Sunday, April 22, 2007

Gathering: looking back

Most Successful Ever!

I wasn't surprised to find out that this was the best attended Gathering of the Social Enterprise Alliance. So many people did a great job making this the event for social enterprisers in North America. I'm hoping we can expand our reach globally in future years!

The Gathering is designed to help stave off the loneliness so many social entrepreneurs face. Back in our "normal" environments, we're trying to break the mold. Like all entrepreneurs, we're told we're crazy and that our ideas are faulty. It's terrific for at least once a year to get together with six or seven hundred people who think the same way. Not only do we get the warm validation feeling, but we get to dig into the issues that face us with like-minded individuals. Peer learning as at the core of both the Gathering and the Social Enterprise Alliance. And of course, it's the people who make all of this possible.

First, I'd like to acknowledge the dedication and contributions of Jim McClurg. Jim stewarded the Alliance during our CEO search, and I think turned over our association well positioned for future expansion and success.
Jim McClurg, seated at a dinner table with crutch
The funny story about Jim that illustrates who he is was related the last evening after Jonathan Greenblatt's speech. Jim fell down some stairs the night before the conference started. He came to the board meeting and sat there for a couple of hours. Kirsten Gagnaire noticed him moving slowly, and asked him about it. He then related that he had fallen (and had probably broken a couple of toes). However, he was leaving his shoe on, because the conference had three days to go and he couldn't risk the possibility he couldn't get his show back on! Luckily, other folks prevailed on Jim to get medical attention and he soldiered on with his one crutch.

Another person with equal dedication was Julann Jatczak, who was chairing the program committee for a second Gathering (her first was also successful: the Milwaukee Gathering a few years back)!
Julann Jatczak seated on floor, talking on the phone I think the programming worked well, meeting the needs of both experienced SEs and newbies. Dave McDonough and the local host committee also did a terrific job of making our stay in Long Beach exciting.
Dave McDonough with beer in hand Dave more or less froze on the Long Beach harbor tour, drinking ice cold beer in shirt sleeves while many people wore heavy coats or hid belowdeck where it was warmer and out of the wind!

And of course, we were backed up by some great staff: Sarah Park, Lorraine Grogan and Jen Bavry. Wish I had pictures of all of them! They kept the conference humming. The night of the last conference event, after it was all done, I went over to the Queen Mary (which by the way, is a social enterprise) for a drink with the staff. I was regaled by their stories of unusual attendees and gained new respect for what it takes to run a big conference. We took a bus home and found that our driver had to be the wild guy: he turned off all of the lights on the bus and told us he was on stealth mode, as he caught air going over the bridge from the Queen Mary. Who said buses are boring!

But I digress. My final comments are on our two leaders. Chuck Lief, our chair, and Kris Prendergast, our new CEO, have the responsibility for taking this movement forward. Chuck is a serial social entrepreneur, having spent 12 years running Greyston Foundation (the parent organization of Greyston Bakery, which makes the brownies for Ben & Jerry's) and now leading the charge with multi-income and multi-use real estate developments in New England.
Chuck Lief with Sarah Park smiling
Kris comes to SEA from the U.S. Green Building Council, an organization which has rapidly grown into a major player in that field. I can tell she has the knowledge and drive to bring SEA along a similar path. She spoke frequently to the members with passion, and talked a lot about how to bring the same energy and excitement of the Gathering to our members year-round. I'm looking forward to seeing what she does, and of course to the Ninth Gathering in Boston in March 2008. Maybe I'll see you there!
Kris Prendergast at the podium with Social Enterprise Alliance on it

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