Highlights from this year's Social Innovation Summit

Chad Van Lier's picture

Director of Business Development

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Highlights from this year's Social Innovation Summit

Last Wednesday I joined a diverse group of luminaries, changemakers, and professionals gathered at the Ronald Reagan Trade Center in Washington, DC for the 2016 Social Innovation Summit (SIS16). The Summit is an annual event whose goal is to create a forum where a global network of leaders can connect to discuss the key strategies and business innovations creating social transformation across the corporate, investment, government and nonprofit sectors.

SIS16 provided an excellent forum for connecting with Echo’s current and prospective partners and an opportunity to gain the latest insight into a variety of social impact issues and initiatives. What struck me most was the passion of the attendees and their eagerness to learn from and collaborate with their peers. The Summit isn’t your standard business conference where you’re confronted by canned marketing messages and suppliers stalking wary corporate managers. The urgency to find real, actionable solutions to our underlying social issues is ever-present, breaks down networking barriers and brings the diverse group of attendees together.

Having been completely unable to solve the challenge of being in two places at once, I focused on workshops relevant to the social impact organizations we partner with: Building Effective Women’s Economic Empowerment Strategies; Building Ecosystems for More Resilient Communities; and Evolution of Environmentalism in the Digital Age.

There was so much good information and insight packed into two days, it’s really difficult to pinpoint the highlights. Here are four that stood out to me.

Daniel Lubetzky, the CEO and Founder of KIND, led a session about social entrepreneurship and the power of business and markets to address social ills. He had just returned from the Jordanian desert where he visited a sustainable desert farm that employs cutting-edge Israeli technology to make the desert bloom. Former orthodox jewish settlers are cooperating with Jordanian Bedouins and providing over 100 jobs, including employing 40 Syrian refugees. The initiative has been so successful that the farm now generates revenue through the export of kosher vegetables.

Take a minute and watch Daniel Lubetzky’s talk here: 

In the workshop Building Effective Women’s Economic Empowerment Strategies, Courtney Harvey of Women Moving Millions and Ruth DeGolia of Mercado Global led a discussion about the significant ROI for development investments in women. Citing several real-world examples, they stressed the importance of a holistic approach that integrates economic rights, sourcing, access to the supply chain, education, and legal advocacy.

Terry Whelan, Director of Sustainable Business for NYU Stern School of Business led a session on Building Ecosystems for More Resilient Communities that included the NYC Housing Authority and Sister Cities International. The big take-away is the importance of empowering local leaders and changemakers by giving them access to the right information and tools to enact change at the community level.

An example of the fine line between the social responsibility and commercial interests was provided by Jennifer Hunter, Altria’s Senior Vice President of Communications & Corporate Citizenship. She spoke about balancing the company’s responsibility to reduce the harm caused by tobacco products with the fact that Altria manufactures a legal product used by 40 million adult consumers.

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