ABOUT THE SUMMIT

Many of today’s social, environmental and economic challenges require solutions that transcend the traditional silos of the public, private and social sectors. This invitation-only summit will bring together a select group of leading experts and practitioners to explore and advance fourth sector and cross-sector solutions across several high-impact areas. Focused on either a regional, national or each of these domains will have its own dedicated track:

The Summit will be a participant-driven, outcome-oriented gathering that will serve as a springboard for action and collaboration going forward. Delegates are invited on the basis of their leadership and expertise in a particular track, and will have an opportunity to engage intensively with a cohort of colleagues to advance solutions within their track. There also will be opportunities to harness synergies across the various tracks.

 

Advance research will provide delegates with briefings on key challenges and potential opportunities to leverage fourth sector and cross sector solutions in each track. A team of expert facilitators, innovative session designs, and interactive technology will support delegates in surfacing opportunities for individual and collaborative action.

BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT

Amidst these trends, a rapidly growing fourth sector of organizations has been emerging at the intersection of the three traditional sectors—public, private, and nonprofit (see diagram). Often referred to as “for-benefit” enterprises, these organizations come in a wide variety of models and legal forms, all of which leverage market-based approaches and private capital to solve social and environmental problems.

To effectively harness the fourth sector’s potential, there is a need for greater leadership and collaboration among practitioners, policy makers, investors, scholars, economic developers, and other stakeholders. This summit aims to catalyze such cross sector collaboration, building on a series of successful action-oriented gatherings convened over the past two years at Harvard University, the California Economic Summit, and George Washington University with a host of partners including the White House IMCP, California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, and the Federal Reserve Board of Governors.

Over the past few decades, we have seen a number of trends that challenge conventional assumptions about the roles of our economic and social institutions, and defy traditional siloed approaches to problem-solving. These include impact investing, social enterprise, sustainable business, corporate social responsibility, microfinance, venture philanthropy, privatization, community development finance, and public-private partnerships, among others. We have witnessed the traditional boundaries separating the nonprofit, business, and government sectors become increasingly blurred. Many for-profit companies have broadened their purpose to include social and environmental aims, while a growing number of nonprofits and governmental organizations have adopted market-based approaches to advance their goals. And cross-sector collaboration has been on the rise as a preferred strategy for finding new solutions.

   We need leadership across multiple disciplines to develop new structures that support for-benefit entrepreneurs and investors who are leveraging business to tackle social and environmental problems."
 

-Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group

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At national, state and local levels, the fourth sector has been gaining increased attention among policymakers and economic developers who are recognizing its potential for delivering solutions to a broad array of social, environmental, and economic challenges, from job creation and sustainable economic development to healthcare, education, climate change, social services, workforce development, energy and more. As a result, a range of new policies and initiatives, such as hybrid corporate structures and impact investment vehicles, are being developed to accelerate the growth of the sector.

 

Despite growing support and recognition, for-benefit enterprises still face significant market and policy barriers because they do not “fit” into traditional for-profit or nonprofit molds. In order to deliver on their full potential, for-benefits need access to their own well-developed supportive ecosystem—capital markets that seek positive social and environmental impacts, enabling public policy, triple-bottom-line assessment tools and standards, specialized technical and legal assistance, skilled talent, etc. While such an ecosystem has been developing, it is nascent and fragmented.

 

The fourth sector presents a tremendous opportunity for accelerating job creation and sustainable growth—there are tens of thousands of socially motivated entrepreneurs, tens of millions of socially conscious consumers, and billions of dollars in impact investment capital across the U.S. that favor for-benefit enterprises. And because these enterprises tend to be intrinsically committed to values of inclusion, sustainability and community, fourth sector economic development can lead to a range of positive outcomes including revitalization of economically distressed regions; more rooted local employers committed to their community and its needs; more sustainable jobs with superior wages, benefits, and employment conditions; economic participation of traditionally disadvantaged or under represented populations; poverty alleviation and middle class expansion; enhanced regional competitiveness; greater environmental sustainability; and reduced costs and burdens on government.