The Rise of Co-Working & Its Influence on Social Innovation
16 May 2016 - Impact Hub

The Rise of Co-Working & Its Influence on Social Innovation

We are delighted to be featured in the Spring 2016 issue of PUBLIC Journal. Thanks to Hubber Katie Crepeau for this brilliant capture of the 10 year story behind Impact Hub. Excerpt published below…

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IN 1998, A GROUP OF STUDENTS from the progressive, internationally-focused Atlantic College in Wales were captivated by the significance of the millennium on the horizon. While on summer break, Jonathan Robinson, Mark Hodge, Katy Marks, Yuill Herbert and few other students were wandering along London’s South Bank and saw the imposing, Modernist Royal Festival Hall where thousands of events and exhibits take place each year. Coming from a progressive school where they were encouraged to act on ideas, the students wanted to put on an event to “shake up lots of peoples’  thinking” and properly kick off the new millenia. They decided to speak with the Festival Hall event managers about an event for the millennium celebration and convinced them to take a booking for a 2-day event to take place the following year.

One year and many phone calls and faxes later, the students had a fully-fledged conference featuring some of the most prominent world leaders and thinkers, including human rights activist and The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick, English journalist and TV presenter Jon Snow and several Nobel Peace Laureates.

“I’m not entirely sure how a bunch of 19 years olds attracted such figures,” recalled Jonathan Robinson. “I guess it was our combination of being kind of cheeky and a bit humble all at the same time.”

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The 2-day event on human rights, environmental and social issues went off without a hitch and lead to a flood of interest from more international organizations, the most interesting of which came from the United Nations. Organizers of the United Nations World Summit on Sustainable Development asked the group to replicate the Royal Festival Hall event for their 2002 summit taking place in Johannesburg.

Although the students were now deep in the throes of university studies, they weren’t about to let the opportunity pass them by. They booked flights to Johannesburg during a week-long break and quickly realized that the convention center assigned to them was not the appropriate place for their event. “Against everyone’s warnings that horrible things would befall us, [we] decided to venture into Soweto to find out what people there made of this impending summit,” said Jonathan. Created most dubiously when white South Africans moved black South Africans and Indians out of the city, Soweto is most infamously known as a political hotbed during Apartheid. Jonathan and his peers met people who had been at the heart of the anti-Apartheid movement and were now shifting towards community regeneration. They knew nothing of the UN’s World Summit but had a different sustainable development conundrum underway–dealing with a huge mountain of waste that was accumulating in the centre of their neighbourhood. Jonathan and his comrades saw an opportunity: “We felt there was a real connection between what these guys in Soweto were telling us the needed to make progress and the global issues around progress and sustainable development that we wanted to be telling leaders at the UN summit.”
With Katy Marks working on the ground for 18 months in Soweto, the team and community members were able to turn the mountain of waste into a thriving, fully-functioning area by the time the UN Summit took place in 2002. Buildings were constructed from discarded glass bottles and car tires. A defunct water tower was turned into a light beacon. Half a dozen small social enterprises were providing food, waste, music, and film services. Soweto’s Mountain of Hope became an icon for community regeneration and sustainable development at a local scale, and many world leaders took notice.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, UK Prime Minister John Prescott, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, and thousands more World Summit delegates visited the Mountain of Hope. Inspired by the magnitude of what was accomplished, Kofi Annan scrapped his formal speech and instead spoke about the project remarking that there was no point waiting for the UN summit to deliver since the real summit had happened at the mountain in Soweto.
After returning to the UK, each of the students continued with their individual studies and, upon graduation, wondered how best to use this inspiring energy they had discovered, and the conversations it prompted, to make real change. As in Soweto, they realized that people in the UK wanted to make a difference through their work, yet they were generally operating out of their homes, in isolation.

Jonathan Robinson, a member of the group that had traveled to Soweto and a recent graduate and soon-to-be cofounder of the Hub organization, asked himself a question: “What if these people could come together in the same physical space and have a place to connect?”

Download the full article here: PUBLIC-04-RiseOfCoworking.
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