Last weekend I became a Hammamet Fellow for the second time and once again was inspired by the level of knowledge, innovation and in many cases how to innovate frugally by uber talented “Tech for Good” entrepreneurs throughout the North African region.

If you don’t know the Hammamet conference it is held in Tunisia annually, organized by the British Council with the aim of creating a space for open honest conversation and establishing networks between the UK (including Northern Ireland) and North Africa — Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Libya and Morocco.

This year I came away with many, many questions with the overarching one “how do I help and what can I bring to the table?” Immediately the imposter syndrome kicks in and you wonder do I really have the knowledge and skills to really help support these emerging entrepreneurs and technologies coming out of Egypt and the Maghreb? After much head scratching back here in the cold and wet of Belfast and reflecting on those key internal queries that I’ve struggled with since returning I believe that the answer is yes. I believe I can help in some small way and that the combined UK knowledge that was at Hammamet can help to harness these bright and capable entrepreneurs with the knowledge, skills, resources and opportunities that they need to build sustainable business models not just in their own North African countries but also on the UK, EU and global stage.

So, how do we do this? From my own perspective I think we have three key challenges:

Deeper listening to the needs of entrepreneurs in North Africa.

It’s always a challenge to do this with all the noise (i.e. competing business needs etc.) in our heads and assumptions that we have. A couple of years ago I was fortunate enough to be asked to facilitate sessions for the Work 4 Progress project in India. The key strand of work was social enterprise and teaching people in rural communities how to establish new businesses. However, the starting point was not funding and developing business plans, a staple for enterprise agencies here in the UK but to first educate the local entrepreneurs on how to listen to their community and identify what the needs are, driving (social) innovation.

In my article “Building Community Led Innovation Eco-Systems” which I wrote for La Caixa Foundation on the back of this work I state that it’s all about “starting a conversation” and that’s certainly what happened at the Hammamet Conference. However, designing meaningful and innovative solutions for new innovators and social entrepreneurs across North Africa begins with understanding their needs, hopes and aspirations for the future. It is essential that we (UK) tread lightly and listen deeply — you must believe that people from all backgrounds and nationalities are able to tell their story and put forward their ideas for change and in the impending 4th Industrial Revolution era that means scalable Tech for Good innovations.

By keeping the conversations going from Hammamet we will be able to focus on three core aspects:

1. Connecting a diverse movement of people across countries who are passionate about creating a fairer place to live;

2. Be able to amplify the evolving narratives of place a foundational step in innovation; and

3. Be able to support people and their communities who have ideas for social actions (i.e. social entrepreneurship, tech for good etc.).

At Hammamet I had the privilege of taking part in a workshop on “Youth and the Digital and Social Revolution”. Our Voices for Impact work is one area that I have identified that can be used to support organisations across North Africa to fully understand the young people in their communities and acknowledge that these young people have a voice and are the changemakers of the future. By enabling these young people to have a voice not only do we unleash the latent talent that these young people have but also build new a new eco-system of innovation support structures based on trust.

Introducing Voices for Impact

Bottom up trust is as critical as bottom up innovation and if communities are to drive innovation, they also need a voice that can change policy at the top (governments) leading to more innovation friendly policies and support structures.

However, there is a “fly in the ointment!” In, a recent Medium article by Jayne Engle she writes about the “Tragedy of Declining Trust” and how:

“trust is a critical factor in raising our collective consciousness in ways that will yield better social outcomes. By trust, I don’t mean a conscious act of commitment, but rather a culture or attitude which is strengthened or weakened in day-to-day activities: exchanges between people, in our transactions, relationships of reciprocity and in our ever-evolving social contracts.

Trust is sometimes called the glue of society, and it is arguably the most important foundation for all healthy relationships — social, familial, romantic, economic and societal.”

The Hammamet Conference can be that “glue of society” building trust across North Africa and the United Kingdom brokered by the British Council.

Collective Action and Movement Building: The Hammamet Collective

Collective action is required across all the countries represented at Hammamet and any innovation that comes out of ongoing discussions and collaborations needs to be underpinned by the formation of micro-movements and this primary vehicle can deliver genuinely transformational social change. My proposed theory or “Hammamet Collective” brings together a number of key mechanisms that need to be present across collaborations to form effective micro-movements which can connect into larger international movements.

As a “Hammamet Collective” we will need to:

1. Recognise the collective problem: What is the key issue(s) that the Hammamet Collective wants to address. If its something as broad as inequality across countries we already know that inequality is corrosive as it impacts adversely upon people’s individual lives, upon their communities, and upon our global society in general. Often this recognition pre-exists in a place(s) and can be the basis for initial discussions.

