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Karen's thoughts on the Social Economy

The Social Capital (SoCap) Digest

Wednesday, 14th October 2015

Australia is on a learning trajectory for a thriving social economy, writes Karen Mahlab from the US, where she has been attending the international SoCap15 Conference.

Rather than people refer to the community sector as the “Not for Profit sector”, we should refer to the business world as the “Not for Purpose sector”, according to the CEO of Network for Good at the closing session of the 2015 SoCap conference held in San Francisco last week.

Sunny skies welcomed a significant contingent of Aussies to join the 2500 people attending the biggest ever SoCap (Social Capital) conference. And the seeds were there to herald the end of Capitalism as we know it. The foregone conclusion – capital is the tool rather than people being the tool of capitalism. Check out

Major financial institutions, like the Federal Reserve, BlackRock, and Calvert Investments, who manage billions in funds were represented along with many micro, grassroots organisations and social enterprises.

There were hundreds of sessions and speakers, tables full of people meeting –  all facilitated by the most extraordinary online conference organising tool, Pathable, where you could line up to connect with like-minded individuals on whatever topic you chose.

For me, the three major conference themes were:

1.   The Democratisation of Capital. Business create wealth opportunities in challenged neighbourhoods and encourage local entrepreneurship. Our decision-making about how we spend our money is devolved to a local level.

Check out the Democracy Collaborative, Be a Localist, Echoing Green,

Centre for Economic Democracy, Anthos Capital, Center for Civic Innovation,

Hatch Innovation (whose founder and Chief Executive is Amy Pearl)

Locavesting (founded by award winning US journalist Amy Cortese)

Red Wagon Creamery (co-founded by Stuart Phillips)

Essential Knowledge for Transition (ek4t series) developed by Marco Vangelisti as a curriculum for engaged citizens to understand the money, banking and economic financial systems and how we need to transform them.

Small to medium enterprises are shown in both Australia and in the US to be the engine rooms of jobs growth. While large companies are powerful they are not supplying the majority of jobs growth, nor are they addressing social needs. Local communities know what they need.

 2.   The growth and development of collaborative platforms. Interacting and sharing data, plus the coordination of data, is vital if we want the “grasstops” and the “grassroots” to join for an informed and coordinated effort at addressing social and funding needs.

The SoDa Commons started a conversation – how do we create the means for co-operation? Pooling and sharing data, they offered a prototype for collaboration. Other examples leading or acting on this include Nexii, Social Stock Exchange and Mission Markets.

3.   The necessity for each of us to develop communication and leadership qualities. This addresses the cultural healing that needs to happen to drive change includes:  congruency, authenticity, relationship, humility, listening, collaborations, self assessment, humanity – i.e the things that make us human.

Penelope Douglas from was passionate on this issue.

Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka was passionate about creating in young people, he suggested as early as five-years-old, the ability to collaborate.

Finally, a few little quotes throughout the days that resonated with me – apologies for the lack of accreditation, SoCap 2015 was an information overload – were “go slow so you can go further” and "movement plus moment equals change".

The underpinnings for a thriving Social Economy in Australia is underway and our American counterparts have much to teach us and much to resource us with. I’ve come away from SoCap grateful for the opportunity to be here and very grateful too – on so many fronts – that I live in Australia.

I’m looking forward to many more conversations on the ground in Australia. But for now, onward to the BCorporation conference in Portland. More to come.

Karen Mahlab AM is the Founder and CEO of Pro Bono Australia. In 2015 she was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for her contribution to the Not for Profit sector and philanthropic initiatives.
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