Sparking Social Innovation in Egypt: The Flash Hub (II)

World’s First Official Flash Hub

Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt. 16:00 Jan 25 2011

Place: Makan, by Sa’d Zaghloul Station. Cairo, Egypt
Date: Monday June 6th, 2011*
Time: 7:30-11:00pm

The Flash hub is a fusion of two concepts: A Flash Mob, & a Hub. A Flash Mob is this: A Hub, like a bee hive, is a place of convergence- converging ideas, efforts, innovation, collaboration, etc.. In the context of Social Enterprise, it is where social entrepreneurs and the people working to make the world a better place sustainably individually or collectively call home (for their work). *The Flash Hub is proudly a 100% Egyptian, Post-Revolution innovation.* Its format and concept are shared here out of a firm sense of unity with the world’s peoples & a belief that it can help bring those working towards acquiring a space to host & support social innovators a step closer to drawing support from their local community & achieving their dream.

Why a Flash Hub? One could argue for the perpetual need of any city to have at least one ‘Centre for Social Innovation’ in it; a place individuals, groups, & NGOs call home as they operate on different ways to make the world a better place. In light of the revolution in Egypt, there has been a tremendous spike in the need for a space to accommodate these sporadic efforts. The civil groups that emerged after January 25th all have very similar characteristics: Youth, often people who recently met as a direct result of the revolution, varying group sizes, incredible momentum, incredible optimism, & no place to work.

The brave souls of Egypt willing to fight the good fight and spend an increased amount of their time for social causes- political & environmental awareness, economic development, human rights & social justice, political & environmental activism, cultural activism, etc.. these hundreds of new grassroots efforts sprang forth on the scene immediately after February 11th (many during the protests) and (without need for surprise) the societal infrastructure in place never could have hoped to be prepared for them.

The problem is this: As youth now working on the civil front of making Egypt a better place we meet in one of three places: noisy expensive cafes with pop/top 40/electronica dancing in our ears; affordable street cafes that are noisy with people talking and cars honking and black smoke and whatever else you can expect from your average city street; or we meet at someone’s house and eventually have to keep our voices down when the kids sleep early or the parents have work the next day. Some have been fortunate to be loaned spaces by businesses, older NGOs, or burgeoning political parties (when circumstances allow) to meet and organize, but even those cases are no where near comfortable & certainly don’t lend themselves to any sense of stability.

In short, there is no place to accommodate the tremendous energy and enthusiasm and activity going in to making Egypt better. And no one place ever will. For the most part, the spaces available are governmental buildings (In Egypt many governmental buildings are old, historic buildings that are absolutely stunning and would be very fitting for co-working spaces- except they are under government bureaucracy- so repel any attempt at rejuvenation for now); places for consumption; or private places. What we need are community ‘centers’ with the spirit of revolution, places where you can come work on making the world a better place however you like to.

Straight to it- The Flash Hub- Event Details:
The Flash Hub is split in three phases; 1- Ideation 2- Presentation 3- Collaboration.

1. Ideation

Each person is given big white canvas sheets with pens & markers. You are given 40 minutes to think openly, creatively, & visually about a project you are dedicating your time to or wish to begin. This time is dedicated to your project, you are asked to put your phones on silent and think of nothing but your project; how to bring it to life, who you would need to contact, what the next step is, what you don’t have, the steps you need to make it happen or take it to the next level, etc.. You are also served a warm drink of your choice at this time. If you are part of a group, you may work on the same project.

Thinking of a better Egypt

2. Presentation

After a brief break, time is given to each person to summarize their project & what they hope to achieve by it. 3 minutes for just ideas, 4 minutes for those actually in the middle of execution. Bias towards action, & the point is brevity.

3. Collaboration

Finally, the floor is open for discussion & collaboration. Participants are encouraged to engage others about their ideas, to network, and familiarize themselves with each other & their projects.
This is the recommended time break-down for a Flash Hub: 30 minutes open doors, 40 minutes canvas-paper ideation/development, 75 minutes presentation, 75 minutes open space for collaboration.. Average attendance of 20-25 participants.

It is also suggested that you pick a monthly date and stick to it as much as possible to make it a regular event- this gives a sense of normalcy an allows more people to prepare to come and invite their friends- and invite their friends they will.

The Flash Hub is a tool. Standing alone, it is a regular gathering with a pre-determined format. However, as part of a well-thought out plan to acquiring a space, or even to pull focus towards any idea- it is a highly-effective tool.

So here’s hoping every city in every country in the world has a place beaconing light and hope by supporting those who propagate the light of hope in credence of a better tomorrow.

In my next post, I’ll introduce the organizational context of the Flash Hub in Egypt, and will review who came in & lessons learned.

* A total of 5 Flash Hubs have been hosted thus far, 3 unofficial ones to test the concept, and 2 official ones in Cairo. We are no longer keeping count. In Cairo the Flash Hub has been in hold for the month of fasting (Ramadan) and will resume in one month’s time. To be informed of the next Flash Hub in Cairo, please email or follow ahmed @elfalakiste


This post is part of the “Sparking Social Innovation in Egypt” series. Ahmed Nazmi currently resides in Cairo, Egypt, where he is co-founder of ‘El Raseef’, a Social Enterprise whose purpose is to liberate innovation in Egypt. We do this by co-creating the social, cultural, educational & practical space to create, innovate, & collaborate. Currently, we are actively pursuing 3 projects:

1- A monthly booklet called El Raseef with 3 chapters addressing the affectionately named “time-bomb demographic” (ages 18-30); Khorougat, Maharat, & Shabaket Wasl; focusing respectively on better spending free time, learning & doing things you love to do, & community work in Egypt.
2- A monthly meeting (Flash Hub) hosted by El Raseef.
3- Drive to open a Centre for Social Innovation in downtown Cairo, Egypt. (Uber-Hybrid co-working coffee house for wisdom, arts, & social work). This place is a place for people to love Egypt the way they best know how to, whatever way that is.

Ahmed Nazmi

On Jan 21st Ahmed arrived to Cairo, 7 months after graduating and 4 days before the revolution that would change his life & (everyone else's) forever. Although he travels the Middle East frequently, Ahmed currently resides in Cairo, Egypt, where he co-founded with his then newly-found revolution-friends ‘El Raseef’. ‘El Raseef’ (Arabic for ‘The Sidewalk’) is a Social Enterprise that works to foster, support & connect innovative grassroots approaches to everyday problems (under registration). We make it our mission to remove the obstacles that stand before creativity, grassroots efforts, and civic solutions to civil problems. El Raseef advocates for mass localism and believes we are experiencing a fundamental paradigm shift in the way we approach our lives- a shift where government role has to be much more minimal and citizens have a much more active role in their daily lives.  Essentially, El Raseef is an invitation to all those who enter Egypt- an invitation to live today, the Egypt we all dream of tomorrow. El Raseef’s website is currently under construction. ---- Born & raised in Egypt, Ahmed spent his first 10 years growing up in his first love, Cairo, Egypt. He moved to Toronto with his family to spend the next thirteen years of his life in Toronto where he studied International Relations & Middle Eastern Studies at UofT, dreaming of one day returning to Egypt & being part of the change he wanted to see there. He caught the Social Enterprise bug in Toronto as a first year International Relations undergrad- and that has made all the difference.

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