The progress of a society may be born from the actions of people in small projects with social impact. Art can be a powerful transforming tool, technology can be adapted for seniors to enjoy it easily, and audiovisual companies can give visibility to stories of vulnerable groups.
The Human Power Hub in Braga is the centre that supports the acceleration and incubation of entrepreneurial ideas oriented towards social impact for a more inclusive city. Successful social innovation has much to do with different stakeholders working to improve people’s lives, so why not bring everything together?
“The hub is humans working with different actors from the quadruple helix to be stronger and feel empowered in a city experimenting with transitions and social innovation,” says Carlos Sousa Santos, Resilience Manager at the Human Power Hub of Braga.
Cities need to engage in social innovation, which is the answer to many of the problems that we are currently facing. We must rethink economy, public action, public engagement, citizenship, and the social trends cities promote
Companies, citizens, the public sector, and university researchers – the so-called quadruple helix – meet in the hub to create solutions to societal problems. “We need to engage everybody from the helix to spin around and generate energy. And make cities move to the front,” Sousa Santos adds.
Art as a social tool
The Resilience Manager explains everything started by working with locals, empowering them with social entrepreneurship and bootcamps. And now, “we have reached an interesting ecosystem,” he explains.
The Equilibrium social circus is part of that ecosystem. The organisation aims to prevent problematic adolescent behaviour through the fusion between circus and social intervention, acting as psychosocial transformation. Teenagers receive mentoring and coaching sessions to affirm themselves and increase their resilience in a space that is inclusive, diverse and in proximity.
Disciplines such as trapezing, juggling and clowning improve psychomotor and socio-emotional skills. For instance, they boost the sense of belonging to a group, trust, respect, perseverance, reasoning, and abstract thinking.
(Re)cognise is another initiative incubated in the Human Power Hub Centre. The artistic project focuses on deconstructing prejudices against minorities in Braga through two theatrical experiences, the theatre of the labyrinth and the theatre of the oppressed.
The first is a sensory experience – sound, physical, gastronomic, psychological – where a blindfolded person follows a route to sensitise to a cause. For example, it can recreate the experience of a refugee. In the second, attendants reinterpret scenes from plays to deconstruct discriminatory behaviours.
Technology as a social ally
The hub engages companies with corporate social responsibility or transitioning to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) model. “The will to change and the will to build something can transform the city in the short and long term,” Sousa Santos explains, that’s why all companies should be engaged.
The Resilience Manager insists on the need to develop awareness among companies, locals, universities, and the public sector – through the different mayors and vice mayors involved in the process. “They need to be aware that we are facing a baseline of situations that need an answer—starting with the climate agreement of Paris, ending with the SDG from the UN. And then pay attention to what the Web 3.0 is,” he adds.
We need to engage everybody from the helix to spin around and generate energy. And make cities move to the front
Web 3.0 is the third generation of online accessible documents and resources. Web 3.0 is meant to be decentralised, open to everyone, and built on top of blockchain technologies that will transform it into a network of meaningfully linked data.
Technology is part of our daily life, but it may still be an unknown tool for senior citizens. Sioslife is a company hosted in the hub that creates interactive and accessible systems for seniors’ social and digital inclusion.
“We believe, as a company and as a community, that the natural advancement of age is no justification for excluding this population segment from the progress that humanity achieves every day and not taking full advantage of all the opportunities and joys that the digital age provides,” states its website.
Sioslife “develops interesting work with cognitive skills with the senior people,” explains Sousa Santos. The intuitive Sioslife software, formulated based on feedback from health experts who work daily with older citizens, contributes to a happier life and reduces senior loneliness and isolation.
Indeed, technology can be an ally in challenging situations. ‘Ler + na PC’ is another technological initiative that, in this case, helps the youngest. The project is committed to improving the readability of texts and developing devices to support children with cerebral paralysis.
Future agents of change
In the hub, selected companies, called ‘Future agents of change’, embark on training and empowerment sessions, with five weeks of intense work in deconstructing the initial idea, maturation, design, prototyping and final implementation of their social innovation initiatives.
Planting the social seed in new generations is also part of the deal. Centurium is an Educational Program that engages students through ancient board games and learning processes that train social skills. The programme goes beyond the school’s walls, triggering social innovation.
