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Kate Byrne speaks on how to diversify the impact ecosystem in order to deliver an economy that would be racially just

This year, Impact.Edition is proud to become a network partner of SOCAP Virtual: A Global Impact Summit, the leading gathering of global changemakers addressing the world’s toughest challenges through market-based solutions(October 19-23.)

SOCAP started in 2008 because philanthropy alone wasn’t going to be enough to drive the social change needed at scale. The beauty and power of SOCAP is that they provide access to the entire impact ecosystem by connecting nonprofits, impact investors, social entrepreneurs, academics, government, corporations, committed to increasing the flow of capital toward social good. 

“We are collectively passionate about emerging from the current health, economic and justice crises through a wide range of programs inaugurated at our first-ever virtual summit,” says Kate Byrne, President of Intentional/SOCAP Global, the purpose-driven platform mobilizing the impact community toward conscious capitalism. Through its brands -- SOCAP, SPECTRUM, Total Impact, and Conscious Company Media -- Kate and her team connect, educate, and inspire people to transform moments to movements and thoughts to action.

A graduate of Stanford University, Kate spent years gaining in-depth experience in all key areas of the impact ecosystem, including nonprofit, foundation and media, to promote social good. Now, her goal is to mainstream impact investing so that it becomes synonymous with investing and eventually with positive social change.


What inspired you to mobilize the business community toward social impact?

Personally, I became aware of social impact when I was the Publisher of Fast Company. In 2004 a group of us worked together to create the Social Capitalist Awards, recognizing the impact made by companies practicing triple bottom line models. I literally felt a calling that this was the role I was to play - being a translator of sorts and a catalyzer for those in the traditional space to join the impact space.

Impact investing came to pass as a solution for the reality that social change is way too big for philanthropy alone to handle, certainly not at scale.  Business is key due to its ability to touch all stakeholder segments, and the tremendous assets under management it controls. As an example, you may not be a fan of MacDonald’s, but they are one of the largest diversity employers in the world, as well as have a great deal of real estate that could be used in a more community-oriented environment.

Impact investments are outperforming traditional bets in the coronavirus crisis. Do you think this is explained by the shock to the energy and financial industries? Or is this happening organically?

I think it's organic and a bit of a perfect storm. Let’s face it, the coronavirus has shaken every system with many crumbling down to their studs. It’s stopped consumers in their tracks, giving them more time to take notice and stop moving in auto-pilot. Finally, it's made everyone take notice of the regenerative economy we live in. We are all connected and eventually, as go one as go we all.

It's a reflection of the obvious logic of taking care of your planet through purposeful use takes care of your customer. Harm to the planet means you won’t be able to make products. It also means you harm your customer, so you won’t have anybody to buy your products.  How can that not result in both better financial profit and impact?

Do you see a lot of greenwashing going on in the business ecosystem? And how do you deal with such brands?

I believe this transition to purpose-driven business is going to be a journey, not a hop, skip, jump and run endeavor. These are large, often bureaucratic, entities that are working across timezones, cultures, legal policies. If it were easy, it would already have been done. It’s going to take time.

Yes, there’s greenwashing which I believe comes about as a result of there being such a hazy, vague agreement of what defines impact. This doesn’t make it right, just easy to see how it comes about. This demonstrates a company “trying” but more from an opportunistic branding moment rather than an intentional, deep reflection about how the company can reimagine the way it works to minimize its negative impact on the world. How does the business become truly additive vs. just less extractive?

I believe that all stakeholders need to hold companies accountable, but not in a shame or blame manner. I think we need to also reframe the notion of mistakes into learning/teaching moments. The adoption and use of ESG (Environment, Social and Governance) filters is beginning to put this to an end. It shines a big, bright light of transparency.

I am a fan of the Impact-Weighted Accounts Initiative,something that Sir "Ronnie" Cohen and George Serafaim at Harvard have been working on that has the opportunity to spotlight bad actors in an equal and data-driven way. An Impact-Weighted Account is a financial account whose P & L and Balance sheet share both the financial profit and the impact to people and planet brought upon by a company’s products, people and operations.

As for SOCAP Global and our screening process, we have a panel submission application which is very rigorous that includes multiple review rounds. When we are speaking with potential sponsors and others we will have very candid conversations in effort to walk the talk ourselves and be the change we want to see. It’s not always easy and sometimes we need to part ways, but more often than not we’ve been able to take these instances and turn them into a learning experience and eventually play a role as an advisor along the path to purpose.

You released quite an extensive list of themes for SOCAP 2020. We especially applaud your efforts to include artists and culture creators into this business-social dialogue. For you, what does the arts, culture & creative economy look like & what does it need to thrive?

Given our desire to encourage greater equity, the arts, music and culture are the great equalizer as all can express themselves. They provide the opportunity to have both individual and collective experiences simultaneously - and there is no wrong experience. Just as an artist’s work is a mode for self-expression, similarly it is a mode for the onlooker’s self-interpretation.

