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Notes from a Social Business Conference virgin

Colleen Baldwin
Colleen Baldwin, posted on 15.10.12

I joined the ClearlySo team as a part-time writer and editor only this year, and as a newbie to social enterprise I am still learning about the sector. So I was looking forward to SBC12, my first ClearlySo annual conference, as a chance to deepen my knowledge and understanding. The event exceeded my expectations, the only drawback being that my role helping out the video crew meant I missed some of the action and didn't have too much time to chat to delegates.

For previous blogs, I had already had the opportunity to talk by phone to inspiring attendees such as keynote speaker Ken Olisa of merchant bank RestorationPartners, and Ken Banks of kiwanja.net. It was great to meet and say hello to the two Kens in person. Unfortunately, Andrew Pothecary of SBC12 sponsor ForestNation, who I have also blogged about, couldn't make it on the day, but I was thrilled to find a Tamarillo tree-planting kit in my free bag of goodies. Thank you, Andrew!

My past career in journalism (did someone at the back mutter "˜seasoned old hackette?') has been "¦ how shall we describe it "¦ varied? portfolio? In the UK and abroad I've reported for local and national newspapers, written features for magazines, and researched and produced news and documentaries for television. Recently I was a journalist for an internationally-syndicated business tv programme.

Though newsrooms are exciting places, they will not often remind you of the best humanity has to offer. I find it wonderfully refreshing to be working today in an environment where enthusiasm and the willingness to bring about positive change are routine.

In my new role, I see the chance to combine my background in global business reporting with my experience volunteering at the UK-based charity Child Action Nepal, where I became a trustee after filming two years ago at the small orphanages it supports in Kathmandu.

These children's homes were founded by a remarkable woman, Florence Krief, and her work persuaded me that though the problems of this planet are huge, it is possible for one passionate and determined person to make a difference and improve lives, as you can see from this video.

The atmosphere at SBC12 re-awakened that conviction, and multiplied it by hundreds, after I met all those entrepreneurs fired with so much enthusiasm, ideas and determination to reach their goals.

I heard many fascinating project ideas, for instance the three finalists in the 45 second mini-pitches competing for Social Business of the Year live award.

Our £2,000 prize-winner, Virginia Gardiner, was promoting Loowatt, a waterless toilet which captures human waste and converts it to energy and fertiliser, bringing potentially huge benefits in health and sustainability, as well as income, to poor rural areas. One of my favourite moments was when she mentioned she had recently attended the "Reinvent the Toilet Fair."

Pippa Palmer, though only in her job as Executive Director of SolarAid for a few days, gave an accomplished presentation of offshoot Sunny Money's aim to eradicate costly and toxic kerosene lamps from Africa by 2020, replacing them with solar lights, using a model which will hand over the retail, distribution and possibly the manufacturing reins to the locals.

Jaydeep Korde, founder and CEO of ValueForm, left no-one in any doubt about his deep loathing of plastic food packaging and his ambition to replace it all with cartons made from straw, an agricultural waste product. The solution is cheaper and better for the environment, he argued. His commitment to the project shone through when in answer to a question from the audience Jaydeep revealed that he's invested a half a million pounds of his own money, earned from selling his cloud computing start-up.

And let's not forget that though Will Prochaska of Alive and Kicking didn't make it through to the finals, his 45-second pitch in favour of the "˜trade not aid' factories producing sports balls in Africa won him a Baxi scholarship worth £1,950 to the prestigious Oxford Leadership Masterclass, a two day residential course.

At one of the lunchtime sessions, Oliver Waddington-Ball, creator of the One Tonne Roadshow Campaign which advocates greater sharing of information and collaboration along the waste management chain, had brought together a fascinating panel of experts to discuss ways of getting the most value out of recycling what we throw away every day.

Seasoned old hacks and hackettes are traditionally hard-boiled and cynical, and ok, I know that not everyone can reach their goal. Enthusiasm and good ideas are not enough.

It is ClearlySo's mission to translate entrepreneurial zeal into solid business plans, governance strategies, financial instruments and investor-friendly presentations, and to reach the necessary investment sources. There was plenty of guidance available during the day from ClearlySo experts Rod Schwartz, Suzanne Biegel, Liz Corrado, Lesley Reardon, Fleur Heyns and Sheena Pentin.

Meanwhile, the crack ClearlySo supporting staff pulled out all the stops on October 9th to produce a well-run, stimulating and highly enjoyable day. Well done to you all, and thanks to all the sponsors.

And may I assure you that, despite the time-honoured "Lunchtime O'Booze" traditions of Fleet Street, this column was not written while still under the influence of the jars (literally) of excellent Little Bird gin and Fever Tree tonic during the end-of-conference wind-down.

Here's to catching up with you all again, and hearing all your great ideas, at next year's bash.

You can view photos from SBC12 over on our Facebook page


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