Thursday, August 5, 2010

Our Sweet Home Hub SoMa: A Haven for Social Innovators

By Ashima Sukhdev, Summer Associate and Junior at University of Pennsylvania

Rubicon National. SOCAP. Reach Global. Adaptive Edge. SustainAbility. Acumen Fund. Kiva. Triple Pundit. Mercy Corps. Feel Good. . Singularity Institute. Benetech. Numi Tea. Equal Exchange. Good Capital. Architecture for Humanity. Terrapass. Investors Circle. B Lab. Green Chamber. Alter Eco. Better World Telecom.

Sound like a list of some of the nation’s most exciting green ventures, social enterprises, and development organizations?

That list is just my average day at work.

One of the many fascinating aspects of my summer here in San Francisco has been the office space where New Foundry Ventures is located. New Foundry Ventures' office can be found in a small nook in The Hub: Bay Area – a collaborative workspace located in the SoMa district of San Francisco. The above mentioned are some of the many organizations that we share the space with on any given day.

Aptly labeled “where change goes to work,” the Hub seeks to bring together and engage social enterprises, socially-minded organizations and individuals who dabble in similar ventures. The Hub’s network extends across 5 countries and 24 cities, with work spaces such as the one I spend my week in located all over the world. Members can either choose to have a private office (such as the one New Foundry Ventures occupies) or general membership to the common area.

When my mentor emailed us with the details of the new workspace that they would be moving into, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. The idea seemed riveting, but what did this place look like? What did it feel like to work somewhere like this? Examining the floor map from various angles and scouring the website provided no preparation for the first day.

Firstly, everything is on wheels. Furniture exists to encourage the synergy of the place. You can write on walls in the meeting rooms. The d├ęcor is expectedly on the natural, woody side; my favorite is the conference table that is essentially a tree trunk with a piece of glass on top. There’s a “nest” (literally – you have to climb up a ladder to get to it) with bean bags, cushions and blankets for impromptu meetings and brainstorming sessions. Free flowing fair trade (obviously) coffee and tea are available to re-energize the weary entrepreneurial mind. As a visitor very insightfully exclaimed as she walked into the space – “Is this a library for adults!?”.

And it seems like it. Except this library is filled to the brim with global thought leaders, with a common aim to change the world. While the Hub is still experiencing a few growing pains (Hub SoMa can still be considered a toddler in comparison to the rest, at only 12 weeks), this place holds promise. The extent of the collaboration in the first few weeks was basic: what item should each of us bring to contribute to the group’s “Sexy Salad” Thursday lunches. Now, however, as members are beginning to get familiar with each other, the real synergies coming out of this space are obvious. Members reach out to each other for help both formally and informally: from legal services to logo advice. They learn about new opportunities through each other, and continue to broaden their networks. At night, the Hub transforms into a host space for events, and members (myself included) are beginning to experience the benefits of being able to attend events such as “Social Enterprise from Scratch”, “The Kiva Social” and the “Unreasonable Institute’s West Coast Pitch Fest” without really stepping away from their desks.

A seasoned “Hubber” now, I do wonder what it’ll be like having to adjust back to cubicles, white walls and an office full of people working for the same organization as me. In the mean time, the Hub Bay Area makes my 9 to 5 just that bit more exhilarating.

See the Fast Company photo (above) and read their feature article on Hub Soma.

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