I feel part of many differing global urban tribes. The last year I studied and participated in several eco systems for social entrepreneurship all over the world, and digital tools enable me to stay connected although I am not in the city any more. I am part of many social, cultural and professional tribes, and it’s my quest to create, grow and stimulate tribes that make social impact. Focussing on the city that I have lived in for ten years, before I started to travel, my favorite 5 Urban Tribes in Amsterdam are:
- All communities that empower youth, like de Weekend Academie, Academie van de Stad, Weekendschool, New Urban Collective, Don Bosco, The Colour Kitchen and many many more. People who understand the social inequality that we are bron in, and the need to respond to this as a society. Not with pity, but with creating possibilities and opening up networks. I highly respect and admire this, and am very happy that Amsterdam hosts many of these organizations.
- The Ministry off… Maybe this is cheating a little bit, because it’s a tribe that I founded, but it’s high on my list. Out of frustration with the political climate in 2010 and the possibilities of youngsters to act upon this, I started a ‘nomadic platform’ for young professionals. Starting as a small discussion group, it has now grown into a community of a 100+ young professionals that donate their time and skill to non profits and social enterprises that face a challenge. I cannot wait to continue our impact when I return to Amsterdam!
- Urban Goods. A cooperation of social entrepreneurs who use digital tools to create and stimulate social innovation. I am proud to be part of this tribe of great people who all have one shared goal: make this world a better place, while doing business. I met the founder, Robert-Willem Dol, online. Literally, on Skype. Until this day, we have never met, but we have already started several social impact projects together. Although I am looking forward to the offline connection, I think this is an essential quality of the tribe: not simply use ‘digital’ or ‘online’ as a nice PR-strategy, but actually live and work online, and therefore truly understanding the importance (and possibilities) (and dangers) of digitalization.
- MakeSense. Although the Dutch version is in the making, I would still list this under my favorite Amsterdam tribe list. Started by engaged youngsters in Paris, MakeSense grew into an impressive large community, active in 98 countries. It’s a grass roots organization of young people who support social enterprises in their mission to change the world. The San Francisco gang organized a ‘hold up’ for me, in which they helped me to solve a challenge I was facing. I returned the favor by organizing holdups with other MakeSensers on social innovation in China for Chinese students. This giving and receiving is amazing and it gives me a lot of hope for the possibility of change throughout the world and across borders. MakeSense also created a couple of social enterprises, and I really admire this organic process and hope it’s a model that many young people will follow.
- Cafe de Ceuvel. To be honest, I have never been there, since it started while I was already on my way. However, I am impressed by the ambition, the hard work and the idealism of the founders. This is what we need: solid circular economy business models, community building, engagement, and social impact. If they are able to realize their aims, and do this with an open perspective for people outside their own network, I think that they can set an example for Amsterdam and other cities.
I also listed Café de Ceuvel because they are exemplary for a growing group of young people that want to use their talents and education for social good. With SocialTech, together with for instance Society Impact and Urban Goods, I hope to contribute to a more mature social impact field that is able to attract and facilitate the talent and skills of the youngsters. I hope that this trend turns into a sustainable infrastructure for a society in which the benefits of capitalism are combined with the understanding of the importance of social and environmental sustainability (green and social growth), facilitated by technological innovation. I want to contribute to such a society.
At the same time I think it’s of major importance to stay critical of movements like this and tribes that they produce. To make sure that they are inclusive (not only benefiting the people who are already fortunate) on the one hand, but, paradoxically, enable the existence of minorities on the other. Although the prose is horrible, Dave Eggers did a good job of envisioning the dangers of a powerful, dominant and uncritical tribe. Dangers that are in the age of techno-optimism too often neglected.
Digitalization makes the boundaries of tribes more fluid. If I visualize my tribes, I see organic and constantly changing patterns. Sometimes I feel part of a tribe, sometimes I don’t. I feel the freedom to attach and detach, to join and leave and to engage or stay at a distance. It goes without saying that this only counts for tribes (and thus individuals) that have the possibility to be digital, which makes this a hierarchical and both including and excluding process. A challenge for these fluid urban tribes is therefore not only the balance between (and possibilities of) offline and online presence, but also the constant need for them to be open.
I would like to end with a very practical question to my fellow tribal leaders, related to this online/offline connection: how do you map and share your knowledge, your network, your insights? I have accumulated so much during my world journey, and I am still looking for a good platform and/or mapping tool to organize and share it all. Would love to hear about your suggestions and experiences.