Convening the Conveners @Socap15

ConveningtheConvenersLogoSquare2 years ago this October, Topher Wilkins organized the original Convening the Conveners gathering at SOCAP13 to discuss a radical idea; that greater coordination, cooperation, and collaboration amongst conveners would lead to greater collective impact.

In January 2015 we formally incorporated as Conveners.org, and we haven't looked back since--co-hosting sessions around the globe, building out our membership website, supporting collective impact projects, and establishing a strong team to serve our members.

There is much to celebrate!

Please join us at SOCAP15 for our two-year anniversary, as we officially launch the Conveners.org website and open general membership. At this co-hosted session we will:

1. Share the highlights and accomplishments from our first two years laying the foundation

2. Work together to craft our goals and membership priorities for 2016

Join us at SOCAP 15 and make your voice heard, email Arjita at arjita@conveners.org to register.


Co-Hosted Session: The Power of Leadership for Convening Success

ConveningtheConvenersLogoSquareConvening is one of the most powerful tools for building community, creating social movements, sourcing partnerships, and strengthening relationships.  Despite the multitude of technology platforms that allow us to remain hyper-connected with one another, we still feel an intense need to gather in-person, because we are fundamentally social by nature.

It is far easier for us to build trust when we are in-person and able to spend time with one another, make an emotional connection, and craft a promise for follow-up.  We have the desire to gather because at a deep level we know this will create the basis for a relationship that can be maintained through virtual technology. If this is true, then why do so many organizers fail to create participant-focused convenings?  The short answer is because it requires authentic, bold leadership to craft an effective convening.

Building on SVN’s Fall Conference theme of Bold Leadership, this co-hosted session invites leaders to discuss effective approaches for building convening capacity.  During this dynamic session, participants will source and share their best practices for convening.  In addition, we will leverage the collective intelligence of the group to troubleshoot a broad array of convening-related challenges faced by organizational leaders.

To register, please email arjita@conveners.org.  First-time registrants can receive a $300 discount on their conference fee (use registration code SVN-300) click here to register.


Impact Convening Trends for 2017

As an organization that facilitates connection, learning, and collaboration among impact-driven conveners from around the world, Conveners.org recognizes the transformative power that convening, when done right, has to positively change the world. Through our engagement with our powerful conveners community and our own advisory service work designing and facilitating all types of impact-focused convenings, we are in a unique position to see what works (and what has not) in the art of bringing people together.  

Based on our broad exposure and knowledge of the impact convening space, here are seven trends we foresee for 2017:  

