Money + Meaning = Huh?

SOCAP11 is getting going today at Fort Mason in San Francisco. I’m not going to be there. So why should I care?

Well, there’s one obvious reason that I, personally, should care: Innovations journal (which I co-edit with Iqbal Quadir) has partnered with Kevin Doyle Jones and the Social Capital Markets team to produce a special issue on impact investing that is being released at SOCAP11 this week. The issue was proposed and guest edited by Paul Hudnut (@BOPreneur), Rob Katz (@robertkatz), and Patrick Maloney (@pemaloney). Anyone who’s not going to be attending the opening session of SOCAP11 tomorrow can get the special edition as an eBook on Amazon.

In my next post I’ll summarize the content; there’s also more here at the SOCAP11 site. But I’ll tell you this up front: If you don’t get “impact investing” now, you will by the time you’re done reading through the great contributions to this special edition. Wayne Silby, Elizabeth Littlefield, Jed Emerson, Anthony Bugg-Levine, Mirjam Schöning, Mario Morino, Christine Eibs Singer, and other great contributors to this special edition… these are the pathfinders. Where they have been is where finance is going–if it is going anywhere at all, that is.

So… is the release of this special edition the only reason that I’m excited about what’s going to be happening at Fort Mason this week? No. If there wasn’t another reason, we at Innovations wouldn’t have jumped at the chance to partner with SOCAP on an impact investing special edition in the first place.

Kevin Doyle Jones and the SOCAP11 team are framing this year’s meeting with the following Twitter-friendly koan:

$ + <3 = ?

I read this as: Can money (markets) and meaning (purpose) co-exist? Can they be separated?

The facile answer to this question is well known: “Markets are impersonal. They have to do with exchange and they have to do with value. But they have nothing to do with the creation of ‘meaning’ or the pursuit of ‘purpose.'”

The facile answer is–as facile answers tend to be–wrong. The incomparable Matthew Bishop (@mattbish) offered one take on how markets and meaning connect in a piece he wrote for Innovations last year. I made my own first attempt at answering this question in a piece I wrote in 2009 for the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

But the most compelling answer isn’t to be found any any single essay, narrative, or line of argument–amazingly, even my own or Matthew’s. The best answer is to be found in the mosaic of insights and experiences of the people who have spent their careers exploring the shared space between money (markets) and meaning (purpose). People like Ben & Jerry’s co-founder Ben Cohen, who wrote about “The Meaning of Business” in the Spring issue of Innovations. People like Kalsoom Lakhani, Eden Full, Manoj Sinha, and Saba Gul, who will be among the hundreds of entrepreneurs seeking to connect markets and meaning at Fort Mason this year. And it’s to be found in the words of the remarkable people who took time away from their daily doing to get their thoughts into words and their words into bits so that you could read them here.