Arts and culture are a terrific connector. They provide access to a deeper experience across all of the learning styles. Art itself encourages innovation. It can help ease the pain of the chaotic world in which we live; it opens up the realms of seeing and feeling rather than just doing. As the Little Prince noted, “the heart sees what the eyes miss.”

Arts and culture provide an eye to the future, what’s coming over the horizon. Artists and culture-makers are at the forefront of every movement. Artists are uniquely equipped to appreciate and illuminate existing but often underestimated community assets that contribute to health and wellbeing, particularly in historically marginalized communities. There is growing evidence that art, creativity, and culture have measurable impacts on individual and community health.

Questions we are asking ourselves are:  How can the impact economy tap artists, makers and the creative sector to ensure equity and foster economic empowerment? How might investors rethink their role, working with artists, to create the conditions for new economic models, investments, and market-based solutions that drive social, environmental, and cultural impact and innovation?

To me the arts, culture and creative economy is one in which radical collaboration is a given. There are unlikely bedfellows forming unusual partnerships to drive innovation. There’s a practice of situational humility in which the creative crew are tapped to help us look at challenges through different lenses and varying angles.

What it needs to thrive is the support of all forms of capital: reputational, social, financial, intellectual, and political. We need to make sure that it is viewed as imperative rather than a nice-to-have and hence, the first to get cut.

How do you see the media's role in the impact economy & our communities?

Media in its strongest moment, can be like an artist’s palette, with different formats bringing specific parts of a story to life. This is key because we don’t all digest information in the same way. Podcasts are for those more audio-oriented, infographics can demonstrate trends and paint pictures with numbers and so on.

It also can be key in building a community, engaging them, activating movements, and serving more as a knowledge receptacle equipping consumers with the tools and insights they need.

Media is the main campfire around which all gather to share stories and truths, a brave space of inspiration and practical resource.

And what do you want to see more of?

Debate, transparency and a greater facility in widening the aperture from local to global realities.

The Impact space has done a terrific job in preaching to the converted. We need to look to bring in those who are curious and agnostic. In order to do so effectively and drive systemic change,  we need to have conversations among many different stakeholders - not all of whom will agree.

This is also key for impact to be taken seriously. It can’t be all peace, love and little fuzzy lambs. There are some hard realities that we, who have been supposedly “good,” need to face and own ourselves. Racial equity is a good example of this. We need to look at how we ourselves walk the talk of delivering true equity, as individuals, as leaders of teams, companies, and industries. What are our business models? Are our companies truly additive or are they in fact actually extractive?  If the answer to that question is extractive, ok, let’s own it and then build a plan on how to make it additive. And this part is key -- then be transparent on our progress, sharing our wins and our misses.

You're passionate about supporting gender equality and women's empowerment, and it's the common thread throughout your resume. What do you think is critical to making gender equality a reality?

Four things:

More men experiencing the inequality of women through their daughters, wives etc. I believe witnessing it through these intimate relationships will bring it to life and there will be fewer questions as to its existence. I had a boss who was incredibly abusive, I mean shockingly so. When I moved on to my next opportunity I wrote him a note thanking him for the job and then ended it with, “ I want you to think about what advice you would give your daughter if her boss ever spoke to her the way you did to me.” He entered into anger management efforts led by the company after I left which proved unsuccessful and he eventually was asked to leave the company.

Second, we women have got to, got to, got to start supporting each other more.  Rather than just mentoring, we need to actively sponsor each other, calling attention to the strengths of each other rather than quietly, and not so quietly, stabbing each other in the back or sabotaging one another.  When we’re in those meetings and see someone interrupt a woman, call attention to it by going back to the original speaker. When our ideas are repeated by a male colleague immediately after we have spoken them, give credit to the originator. Finally, when you find yourself in a leadership position, take a beat and decide: do you need to be leading from the field or can you pass the baton and lead from the bench so that another has the opportunity to step into leading? 

Third, as soon as we have more women playing key roles in the community and government etc., the world will be a healthier, more human place. There have been reams of data that prove this to be true. The recent demonstration of the healthiest countries during the Coronavirus pandemic being led by women says it all.

Finally, we need to take the OW out of power and own what is OURS. Unapologetically. Historically, being pleasers, we need to be ok with the fact that not everyone may like us, but they will respect us. And more importantly, we will like ourselves.

SOCAP Virtual: A Global Impact Summit | October 19-23 | For tickets and more information, go to
SOCAP is the largest and most diverse impact investing community in the world. We convene a global ecosystem and marketplace - social entrepreneurs, investors, foundation and nonprofit leaders, government and policy leaders, creators, corporations, academics and beyond - through content experiences that educate, spur conversation, and inspire investment in positive impact. Follow SOCAP on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube; as well as #SOCAPVirtual for this year’s conference.                                                      

P.S. The cover image is by Frank Moth, who makes some of the most exciting prints we've ever seen.


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