What would you think of 100 people being equal owners in a restaurant? What about 500 co-owners? Sounds crazy from a purely business perspective. But add a social dimension and now we’re talking about a project that takes social responsibility to the next level.
Urban Space 500 is an initiative that unites three organisations – the group that initially conceived of the idea, Teple misto Platform, based in Ivano-Frankivsk; Insha Osvita, an NGO that manages the social component of the project; and Druzi Cafe, which maintains the restaurant itself and is ultimately responsible for its success. When it comes to funding, ordinary people – entrepreneurs, activists, restaurateurs – invest USD 1 000 each, and in return become co-founders in this “social restaurant” concept. Why is it a “social” restaurant? Because 80% of the profits are then invested into projects that improve the community at large.
Stitching Society Together
The concept was born back in 2014 when Yuriy Fylyuk, an entrepreneur from Ivano-Frankivsk, mused that his home city should be as comfortable and innovative as anywhere else in Europe. “There were seven of us who were inspired by the idea of social investment,” recalls Fylyuk. “It was a moment when we felt an immense lack of trust in society; it was like some kind of post-traumatic syndrome. This mistrust was not a natural state for Ukrainians – it was shortly after Maidan and we had all just discovered how it was possible to unite and pool our efforts, we just needed the right triggers.”
Creators of the Urban Space project say the core idea is “stitching together” society, as people of different backgrounds, educations, professions, ethnic origins, and religions unite to make the city they live in a better place. Once every four months the co-founders gather for a general meeting where they vote on the non-profit projects they want to support.
To date, Urban Space has supported 59 projects in Ivano-Frankivsk, including music and art festivals, social centres for recent veterans, education centres for students, urban design projects, and many others.
Advocates of Trust
The Success of Urban Space 100 in Ivano-Frankivsk inspired the three organisations to try to replicate the social restaurant format in the nation’s capital, but on a larger scale. Here in Kyiv, they are aiming to attract 500 co-founders, with 300 already signed up. When I tell people I have joined the project, I am sometimes met with skepticism – the first idea that comes to mind for some is that it’s some kind of pyramid scheme. To the contrary, Urban Space co-founders believe instead that they are “advocates of trust”.
Olha Dyatel, one of the coordinators of Urban Space 500 says, “I think there are plenty of opportunities to deploy financial or human capital in many businesses or NGOs, social investment is one more such opportunity. Urban Space combines both a business and a social component – we declare transparency and trust as our basic values, those who trust, join us. It’s a positive step for society.”
Transparency at its Heart
A crucial element of that trust is in the transparency of its members. All potential members go through a selection process, and their candidacy is voted on by existing members. Their motivations and backgrounds are examined, as is their social media footprint. If anyone receives more than five negative responses from existing members, their participation is rejected. “We have no firm criteria for rejecting people – neither nationality nor religion, political views or profession can be used as an argument,” explains Dyatel. “To date we have only rejected 10 candidates.”
Although there are 200 spaces still to fill in Kyiv, the project has already secured a location for its future restaurant – it’s a spacious place on Hrinchenka, in the heart of historic Kyiv, with a cosy inner yard. The menu and interior are still a secret, but the principles on which it will be completed call for an inclusive and accessible space where innovative social start-ups can be presented and potentially supported.
Voices from the inside: people who have joined Urban Space 500
I am an ordinary person, often driven by laziness, fear, or egotism. I believe if there’s an empty space, with a passive attitude it could easily be filled by something “bad”, while something “good” always demands additional effort. That is why it is necessary to do good things, however small they are. My city is a space I can and should influence.
Yaroslava Mishchenko, programmer, Kyiv
Over the years I have helped support the transformation of Ukraine into a modern, democratic country, and helped to foster an actively engaged civic society. My love of urban planning and the value of place in our lives motivates me to be actively engaged in the local transformations happening around Ukraine. As a long-term resident of Kyiv I see all too well how much this city needs a platform like Urban Space 500 to transform it into a more livable city with an increasingly engaged citizenry.
Andrius Nemickas, urban expert and economist, Kyiv/US
Urban Space is a platform for people who have ideas and those who know how to bring positive changes to Kyiv. The entrance fee of $1 000 is high for me personally and in terms of the average income of Ukrainians. But at the same time works as a barrier, meaning it is the more active and more successful people who participate.
Ihor Vashchenko, IT-specialist, Kyiv
For more information visit www.urbanspace500.com.ua