Collaboration for Impact: Lessons Gleaned From The SoCreative Hub Summit.

“The purpose of the wheel hub is to serve as the glue between the tire and the axle. Tires are attached with studs to the hub assembly. The hub assembly then fits on the axle, which connects the tire component to the rest of the car. Because the wheel hub is the bridge between the tire and the entire vehicle, if one of its parts breaks down, it creates a ripple effect. That could include problems such as impaired steering or a broken axle.” (howstuffworks)

I spent the past year doing a lot of research around hub structuring and what needs we were looking to fulfill as a hub at Voices of Fashion, for which I am the founding director. Working with micro to small-scale producers and other stakeholders such as ZimTrade and the Harare International Festival of the Arts, we were coming to a space where we understood that product development was principle in ensuring that our producers build sustainable business models but we faced questions around impact and sustainability.  Therefore, the opportunity to be involved in the SoCreative Hub Summit held this past March in Johannesburg was very timely. The process leading up to the summit, including the summit itself, helped put everything into perspective.

At Voices of Fashion, which is a virtual hub much in its conception, we understood earlier on that we were not an incubator, rather, we focus on developing products in a collaborative way in which people bring in their products, speak to what inspired them, and we help add value, and to innovate for scalable product lines as a collective. We understood that a lot of our work would be based on market access and understanding the trade value chain, which is key to product development, otherwise you produce products without competitive advantage on the market.  This is the work we were doing over the past year, which we meticulously documented working with different stakeholders as well as the artisans.

When the invitation came to work with Zimbabwean hubs in the build up to the SoCreative Summit, we looked forward to learning what would help advance the Voices of Fashion cause, and to build robust models that would ensure sustainable impact for our hubs.

Team Harare at the SoCreative Hub Summit.

 

During this process, there was questioning around what value could be brought to the summit. I was excited because as a content creator, this was a space that I actually had content for, and I was looking forward to seeing how I could synergize it all.

In partnership with the British Council, DICE (Developing Inclusive and Creative Economies) and Hivos, the SoCreative Hub Summit was aimed at connecting two seemingly different worlds – creative and social economies and drive the development of versatile and resilient hubs in Southern Africa. By bringing together innovators, visionaries, start-ups, SMMEs, hub managers and hub users together to discuss the potential opportunities for entrepreneurial partnerships and growth between the two economies. (SoCreative Hub Summit).

Shortly after, I was introduced to Molemo Moiloa who was leading the summit programming team. Initially, conversations between Molemo and I were over Skype and Email. We discussed elements that could feed into the comprehensive summit program working with seasoned and experienced minds on this hub summit programming team.

We continued to throw in ideas of how things would unpack at the summit, including the fact that facilitators needed to have conversations with members of their panels to preempt the value they would be adding to the program. My amazing panel, which focused on impact, included the Melissa Wong, Thandi Dyani, and Khwezi Fudu.

From the get go, there was a show of what it means to collaborate meaningfully. We collaborated to create a bigger and better SoCreative Summit and to ensure that whatever the panel delivered would serve a purpose and be impactful. When impact is your end result, you bring people onto your team that work to ensure that the bigger chunk of the picture is unpacked and have conflicting views to ensure that you leave no stone unturned. At the core of it, impact requires a very thorough analysis of all the proposed issues. It is an open-ended test that requires you to fill the different values that feed into the value chain of the project you are working on.

Colleagues at the summit, it was serious work.

 

Arriving in Johannesburg, for the SoCreative Summit, topping my list was the need to understand how other hubs had managed to develop and sustain their mandate and very important, how they were measuring impact. The Voices of Fashion hub is self-funded; following the foam meets function rational.

I was very excited and went in guns blazing with my team which included my six month old son Kudzwai, and Jennifer who helps care for my son whilst I travel around for work. I meticulously took down notes as I thought of all the people I wanted to meet, the conversations I wanted to explore and the outcomes I wanted to come from the SoCreative Hub Summit as a whole.

It takes a village.

 

It was an intense two and a half days of very progressive and very relevant agenda items including discussions on remembering why you started. The summit concluded with an intense discussion on impact, which I facilitated, and it was an important way to set the tone for what a hub summit needs to do regionally and globally.

It was great learning about the work that Nesta UK has been doing in Southern Africa. The summit gave access to top officials from different organizations and it was great interacting with Hivos representatives including the regional director Tanja Lubbers, Roland Davis the director for British Council Zimbabwe and many other top players from around the world that attended the summit to showcase their support for the hub sector and its relevance to creating robust economies.

Hivos and British Council signing an MOU to work together.

I also interacted with hub founders and government officials from Malawi, Brazil, Botswana, South Africa, and the Netherlands and it was really informative to learn how they run their hubs. To see their drive and passion and to understand where they want to go. A wealth of information, I came out feeling like I had won the lottery.

I remember on one of the summit days having a moment to myself and sitting down to do a recording about how it took a lot of collaboration and support for me to attend the hub summit with my 6 month old. This took me back to a story I wrote prior around women redefining postnatal workspaces, and how with the right support, women can still achieve their goals. I am a mother and wife first and then, a businesswoman, but working in collaboration allowed me to fulfill my role as a businesswoman whilst tending to my role as a mother.

A lot of the times when we ask if women can do it all, I feel that is not the right question to ask. I like to put a spin to this and challenge people to understand that everything has a season. There is a season to have children and a season to work lopsided hours, and my current season is allowing me to balance the two. There are seasons were this would be absolutely impossible, but that does not make us less equal or less able. It just means that we understand our priorities and as a mother, my safety and the wellbeing of my child come first; the same goes for my husband. Women fulfilling their passions is a relevant topic and the question is, how do we collaborate to make this happen?

Team motherhood and career! Women chasing goals

Finally, the SoCreative Hub Summit opened up the idea of forming an apex hub body, a ‘hub of hubs’, for the main purposes of developing efficient monitoring and evaluation models. Interestingly, this was the outcome of the Hub Issues Series in Zimbabwe. The summit left us with the  ‘HOW’ question. From my analysis of the summit, it clarified that there is an urgent need to ‘design’ or ‘redesign’ the operation process of the hub sector in Southern Africa.  As an upcoming hub ourselves, we are in a space where we are thinking of how to measure impact in a transparent way and how to define our product in order to ensure that our end goal is sustainable. We intend to be a connector for micro to small-scale producers working to increase market access through innovative product development, and through cross cutting industry collaboration. As we work to build the team that will work to shape and sharpen our mandate, the summit taught us that monitoring & evaluation starts right at the beginning, as they work to inform the scope of the strategy applied.

A year later, I am beginning to see that the whole point of a hub is to tie elements together in a coherent and collaborative way, in order to keep the wheel spinning. If the hub is not tight enough, the wheel detaches, leaving everything to fall apart. With that image, the SoCreative Hub served to teach us of the very essence of why we started, and the importance of transparent and legitimate mandate.