Hacking Society

Hacking Society

LebanonHelsinki, Finland
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

The initiative brings together a multidisciplinary and cross-cultural team of
Finnish students and a Lebanese community around the emerging hackerspaces and
Media Labs in Beirut in order to co-create and co-design a knowledge-based network
around digital tools for social innovation in the context of Arab societies.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

We are trying to solve the gap that exists between innovative thinkers and investors. The digital revolution has reached the Arab world but has not had a chance to be truly established as a pool of social venture opportunities. We recognise the potential and want to build a network facilitates the creation of new sustainable businesses in a modern, young and growing society. As of now there is no such network or digital platform that brings people in the Arab world together so they can co-create their future. This we aim to change through intercultural collaboration and community innovation in a local hackerspace.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Through an exchange of young Finnish and Lebanese students, entrepreneurs, designers and activists we are aiming to facilitate community innovation around the emerging hackerspaces in Beirut, Lebanon. The idea is to observe, think, create and make for societal change. The final deliverable will be based around a knowledge sharing digital platform in the Arab context, that was co-created and co-designed by the European and Arab participants. This platform will be used to promote emerging social ventures in the region. Anybody with a vision for the development of their society will get the chance to connect with investors and potential partners, pitch ideas, access resources and brainstorm around digital tools for societal impact. The project will include 2 parts: 1) A student exchange between Finland and Lebanon. 2) A business incubator that will be created and maintained by local communities and a growing network of social entrepreneurs.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Our initiative works with the first ever hackerspace in Beirut. Finnish students will work together with the existing community and come up with product service systems that can be developed in social business models to be pitched to investors. This could for example be a new tool to regulate energy consumption in the household, one of the major urban challenges that is surrounded by a lot of exploiting activities. We will collaborate with local entrepreneurs and other activists to form a strong proposal and receive investments. Around the first proposals that emerge from the student exchange we will base a network for future social venture incubation. This platform will be developed with the digital community and Arab entrepreneurs so that it is relevant for the Arab markets and takes into consideration the various cultural contexts. It will allow the shaping of training and workshop groups for self-teaching, impact investments through various partners, collaboration on design pitches, testing sessions organised at local labs or with local and remote volunteers etc. In the local Beirut entrepreneurial hub we will kickstart a regular event that links the digital spaces with the existing Entrepreneurs' Brunch so that contemporary social ventures gain the visibility they deserve. The first proposals will be exhibited both in Beirut and Helsinki and serve as marketing material for the future activities on the platform.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

So far there is no competitor that directly links the open source maker culture to entrepreneurial activities on the ground. However one partner is GEMSI, an initiative that helps kickstart the founding of those hackerspaces themselves in different Arab countries. Another competitor, who could easily be a peer, is the MIT Pan Arab Forum that created a social entrepreneurship workshop at the beforementioned hub, although with no focus on the media used. Western platforms like Kickstarter and Instructables are known and used but they do not address those specific markets. Besides Lamba Labs, the local partner, another peer is the MENA Design Research Center that focuses on design research for social impact and works a lot with communities on sustainable solutions for societal issues.

Founding Story

When I was first working with the MENA Design Research Center in Lebanon, I quickly realised the potential that fast networking has in the country. People act on passion and common understanding of society's needs, something that is specific to the region and its people thanks to a history that often left them behind in decision-making processes. The second time I worked in Beirut with the hackerspace I saw the common interest and immediate excitement about access to the digital tools but at the same the unawareness of tangible opportunities that these offer. By networking with many other activists and entrepreneurs as well as participating in many initiatives my belief in the country's potential has been strengthened. The eagerness of partners to join us keeps us motivated to make this happen in the near future as we are building a sustainable model for realisation.
About You
About You
First Name


Tell us about yourself/your team.

We are the two directors of the initiative, Anna Asikainen and Nina Martin. We have different but complimentary backgrounds in business and design.
We share the passion to redefine and revolutionise development work through social entrepreneurial methods that lets the people define the way they can impact society.
We are a Finnish and German team with experience in international work and in community innovation projects.
We are MA candidates at the Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland, and eager to use the university's outreach for co-designing the future changemakers in global societies.

What makes you an intrapreneur? What are the skills, capabilities, and personality traits that make you an intrapreneur?

We have been displaying intrapreneurial behaviour since the beginning of our studying and working life by initiating projects outside of the curriculum. We think acquired skill and learnt knowledge should be put into practice, preferably towards solving wicked problems.
We founded our partnership by realising that the potential of this university and NGOs we work with is not utilised. And we believe that people in communities can have a strong societal impact themselves. So we combined our professional expertise with our field experience of working with NGOs as well as our academic backgrounds to start this initiative within a broader framework that we are hoping to reshape.

