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First SEEED Conference in Providence Highlights Social Enterprise

Monday, March 19, 2012


Social Venture Partners Rhode Island (SVPRI) and Brown University’s Social Innovation Initiative and Entrepreneurship Program lauched its first Social Enterprise Ecosystem and Economic Development (SEEED) Summit at Brown University. SEEED aimed to build on the two years of success of the SERI Summit (Social Enterprise Rhode Island). SERI is a venture of SVPRI that applies market-based strategies and entrepreneurship to maximize social impact.

In attendance was a national audience of approximately 450 social entrepreneurs, innovators, civic leaders, legislators, academics and students who came together to explore the role of social enterprise in economic development.

Social enterprise as economic development driver

The SEEED Summit, created by SVPRI/SERI, is a national conference that celebrates the growth of social enterprise with a focus on its role as an economic development driver. SEEED seeks to create a platform to share models and explore the increasingly important role of social enterprise in local, national and global economies. The organization envisioned the conference to be the first step in creating a movement of social entrepreneurs who would work together to raise the profile of social enterprise as an economic development strategy.

Featured speakers

After Kelly Ramirez, SVPRI CEO, and Alan Harlam, director of Social Innovation Initiative at Brown University opened the conference, US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse also spoke about the importance of the social enterprise movement in today’s economy. Whitehouse expressed optimism regarding the potential for change. “Done right, government is a social venture,” he said, adding that Rhode Island currently leads nationally in health information change.

Christopher Gergen, founder of North-Carolina-based social enterprise non-profit Bull City Forward, addressed a panel titled, "What We Need to Advance the Social Enterprise Agenda."  “I’m passionate about social justice,” Gergen said, describing his journey into educational entrepreneurship, and his strategies on how to “try to spark next generation change making.” Gergen highlighted not only the necessity of looking to the future, but discussed aspects of social enterprise from a historical perspective. Change cannot be accidental, Gergen said, but must be intentional. 

A new local initiative in South Providence

An evening networking event put the spotlight on Trinity Restoration, an independent, non-profit, charitable organization dedicated to planning and implementing a unique historic preservation vision at South Providence's Trinity Square. Featured at the social were local food vendors, entertainment and ample conversation.

Trinity is in the process of renovating its Broad St. space into a vibrant private enterprise for the arts. The new name of the location, South Side Cultural Center, was announced at the event, as well as plans to raise an additional $50,000 for restoration by June 1.

Providence Mayor Angel Taveras attended the evening event and shared his support of social enterprise movements. “We can, without a doubt, change the lives of the people in this country,” he told the group.

John Maeda: students and change

RISD President John Maeda opened SEEED’s second day with a talk that elaborated on the ideals of student involvement in the change movement. “Students are not afraid to experiment,” Maeda said. The goal in life is to always be told that you have potential. Potential is only the energy of optimism, and that it does not diminish with age, but it grows stronger with wisdom, Maeda added.

Congressman Cicilline: the SEEED Act

“I have been working on draft legislation, which, after some gentle prodding from some of the organizers, I plan to call the Social Enterprise Ecosystem and Economic Development Act – the SEEED Act,” Congressman Cicilline announced Saturday during his speech at the SEEED Summit. “This bill will be an early, and I hope influential, step toward recognizing the importance of social enterprises to our society and our economy – and engaging the government like never before in the development of policies that will help support and strengthen the social enterprise ecosystem.” 

Saturday’s agenda featured a variety of peer-learning groups, keynote panels, and interactive plenaries, enabling participants to learn from, and collaborate with professionals from across the social enterprise space. The conference also showcased Buy With Heart, the nation’s first “buy local” umbrella brand and marketing platform for social enterprises.

For more coverage, don't miss GoLocalTV, fresh every day at 4pm and on demand 24/7, here.


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