It all began one evening in 2013, when Raúl Oliván, Director of Zaragoza Activa and Javier Fernández, Coordinator of La Colaboradora met for dinner. At that time both were very aware of the consequences of the economic downturn, which for several years had been taking root across Spain, wiping out thousands of jobs and cutting access to loans. They also shared a strong urge to create a new space that would facilitate self-employment by means of alternative citizens’ initiatives. They envisioned a social innovation project that would empower people through collaboration between equals.
Over that meal, Oliván and Fernández imagined a new type of space that would combine a P2P coworking with the philosophy of a time bank for swappingskills. At that time Zaragoza Town Council had a space available in the boiler room of the old Azucarera sugar factory (now Zaragoza Activa) and the city, for its part, had abundant talent with thousands of highly qualified people standing in line at the local job centre. This was the backdrop that gave rise to La Colaboradora on 30 May 2013.
After four years of co-management, this project could give us enough to talk about for several days. Throughout this time we have gone through manyphases, from the very beginnings of a highly promising community project to the serene experience of a citizens’ initiative that has now consolidated itself. We have also borne witness to critical moments caused by the uncertain future of the public sector, to moments of overwhelming joy when gaining international recognition for work well done. All the while creativity has been the cross-disciplinary basis of the project, combined with a good dose of management based on common sense and an awareness of the real needs of entrepreneurs in the 21st Century.
Photo: Celebration of the 2016 Eurocities Award for Cooperation.
A collaboration school
Along the way, the over two hundred members and collaborators have grown as a public project but above all as individuals who share the desire to grow personally and professionally. And the thing is, we are very aware of our main objective: to collaborate. Marisol Arqued of MiCubo Editorial says that La Colaboradora, “is a collaboration school”, the place where we learn to maximise contact, the urge to innovate and to make one another’s lives easier. And we do this under the guidance of a fantastic project coordinator, Javier Fernández, and a managing board that is sure of the power of personal networks.
It is true that we never imagined the project would get to where it is today, or the interest it would awaken in other places. The aim was to improve the quality of the ventures and guarantee a future for some people through self-employment. Now, La Colaboradora is a fascinating experience and an achievement by Zaragoza Activa that has produced a very out of the ordinary self-managed community. It is not just a time bank any more; it is also a place to make (im)probable ideas a reality, or to have a coffee with the leading proponents of social transformation today. Since its beginnings up to 28 February 2017, almost 300 collaborators have shared over 9,800 hours, of which 3,500 have helped, by means of the working groups, to manage the project. We have organised 592 activities, many of which are free and open source co-training sessions for citizens of Zaragoza, and we have taken part in eight social challenges to support local social initiatives. And most importantly, we can now say that 210 new ventures are in operation today, the majority of which are local.
Photo: #CaféCO with Rodrigo Savazioni, Executive Director of Instituto Procomum from Brazil
Citizens managing the public sphere
We work step-by-step, doing things right, allowing ourselves to be guided by the daily life of the community, while focussing on the practical. And thanks to the captain of the ship, Raúl Oliván, citizens have more than ever before been able to take charge of the management of the public sphere. A combination of factors have come together that in 2015 made it possible for La Colaboradora to be recognised as an example of good practice for citizen innovation by the Ibero-American General Secretariat (SEGIB), and to receive the 2015 Ouishare award for the best P2P financial initiative and the 2016 Eurocities Award for Cooperation. Who would have said it?
What next? A lot. The community is currently at a turning point that, with the right leadership, will enable us to become more independent and self-managed. We should apply one of our main qualities and be capable of adapting to change, of making the most of challenges to innovate again. That is the only way we can give shape to one of Zaragoza Activa’s aims: to incorporate citizens’ innovation into public services by means of bottom up planning dynamics.
We are aware that we are an example for others. Other incubators, coworking spaces, hubs and projects of all kinds have come through our doors to learn how the time bank works and how to adapt it to their own local situations. In addition, this week we did a pilot test and transferred our collaborative model to 66 students in their third year of primary school at La Estrella School in Zaragoza. It was a wonderful experiment that, if successful, could inspire other educational groups to incorporate the collaboration philosophy into their classrooms. Our present and future is to continue supporting entrepreneurs from a public basis, with the collaborative economy as our guiding principle. We would like to be a beacon that shines a light over those who believe that, by working together, things can be different and better. Happy 4th birthday to everyone.
Cover photo: Nacho Bueno
Pilar Balet is a communication consultant for social change. She founded the social consultancy La Mar de Gente Comunicación and is the Communications and Marketing Coordinator of Stone Soup Consulting. I work in projects geared towards professional training and the strengthening of the third sector, citizens’ participation, activism, measurement of social impact and the transparency of entities.