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On 29 May 2019 the executive director of the UN human settlement programme, UN-Habitat said that the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would be won or lost by ground breaking innovation in cities. This is not an article about the work of the UN-habitat, but about the ground breaking work happening in cities to achieve sustainable development through social innovation.

Social innovation underpins sustainable development, it is as Jeremy Mallard at the social innovation atlas wrote ‘the anonymous bedrock of global sustainable development’. Much has already been written here on the great work done by social entrepreneurs. Instead, I will focus on the communities that build networks between social innovation agents, and how they are facilitating the sustainability transition.

This article covers the London make_sense community. Make_sense is a global community of social innovators, with sub-groups called hotspots in major cities all over the world. Here I will focus on the activities in London, as the independent nature of the network hotspots makes for important differences between regions. Thanks goes to Gianpietro Pucciariello, a consultant and social entrepreneur who leads the London Makesense hotspot, for taking the time to speak to me for this article.

Overview of make_sense hotspots and their collective impact

Make_sense is a community of social entrepreneurs and those interested in social entrepreneurship. The community activates individuals towards achieving their own social impact through a number of facilitation events, while also using many of the similar methodologies to enable social entrepreneurs to improve their businesses and how they benefit society. To guide these activities the community has unwritten principles to be collaborative, spontaneous and creative.

The online community includes over 2000 people based in and around London. The community is open membership, and while its main targets are social entrepreneurs and those wishing to become social entrepreneurs, many of its members have become aware of social entrepreneurship through make_sense’s activities. The community has connections with activists, and edges formed makes the community a first entry for many into the world of social innovation.

The core members of this community regularly meet for a range of facilitated activities to inspire entrepreneurs and assist them to achieve their impact. These range from holdups, where a specific entrepreneur presents their challenges and the make_sense members brainstorm solutions, to an MKS room, a panel night where an artist presents on a sustainability issue inspiring those in attendance to learn more about the problem, to sensefictions, day long hackathon-like events where groups of would-be social entrepreneurs can design new impactful projects and business ideas.

Like all groups aiming to grow the impact of their members, make_sense has their own challenges. A key challenge is the need to balance covering the costs of their activities while maintaining their motivation, openness, and inclusivity. Gianpietro said that he aims to run all events on the goodwill of the London community, with organisations like CitizenM and HubHub providing conference rooms for free, and members bringing their own refreshments and workshop materials.

AppyMaps

The London group has social entrepreneur success stories, with Gianpietro himself recently launching AppyMaps, an app that maps social businesses, connecting them with local communities and provides a platform for their advertisements. The make_sense community also works as a resource for already active entrepreneurs, acting as consumer feedback groups, providing stakeholder insights and acting as a forum to discuss new ideas. The global community also recently raised a Euro 8.2 million seed fund called seed 1.Perhaps though, the greatest impact of the community is not in the individual entrepreneurs born or grown from its activities, but the many individuals that have become aware of social innovation and the tools and techniques it entails, and further how these underpin successful sustainable development.