Realigning The Reef MENA: how we will integrate the OpenVillage vision with the online platform and residencies

With this much action, excitement, and moving parts going on lately, I have felt the need to realign the OpenVillage vision and the Edgeryders current project in the MENA region. Particularly, I wanted a realigned timeline, where everyone involved would know what happens next, and when. So I grilled @nadia and @matthias for information, and, with them, debugged loose ends and inconsistencies. This is the proposal that came out of this process. Feedback welcome.

Important: it requires some reworking of the budget. Nadia is in charge of this, and will liaise with her team as needed.

Concept and rationale

  1. We want to test an alternative model to the Silicon Valley-type startup incubator dedicated to social business and social innovation. The idea is to make enough money to be prosperous and independent, but what really matters is to make sense: to give a meaning to our lives by doing something that we, and our communities, think makes a difference. This could be Yosser’s third space, or Heba’s promotion of cycling culture, of Baderdean’s boosting of the use of open source software, or clowning, or aquaponics, or whatever.

  2. The incubator model does not work for this stuff, because getting this kind of projects (not exclusively devoted to profit making) off the ground requires patient support. The time scale is simply longer than normal incubators can afford. Hence, the situation we are seeing: plenty of pitching competitions, small cash prizes, then the idea fizzles out, the proponent loses steam or burns out, and we are back to where we started.

  3. Patient support is unsustainable and undesirable for the incubator model. Unsustainable, because they use expensive dedicated resources (professional mentors and administrators, fancy urban spaces); undesirable because they want people who are not tough enough to get through the meat grinder to give up and go elsewhere.

  4. Edgeryders claims that we can do sustainable patient support if we do it peer-to-peer, and if we use open source knowledge all around. People coach each other; activities are documented and documentation is published with open licenses, so that they and go on to feed a knowledge commons. This means lower costs.

  5. Reef-type live-work spaces – powered by the OpenVillage concept – also create efficiency by riding on existing excess capacity. In The Reef, people and businesses (like, well, a patient incubator for social innovation) live in symbiosis, without competing for space because they have complementary uses for the same space. This also means lower costs.

  6. All this means Edgeryders has a new proposition for the development sector. It is a new kind of incubator offering patient peer-to-peer support to social innovation projects. It has several ingredients: the online community is the one we have developed the most. We are now adding a physical space to the stack. In the next year, we bring this new ecosystem to market.

Given all this, we are going to use a residencies program to support our extant (mostly online) activities in the MENA region, and to build a prototype site of this new type of incubator, and to feed into the unfolding of the larger OpenVillage vision. For this, we don’t need a space in a capital city; we need a large, cheap building in an attractive location. As a prototype, we will probably not keep it going after the end of the project. But we (Edgeryders) will take what we learn there and use it to consolidate our work. Additionally, we make a long-term commitment to the region: we will stay, though not necessarily in the same place where we hold the residencies.

Ways to be involved

We put out several calls:

  1. For project owners. These are people with an initiative to develop. They are committed to it. When the residency is over, they will be the ones responsible to drive it forward. We could host 3-5 of these, all from the region.

  2. For support specialists. These are people with substantial skills (developers, hardware hackers, bio hackers, bizdev people), who agree to support with time and skills one project owner. They can be from anywhere in the world.

  3. For the REEF MENA co-founders. We think we can leverage the demo into a sustainable business. Looking for local partners.

  4. For space co-founders. It seems that quite a few people want to start their own spaces (co-working. co-living etc.) as a way to bring about change and make a living for themselves. So we share expertise and teach one another a way forward.

Selected residents get funded travel to the space; free accommodation and food for the duration of their residency; some very small bursary.

The timeline

Mid-September 2017: call for applications and boost engagement

In two weeks from now, we need a complete information pack to be online. What we are doing, where and when, and how people can be part of it. This needs a firm decision on location, because the information pack needs to contain a picture of the actual building where the Sawa-OpenVillage community will have its moral center for the next year.

This announcement kicks our engagement strategy into high gear. It should drive interest to…

Late September: info workshops

… the workshops that @nadia and the team will be running in the region in the second half of September, and…

October 19-21: OpenVillage Festival in Brussels

… the Brussels Festival. We set up an info/co-design session on the Sawa/OpenVillage operation in Brussels. There are ways to get support for people in the region that want to come – @noemi has the details.

October 31st: Deadline for applications

November 31st: residents selected.

December 31st: party!

We start our MENA deployment with a party. In this phase, a space is already available and paid for, but no other support is provided.

January 2018: buildup

The whole Edgeryders team decamps to the new space for a month. We work from there, even those who are not directly involved in the project. Others are welcome to join depending on space, but no support is provided.