  1. Paradigm Shift Towards Experiential Models of Convening: Over the past few years, we’ve been hearing from conference participants that their limited budgets, combined with the increasing pool of impact conferences to choose from, has forced them to reconsider where to invest their conference dollars. As a result, conference goers are choosing convenings that focus on the experience and aid them in building relationships that advance their work and lead to partnershipsand this trend will continue into 2017. Those conferences where the caliber of the people in the room create such a valuable experience are the ones that have seen a growth in attendance. Here are a few examples of what some of these conferences are doing differently:
    • This year Skoll World Forum is inviting other organizations to host experiential content during their conference, creating an opportunity for more connection
    • Opportunity Collaboration offers “office hours” for entrepreneurs to connect with investors during their the week-long gathering and has fully embraced the unconference format
    • Catering to its Millennial crowd, Thought for Food Global Summit opens its second conference day with a morning Rave to energize the crowd and show that it’s ok to let loose and have fun while tackling critical issues
  2. Non-traditional Venues: The tradition of hosting conferences at a hotel (with corresponding hotel room blocks) has shiftedsoulless hotel conference rooms no longer entice participants to want to come back. Hotel conference rooms do little more than make people fall asleep. Participants are looking for venues that are engaging and memorable with plenty of space to connect with others. We have been seeing very different environments in which conferences are being hosted:
    • Legoland theme parks are no longer just for kids; they host conveners looking for a place to spark creative and innovative thinking
    • With its minimalist and modern architecture, the House of Sweden, home to the Embassy of Sweden in Washington, D.C., provides a unique event setting integrating water and lots of natural light
    • Locales surrounded by nature, such as Play Big at Cavallo Point and Opportunity Collaboration at Club Med in Mexico, are also increasing in popularity 
  3. Fight for Relevance: Longevity is no longer enough to guarantee you a seat at the table. There’s an increasing number of impact-focused conferences, making the competition to be heard more challenging than ever. Participants are looking for something new—beyond the innovations brought about a few years ago, such as TED’s specific presentation format, the World Economic Forum’s ability to attract a certain caliber of leaders, and the Clinton Global Initiative’s advancement of commitments. More and more, Conveners are staying relevant by focusing on who they bring to the table:
  4. Shift in Sponsor Engagement: As many conference organizers can share, you can no longer take for granted that sponsors will pay again simply because they’ve sponsored your convening in the past; just like participants, sponsors are looking for a deeper level of engagement. We at Conveners.org are exploring and speaking with sponsors to see what they’re looking for, and we look forward to exploring this topic at greater depth in another post. For now, we see these trends on the horizon:
    • Sponsors are looking for increased brand value and awareness. They are concerned that sponsorship packages don’t always address how their sponsorship will achieve these two things for their organization. Conferences that can figure this out will reap the rewards.
    • There will be an inevitable shift from “pay to play,” where it’s assumed that you pay for stage presence time, to more effective ways to provide value to sponsors
  5. Growing Interest in Engaging in Impact: Another mega-trend we’re seeing is the rising interest in impact-focused convenings. SOCAP, for example, has witnessed a 50 percent growth in new participants year over year, and the Global Philanthropy Forum received enough interest and support about a specific region to spur the creation of the African Philanthropy Forum. This type of expansion indicates a new stream of investment, policy, and corporate professionals who are getting on the impact bandwagon. With this growth, the impact convening ecosystem has an important increasingly important role to play in helping new members of our community understand the historical narrative of impact convenings, as well as help shape the efficacy of their convenings.
  6. Desire (and Need) for Increased Diversity: During our Convening the Conveners co-hosted session at SOCAP16, we heard from a number of convening organizations about their desire to attract more diverse voices to their conference. This remains an issue that all conveners are trying to solve, and will certainly be evermore important this year.
  7. Localization: Another trend we’re tracking is the shift to super local events. SOCAP now offers SOCAP365 to engage its community 365 days a year, and now the Neighborhood Economics Conference, in partnership with SOCAP and BALLE, and SVN are organizing local gatherings to create more personal ways for their communities to stay connected throughout the year.

We hope these ideas and trends shape your convenings in 2017. We invite you to share your thoughts on convening trends by joining our conversation on Twitter: tweet us @theconveners and use the hashtag #2017conveningtrends.

Image Credit: Benjamin Horn via Flickr Creative Commons


2017 Reflections on the State of Convening

Thirty years ago a group of young American business leaders began to convene values-driven entrepreneurs, investors, and capacity builders as a way to help catalyze a burgeoning impact movement. In the years to come others followed suit: dozens of conferences showcasing business innovations that were both financially sustainable and beneficial for society and the environment began to sprout—both as a response to Reagan-era consumerism and “Greed is Good” mentality, and as a declaration that business could be a force for good.

Founders of pioneering conferences, such as Social Venture Network (SVN) and Investors’ Circle, sparked a new way of thinking about the purpose of convening. They also incubated and inspired the creation of a new crop of impact-focused conferences and networks, including Net Impact and B Lab, that have spread innovative business ideas across the globe and emboldened a new generation of impact-focused business leaders over the past decades.

The role that convenings—that is, in-person conferences, summits, forums, seminars, and workshops—have played in building and shaping the impact ecosystem is the focus of a recently published Conveners.org online report. The report highlights the history of the impact convening movement, as well as provides a data-based analysis of current convening trends. Below are three insights and recommendations based on supplemental research conducted for the report; we hope that these insights, combined with findings shared in the report, can help advance the convening ecosystem conversation and lead to greater impact.

Moving One Step Beyond: Diversity & Inclusion

Even as impact convening organizers strive to represent diverse voices in their speaker lineups and attendee lists, our research indicates that organizers of impact-focused conferences have not historically implemented measurable strategies to ensure the inclusivity of diverse segments of society at their events.

When Conveners.org surveyed some of the world’s leading impact conveners, asking whether they have implemented strategies, policies, or efforts to increase the racial, gender, and/or socio-economic diversity of attendees at their conference, 23 percent answered “No”; of the 77 percent who answered “Yes,” only 9 percent had incorporated diversity metrics into the performance measurements of their gathering. Most of these conveners had only gotten to the point of discussing strategies and approaches with their team, not establishing tangible goals or strategies.

