Last week, I participated in the Student Coalition for Social Impact, which was hosted by the Sorenson Impact Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Coalition brought together student delegates and university leaders from 10 social impact centers across the country to take part in the 2019 Winter Innovation Summit, which is a convening for policymakers, funders, and nonprofits to explore the future of social innovation. In two jam-packed days, we attended panels and deep dive sessions, listened to the keynote speaker, Mayor Michael Tubbs, attended the film premier of The Biggest Little Farm, and participated in a five-hour Impact Hackathon in which we explored the problem of college affordability and worked together to propose a new solution.
In line with the theme of the Summit, “colliding sectors and connecting changemakers,” I came to appreciate the vital importance of collaboration. By gaining insight into the work done by different sectors, I experienced how communication and cooperation enable people and organizations to overcome significant obstacles. Furthermore, learning about the interests, work, and aspirations of the other student delegates made me excited to contribute what I can and collaborate with others to address the problems facing our world.
A common topic at the Summit was how to make money work better for people, which exposed me to the challenge of the lack of accountability in impact investing. I noticed that many panelists claimed it is unnecessary to sacrifice financial returns to have a positive social impact. While both market rate returns and a positive social impact may be possible in some cases, if market rate returns are the expectation it is important to consider what is going unfunded. If impact investors are serious about making their capital work better for people, it should be their responsibility to mold to the needs of social enterprises and the people they serve, not the other way around. While discussions about the use of blended capital and impact investing frameworks are promising, there seems to be the need for a system to keep investors accountable and ensure that they are impact first, especially in light of increasing commercial interest in impact investing. Although this would likely be a significant challenge, the Summit taught me that in each challenge there is an opportunity.
In addressing challenges, it is crucial to always keep people at the center of any solution. As Mayor Michael Tubbs reminded the Summit attendees, “nothing about us without us can be for us.” This resonated with me because it reflects a lesson I learned as a 2018 Global Social Benefit Fellow in Uganda: we must always listen to and work with the people we aim to increase opportunities for. Marginalized people have ideas about how to improve their own lives, what they lack are the resources to do so. Reflecting back on my experience at the Student Coalition for Social Impact, I am grateful to have built connections and gained new perspectives. I look forward to incorporating what I have learned into whatever I do next.
Keynote speaker Mayer Michael Tubbs