Rocking the boat through social enterprise

Posted on April 10, 2014

The largely open-plan concept 3,100-square-foot space includes a lounge area with views of the bustling Robert Sobukwe Road. There is a corner nook by the fireplace perfect for brainstorming sessions, with two meeting rooms and a seminar room for when privacy is needed. In designing the space, it was important to me to develop an environment where members are inspired to be innovate, are able to work collectively as a group as well as have the potential to bump into their next business partner.

The Social Hub in Johannesburg is a communal workspace that caters specifically for entrepreneurs focused on the emerging world of social entrepreneurship. While members work in fields which some might even think bizarre, all must tailor their projects around a social or an environmental cause.

Coming from an engineering background, it is often unexpected that I have turned to social entrepreneurship as a career path. I have had the opportunity to be exposed to some of the social challenges impacting the continent during my time working with engineers without borders at the University of Cape Town. At first, I followed the natural steps of my degree. But, then I had my aha! moment when I found the space in the midst of a social engagement with a work colleague.

I purposely created a space with luxury café-style seating and chic deco because of my understanding of the roles that cafés play in the initial stages of most entrepreneurial journeys. Also because I was inspired by a hub space in Asia. Currently, most self-employed entrepreneurs looking to schedule appointments (and get out of the house) set up shop in a café. The space was created to serve as an extension of that: create an active environment that allowed for businesses to operate effectively in. Members pay a monthly fee which is dependent on their use of the space. It also gives power to the customer to place value on the service offering based on their own access to a space and the chance to connect with others who value the qualities of social entrepreneurship, as well as programming like workshops and lectures.

I am often asked why I would charge social entrepreneurs (people who are creating both economic and social/ environmental solutions for the economy) to use the space. The answer is simple: “had I not charged, I and my business partner would be still looking for funding, instead of creating the space.”

There is an evolution in the social entrepreneurship world. With definitions becoming clear and policies being pushed forward (allowing entrepreneurs to apply for tax breaks and other forms of funding) I am excited, to say the least. Being able to enter this market and be an active participant in it makes me feel like I am a part of something bigger than myself. “I like to rock the boat. I guess this is my way of doing it.”

Tebz, 31