Tag Archives: meditation

What I Learned At My First SOCAP Conference

5 Oct

 

This week I attended my first Social Capital Markets (SOCAP) conference at the Fort Mason Center in San Francisco.  SOCAP brings together entrepreneurs, impact investors, thought-leaders, changemakers, and change enablers, at the intersection of money and meaning, with the goal of supporting businesses and initiatives that are changing the world.   

I had the opportunity to interview several of these individuals over the course of the week, and will be profiling their inspiring stories in the coming weeks for New Empire Builders, a SOCAP media partner.

If you have difficulty paying attention for long periods of time, or are easily distracted by buzz and activity like I am, SOCAP can be a whirlwind.  You’re constantly being introduced to new people, doing that awkward thing where you try to look at their badge to see where they work and what their title is (usually “Founder”)– while still trying to make eye contact – which is not humanly possible.  You’re constantly noticing interesting – or good looking – or interesting and good looking people going by, and you always feel like you should be somewhere you’re not.

I found myself deeply stressed on the first day of the conference, agonizing about whether to attend a panel on “The New Connectivity:  Storytelling For The Digital Age,” or “At The Table:  Where The Sectors Work Together,” which were both scheduled at the same time.  FOMO got the best of me, and I attended neither, instead finding myself sitting in a comfortable bright green chair in the HUB:Create lounge area drinking an organic Runa “focused energy” iced tea, staring into space, when my friend Michael who I met this summer in Boulder came up and said:  “Smiley!  Great to see you buddy, I’m off to the meditation room!”  I was starting to explain how I really wanted to attend two different sessions, both of which I was already late to, when I stopped myself, and replied, “Awesome.  I’m in.”

So, in the midst of 1800 conference participants running around, and ten simultaneous sessions on themes ranging from “the new economy” to “social design” to “tech for good” to “meaning,” we went to Room 210C – which was empty – and laid down on a yoga mat and closed our eyes for twenty minutes.  Afterwards, we both felt present for the first time all day.  A calm feeling washed over me and I stopped trying to be in six places all at once, and instead spent the rest of the conference just talking to people who seemed interesting. 

Thus, the most important lesson I learned at SOCAP:  The real value is the wealth of knowledge of the people in the room.  Business cards are nice – I now have a huge stack, but infinitely more valuable are the conversations I had with the people there, simply by sitting down at a random table or walking around the Festival pavilion.  Take, for example: 

Paseka Lesolang, WHC South Africa

Paseka Lesolang from WHC South Africa.   Paseka was invited as part of SOCAP’s impact accelerator program this weekend at the HUB Bay Area, which brought 100 entrepreneurs from 25 countries on scholarship.  Paskea is a 2012 Unreasonable Institute Fellow who runs a company that has created a retrofitable technology called the Leak-Less Valve for toilets that can save 132 gallons of water a day, helping to reduce water waste in South Africa, which faces an extreme water crisis.  

Veronica D’Souza, co-founder of Ruby Cup.  Ruby Cup is a menstrual cup that can be re-used for up to 10 years, and is sold to women and girls living in developing countries who cannot afford sanitary pads, and because of this, are forced to stay at home from work and school.  Ruby Cup is sold through a network of female entrepreneurs in Kenya to create local employment, increase health education, and empower local women.  

Ryan Wagner, co-founder of Penyo-Pal.  Ryan and I met washing our hands in the men’s bathroom and started talking about his venture, Penyo-Pal, which is a digital game designed to teach 4-7 year-olds foreign language skills.  In only a few minutes, I myself even learned a little Mandarin. 

There’s a reason SOCAP brings together so many people from different backgrounds, with unique skill sets and passions.  We need to continue to cultivate this HUB, this robust ecosystem of social change catalysts; the grassroots entrepreneur, the investment banker turned impact investor, the traditional finance expert and the new economy professor, the tech developer and the community designer, the Indiegogo crowdfunding platform and the seasoned incubator program.  As Fabian Pfortmüller, co-founder of Sandbox told me, “We need to take the dreamers and doers and surround them with people like them.”  We need to continue to accelerate the accelerators, who come from all sectors, from all over the world.  You can’t solve these challenges alone.

GoldieBlox- The Engineering Toy For Girls

At the opening plenary session, Katherine Fulton, president of the Monitor Institute, mentioned that despite a 200% increase in impact investing capital between 2000 and 2010, the verdict is still out on impact investing, and that courage will be required moving forward. Speculation remains from the mainstream business community about the viability of investing in social ventures and small and medium-size entrepreneurs, with smaller returns on investment over longer periods of time.  New innovations in crowd-funding and crowd-investing will be game-changers for poverty alleviation, and improving education, health, food access, and expanding democratized economies and community initiatives, offering both remarkable possibilities as well as new challenges.

While the road ahead will not be easy, and will require us to go beyond the echo chamber and reach across the aisle to build new alliances with mainstream audiences outside the social impact space (as well as make frequent visits to the meditation room); the growing ecosystem is ready, willing, and able to innovate and sustain the initiatives that are tackling the world’s most pressing problems.  