2. An understanding of the scale of the challenge:We have already discussed at Hammamet that the multiple social issues that we are facing across North Africa and the UK are highly complex, multi-factorial and manifest in many ways. This complexity means it is not amenable to simple solutions or single sector or single country approaches. Again, the British Council can be an “honest broker” acting as a catalyst for innovation and transformation.

3. A belief that change is possible: Many of the discussions at Hammamet started with a negative and that’s not a criticism just an observation! Social issues, inequality etc. is not inevitable, and much of it persists partly due to dominant narrative which sustains the myth that it is inevitable and entrenched, and as a result, it cannot be challenged. This leads to piecemeal approaches which seek only to mitigate its worst effects rather than disrupt and eradicate its causes. Inequality is neither inevitable nor acceptable.

4. Collective Action — the Hammamet Collective: Momentum for change must be people-led (i.e. the wider Hammamet community). Communities and places that have seen positive transformation demonstrate that all parts can come together around the values which they share if they carry the core conviction that a different and fairer future is possible. It will only be with the conviction of those involved at Hammamet that real change can be made.

5. A connection between recognition and action: New ideas coming out of the Hammamet conference must connect to a shared narrative of transformation. To have an impact these new ideas and ways of working must connect to values which are shared between and across the countries involved in Hammamet, and which buy-in to a collective narrative about a positive future. Without this connection I fear that new innovations and collaborations will fail due to lack of support, contribution, and advocacy, from their supporters, beneficiaries, funders and governments. For new cohesive innovation to have a lasting impact across North Africa, there must be deep integration and interconnection between initiatives to form a new North Africa/UK movement of transformation.

The Art of Co-Creation: The “Linchpin” of Innovation

For a the Hammamet Collective to work we will need to develop an open innovation platform where deeper conversations lead to divergent thinking and the creation of what I call a “Framework of Curiosity” confirming understanding between the organisations in the Hammamet Collective (i.e. trust and true empathy). A platform of International collaboration and co-creation can be created leading to numerous idea sparks and through convergent thinking we can begin to work on sustainable and scalable ideas.

Co-creation is defined on Wikipedia as “an initiative” or form of strategy, that brings different parties together to jointly produce a mutually valued outcome. For the Hammamet Collective we need to re-frame the definition to “an international initiative or form of co-design and co-production bringing people together to jointly produce a mutually valued outcome for those organisations and their associated countries.”

In a true business context, co-creation is not easy as highlighted by McKinsey “Involving outsiders in the creative process of developing products and services is harder than it sounds…… While attempts to create products or services jointly may produce desirable side effects — in the form of reduced market-research costs or increased customer loyalty — the ultimate goal of bringing outstanding products to the market remains elusive.”

However, within innovation in places where significant dialogue (conversations) and research has been undertaken this culminates in storytelling sessions connecting lived experience and expertise in the community and enabling it to be heard. This acts as a catalyst for people to be inspired, leading to effective partnerships and collaboration within the community. Critical to this process is expert facilitation and mentoring which should and can be provided by the UK element of the Hammamet Collective.

Co-creation should naturally flow from this series of steps and is crucial to developing ideas. It could be stated that co-creation is the linchpin that connects all the components of a community-led innovation pathway.

In its simplest form co-creation is:

  • Conversations within the Hammamet Collective leading to divergent thinking;
  • A “Framework of Curiosity” develops and people confirm understanding of each other — True Empathy;
  • The Hammamet Collective gels together and numerous “idea sparks” (concepts) begin to flow;
  • People begin to focus on a specific issue or “common purpose” (causes) leading to convergent thinking, re-framing of questions and assumptions, and identifying key ideas.

Or as a formula (5 C’s):

Co-Creation = Conversations + Curiosity + Concepts (ideas) + Cause (purpose)

Final Thoughts

So, the ramble is over and it’s time to put some concrete actions in place. For the Hammamet Collective to become a strong and cohesive eco-system I propose that we create a platform that creates “Collective Impact” which will involve all organisations willing to drive innovation and collaboration within the Hammamet Collective. This model put forward by Mark Kramer and Marc Pfitzer is made up of five core components:

  • A common agenda: we already have that collective agreement to work together within Hammamet;
  • A shared measurement system;
  • Mutually reinforcing activities;
  • Constant communication; and
  • Dedicated back-bone support: British Council

My commitment to Hammamet will be:

  • Keep the conversations going and support organisations across North Africa to encourage deeper listening and give them access to knowledge and open innovation developed here in the UK and globally;
  • Support the Hammamet Collective in forming multi-national micro movements developing skills and locating resources to enable changemakers to create transformative change;
  • Support the acceleration of Tech for Good ideas and broker wider innovation conversations within my global connections; and
  • Work with the British Council to develop a strong and sustainable Hammamet Collective (innovation eco-system) in whatever way is required.

At Bytes we’re always happy to chat so please get in touch if you’re interested in our work — [email protected]