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Just a thought: Cape Town needs a Social Impact/ Urban Incubator

November 16, 2013

This is an extract taken from a letter I sent to some government officials recently…

“This past week I attended a board meeting of Open Streets, in my capacity as a board advisor. If you’re not familiar with “Open Streets”, its an initiative that closes down busy suburban streets (approximately 1km) for an afternoon of pedestrian activities, flea markets etc…to improve pedestrians’ interaction with ‘streets’. The model was adopted from the Colombian city of Bogota.

From the meeting I learnt that when Lower Main Road, Observatory was recently closed down, between 3000 – 5000 people participated in the initiative, with local businesses experiencing 100% increases in trade on the day of the initiative.

Interestingly the very next day, the Moonlight Mass debacle exploded on Twitter and other social media platforms.

On reflection, I was able to draw a common line amongst these and many other social impact initiatives in Cape Town:

– the initiatives are volunteer driven
– enjoy a groundswell of citizen support (masses of 2000 Capetonians upwards)
– are economically impactful
– encourage economic participation amongst residents (citizens)
– financially vulnerable due to lack of infrastructure support or lack of funding
– have a committed or passion leadership team with dedicated founder

This got me thinking about my current work with the Cape IT Initiative (CITi) and the Bandwidth Barn, and the possibility of establishing a “Social Impact/Urban Incubator” for such initiatives…an initiative not solely dependent on government, but rather initiated, seeded and support by government.

A number of support services could be provided by such an incubator, specifically shared secretariat services, co-working, event spaces and expertise on working within the legal framework of government (as seen recently with Moonlight Mass debacle).

The incubator could also account for the socio-economic impact that some of these initiatives have on the communities they impact. Like the Bandwidth Barn, an incubator would not only offer infrastructure (co-working and eventing spaces) but training programmes and idea validation, as well as a community of like minded people (social impact investors, innovators and beneficiaries).

The establishment of such an incubator would ease government’s current burden of dealing with individual initiatives and would create a referral point for many similar initiatives.

Mass participation initiatives that could benefit from such an incubator (based on my personal knowledge):

– Open Streets
– Moonlight Mass
– Future Cape Town
– Name Your Hood
– Safety Lab
– Langa Quarter
– Open Design
– Maboneng Township Art Experience
– Rockgirl
– Greenpop
– TOMPSA

I’m sure you are aware of many, many others. I’m even sure that competition to enter such an incubator would be fierce and competitive.

Social enterprises are increasingly becoming popular as they straddle the line between charity and commercial ventures, allowing urban innovators to make a decent living without being reliant on grants and handouts.

This is just a thought…”

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