To Spain With Love

6 Jul

AND, WE’RE BACK!  My apologies for not posting in so long.  The entire What’s Up Smiley office (myself, Moleskine, dancing shoes) took a siesta from social media and spent most of June traveling around Catalonia and Andalucía, Spain, laying on the beach, drinking vino tinto, and watching the Euro Cup.  Several highlights from the trip included: 

Cap de Creus Natural Park, Catalonia. Photo by Kevin Haas.

-Driving along the Costa Brava, the rugged coast of northeast Spain, parking along the side of the road, and walking down a cliff to a desolate cove near Tossa del Mar to jump naked into cool, crystal clear green water, followed by a picnic lunch on the rocks of Penedès vino tinto, pan, tomate, queso manchego, olives, and jamón serrano so delicious my Jewish self wondered why the hell I had been avoiding ham all these years.  Turned out the cove was not so desolate, and was a featured stop on a local boat cruise, so at least fifteen people were fortunate to see three (handsome) young men enjoying themselves—that a woman snapped a photo of my pale white buttocks was reaffirming. 

 -Waking up with the sunrise after falling asleep with the stars, camping in the woods near Cap de Creus Natural Park, and reading The Hunger Games as daylight broke in our makeshift tent (which consisted of a transparent plastic paint tarp tied by rope to two trees for shelter—Katniss would have been proud), followed by a morning swim in the soothing Mediterranean Sea and breakfast on the beach (crackers, queso manchego, tangerines).

-Enjoying an evening sunset throwing a frisbee with my friend Kevin in the company of Gaudí’s tiled love seats in Parc Güell in Barcelona, only to run into a kid I grew up with that I hadn’t seen since high school—he was in town for the Sonar Music Festival and kindly put us on the guest list for his DJ set the following day.  The next night, it was two in the morning and I had been dancing on the beach for about five hours to Soul Clap, and received an invitation to attend a music festival in Budapest later this summer (no, I don’t play music at all, but my new Hungarian friends insisted I did or should and told me I had to come to Budapest in August, all expenses paid). 

-Standing in awe while drinking “cerveza birra amigo” in a plaza in Barceloneta as a baby (seriously) not more than one year-old, who five minutes after breastfeeding from his mother, proceeded to throw fire crackers several feet away from me to celebrate Festival de Sant Joan, Barcelona’s summer solstice celebration.   There were at least a half dozen moments that night when I nearly hit the deck scared shitless, having to remind myself that the constant explosions were not bombs or gunshots and I was not in a war zone or season four of The Wire, but children (and their mothers and grandmothers) were lighting off the loudest fireworks I have ever heard to celebrate the longest day of the year.  With all due respect to the Fourth of July, Sant Joan puts Independence Day to shame—with constant (literally constant) lights exploding on every block and in every plaza in the city from dusk to dawn. 

-Falling asleep under the cool afternoon shade of a palm tree in the pristinely beautiful gardens of La Alhambra in Granada, dreaming of the geometry of ancient civilization, water dripping slowly from the fountain of life, turquoise mosaics, stars and crescents, artists carving stories into arches, and endless fields of Andalusian orange trees. 

La Alhambra, Granada. Photo by Smiley.

While daydreaming in Granada, I imagined about living in a world that once was, and how we would live our lives today if today were like back then, so intricate and so precise and so enchantingly beautiful.  What would we design?  What would we build?  How would we live?

Perhaps time would move more slowly, perhaps we would move more slowly, perhaps we would pay more attention to detail, to ourselves.  Often on my trip, whether at La Alhambra or La Sagrada Familia, I noticed American (and Chinese) tour groups being shuffled, hastily, from photo op to photo op.  I constantly wondered why they were moving so fast.   Where were they going next? There is no “next” after La Alhambra, that’s it.  It’s the encore.  It’s perfection. 

These people were not even taking composed or thoughtful pictures; they were being shuttled from guide book highlight to guide book highlight so quickly that I wouldn’t be surprised if most of their photos were blurry, and had the tour guide or other random tourists in the foreground.  “Honey, this is La Sagrada Familia.  Antoni Gaudí started working on it 1883 and they are still working on finishing it and will be for at least another fifteen years—and we were there for about twenty-five minutes, and here is a photo of some overweight dude named Jack (or was his name Barry?) wearing a hideous ‘NASCAR’ T-shirt, completely blocking Gaudí’s sun-kissed stained glass windows.” 

I think if he were around today, Gaudí, or the 14th century builders of La Alhambra, might tell us to slow down and stop moving so quickly.  Stop looking at your phone.  Turn off your phone.  Be quiet.  Be still.  Breathe.  Listen.  Listen to the arched walls of this place, listen to the space and the light and the math and the design and the wisdom and the greatness and the blue blending with the orange connecting with the green intersecting with the star with the water with the trees.  Listen to yourself. 

Travel quenches a thirst for life that nothing else can provide.  It allows you to experience ancient civilizations and beautiful landscapes for the first time, as if you were the only person on the earth, as if the entire universe existed just for your pleasure.  Hopefully I can create travel’s powerful sensations of slowing down, being present, living in the moment, listening to my surroundings, and listening to myself, in the course of my day-to-day life back in the brutally-fast-moving Estados Unidos.  Or maybe I’ll just move to Granada, eat free tapas, and daydream under the palm trees until the polar ice caps melt or the World Cup begins.  

Mosaic in La Alhambra. Photo by Smiley

 

%d bloggers like this: