It’s not often that innovators, techies and entrepreneurs from around the world are brought together in one place. The Global Innovation Gathering in Berlin was just one such occasion. In true BarCamp style, the conversations were lively and varied. I’ll attempt to summarise some of them in a series of blog posts. This one focuses on strengthening the impact of hubs and their Sustainability.
Needless to say, tech innovation hubs are still struggling to find ways to become truly sustainable. Instead of approaching hub sustainability from the perspective of income generation, we talked about how hubs could do what they’re doing better, thereby strengthening their community and activities. It’s hoped that if they can demonstrate real impact, this will help them attract more funds and generate income in the long-term. Here are some of the issues which they thought may help.
- Clarify your objectives and ensure funds don’t pull you off track. Allow these to be flexible to allow for serendipity and innovation. Ensure that activities align with your vision.
- Build community first. If they value what you do and feel a sense of ownership, funds will follow. A diverse community (techies, activists, both sexes, civil society etc) will be best equipped to solve societal challenges
- When hubs are predominantly providing an enabling environment, how can they demonstrate their impact? Funders expecting specific outcomes early on in a project is really prohibitive to adapting work to a community’s need. Can funders and hubs work towards shared visions instead? Remember, some funders are happy to be challenged and pushed back (us included)
- Can intermediary objectives be developed to demonstrate hubs are moving in the right trajectory e.g. building community, improving skills, supporting collaboration? It’s crucial to have sensible and realistic impact measurements that truly affect what you do
- How can supporters of hubs and their networks like AfriLabs and Impact Hub best add value? In order to do so, the community and funders need to recognise their role and financially support them. It’s important to recognise the hard work they put in behind the scenes before successful start-ups can be developed
- Can hubs take a systemic approach to solving societal problems? How can they bring together the right people including civil society, activists and media and support them in identifying social challenges and addressing them. We need techies to work with other players for this to be effective.
- Support start-ups but don’t spoon feed them. They need to learn how to operate independently. Allow them to solve their own challenges but support them when they’re stuck. Be clear on the type of support you can and can’t provide.
Securing Funding and Generating Income
- Core funding is a critical need to enable flexibility and cover salary costs and overheads
- Understand the needs of different funders e.g. are they interested in social impact or stimulating entrepreneurship or job/income generation
- Hubs generate income from a wide variety of sources including value added services, e-commerce, research, consultancy, corporate sponsors, membership fees, events and training, jobs boards, running programmes on behalf of donors, equity from start-ups, to name just a few
- Can content be thought of as a service e.g. data analysis and programmes for Corporate Social Responsibility of corporates or policy analysis for government, train the trainer models where community members can then act as trainers for other organisations. ICE Cairo taught design thinking to members who are now supporting other organisations to use this approach.