Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Sophia Hubs

Sophia Hubs are a network of local, wisdom-based incubators for new businesses and social enterprises, harnessing the wisdom and resources of the faith traditions, leading to sustainable social and economic development and change.

Sophia Hubs aim to enable people of all faiths and none to participate in economic and social regeneration, inspired by shared values of justice, collaboration and sustainability.

The Seven Kings & Newbury Park Sophia Hub pilot was launched yesterday at St John's Seven Kings.

Those attending the launch heard a range of perspectives on social enterprise, its community building capacities and its relevance to faith communities. Aidan Ward (Sophia Hubs) outlined the main facets of the services which the pilot will deliver in the local community (including incubation spaces, training, a timebank, and business connections) and its potential to enable new businesses with a community spirit which cover gaps in services and help people do more for each other.

Alvaro Abdala (Teen Challenge) gave an example of a successful social enterprise by speaking about the genesis and running of the faith-based car mechanics enterprise he manages, while Monica Abdala (Redbridge Street Pastors) explained the potential social enterprises have to assist women working the streets who wish to leave prostitution.

One strand of the pilot will involve exploring connections between wisdom and work through discussion and dialogue. A taster for this aspect of the pilot's work was included in the launch programme with input on faith and enterprise from Hindu (Jay Lakhani, Hindu Academy), Jewish (Steve Miller, Faith-based Regeneration Network) and Christian (Rev. Rosy Fairhurst, Sophia Hubs) perspectives.

Jay Lakhani suggested that projects like this pilot engage with participant's desires and dreams which are both deeply human and deeply spiritual. Steve Miller highlighted Jewish understandings of social enterprise as addressing issues of relationality and justice. While charity tends to be a one way relationship, supporting people into business involves a mutuality of investment and can deliver more sustainable outcomes. Rosy Fairhurst spoke about entrepreneurial activity as a reflection of a creative, risk-taking God and also explained that the name, Sophia Hubs, was deliberately taken from the Greek word for wisdom in order to highlight the intent to tap the wisdom of all communities, faith-based or otherwise.

Myra Whiskar, the newly appointed Project Coordinator and Developer for the Sophia Hub pilot, was introduced to those present. The Sophia Hub pilot will open for business in September, when Myra's work on the pilot will also commence.

A variety of forms of involvement with the pilot are possible including as: business mentors, incubation users, investors, management group members or timebank volunteers. An initial Sophia Course will aim to empower people in identifying and addressing issues of shared local concern with ideas for new social enterprises being generated as a result. Many of those present at the launch responded positively to the opportunity for involvement.      

Social enterprises are businesses with a social or environmental mission; businesses where society profits. Timebanking is a means of exchange used to organise people and organisations around a purpose, where time is the principal currency. For every hour participants ‘deposit’ in a timebank, perhaps by giving practical help and support to others, they are able to ‘withdraw’ equivalent support in time when they themselves are in need.

Social enterprises have the potential to connect the private and not-for-profit sectors in ways which challenge and change both sectors. This launch event shared that vision, outlined the model to be used by the Sophia Hub pilot, generated responses from those attending, and began an ongoing debate about the connections between wisdom and work.

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