Rather than go through each of the sessions I attended yesterday blow-by-blow, I’ll provide highlights of the most interesting things I learned.

  • I didn’t realize that Jeff Skoll, in addition to being the first chairman of eBay and one of the more important supporters of social entrepreneurs in the world, also owns a media company that has produced movies including An Inconvenient Truth, Good Night and Good Luck, Syriana, and others. And he’s younger than Barack Obama. Talk about net impact.
  • I attended an interesting lunch session on “The Scandinavian Cooperative Advantage” in which Robert Strand spoke about the cross-sector partnerships undertaken by various Scandinavian companies. One of the more interesting of these is the Global e-Sustainability Initiative, spearheaded by Nokia as an alliance among telecommunications companies to increase leveraging power against suppliers in the sustainability arena. I noted in a question that Scandinavia also happens to have some of the highest arts participation rates in the world and wondered whether there was a connection. I mean, you’ve got all those company choirs promoting listening skills….
  • An afternoon talk about “Opportunity Finance” revealed the following insight: community development loans of the kind made under the Community Reinvestment Act are perceived as “high risk,” but it’s only a perception. As one panelist put it, he bets Goldman would trade its balance sheet for his at the moment. Even during healthy times, the claim was, security (if not actual performance) is comparable to that of large financial institutions. The same panelist, Donald Hinkle-Brown of The Reinvestment Fund, talked about how CDFIs are a “tiny little speck of tendon” connecting the financial industry to low-income communities, and thus, are an important infrastructure point in the fabric of society. Hinkle-Brown also provided the best quote of the day when a questioner asked what the compensation in opportunity finance was like compared to traditional banking jobs. His answer: “Well, we still have jobs.”
  • At a session on Measuring Impact, Debra Natenshon from the Center for What Works shared a story about an avant-garde theater company that came up with a way to measure audience reaction to its performances with a minimum of financial and labor investment. After each show, the director would come out on stage and tell the audience, “Thank you for coming tonight. There are three exits, one with a green sign, one with a yellow sign, and one with a red sign. If you enjoyed the show and will definitely buy a ticket again, exit through the green door. If you think you enjoyed it but are not sure if you would come back, exit through the yellow door. And if this was just way too weird for you and you hated it, exit through the red door.” Then, three volunteers would stand by each door and use clicker devices to record exactly how many people chose each door. Now, I’m sure my Program Evaluation professor would like me to say something here about statistical conclusion validity related to the reliability of measurement (who knows how the public declaration of choice or the group dynamics between friends who may have arrived together might affect the results), but hey, something is better than nothing, right?