El Space Social Innovation Hub: Building the Next Generation of Young Innovators

El Space Social Innovation Hub: Building the Next Generation of Young Innovators


Text by: Yahya Marzouk


Category: Social Innovation


In the heart of the Tunisian capital, just across the corner from the main bus station, you will find yourself in a very lively area: smell of freshly baked sweets, shop keepers offering loudly their products to the passerby, locals sitting in the coffees and discussing recent news in the country.. There, in the center of Beb Djazira neighbourhood are located the offices of El Space - a social innovation hub where youngsters gather to develop ideas and projects for community development. The 4-floor house offers enough space for everyone who wants to work on social innovation: the first floor is reserved for Fab Space - space for design and print, the second and the third floor are open space offices for the young innovators, whereas the last floor is reserved for the event space, where most of El Space activities are set. We spoke with Adnen Ben Hadj, or as everyone knows him - Nino, one of the co-founders of the hub.
"El Space started in 2013 as the first social co-working space for nonprofits and social entrepreneurs, but it officially opened in 2015 as Tunisia's first social innovation hub. All of us - the co-founders are social entrepreneurs and we launched EL SPACE to change our communities and to contribute to the development of our country.-, Nino starts his story.
"In Tunisia, there are many social issues such as poverty, unemployment, violence, drug abuse, corruption and other, and we said ''what if...'' what if we make a hub of innovation but not focused on patents and making billions of dollars, rather focusing on social impact and how we can build the next generation of innovators who would develop innovations catered to solve social problems. We selected the location of downtown Tunis in a way to empower local communities and support them in developing new solutions to challenges they face on a daily basis. We started locally and thought that if we could find a viable solution to a pressing social challenge, we would replicate this/these solutions across Tunisia and the MENA region. And now, after four years of being fully operational, EL SPACE is the first integrated social innovation hub in the MENA region where we focus on social entrepreneurship, business entrepreneurship, hardware innovations, green entrepreneurship and civil society initiatives.-, speaks Nino proudly of El Space achievements.
Legal barriers - the biggest challenge in Tunisia
The organization's vision is to build and empower thriving and resilient communities based on sustainable collaborations, while they also help local communities develop themselves in an innovative and self-sustaining way. What makes them different from the other entrepreneurship hubs in Tunis are the variety of programmes and resources available for their entrepreneurs to innovate. They have a co-working space, incubation programs for social and green businesses and an accelerator for civic initiatives, added to the fablabs they manage. Yet, building a social innovation hub is not an easy task.
"Legal barriers are the biggest challenges to social innovation in Tunisia, because, EL SPACE and its social innovators, are edgy thinkers and always trying out new things beyond the ecosystem's knowledge or experience, and that's what makes social innovations so exciting to do. In Tunisia, we need more social innovators and more social innovation hubs as well as a stronger collaboration between ecosystem actors.-, says Nino.
The good news are that more and more young Tunisians are getting more interested in social innovation and social entrepreneurship. The economic crisis is opening the path of social entrepreneurship as an employment and empowerment tool, yet, being a social entrepreneur requires certain level of courage and enthusiasm to move on even when there are difficult times. Nino is empowering youngsters to remain persistent: "We are definitely seeing more young Tunisians getting more interested by social innovation and social entrepreneurship, but with the economic crisis we are living, solidarity can mean charity more than it understands innovation. Young people have to work harder for their human right of living a decent life. What we can do about it? Encourage more social innovators to start new projects and to fail fast and learn fast.-
El Space's endeavors to make Tunisia a role model of social innovation in North Africa and wider are not stopping here. We are leaving El Space Hub with smiles on our faces being assured that El Space in future will continue to grow and to have its model replicated in other countries from the MENA region. We wish them luck in their future activities and we invite all Tunisian youngsters to join the journey of empowerment and self-employment.