Impact2 Social Enterprise Conference

Impact2 at the Hotel de Ville de ParisImpact2 at the Hotel de Ville de Paris

Just back from the Impact2 Social Enterprise Conference in Paris.  Like many big-name conferences it was rather spoilt by the shameless self-promotion of 'speakers' from big banks and the likes of KPMG.  It's so transparently cynical, isn't it? – they pay their sponsorship and get their advertising slot.  There is I suppose a question of who's kidding who: the suits get put up on the platform alongside the predictable politicians and real social entrepreneurs, and think they gain a bit of credibility by association; we think we're taking their money and seeing right through them.

Filippo Addarii, the dynamic Executive Director of the Euclid Network, one of the partners in the Conference, put up a spirited defence, pointing accurately to the big turnout, the extraordinary number of young people, and excellent media coverage the Conference managed.  He made an interesting point that touched on the ethics of the event too: that it was free, but in the very grand environment of the Paris Hotel de Ville, with free champagne and canapés.  For Filippo, this was about treating all those young struggling or would-be social entrepreneurs like the heroes and heroines they really are.  He has a point, and if it is one that only makes sense in a world that usually reserves champagne and canapés in sumptuous rooms for the rich and powerful, then that is the world we actually live in, isn't it?

Later, reminiscing with one of the fathers of the UK social enterprise movement, my friend Cliff Southcombe, my mind went back to the ICOM Conferences of the 1980s in Leeds that were my own first taste of social enterprise events.  There, everybody was young – the speakers and the audience – because the movement was young.  And it wasn't just about enterprise either: there was an alternative lifestyle element, a coherence of politics, dress, diet, music.  Many camped out.  Every session had a creche, people brought their kids.

Idealistic?  A long way, certainly, from the Hotel de Ville de Paris.