Learning Journey 1 — San Fran Social Entrepreneurs

Our first learning journey took us to a number of San Francisco sites and organizations who are on the cutting edge of non-profit work and socially-engaged graduate education. You can watch a slideshow here of the places and people we encountered along the way. We first visited the Hub, a collaborative work space (with an organic kitchen, espresso bar, and art gallery) that incubates social entrepreneurs and innovators invested in various kinds of humanitarian projects. While at the Hub, we met with Jay Oglivy, a founding member of the Presidio Graduate School that offers an innovative MBA focused on sustainability and social change. We spent lunch at Mission Pie chatting with co-owner Krystin Rubin, a social entrepreneur and sustainability-visionary who had training in comparative religions at NYU, as well as rabbinical school. We closed the day with an invigorating conversation with IKON, an emergent-church movement housed in the Hub, and Rosa Lee Harden, a GTU alumn and episcopal priest who co-founded the Hub, and Jarrod Shappell, an M.Div graduate who helps Rosa run SoCap, the largest global conference for emergent “Social Capital Markets” and social entrepreneurship.

Commission member Kathi McShane offers more detailed descriptions of our Hub experience below, and poses some of the questions we found ourselves entertaining as we left.

Kathi writes:

The Hub” in midtown San Francisco—a block from the Powell Street BART station, in the building that used to house the entire set of operations—editorial, reporting, printing, distribution—of the SF Chronicle and Examiner newspapers. Now, only a skeletal version of those two once-robust dailies remains, leaving the guts of the building largely unoccupied with newspaper business.

The Hub’s space is on the first floor. A lot of wide-open space, with tables and chairs, interspersed with conversation-sized settings of sofas and more comfortable chairs. Around the edges, larger, glassed-in conference rooms, some very small rooms set aside as phone booths. In one corner a full-sized kitchen; closer to the center, a self-service coffee and tea bar, with a pretty sophisticated espresso machine. More pod-type conference rooms here and there, with glass walls and tables for writing on with markers, each outfitted for video-conferencing.

As soon as we walked into the first floor space, we could feel the energy. In a few of the larger rooms groups were meeting, but the space was even more occupied by individuals on their computers, cell phones, in small conversations. Every person there is a social entrepreneur in some sense: membership in the Hub is for people who are in, or who are looking to enter, business (profit or non-profit) that will change the world in some small way. Here they find like-minded people, conversation partners, safe space for trying out ideas.

The place is designed to encourage them to connect, network, collaborate. The monthly membership, priced on a sliding scale, entitles members to use the space for an estimated amount of time each month, as workspace and for its programs, which include speakers and networking events. The culture entitles members to interrupt each other for limited amounts of time, so that there are always quiet, yeasty conversations happening, over coffee, in front of a shared screen. There are a few “hosts” employed by the Hub to make sure this happens. Membership fees cover the Hub’s costs.

A few people have come in and started washing and tearing up heads of lettuce in the kitchen; by noon, there’s a big salad and accompanying food for lunch, at $5 a person. As the afternoon wears on, the place gets fuller and fuller; there’s a buzz all around us. Occasional laughter, but mostly quiet conversations and productive work.

First thoughts:

Could PSR be a Hub for progressive religious leaders? What if d’Autremont were space that felt like this: vibrant all day (and night?) long as a space for students, faculty, pastors and other people from the community to come and do their own work, with the opportunity to find others who would engage with them in conversation about worship planning, about their next sermon, about the project they are getting ready to try in the community they lead?

In the afternoon, we met with the young pastor of an emergent church that meets in The Hub on Sunday mornings; he works (and hangs out) here during the week. Then Rosa Lee Harden, the co-founder of The Hub; herself a CDSP graduate and Episcopal priest. She spends her time now on this and other Hub locations, and on designing international SOCAP Conferences, where social entrepreneurs can hear speakers to deepen the spiritual/ethical dimension of their work.

We asked her:

”How could seminary be a resource for the kinds of people who come here?”

Her answer: This world needs theologians and ethicists who can speak the language of entrepreneurs, who can take theological concepts out of religious language. Christians who don’t feel they have to put a cross on everything.

One of the CSD members finally asked Rosa Lee, “So what is this place, really?”

“It’s church,” she said.

Yes. It is church.

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