I just came back from kicking off a crazy week (with re:publica and ThingsCon yet to come) together with some very amazing people. I had the great honor to once again take part at this year’s Global Innovation Gathering – and it was mind-blowing.
The Global Innovation Gathering (or GIG) is a network of innovation hubs, founders, social entrepreneurs, and thoroughly inspiring people from Asia, Latin America, and (mostly) Africa. Launched at re:publica in 2013, this year’s group consists of about 70 folks who all gather for about a week here in Berlin to exchange their thoughts, ideas, and questions – and to actually get some work done and lay the basis for future collaboration and community building.[[MORE]]
Besides a lot of making new friends (which would be more than enough already), a great fringe program with upcycled 3-d printers and just lot’s of opportunities to chat and learn, I had the chance to take part in three very deep and intensive workshops at this weekend’s barcamp in Berlin. While many of these findings are shared through all kinds of channels, hackpads, and networks, I wanted to share my personal – preliminary – take-aways right here:
Session 1: Social Impact and Technolgy Hubs
Hosted by the lovely Tayo Akinyemi we discussed the purpose, impact, and possible strategies that ‚innovation hubs‘ might go for. We found that
- Impact Hubs tackle complex problems, in that they tackle big, long-term, and multidisciplinary challenges of our society (eg. unemployment, general lack of access resources or information, inadequate education, etc.)
- Not by specifically solving these problems, but by providing the space, resources, and ecosystem for others to solve them. This is a crucial (but not always easy to identify) line that not only helps making efficient and transparent decisions when running a hub – it also allows to keep focus on the long-term objective of building an ecosystem, rather than tackling countless problems one-by-one.
- In order to understand whether a hub is successful or well-led, an impact measurement with rigid definition of objectives, along with quantifiable goals, roadmaps, and metrics is mandatory. The problem here is, that often goals such as ‚building an engaged community‘ or ‚developing a productive culture‘ are intangible, hard to quantify and thus subject to interpretation. Nonetheless these objective have to be defined and monitored against.
Session 2: Hub Innovation and Sustainability
Put together by the great Adam Molyneux-Berry and Tayo, building upon the conversations on sustainability that took place through the past years, this session was split in to two perspectives: entrepreneurs and hubs. I took part in the entrepreneurship track and this is what we discussed:
- Again, we found that a clear definition of objective is crucial for any future decision making. This specifically includes highlighting various ways and approaches to building and funding a company, be it VCs funded, bootstrapped, informal, or even family business or conglomerate. To make these decisions deliberately (as opposed to implicitly) hubs can enable founder to actually choose the way they want to operate. And of course, this applies to the strategy and outlook of the hub itself, it’s programming, and provided resources.
- We discussed potential and efficient selection criteria to grow a healthy and diverse culture and community, taking into account aspects like motivation, background, education, and (rather the controversial) family and private situation. Wherever one draws the line here it became pretty obvious, that a careful (self-)selection of members is vital to grow a sustainable and engaged community
- We mentioned but did not have the time to go into detail on aspects like *adjusting to the context and environment *of a hub (a co-working space in Berlin is probably very differently led and built than a tech-hub in Kampala). Closely linked to this is a feasible business model for the hub itself to ensure long term operations. I hear that Adam compiled this cool list of best-practices for innovative hub business models, that really amazed my when he read it to me.
Session 3: Peacehack Camp South Sudan
The final session I attended was led by Stephen Kovats and Hakim George from kap movie who spoke about putting together a peace/activist/technology camp for about a week in late November in South Sudan. I had the chance to join Stephen when he kicked off his #OSJUBA initiative back in 2013, striving to explore the potential of open (source) culture to state building and the development of public policies and services in South Sudan (yep, pretty challenging). I was happy to get an update on the current status of his endeavors and learned a lot about his current work at the agency for open culture, about activism, civic engagement, and the potential of community-led engagement to tackle civil unrest and clashes. We shared best-practices and stories about existing initiatives, here are some of the ones we discussed:
- Umati framework (iHub, Nairobi) – a framework to monitor online hate speech. Used throughout election violence in Kenya and beyond.
- Incike initiative (Rwanda) – a brilliant, brilliant project to raise awareness and funds for elderly survivors of the Rwanda genocide. It uses mobile crowd funding via feature phones on a massive scale and was put together by the all-amazing Aphrodice Mutangana and his team. So impressive!
- Rethink Relief (MIT, Boston + Uganda) – a design-led workshop to identify and solve local challenges between short and long-term programs with interdisciplinary teams. The goal is to come up with a working prototype for a product or service after two weeks. It’s put together by the wonderful Jona Rephishti and the great folks at MIT’s D-Lab.
The prevailing question was: Are these new models of community action big enough to move beyond existing conflict lines? Obviously we could not answer this – be I like to believe that it’s a start and a worthwhile opportunity to showcase alternative paths for communities to choose for themselves.
Well this was just 2 days. I can’t wait for the rest of this week. I’ll share more of everything GIG, re:publica, and – of course – ThingsCon15 right here. Good days.