Citizens make the city

Interview with Carlos Santos by Alex Godson

Carlos Santos is the Resilience Manager at Braga’s Human Power Hub, which, as the city’s new centre for social innovation that was officially opened today, aims to boost social entrepreneurship in the city.

Following Braga’s involvement in the Urbact project, ‘boosting social innovation’, in which the city’s representatives learned about social innovation in many other cities, and after a successful funding application through the European Social Fund, the city decided to capitalise on its knowledge by creating a new way of promoting social innovation through offering support to start ups.

In the words of the city’s mayor, Ricardo Rio, “we have created an incubator of social innovation projects, the human power hub, which aims to develop initiatives that meet the current challenges of society.”

So, Carlos, what is the Human Power Hub all about?

The Human Power Hub is a social innovation centre, but a disruptive one.

For us, social innovation is about systematic change, it’s when you find a problem and when you are able to fix that problem on a long term basis. We are asking people to identify social problems that are affecting society and we are finding a way to make a change. And social impact is connected.

We are also working in a different way, we are not working with impact in the abstract, and we are experimenting with things like social currency. So, we are asking citizens to define problems that could exist in Braga, not only in the urban area, but also in the rural areas of the municipality and we are trying to empower them in different kinds of ways to think about different possibilities to address the same problem. We support these people to build start-ups with social impact orientation to solve the problems they themselves have identified.

Great, so how does this work?

We are very focussed on the quadruple helix, so the whole concept was designed under the quadruple helix theory, which brings in citizens through the range of discussion.

We are working as well with organisations from the third sector, so we are working with organisations that have the responsibility to deal with people who are handicapped, who work with people with mental health problems, people who work with questions connected to unemployment, with migrants, with refugees, and we offer a kind of entrepreneurial model to them.

What we are doing at the moment is trying to identify opportunities to create social businesses with impact.

For example, we have the Red Cross in Braga that has a shop where they are collecting clothes that people are not using anymore. They give jobs to people to develop a talent in tailoring, and then they are reselling these clothes that were repaired by these people.

Then there is another company, shoelution, that collects shoes people are not wearing any more. They are recovering the shoes, personalising and then selling them again.

Another one, BeCoffee, uses leftovers from coffee to make composite materials that can substitute plastic.

What does it mean for Braga when it describes itself as a ‘youth city’ and how does this fit in with the idea of the Human Power Hub?

The situation is really demanding for young people nowadays, all of them with a college degree and no job opportunities. If our young people do not have job opportunities, who is going to pay taxes in cities, who will buy houses and renovate houses that are falling down, who is going to attract investment and business. So, we are focussed in the Human Power Hub on young people that are between 23 and 30 years old. Many of them are very well qualified, and many of them, are not at work.

And our young people are an asset. If we don’t have a strategy to involve them for example on impact, to help solve social problems, you are sending away your best asset to do this.

If we can change a generations’ mindset, we will change the way we experience social problems, the way we build impact, so I really think we need to change the paradigm about working with young people

Why should citizens care about this?

It’s not only about voting one time in four years and expecting someone to solve the problems, we need to start from the bottom up, so if citizens are not aware about the difficulties, they will not mobilise and without people’s mobilisation it’s impossible for our politicians to solve things. You need to involve citizens in requests.

The city is taking a participative approach in many sectors. For example, we have a participative budget. Every year citizens can propose actions to be held under the municipality and get some basic to do it.

In the Human Power Hub our bootcamp is an accelerator programme to work with citizens….we selected entrepreneurs that might have a good idea but who need to work better on the business plan, maybe they need to focus on what is the problem they really want to address…The most important thing is for them to understand what impact means and what is the difference between having a start-up that is focussed on profit and a start-up that is focussed on impact.

It’s different models, in one you are trying to capture value and in the other you are showing value, and this means the business plans are different. You are not talking about start-ups that will fundraise millions, no, we are talking about start-ups that will work with microcredit systems to work on the territory and fix problems that we all have.

Find out more here.

Alex Godson Eurocities Writer