SEWF Flips Conference Model

SEWF Flips Conference Model

Planners celebrate audience voices ahead of conference

Do public events really live up to their potential by focusing on speakers, when the majority of participants are attendees? What are we squandering through this approach?

Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) executive director Dan Overall pondered these questions while planning the sixth annual gathering for social enterprises from around the world, set to hit Calgary Oct. 2–4, 2013.

In light of these questions, and a desire to move the event towards its fullest potential, the SEWF team devised a number of clever ways to celebrate, engage and inspire attendees.

  Dan Overall

On Oct. 4, SEWF will host a social pitch contest at the Learn and Lead Luncheon. Selected finalists from an application process that closed in August will pitch their social venture ideas on stage for a chance to win $20,000. The prize money comes from a portion of every delegate’s fee, making every delegate a “social investor.”

SEWF will also feature two solutions labs — sessions that will workshop a total of six initiatives with key advisers and peer circles. All SEWF 2013 attendees were invited to apply for this opportunity to discuss strategies for their organization through a sustainable finance lens.

Some participant-driven “unconference” concepts are also woven into SEWF’s structure. The collaboratorium is a creative space prepared with tables, chairs, flip chart paper, a meeting matrix, storyboard and message board. Participants can use the space in a number of ways, such as sharing “a-ha” moments, continuing conversations after particularly interesting sessions and proposing new topics.

“There will be issues we missed. We want to make sure that if there’s a desire within grassroots attendees, that they can pursue those issues through the collaboratorium,” Dan says.

In light of his commitment to the goal of ensuring the conference lives up to its potential, Dan further explored ways to harvest the ideas of attendees.

This week, SEWF will highlight two participants in pre-conference stories, which will be published on In the same vein, every breakout session during the conference will dedicate at least 30 per cent of its time to focus on attendee ideas, which will all be captured through video recordings.
“The power of living up to one’s potential is the real key to changing the world,” Dan says, with reference to a powerful quote from Mahatma Ghandi. His words provided a larger guiding principle for small details of the conference:

“The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would suffice to solve most of the world’s problems.”

“The whole social enterprise movement is based upon that idea,” Dan continues. “We’ve often assumed that with just being successful in markets, the world would indirectly benefit, but social enterprise asks the question ‘what is the potential of markets directly trying to solve the world’s ills?’”

Bridging the gap between highlighting presenters and attendees is part of a larger vision of creating space for collaboration to live up to its greatest potential, Dan explains. Dan explains. “One thing that disappoints me is the ease with which one sector sometimes looks down upon another sector,” he says. “I firmly believe that writing off people who don’t agree with you can’t be the road to solving these problems. Division can’t be the equation for solving the world’s problems.”

SEWF registration is quickly filling up with government, for-profit, not-for-profit, philanthropic, social entrepreneurial and other attendees. Some are looking to take their work in the field to the next level and others who are new to the idea simply want to learn more. For more information on the conference, visit
If you’re not planning to attend the conference but looking for ways to engage, SEWF launched a series of online engagement efforts this week, including Google Hangouts, Twitter polls and a Facebook chat. For more information, click here.