February-April: residencies.

Actual residencies.

May 2018 – May 2218: to be continued?

In the unMonastery “200 years” tradition.


@Yosser @chahy

I want to come to the festival from outside the EU & I need Visas

Dear Nadia I find it difficult to find the appellation and I want

Please send the link

My annotations on the concept:

Not only social innovation. Even normal startups in low-infrastructure (“less developed”) regions require patient support, and its absence may well be the reason for the very limited successes of previous startup rearing programmes in these areas. When a startup has to solve or work around infrastructure issues several levels down (absence of a door-to-door postal system, street addresses, e-payment systems etc.), of course it needs more support than a traditional incubator can supply.

How to create such incubators in multiple spaces. For the first prototypical “patient startup incubator” space, it may be that the Edgeryders organization will rent and run the physical space itself. However, I don’t think this is a scalable model since (1) our patient incubator residencies will utilize the space for only 2-4 months per year (with perhaps 3-4 more months of AirBnB rental income and the rest of time sitting idle), (2) it will often be complicated to be a company in Estonia operating a space outside of Europe and (3) creating new spin-off companies in the country where the spaces are solves this in exchange of a problem of increased admin efforts. So instead, I propose that, (1) as part of the initial batches of social entrepreneurs, we support those who want to set up and run communal spaces in their own cities, (2) we connect these communal spaces in a network of OpenVillage houses, and (3) we run our patient incubator programs inside these spaces and pay a fee for the access we get. These spaces would be locally registered, self-sustaining businesses, formally independent of Edgeryders but loosely connected into a network. Reason: entrepreneurs like to found and operate their own project and be their own boss, and we profit from their higher motivation to manage the space well and make it nice and attractive.


Agreed, with some provisos:

  1. More spaces than incubators. It may even be we only run one in MENA, we don’t know yet. We certainly cannot promise to pay 2 months of rent a year to all co-working spaces in MENA.
  2. Federation of spaces has to be bottom-up and lightweight for us. Connecting the network is not something that can be done from the center, and I am unwilling to invest in it. What we do is openness: we make it possible and simple to federate, for the people who want to do so.
  3. So, “support” needs to be heavily qualified. We support people that want to build spaces in the same way that we support people that want to build a surfing school, no more and no less.
  4. In the call for co-founders we do not start with spaces, but with sales. If push comes to shove, we can deploy spaces ourselves. The scarce resource for sustainability is the same as ever: the ability to drive sales. And in this market we are weaker than in Europe, because of language and cultural barriers.

Ping @noemi :slight_smile:


interesting thought on “sustainable incubator”.

While I agree on mainy points made by @matthias, I think that in South countries and especially MENA “loose network” is problematic. If you want a real edgeryriders presence it should be physical otherwise you’ll become another international funders for existing organizations. A mere proxy…

Buying a cheap, small yet visible in a popular place looks the right option for me if you’re serious about settling in MENA region. It could be in Medenin where @Yosser is from. It could be in a bigger city with existing social entrepreneurs and activism ecosystem. It could be done with a partnership with an established social organization deeply rooted (workers union, youth organization…) - think platform strategy.

The roadmap and agenda seems for me ambitious. What are the action plan to collect social entrepreneurship projects, coach them, and recruit them? It’s a fulltime job… Especially cause EdgeRyders is not a famous organization. Worst, it could be seen as another European NGO funders (=they give us money if we tell them what they love to hear and produce some reports).

I think that EdgeRyders should have a clever communication plan to sell the “sustainable social start-up incubator” idea even if it’s not really an incubator. And don’t be pessimistic about coach. I’m quite confident that you can do it. To begin, recruiting a group of students to kick-off the first 6 month OpenVillage as a start-up could be a nice idea…


I agree with what you said, and Edgryders really need to be careful to not be seen as [quote=“baderdean, post:7, topic:6878”]
as another European NGO funders (=they give us money if we tell them what they love to hear and produce some reports)
[/quote] ! and people don’t trust such things, so we don’t want it to be positionned this way ! as far as I remember @zmorda suggested that we can have clubs in the colleges, the Edgeryders clubs that can work and promote the openvillage, I think that can work well

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Hi Bader and @Yosser I think you make very good points.

This thread is tackling a number of important issues:

The first is a how to deal with differences in costs e.g. of living and getting things done in different parts of the world when value building is the result of all of our contributions - the strength of a network rests on this.

A second issue is the people and culture at the core - what makes a space magnetic to a diverse range of people and projects vs what makes it yet another anonymous room with tables and chairs and people nothing interesting going on…or building pitches for “me too” apps and chasing VCs all day. @johncoate @unknown_author know quite a bit about this.