Asking the same question about the diversity of presenters that conference organizers invite on stage, 64 percent of respondents said they had discussed a strategy—though only 5 percent had implemented specific measures to increase the diversity of speakers and presenters at their convening.

Given the inherent social and environmental justice agendas of most impact convenings, it stands to reason that establishing concrete policies and being intentional about organizing gatherings that call upon a range of viewpoints, experiences, and expertise will help enrich conference conversations and benefit the learning of all those in attendance. Initiatives such as the 50/50 Pledge, which works to showcase an equal share of men’s and women’s voices at top technology industry conferences to change the gender balance at those events, and More Women’s Voices, a curated list of women entrepreneurs, business owners, authors, podcast hosts, and speakers, have influenced tech and startup conveners, and serve as models for ways that impact conveners could build pathways to enhance the diversity of impact-focused conferences.

A New Impact Measurement Conversation

Measuring impact is not a new concept in the social impact world; most impact convenings often dedicate conference tracks to this topic. Yet, while conference organizers understand the importance of impact measurement as it relates to the ecosystem as a whole, not many measure the impact of their own convening activities.

In the same survey noted above, when asked which conference-related environmental, social and financial activities are measured and tracked on an ongoing basis, only 14 percent of leading impact conveners said that they measure and track their conference’s environmental (e.g. energy, water, waste) impact. In addition, only 32 percent of respondents claimed to provide event scholarships to increase attendee socio-economic diversity for their event. Furthermore, while 73 percent of respondents said that they survey participants to obtain conference experience feedback, only 19 percent said they survey attendees to record data on the exchange of financial capital and the development of new programs, initiatives, or opportunities that result from new connections made at the conference—in other words, the majority of surveyed conveners do not systematically track how their convening contributes to ecosystem-wide impact.

As one survey respondent shared, “The impact of conferences can be measured both quantitatively and qualitatively—everything from ‘this is the number of organizations that got funded, these many people got hired, these many people joined boards,’ to receiving feedback from conference participants that say they had a ‘transformative experience.’ That they are rejuvenated and no longer on the verge of burnout. That they feel part of a global network and community that they can lean on for support, advice and resources.” While some things can’t be measure, they can be methodically recorded.

Even though the majority of conveners we surveyed do not currently have an impact measurement strategy for their own convening, organizers are eager to explore how they might measure and track the impact of their future meetings. When asked whether it would be valuable for impact conveners to collaborate and share best practices on how to more systematically assess the impact of their gatherings, a resounding 100 percent said “Yes.” At Conveners.org we believe that a critical next step to build a more effective, efficient, and equitable convening ecosystem is to begin to measure the industry’s own impact, and doing so together can help conveners move forward faster.

Convening for Impact

As the number of impact-focused convenings expands across the world, there is a greater need for conference organizers to embrace a more coordinated and collaborative approach to their work. Just as conveners design forums that bring together innovators, influencers, and change makers to source solutions to the world’s most critical challenges, so too must they come together as an industry to connect, learn, and collaborate with each other and further unlock the collective potential of the impact ecosystem.

In that spirit, in 2014 Conveners.org launched Convening the Conveners (CtC), a membership program that builds community for organizations that use the powerful tool of convening to advance positive change. Our founding members and partners include leading global conveners and network builders, such as Aspen Network of Development Entrepreneurs (ANDE), Echoing Green, Skoll World Forum, SOCAP, and Opportunity Collaboration.

Through our programming—including the recent launch of a series of targeted conversations focused on identifying and scaling proven solutions to address the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which will convene a range of impact leaders at global conferences throughout 2018—we offer impact-focused conveners tools, resources, and avenues for connection as a way to help make their events more participant-driven and collaborative.

As such, our inaugural State of the Convening Ecosystem report brings attention to the gaps and opportunities to work closer together as an industry, learn from each other, and collaborate to design more impact-driven convenings. The more the convening industry can reflect the impact it wants to help create, the better we will see that mirrored in the impact ecosystem as a whole.

Read the full State of the Convening Ecosystem report here. This post originally appeared in Pioneers Post and is republished here with permission. Both this post and the report were written and produced by Nayelli Gonzalez, Conveners.org Managing Director, Marketing & Partnerships.