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Harvard’s 2018 Social Enterprise Conference Gets Back to Basics

By: Aparna Ramanan & Ketty Lie 11 Jan 2018

This year, the Social Enterprise Conference (SECON) goes back to basics. The central tension in this field has always been the interaction between mission and profit (or sustainable financing). The term social enterprise is so broad and all encompassing, yet two things are consistent: social enterprises are driven by a strong mission and utilize commercial strategies or seek sustainable funding sources. We seek to understand how mission and profit complement, strengthen, or even undermine one another. Our speakers and tracks seek to break down this tension across the various stages that a social enterprise goes through. 

A team of roughly 30 Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School students are hard at work on this year’s conference, the 19th iteration of one of the largest student-run conferences on campus. SECON has been recognized as one of the world’s leading forums for dialogue, debate, and networking around social enterprise and was named by Forbes Magazine as a Top 12 Executive Gathering in the World. SECON draws almost a thousand practitioners, academics, students, and young professionals each year over two days. Over the years, SECON has evolved to cover a wide and exciting set of topics—ranging from nonprofit models, to social entrepreneurship, to innovation in public systems, to impact investing, to creating shared value, to the role of business in society. 

This year, the conference will be February 10th and 11th. We will seek to address the big questions and central tensions in the field of social enterprise under the theme of “Mission + Profit: What’s the balance?” The conference will feature an exciting line-up of speakers from leading organizations across sectors, including Omidyar Network, Pfizer, Root Capital, Accion, Mastercard, One Acre Fund, Trillium, Twillio, the Rockefeller Foundation, Accenture and many more. 

We have constructed four tracks for the conference that follow the lifecycle of a social enterprise. We hope that this approach will allow participants to tailor their conference experience more easily based on skillsets or discussions they want to follow. The four tracks are:

Build: How do you turn an idea into an enterprise? This track explores early stage of a social enterprise, whether it be building a movement, solving a problem, or seeding a new field.

Scale: How do you grow an enterprise? This track explores expanding into new geographies, new products, serving new audiences, and how to mitigate growing pains along the way.

Fund: How do you fund your enterprise? This track is a deep dive into the challenges of sourcing funding and keeping it, different models of capitalization, and innovations in sustainable financing.

Innovate: How do enterprises innovate throughout their lifecycle? This track highlights exciting developments and new approaches that social enterprises are using to increase their impact and effectiveness.

Beyond the panels and discussions, our team has focused on a few special events for a unique conference experience:

  • Pitch Competition: SECON 2018 received over 70 submissions for our annual Pitch Competition. Among these, five promising enterprises have been chosen to pitch to a panel of esteemed panel of judges, receive quality feedback and a potential mentorship opportunity. This year, our panel of judges include: 
    • Stephanie Khurana, Managing Director at Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation
    • Zoe Schlag, Managing Director at Techstars Impact
    • Anna Trieschmann, Manager Strategic Partnerships at Social Innovation Forum
  • Showcase: The SECON Showcase is the first startup, career, and technology fair at this year's conference. The Showcase offers an excellent opportunity to share innovative technology, present ideas to conference attendees and network with potential collaborators and funders. 

Social enterprise has the ability to bridge the best of business and the best of mission-driven social ventures – we look forward to this year’s conference to continue to share innovation, highlight best practice, and inspire the next generation of social entrepreneurs. 

For more information or to buy tickets for this year’s conference, visit our website.

To apply for the Showcase by Jan 15, please visit socialenterpriseconference.org/showcase. Please email Kathryn Reddy at kreddy@mba2019.hbs.edu if you have any questions.

Ketty Lie (MBA/MPP 2019), Aparna Ramanan (MPP 2019), and Clay Holk (MPP 2018) are the co-chairs of SECON 2018.