About Your Organization
Company Country

, ES, Helsinki

Primary country where this project is creating social impact
Additional countries or regions


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Select the stage that best applies to your solution

Idea (you're poised to launch)

The Solution: Why is this solution innovative for your company and industry?

We are proposing a new way of doing development work. Instead of bringing in foreign experts to finance and control the way a society is shaped we would like to enable citizens with new ideas that first of all benefit smaller communities by giving them access to a network of fellow active citizens and small-scale investors so that ideas can be taken off the ground sensibly in a sustainable manner. No such network currently exists in the Arab world but is certainly wished for.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

As our solution is still in the pitching stage it has not made a tangible impact. However it brought on board many people that are now devoting time to realising this idea, which certainly is an impact in terms of the mindset of people. We managed to bring the Arab societies into academic discussions at Aalto, which is something that has not happened before. Faculty and students from all levels are now eager to learn more and participate. We are also creating stronger networks between both European and Lebanese stakeholders.

What is your projected impact over the next 1 to 3 years?

In one year the student exchange will take place that will lead to the creation of the platform, an exhibition of the proposals as well as an evaluation phase.
The incubation methodology will have been developed and will then be tested and optimised with various trials so that in three years time the business model can have reached sustainability and will be maintained locally. We are looking at slowly growing ventures to ensure strong capacity building and avoid fast collapse. While we will provide tutoring we will mainly focus on adapting the model for other markets such as Iraq, Iran and Egypt, where we also have partners.
If approved by the partner universities, the student exchange will become mutual and continue yearly, thus supporting the incubation space in Lebanon.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

There still is the fright that many investors share when it comes to investing in the Arab markets. At the same time we have to fight common definitions of development work as we are proposing an innovative approach. We also know that cogs are moving slowly in academia so that this is struggle when trying to establish a new course. It also does not help that we are still young graduates with limited entrepreneurial expertise.
However we have a strong pitch and many experienced partners from various fields that support every application.
We have professional expertise and a good cultural understanding so that we can communicate the importance of this project and the relevance of the location.
We already received a small travel grant for networking in Lebanon in February, which helps.

What is the benefit or value you're creating for your business?

The benefits can be measured in various ways.
One will be the successful emergence of new, partly profitable business in Lebanon that utilise digital means. Within a few years first studies will confirm the impact those social ventures create on society.
The other value is for the academia as it opens up a new educational market for Finland and potentially other European partners.

How are you leveraging internal resources (funds, time, knowledge, etc.) to support this initiative?

We are making use of Aalto's support for new courses and projects that are run with at least two different departments. Through that we are able to build an academic support system. At the same time we are shifting people's focuses onto this project so that they do not have to spend much additional time but rather adjust the time they invest into initiatives anyways. This is support by the research opportunities the project provides. At the same time we are making use of existing networks on all scales such as the Cumulus for the overall university, the research labs for smaller focuses, the local and remote centers as well as EU foundations that support our concept stage with small travel grants.
We are using our access to various services within Aalto to support this initiative.

Expand on your answer, explaining the long-term funding and support plan.

In the long term there will be various ways of funding this initiative.
While the Lebanese partner institutions will provide a working space, materials and tutoring as well as exhibition support, the Finnish institution, Aalto University, will provide academic support such as official accreditation, travel grants, provision of working rooms and seminar building.
The funding for the implementation of the business proposals after the first project phase will be taken on by local investors in Beirut, Lebanon. Thanks to this plan, the funding required is rather minimal as it is required in increments rather than a lump sum and much of the funding is provided through the sponsoring of facilities, materials and human resources.

Tell us about your partnerships across your company and externally that are key to your project's success.

Within Aalto we have partnerships with several departments and research groups such as the NODUS sustainable design research group, the ePedagogy department, the Media Lab, the Aalto Global Impact development initiative, the Executive Education and the Creative Sustainability programme.
Outside of Aalto we have partnerships with the MENA Design Research Center, the Lamba Labs hackerspace, the Lebanese American University and the GEMSI initiative.

What internal support have you gotten for your project? What kind of push-back have you received?

So far we have received mainly academic and structural support from within Aalto. So far there have not been many push-backs as we are just starting the initiative. We have just applied for course funding, which we will be informed of at the end of this month.
There has only been one push-back, which is timing as already many projects and courses have been confirmed for the coming 18 months, which leaves us behind a little. On the other hand we have promising partnerships.