If you go deeper into the ecosystem, then it's magic
The hub also hosts Betweien, a startup that teaches children sustainability, entrepreneurship and equality, among others. Betweien involves artists, singers and actors to attract children and young people.
Human Power Hub also offers secondary school students an immersive experience of becoming social entrepreneurs. This makes them interact with different types of social entrepreneurs and experts, learn about new trends and models of social innovation, apart from awakening the entrepreneurial spirit and improve transversal skills such as teamwork, leadership, self-confidence and resilience.
The programme aims to build a more conscious and informed professional path that would contribute to a positive social impact on society.
Social ecosystems trigger social entrepreneurship
Sousa Santos explains that encouraging social ecosystems triggers entrepreneurship within the city. “We have a community from our acceleration programme from our previous incubation. We have a scaling community,” he proudly adds.
But Sousa Santos’s team realised that fostering social entrepreneurship was impossible without the universities that could brainstorm about the urban sector. Therefore, “we developed think tanks around social innovation with university students and researchers to reinforce the knowledge power of the ecosystem,” he states.
In the acceleration programme, the municipality of Braga introduces agile methodologies, such as design thinking, and the most innovative concepts, like the silver economy (designed to meet the needs of people over 50), blue economy (which preserves the health of the ocean ecosystem), green economy (sustainable development without degrading the environment), or orange economy (where goods and services have intellectual value because they are the product of the ideas and expertise of their creators).
The will to change and the will to build something can transform the city
In the hub, work starts with defining the problem, followed by shaping the route to the solution. After that, a prototype initiates, and the outcomes are tested in an experimental city area to check, Sousa Santos says, “if we’re making the theory of change happen.”
The theory of Change is a comprehensive description and illustration of how and why a desired change is expected to happen in a particular context. It is mainly used as an impact evaluation tool “to transform the city and solve the problems that our citizens are identifying and trying to solve,” explains the Resilience Manager.
After that, the quadruple helix takes over by involving the rest of the actors in solving the social problem the entrepreneurs propose to address. The municipality engages through the connected department – environmental, economic, social, sports, etc. – the academy adds knowledge through data and numbers, and investors contribute to the budget.
Last but not least, the hub engages the communities where the problem is happening. The social entrepreneurs connect with the streets and the people living in the area where they are experimenting.
Collaboration as the key to success
The Human Power Hub was a tailor-made initiative born thanks to learning from close cities with experiences, such as Barcelona, Milan, Paris or Malaga.
The centre emerged because of a benchmarking study about many social innovation centres that city officials from Braga visited and the municipality’s synergies with, for example, the Social Innovation Centre of Malaga La Noria, among others.
Not only that, Braga learned from Zaragoza about public policies and how to innovate them, for instance, the Hexagon for Public Innovation (HIP). The HIP acceleration model conceives innovation as networks of conversations, shared wishes, visions and affections. “If you go deeper into the ecosystem, then it’s magic,” Sousa Santos adds.
In the beginning, the team was afraid of not achieving a strong acceleration programme due to the size of the city – Braga has 200,000 inhabitants – but “the numbers we are registering are astounding to us,” says Sousa Santos. At the moment, the Human Power Hub has the capacity to deliver 20 social innovation initiatives per year.
Sousa Santos is proud of the result of the collaboration with stakeholders. “You can only address a complex problem if everybody is on the same page. This way, we can solve a complicated situation and support the community, the planet and the people to have a better place to live,” he states.
You can only address a complex problem if everybody is on the same page. This way, we can solve a complicated situation and support the community, the planet and the people to have a better place to live
The Social Innovation Lab 2023
“Cities need to engage in social innovation, which is the answer to many of the problems that we are currently facing. We must rethink economy, public action, public engagement, citizenship, and the social trends cities promote,” Sousa Santos says.
“We are gaining knowledge from discussions with other Eurocities members about, for example, public procurement, which is crucial to face challenges and face them together,” he adds.
Braga is hosting the Social Innovation Lab on 30 May – 2 June 2023 on the theme: ‘Inclusive digital transition: Using digital technology to increase cities’ capacity for social innovation’.
The Lab in Braga will bring together city representatives from all over Europe to discuss the transformative role digital tools can play in improving the lives of citizens. This potential can only be realised if these technologies are accessible and affordable for all.
Cities are therefore trying to ensure that the social benefits of the digital transition are shared and maximised equitably, especially among those living in marginalised communities.