Then ofcourse is the issue of sustainability of the space itself and the activities in it (recruiting coaching and supporting social entrepreneurs through different phases of their journey from that of the “meta” activities of ensuring an active and meaningful collaboration between the different houses.

Then there is the issue of sharing the load of securing contracts and funding that goes into creating the flow of resources for financing fellowships, travel to meet and help one another on projects etc

My personal opinion is that it is a worthwhile challenge to crack - managing to do so = transformative. So if some people in edgeryders want to make a move to have a deep/permanent presence in the region we have three things to do in the prototype house:

  1. Identify a first set of social innovation/entrepreneurship projects for people to work on while in the house (residency).Train them on how to build and manage community around their initiatives

  2. Build a credible business model for the space & sustainability model for the patient incubation.

  3. Recruit the core group of people who want to try this experiment together in a full on house that we barinraise around together

Ping @hazem and @unknown_author what say you about this?

BTW: I’m en route to Beirut and I have a long stopover in Tunis tonight if anyone is around for a spontaneous meetup tonight or a VERY early breakfast tomorrow morning


Marwa hi, did anyone get back to you about this? If no Ill follow up tonight. Sorry i missed this!

@m_tantawy you may want to check this thread

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Mmh … good points! So we have a branding and communications problem to solve here. I can see how an own physical presence would solve it, but it also comes with the complexities of setting up and maintaining yet another organization as the corporate presence of Edgeryders in that other country.

Maybe there are less effortful ways to solve the issue at hand. We have until now fared well with the “worldwide community of peers” story. We could use it here to say: “There are Edgeryders all over the MENA region. For example, the co-working space in [so-and-so] has been founded by a member of the Edgeryders community, with hands-on support from the community and the Edgeryders organization. We invite you there for this year’s edition of our business incubation program.”

True again. I don’t know startup and funding culture in the MENA region myself, so I’d need some advice if the following would help against this “cash cow” image: namely saying “We’re just like you. Young folks with way more ideas and visions than assets and rights. Join our global community and let’s hack the system together so we can make all our initiatives become a reality.” Invoking that image was so far quite credible defense against the “cash cow” image because it is, frankly, true …


Arguably the best statement I’ve read so far as to what this is all about.


Re coaching: @susa (Goldsmith and Product Designer, Guest Professor at UDK in Berlin) and I prototyped a process to get our product students at the University of Arts in Berlin to the point of having produced working prototypes (look for the “product prototyes” videos here). He’s a first visualisation - curious what you think :slight_smile:

Also forgot that we have been working on a sustainability model for the incubation and space maintenance. Am just about to start pitching it to different organisations with some input from @clairedvn. This phase involves writing, meeting potential investors and funders etc - basically sales. Maybe you are interested in looking into this together with me since this involves a lot of skills independent consultants use to get clients and is a good way to expand one’s professional network. Let me know if you are interested in discussing this?

There’s enthusiasm from the biohackers community to help out putting together lab/mushroom stuff/health hacking stuff. Some of them hopefully also coming to Brussels in October.

In absence of overview through all these posts: how can they get involved, what extra info can I give them?

Hmm need to structure the process a bit I guess.

  1. Call for Local Community connectors (tell us about problems which they care about and some idea they think could work - ),

  2. Call for Projects (template flyer with very simple content modified around the different topics we care about i.e can be accurately google translated to English/Arabic/French/Dutch/German/Italian/Spanish/Portuguese)

  3. Call for Project Collaborators (people with specific skills who can help one another move projects forward together)


@nadia @baderdean @matthias
Hi every Body , really i am so happy to Join this rich discussion with awesome persons as you :slight_smile:i am Mohamed and i am addicted to associative work and volunteering , working with members of Red cross and Red crescent society, have experience with the social entrepreneurial ONG Enactus as a Team Leader , wining the first prise in Social Cultural Projects competition with ma fiends Team this year in my community ,and selected last year as a best delegate in UN model conference in Morocco, i have a lot of amazing ideas to how we reach the noble OpenVillage, i have many friends and i invite them to join the workshop and we love all sharing our ideas to have the best global community,working together for financial, economic , environmental ,health solutions… waiting for the workshop to meet you and i ma really Happy to meet you all as soon as possible :slight_smile: @baderdean i agree your point of view about methods of fundraising ONGs .Also, about location , why we don t try working with co-working spaces so we win visitors , money , and define Edgeryders to the public too fast .Moreover @zmorda,it is nice idea if we work with clubs in the colleges, we can motivated them, and organize many community actions for all the team . I am really exited to meet you all and to create innovation together .