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Lessons and inspiration from the story of Paris' Liberté Living-Lab
22nd February 2017
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Matt Stokes: Tell us about the Liberté Living-Lab! How did it all begin and what’s your mission?
Audrey Jarre: Liberté Living-Lab is a new collaborative workspace for tech, civic & social innovation. Our ambition is to accelerate projects addressing key societal challenges. The Liberté Living-Lab encourages the emergence and development of initiatives to address social issues, in areas like civic tech, edtech, environmental issues and access to employment. It does this by bringing together visionary and committed actors who are at the forefront of change. We believe it is a key factor for the transformation of public and private organizations.
It all began with a first space and similar initiative called Player in 2015 that brought together corporates and startups around similar issues. Its ambition was to be “a place and a community at the service of collective innovation”.
In October 2016, the Liberté Living-Lab was founded in the same neighbourhood by Marylène Vicari and Jérôme Richez. It was four times bigger and set out to accelerate tech for good projects in Paris, helping give birth to a French “Social Valley”. It was founded on three principles of being international, interdisciplinary and intergenerational.
MS: What are your main activities?
AJ: We host startups, researchers, artists, entrepreneurs, children, large corporations and people from the public sectors in our 2000m2 space in Le Sentier, in the heart of Paris’s 2e arrondissement. We organise events in order to bring together those different populations, and hold “inspiration” and “activation” programmes to work on their strategy and future milestones.
On the public side, for example, we have a cinema and regular projections on the themes we tackle in the space: the first cycle tackles Education for the 21st century and kicked off this week with a screening of “Révolution Ecole”, a movie about new ways of schooling after the First World War, which the director, Joanna Grudzinska, also attended. We also host regular experimental music concerts through a partnership with Creature, an agency and free school for cultural entrepreneurs.
Most of our events are free and open to the public, since we believe it is pointless to innovate if you are not going to include everyone in that process. For us, that includes the changing fabric of the Sentier neighbourhood, and it’s important that we cultivate a dynamic which includes those who experience it first-hand.
MS: You do a lot of work with corporates. Could you tell us a bit more about how you work with them?
AJ: We like to bring large companies together with interdisciplinary, intergenerational and multicultural teams in order to transform their business models and processes. We believe it is important to co-create new experiences to immerse workers into the new economy.
For example, we host “intrapreneurs” from big companies who need to find the time and space to work on their new projects, or HR teams who want exposure to the new challenges of the gig economies. It isn't about consulting, but “acculturation”. On the tech side, for example, the focus is on introducing traditional businesses to the opportunities afforded by models like Big Data or artificial intelligence (AI).
Most of our revenue comes from those activities, allowing for discounted rates for entrepreneurs or non-profits who work with us in the space, provided they are able to collaborate on projects at the Lab. We also don't have a stake in the capital of the companies we host.
MS: What will you be focusing on in 2017?
AJ: We have decided to focus on four major themes for our events for this first full year of existence :
MS: You have over 200 “residents” from France and beyond. Could you tell us a bit about who they are and what they do?
AJ: Our residents are hugely varied, so it may be best to give a few examples. Bayes Impact is a group of data scientists, engineers, and academics who believe data science can be used to solve the world’s most ambitious problems. They build operational solutions to social problems through software for governments and non-profit organisations.
Hello Tomorrow is a global startup competition for early-stage science startups to bring projects from the lab to world-changing solutions, from air quality to transportation and mobility.
Hello Asso, beyond their activity of innovative crowdfunding platform for charities, organises the annual Social Good Week to enhance the visibility of like-minded initiatives and inspire more to flourish. A better flow of information creates a stronger economy to initiate experiments in various areas.
MS: What are the biggest challenges facing people trying to use technology for social impact in France?
AJ: The biggest challenges for social tech ventures are akin to those you may find abroad: access to funding, of course, but also to the right people in order to leverage the experience of others. In the Lab, a lot of virtuous information exchange can take place, because innovators share the space with like-minded people who have been through the same challenges in the past,
MS: What would you like to see being done by government or other actors to support the growth of technology for social impact in France and beyond?
AJ: We are becoming very involved in government innovation. We are hosting a conference series on #GovTech with students from the Paris Institute of Political Studies in order to push the modernisation of public services up the agenda. How can government innovate with civil society? Where are the pioneering administrations? Can we co-create public services?
It is of foremost importance for us to build an administration that is conscious of the changes going on at all layers of society, and this is why we want to familiarize them with civil society through immersion at the Liberté Living-Lab.
We are hosting a specific programme that allows a first collective reflection on that matter. In the US, one of Barack Obama’s last acts as president was to codify in law ‘presidential innovation fellows’, where “standout tech brains go into government for six-month stints to help wrench the federal bureaucracy into the digital age”. At the same time, France launched a similar “Entrepreneur d’Intérêt Général” (EIG) programme. It enables “exceptional individuals with proven track records to serve time-limited appointments in executive agencies to address some of the most significant challenges faced by the country”. This work should improve the experience of all citizens and leveraging tech for the greater good. We look forward to findout out how it will impact public services in our country.
MS: What's next for the Liberté Living-Lab?
AJ: We are working with the Lab School Network to open the first French lab school in September. It is important for us to include educational opportunities as part of the space. We believe collaborative spaces have a key role to play in shaping our new ways of learning, whether through a pioneering elementary school, informal learning dynamics between coworkers or corporate training.