Social Innovation Hub | From co-working to redesigning a library

The Social Innovation Hub is an informal group of individuals and organizations that was set up a few months after the Futurespotters conference in July 2014.

I got a message from @Mark_Elva if I wanted to talk to him about this idea that they had. A few days later I met with him and @Ninutsa_Nanitashvili (who got hired by Elva after the Spot the Future project) at a small cafe down town.

The idea: setting up a social innovation hub in Tbilisi which would combine several organizations and initiatives with the same mindset, individuals (freelancers, artists) in one space. And create the possibility for ad hoc projects, training sessions, etc.

This following case study I did not intend on writing. I had not even thought it could be interesting. Probably because I am part of it myself.

So how did it get started and what is the current situation?

We realized that true impact does not happen in isolation. It requires collective action. That is why we decided social innovation deserves a fixed space in Tbilisi. A space for joint events, networking, co-working and co-creation. We wanted to have a place where we could hold regular community meetings. A place where social entrepreneurs could showcase their achievements, meet potential partners and network among like-minded people. We also wanted to increase the number of women and youth involved in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). And create opportunities for talented children and youth from all regions of Georgia through role modeling, e-learning and mentoring. A whole lot, as you can see.

However, it did not go all as planned.

Since last year we’ve had several different meetings. And we realized if we wanted to make this happen, we needed an actual space. To see what costs would be needed to realize it. A member of our group (Remi) told us about the National Scientific Library.

Remi: “I met Irakli Garibashvili, the director of the National Scientific Library of Georgia, at the monthly meeting of Internations of January 26th, 2014. We stayed in touch discussing various possible initiatives since then. Irakli and Nino Pavliashvili had always shown great interest in attracting people to the library, be them users, visitors, etc. to bring life to what was obviously an underused and underfunded institution with a great potential, historical significance of the building, space available.”

And so the idea was born to host the SIH in the library.

Unfortunately, what unfolded next, was that that the library received a large sum of money to renovate, being unable to host SIH anymore.

Remi: “In December 2014, if I remember well, Irakli told me that the library had just received the promise of an unexpected and unexpectedly large grant from the government for its renovation (external facades + some infrastructure). This was the start of a new dynamics where the library could start planning for a brighter future and, the way I see it, could “jump on the bandwagon” of that worldwide movement of libraries currently redefining their role and purpose in societies everywhere in this era of the Internet & mobile communications. A wonderful development for Irakli and Nino, as well as for the library’s staff. We had a meeting about the Social Innovation Hub idea during which it appeared that the Social Innovation Hub would not as a whole fit the vision the “new” library. My idea now is that SIH finds the space it needs elsewhere but have a “Social Innovation Hub Wall” on display at the library to promote its activities.”

One reason, as I understood mostly, was that the library was unable to give the organizations a permanent (1 year, 5 year) lease for the place. We would still be able to use it, but not with that guarantee. Unfortunately for the NGOs involved, a contract is an absolute necessity.

But, luckily, Khatuna (UNDP) attended the meeting where it became clear SIH could not be hosted at the library, and realized that the library perhaps needed support in their future developments. So she came up with the idea to organize a co-creation workshop at the library to redesign the user space.

And so the UNDO and the Public Service Development Agency’s (PSDA) Innovative Service Lab, organized a workshop for the National Scientific Library to redesign its services.

Mariam Tabatadze, senior specialist at the research and development department of the PSDA, told me Khatuna had approached them to work together on it.

Mariam: “The library team is quite progressive and open minded. They wanted to include ways in which the library could become more modern and dynamic. And use the funds they would get in a way that would turn more people towards the library. And the PSDA works exactly on these kind of problems. We decided on a co-designing workshop in order to come with ideas from potential users of the library.”

The workshop participants also looked at the building, to create a user-friendly and accessible library system for everyone.

In order to redesign the library, we needed creative people with problem-solving skills. So a call went out to involve the community.

Remi: “I was greatly impressed by the work of the organizers. The methodology hinged on teamwork exercises accessible to all (easy to understand by anyone). But also the public, widely different people who looked genuinely interested to contribute. The respect of younger ones for the older generation was notable for me, a Westerner. And the atmosphere during the workshop was great. Collective work, excellent atmosphere. I remember thinking that what I was seeing definitely felt encouraging for the future of the country.”

The Social Innovation Hub will get back together after the summer to talk about future possibilities.

Who's involved: Who is in the team? Roles and responsibilities? Skillsets

The team basically consists of Elva, @remi Boisonnais - CospoT, @ericnbarrett - Jumpstart, @Boris - WeHelp, @Khatuna - UNDP, Caroline Sutcliffe - Chaikhana, David Khosroshvili – Potters, Levan Pangani – Oikos, and me. So far, it has been Ninutsa, Remi or I who have initiated the meetings. Notes were made by someone who volunteered, and activities were also assigned to people who volunteered for them. It works well, because people do what they want to do. Unfortunately, for some it was for work, while for others it was in their lunch breaks. But I guess this is something you always see with new initiatives.

What, other than money, do you think could help you in your work?

Definitely a space. The one thing we need for this to work out, is to have a physical space. And finding one that ticks all the boxes has been quite challenging.

And of course ideas. Or advice. People who have done similar things. What worked, what didn’t.

What help could you offer others and under which conditions (assuming no money is involved)?

Our network, our knowledge, our space (once we have one). Anything really.

What should those who really wish to understand the work know?

We don’t really produce any products (yet). Except for interesting discussions at the meetings we have. Right now no costs are involved, except for the drinks or food we order when we meet at the cafes/restaurants we frequent for the meet-ups.

Existing alternatives: Who else is doing similar or relevant work/offering similar things- locally and or elsewhere?

Localy, it’s Remi from Co-spot, who set up the first co-working place in Georgia. And also Generator 9.8. They were set up a few weeks ago. I also heard from Remi that the Italian Cultural Institute set up a co-working place. But they all focus more on freelancers having a place to work and connect, rather than having organizations hosted permanently in the same space. I think that’s where the idea significantly differs. Although, I believe @remi would like to be able to offer this to his clients as well. More about Co-Spot you can read here.

Mutual support, collaboration?

We’re open to anyone wanting to join, and we would love to share our manpower/ideas/knowledge with other projects out there.

On behalf of Elva and WeHelp we sent an applications for funding have been sent out. We will see what happens to them…