Each year as the Center for Social Impact Strategy’s Executive Program comes to a close, we invite students to join us for a closing event on Penn’s campus. At the time of that meeting participating students will have completed eight months of online coursework.
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They’ve had a chance to advance their own ideas for achieving social impact, and they’ve also gotten to know and support each other and each other’s ventures. Most are excited about how they’ve applied what they’ve learned and eager to see their classmates, to solidify the community and also to find out new ways of making the most out of the frameworks and tools we teach in the program.
So, in addition to celebratory and community building activities, we also conduct a simulation that allows graduates to synthesize what they’ve learned over the duration of the program around a realistic challenge. This August, our students provided the challenges that we’d address. Here’s how it worked:
Each initiative’s representative identified a funding amount that would be transformative for their specific venture, and a small group was assigned to advocate for each classmate’s initiative.
For example, one student’s core challenge was to “accelerate the spread of digitized knowledge to grow more food.” To address this challenge, Suvankar Mishra sought to scale its first product for global organizations working with smallholder farmers through his organization, eKutir Global. To do so, he sought $700,000 in social impact financing, in the form of growth capital with convertible stock and a revenue participation arrangement for investors. In the simulation, each small group member took on the role of a serious advocate for their assigned social innovator’s venture, either representing the venture itself (i.e., as a board member) or representing a funding agency whose mission aligned very closely with that venture. These “pitchers” and “funders” only met each other halfway through the simulation.
Here’s the scenario, a version of which we’ve all experienced in the real world:
You are at a retreat for changemakers and see the name of a potential (funder / beneficiary) for your venture on the guest list, which (is a social impact initiative / invests in social impact initiatives). You think that when they see your venture on the list, they’ll seek you out too. You don’t know each other, but you both believe that a relationship could transform your organization’s ability to deliver on its mission. You have two goals:
First, you want to meet the representatives of this dream partner, and see if you click. It’s a crowded conference with a packed agenda, so you need to be ready to maximize on any chance encounter. There’s a coffee break coming up, and you decide to spend the rest of this session conferring with your colleagues on how to convert a 3-minute “chance” encounter into an appointment for a sit-down conversation.
Second, you need to decide what information you need to have to take back to your board and management team to be as convinced or excited as you are about this deal’s potential. Ultimately, the whole team needs to buy into this idea. What do they need to know in order to commit to a transformative partnership?
A friendly audience was built into the scenario. We hoped to impress on participants that, even assuming that our listeners are extremely supportive of our work, we still have a communication challenge. All potential partners must do their due diligence, and also may have to convince colleagues who may have other priorities. Our job, then, when developing a formal or an informal pitch, is to move the listener beyond “I agree that you’re working on an important problem and have a great idea” to “I am convinced that you have the ability to successfully implement this idea in the real world, and that my organization is well-placed to help you.”