It is ironic that the Tides Foundation founded the Momentum conference 6 years ago when there was no momentum behind the progressive agenda. Now, in its 6th year, Momentum finally has some real momentum. From health care to the environment to labor and the financial system, every speaker was visibly excited and somewhat surprised to find themselves suddenly with the opportunity they have been waiting years for: real change is now possible.
Coupled with that energy and enthusiasm was also fear—that the moment would be lost, or not seized upon entirely, or that the progressives could not put together and market a united front as effectively as the conservatives. There was also a hint of debate in all this excitement. Like a kid in a candy store, the question was: do I completely stuff my pockets and risk losing it all? or do I just grab a few jelly bellies and be content? And how do progressives stage a real debate on the issues while still supporting the President?
I attended the Momentum Conference on Tuesday, Sep 8, the first day of a three-day conference. Tides Foundation did a remarkable job of lining up fantastic speakers to make a long day engaging. Add to that the terrific food, a great location at the W hotel in San Francisco, and cool entertainment, and the event felt like a mini-TED conference. Drummond Pike, founder and CEO of Tides, said, “the purpose of the conference is to stimulate ideas, to move the agenda forward, but not to reach conclusions. Leadership begins with the imagination, and finding interesting new voices on a variety of topics promotes new thinking and strategies to step forward in to the moment.”
Given that objective, the conference succeeded. And with more than 500 registrants, this year was more than double the size of last year. Donors, activists, academics, media, socially responsible investors, students, and artists came together to discuss how to help activists build momentum for their movement. Topics included health care, capital, carbon, and work.
Between the SoCap conference last week and the Momentum conference this week, San Francisco is a great place to see and be seen amongst the leaders of the new economy. As long as we are not blinded into thinking that the rest of the country is thinking these same thoughts, the energy, ideas, and enthusiasm can inspire and catalyze change.
In the interest of full disclosure: SSIR was a media sponsor of Momentum.
Gina Klein Jorasch is currently Senior Advisor to the Center for Social Innovation at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Gina was a founder or early-stage executive at five for-profit tech start-ups, all of which had successful IPOs or acquisitions, and a founding board member for two nonprofit startups.