The Hub: a place for open-source and peer-to-peer programming

I spoke for The Hub in London and Brussels, and have been absolutely charmed by the energy and dynamics of these interconnected co-working places for social enterpreneurs.

Here’s a presentation of the concept and experience by Tatiana Glad in the latest issue of Kosmos Journal:

Freelancers, flexi-workers, nomad professionals and social entrepreneurs are more and more often characterizing the landscape of contributors to social and ecological responsibility. As we see a shift toward more flexible and entrepreneurial working patterns and an increased ambition to create world-changing products and services, there is demand for new forms of workspace that attract, inspire and support people to realize that ambition.

Welcome to The Hub! A growing constellation of spaces that are home to clusters of social innovators in world cities, Hubs are rooted in local context and connected globally through a shared infrastructure of culture, creativity and collaboration. What is The Hub’s vision? It is a world where diverse people are pioneering imaginative and enterprising initiatives for a radically better world. “Social innovation is vital to solving systemic challenges, and systemic initiatives need the attention of interdisciplinary and global talent that embody the courage and critique of an activist with the resolve and ingenuity of an entrepreneur,” says The Hub’s co-founder Jonathan Robinson.

At The Hub, the social entrepreneur finds a physical space supported by virtual tools and a like-spirited peer network that maximizes the visibility of emergent ideas, and facilitates access to the right mix of talent, knowledge and resources.

Home to civic entrepreneurs, kitchen table pioneers, corporate change agents and sustainability forerunners, Hub members describe a culture that supports the risk-taking involved in learning through doing. It is the convergence of attention to the design of space and the hosting of that space that allows people to meet, work and make things happen. Hub spaces are transformative, and borrow the best from offices, lounges and cafés to create a new kind of social space where people are invited to be open, creative and daring, where serendipity is a welcome part of the journey and the path of ideas to action.

In supporting social entrepreneurs from the initial ‘itch’ of an idea to taking innovation to scale, Hub hosts are an integral part of the ecosystem within a Hub. Hosts serve as a ‘light-touch’ interface between the space and its members. Maria Glauser, director of Hub Islington in London and the catalyst behind The Hub’s unique approach to hosting space, feels strongly about members being at the heart of the experience: “Beyond all The Hub does and provides, it’s the members’ own diversity, personal meaning and context that will determine their experience and The Hub’s social impact through the development of their projects. Members are offered what they need to generate unique value for themselves and to co-create value with others in the network.” A key principle is hospitality: “Welcoming and setting of a stimulating culture for people to be themselves… and a safe space for people to reveal themselves and their projects, get feedback, consider other perspectives, be challenged and take risks.”

The Hub’s multi-sited offering currently includes London Islington, Berlin, Bristol, Johannesburg, Rotterdam and Sao Paulo with Hubs-under-construction in Amsterdam, Brussels, Cairo, Halifax, London King’s Cross, Madrid, Mumbai and Tel Aviv/Jaffa. There is also exponentially growing interest in many other cities. The first-generation Hubs have recently co-founded a global social enterprise at the core to help hold and evolve core practices and services for Hubs around the world. Reframing social problems as opportunities for innovation and creating opportunities for co-developing the local and global enterprises are significant attractors for enterprising talent. But beneath it all lays a culture of strong values, shared risk-taking and friendship that sustains the rapid expansion of Hub ambition through its ever-surprising number of emerging initiatives. The Hub is an experience.

In The New Frontier of Experience Innovation (C.K. Prahalad and Venkatram Ramaswamy, Summer 2003, Vol. 44, No. 4, pp. 12–18), ‘the experience space’ is described as “conceptually distinct from that of the product space, which is the conventional focus of innovation. In the experience space, the individual consumer is central, and an event triggers a co-creation experience. The personal meaning derived from the co-creation experience is what determines the value to the individual.” Hubs are nothing without their members, who from even before a building has been found, are involved in the collaborative design of the physical and virtual community, and who go on to play a central role in the production of a Hub’s open-source and peer-to-peer programming.

In a place where ethos-driven innovation is nourished by an environment of working with unlikely allies, people find themselves actively doing and learning every day. Attention to space, relationship and the tacit conditions that nurture this doing (and being) underlies the Hub innovation ecology.

In her recently published study The Powers of Place: An Inquiry Into the Influence of Place, Space and Environment on Collective Transformation (July 2008), Renee Levi surveyed a number of people on their experience of space—from temporal retreats to more permanent establishments. She observed that, “Most of the participants in this study mentioned specific elements they noticed that were part of, and directly influenced, their transformational group experience. These began to appear as patterns or configurations of space that influenced the collective experience.”

Later in the same study, Levi refers to the reciprocal relationships one can have with a place—being ‘held’ by a space and “the importance of feeling contained, safe, comfortable, cared for and secure. Some said that feeling this way in an environment was necessary for the risks, leaps or shifts required for the occurrence of true transformation.” This speaks both to the experience of a Hub itself but also to the emerging fabric of innovation that is weaving itself across Hubs. The transformative possibility of this network of social innovators is now showing its potential through emerging initiatives such as Hubs in conflict areas, learning programmes on the ‘Art of Hosting Spaces for Social Innovation,’ a Hub Venture Capital fund and Hub Labs as innovation processes focused on complex issues. The Hub has become the recognized habitat for conscious entrepreneurs, with a systemic perspective, building resilient enterprises as solutions to global problems.

As the Hub system creates itself with each interaction and each conversation, social innovators co-create an ecology that provides fertile ground for their respective innovations—be they redefining fashion, reshaping energy habits or creating partnerships for new products—and for higher levels of collaborative innovation. And so these innovators for a radically better world, who have found less friction between who they are and what they do, say over and over ‘at the Hub we feel at home.’”

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