Over the years, as companies dithered on where they stood with CSR and sustainability, SVN has grown as the litmus test for innovative ideas.
By Joe Sibilia
The Social Venture Network [SVN] is one of the most underrated value propositions operating in the new economy. SVN has spawned so many organizations that trying to identify and qualify all the Network's contributions to the movement toward a more economically just and environmentally sustainable society almost always leads to immense debate.
The number of enterprises that have germinated at SVN – and scaled their missions successfully since – would certainly qualify for a textbook. But, they don't serve fools lightly.
An Innovation Hub for Startups
At one time, I was the longest serving Board member of SVN (before term limits and accountable bylaws). Before Mal Warwick and many others formalized and created the infrastructure for capacity building, SVN was spawning organizations through the intensity of their members' interests. If there was energy and enthusiasm, a new organization, NGO or company was founded. Some of the organizations incubated at SVN include BSR, Net Impact, BALLE, and Investors Circle. Startups funded at SVN would certainly fill another volume.
Despite its contributions though, SVN has not received the credit it deserves. Over the years, as companies dithered on where they stood with corporate social responsibility and sustainability, SVN grew as the litmus test for innovative ideas. People with the most interesting, provocative, 'outside the box' thinking, creative and courageous propositions had a voice at SVN. Many of these voices found comfort, confidence and camaraderie during an SVN conference.
Often, SVN was described as the 'vanguard,' facilitating the voices of the voiceless.
In the beginning, there was a consistent 'spiritual' component to SVN led by Ram Dass, an American contemporary spiritual teacher and the author of Be Here Now. Following Ram Dass' stroke, the 2008 financial crisis and changes among the Board, the organization drifted away from its roots. For a while, the concept of integrating business, spirituality and community was lost as a focus.
However, as the economy gets back on surer footing and there is a renewed focus across businesses about their social and environmental footprints, it seems, spirituality, in the name of mindfulness and meditation, is back at SVN.
Albeit, this time it is being supported by scientific evidence and research, suggesting that a more conscious, mindful, and reflective business environment actually makes an organization better and more efficient.
Connecting Spirituality With Business and Community
Today, science is suggesting that we can actually change our minds to reflect a more positive outcome. The brain is elastic and will respond to positive and negative emotions. Once we are conscious that we can change for the better - we can and do change.
At this year's conference, Mark Lesser and other executives from Google shared that the most popular Google internal course is not Search Engine Optimization or Engineering In An Era of Social Media but one quirkily titled 'Search Inside Yourself': a course that teaches Google employees how to meditate, clear their head, be conscious and ultimately realize that we are all connected and everything they or their company does, affects us all.
We're on a spinning ball of energy temporarily disconnected by our own ignorance. And, when we realize we are all related, we will begin to make decisions that affect the entire planet and not just our little world of consciousness. The lines between spirituality, business and community will be blurred. Feeding our pockets, our soul and our community will be the combined focus.
Even though SVN lacks a spiritual compass today, it continues to lead the way in innovative thinking and must reestablish the connection between business, spirit and community on a consistent basis. I'm hopeful.
Finally, a word to all the other conferences.
The Hospitality Suite
The soul of SVN manifests itself in a place called the Hospitality Suite, run by Rob Thomas of Social (k) and Scott Leonard and Matt Reynolds, founders of clothier Indigenous Designs. The Suite is a place open 24 hours during the conference, supported by SVN members, and provides a safe space for conversations between attendees. In fact, many members have told me that the four hours between midnight and 4am are the best times to forge new relationships. Think of the Hospitality Suite as SVN's version of the four-hour golf game.
Have you considered hosting a Hospitality Suite? If you are creating a community at your event, consider a non-judgmental place where new, controversial, provocative and innovative expressions are met with acceptance and love. You might meet a new friend, an instigator, an investor, a collaborator or just hear some interesting music or poetry.
It's a good vibe that inspires.