It just closed the 5th edition of the World Forum Convergences 2015. More than 3000 participants met in Paris between 19 and 21 September (Palais Brongniart and Paris City Hall) “to share and debate innovative solutions for a sustainable development et to fight poverty in Europe and around the world”, according with the words of Jean-Michel Severino, Convergences 2015 Chairman. Conferences, roundtables, workshops and big debates had be around 16 main focus – social entrepreneurship and social and solidarity economy, impact of microfinance, BoP strategies and social business, working for an inclusive economy, among others.
I discovered Convergences 2015 completely by chance, and when I read the words “social business” and “microfinance” I pay immediately my 10 Euro student fee and book my bus tickets to be here in Paris for the Forum.
Despite my “historical” passion for microfinance, I decide that this was my occasion to learn more about social business. I knew for the first time about what social business is about last May during a presentation at the Yunus Centre in Dhaka. I don’t know if it was the fact that the concept was created by Professor Yunus, or that I was in a turning point of my life, but for the first time I became interested in something that I had never really considered before: entrepreneurship.
Conference after conference I filled sheet after sheet with new concepts, and ideas. In the first day I learnt about impact investing, social impact bonds and crowd funding. Then I heard people from the cooperative world dealing with critics about cooperatives as a model for social entrepreneurship – can cooperatives become global? can huge cooperatives quoted in the stock market still be compatible with the objectives they were created for? The day ended with a conference about the role of traditional banks in supporting the development of a more responsible economy. FrançoisVilleroy de Galhau, Delegate DG of BNPParibas, started defending the French bank system during this crisis, and then put a particular emphasis in saying that BNPParibas committment is much more than just a surface.
My second day started with another conference about financing solidarity-based projects. After having the right idea, funding is probably the main concern for a would-be entrepreneur who has to adapt his initial idea to the available resources as well as to the profile and requirements of his funders and/or donors – and here the main point of becoming viable as soon as possible: independence. The conference presented some big funders, as Acumen Fund (USA) – 69 enterprises funded in the last 10 years – and France Active which constituted an investment fund (SIFA) to lend money at a 2% interest rate. I discovered Babyloan, the French equivalent of Kiva, and the second biggest platform of this kind around the world – but still 100 times smaller than Kiva, precise Arnaud Poissonier, Babyloan Chairman. The second conference of the day that I attended was about partnerships with local actors. Even if the topic sounded far too general for my taste, I took the (very good) decision of being there, and I’ve ben completely captured by Antonio (Tony) Meloto, founder and chairman of Gawad Kalinga, Philippines. Besides his brilliant personality and his initiative, he said at least two things that impressed me quite a lot: “Leadership is about presenting a vision that everyone can own”; and “I eat problems for breakfast, the more problem you have the more opportunities you have to learn”. That’s brilliant, isn’t it?
After lunch I did a 4-hour full immersion on social impact evaluation. Evaluation itself is a main issue for every kind of serious project, either of qualitative or quantitative nature (even if I believe much more in the quantitative one). Emeline Stievenart (ESSEC IIES) started from the (unfortunately obvious) observation that there are no standards when evaluating social impact, and then made a illustrative list of tools according with what you want to evaluate: pertinence (change theory or sociological study), efficacy (IRIS Database or poverty indicators), attribution (randomized trials or comparison) or efficiency (Social Return on Investment (SROI) ratio and cost-benefit analysis). The last conference (last before dinner) presented practical examples of evaluations, for example the case of the SROI evaluation of St Oswald’s Hospice, a self financing voluntary organisation providing free services to children and adults. At this point I’m too tired to get the details of the presentations, but still I leave with the impression that having so many methodologies ends up to be a disadvantage. No homogeneity means no comparison, and an evaluation is definitely valuable when it can be faced with standardised benchmarks.
Thursday ended with one of the moments I had been looking forward the most, the “Youth We Can – A movement to reinvent the world” evening. This year for the first time Convergences 2015 created a space for young individuals in search for a more meaningful life and career. I laughed with the presentation by Arnault Martin, a 17-years-old funny guy which won the Prize Ashoka Young Changemakers thanks to his project “Musique pour tous“. I was fascinated by Tristan Lacomte, named by TIME magazine as one of the 100 most influent men in the world (just to say one, he founded AlterEco). I was amused by the simplicity of Héritier Luwawa, who after working for 6 years for a cleaning services company had a fight with his new boss and decided to open his own company, Be Eco Services, which uses bio cleaning products. I was fascinated by David Munir Nabti, a Lebanese American 33-year-old man who after growing up in Stanford and working in Silicon Valley decided to move to Lebanon in 2004 and start AltCity (check their website, it’s amazing!).
I came back home with three messages that will run around my mind for a long while:
- you don’t need to change your job, you can change things simply by doing in a different way what you already do
- failure can be honorable. Don’t give up, go ahead, your heart will tell you when it’s time to stop
- if you have an idea and you don’t know where to start from to realise it, start by writing down the first word.
I finished this morning with a last conference at Paris City Hall about training and careers for working for a responsible economy. I was positively surprised by the concreteness of the debate, a concreteness that sincerely I was not expecting. The speakers (representing AMUE, ESSEC, BNP Paribas, SNCF and Ressources Solidaires) agreed on a common point which is extremely important for me: the ideal candidate they are looking for today is a balanced combination of to know, to do and to be. In other words, recruiters of the social sector says that their ideal candidate has to have a strong professionalism in his field of competence combined with a proactive social attitude and the capacity of selling the richness of his previous experience – an hybrid career seems possible, don’t mind if at a certain point of your life you change your mind. For someone like me who is in a “what to do next”-kind crisis, Anne-laire Pache (Philantropy Chair, ESSEC Business School) gave a quite simple advice: “See where you want to be in the long term, ask yourself which are your financial ambitions and want you are ready to give up, and then move your first step accordingly”.
Besides learning more about social business, my second reason for being there was meeting people, presenting my blog (this one), occasionally giving my CV, writing down a list of possible future employers and last but not least meet someone who could help me with my business plan. I would like to tell you more about the market place and some nice conversations I had with practitioners, but I think I already wrote too much and my internet connection is just to slow.
I conclude this post with a video of Noam Kostucki where he says a quite simple but often forgotten truth: it’s possible to make money by making good. Just think about it, next time you look for a job. Changing other people’s life start from changing ours. And changing ours start from small choices about how we decide to live our daily life. What are you doing to make the difference?