact.


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