September 10, 2018; Stuff.co.nz, “Business Day”
According to research conducted by the Nonprofit Centers Network, the number of mission-driven shared spaces in the US has nearly doubled since 2011. The drivers of this trend include increased administrative costs, overlapping services, and the need to foster collaborative environments for greater impact. In the past, NPQ has reported on the growing number of innovative shared work spaces in the US, such as Chicago’s Literacenter, Philadelphia’s Oxford Mills, and New York’s Centre for Social Innovation. But this shared space concept is not unique to the United States. For example, a new nonprofit coworking space in New Zealand, which will be the country’s largest, is slated to open next month.
But not every shared space effort is the same: One unique feature of the New Zealand effort is that there will not just be shared space for services, but a shared performance space to foster community arts. Creating space for the arts is, in fact, a major focus of the new shared services space.
To develop this new space, earlier this year, Socialink, a Kiwi nonprofit membership association that will also act as the facility’s community manager, surveyed 225 nonprofits in the Western Bay of Plenty area. The project was the first of its kind to conduct in-depth research on New Zealand’s social sector and sought to better understand the communities served, inform service design and funding decisions, and assess the possibility of shared services for nonprofit sustainability. The research uncovered that similar to the US nonprofit sector, many of the country’s nonprofits considered general overhead costs as the most underfunded portion of philanthropic and government contracts. Other highly cited areas in need of financial support include marketing, communications, fundraising, and technology infrastructure.
As a result, The Kollective (TK) was created. The $11-million facility is part of the Tauranga Energy Consumer Trust’s (TECT) current initiatives to assist nonprofits in cutting rent and infrastructure costs and will provide shared services and spaces—everything from conference rooms to that performance stage. The facility is expected to house 30–40 nonprofit agencies and funders, including TECT. An article earlier this year noted that, “The Bay of Plenty Garden and Arts Festival will be the first major event to be held at The Kollective.”
Another unique feature, according to TECT chairman Bill Holland and Socialink’s Gordy Lockhart, is that the coworking space is designed to facilitate coalition building and knowledge sharing. “If community groups can all learn from each other, then that’s better for everyone,” says Lockhart. Earlier this year, Lockhart elaborated on this point in an interview with Andrew Campbell of Sun Live:
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We are right in the middle of working with the organizations that are residential members, to complete the member etiquette and values document. The members are agreeing with themselves how they are going to work together in the space for best effect and that’s right through from how are they going to collaborate with each other to achieve maximum efficiency, all the way through to who is going to empty the dishwasher.
It’s a crucial document. We have been describing it as our Magna Carta.
Gordy adds that the “collective” name of The Kollective is no accident and that building residents will elect a member council, which “will be responsible for the document and the constant revising of it.”
The old-school idea of promoting collaboration through collocation seems vanilla in these days of networked and fast-moving alliances, but being in the same space with a dissimilar entity can certainly spur innovation. On the other hand, many hard-won success stories come from groups working in related fields, as a careful look at other projects on this continent can show.
In the end, though, many nonprofit buildings in the US started out with grand ideals but found that this approach rarely stacks up to the hype. (There are certainly some epic failures recorded, including this one that also represented an $11 million investment.) Without a peek at the business plan, we have no idea of the level of subsidy that might be provided to actually lower those rents and overhead costs.
Coworking can work beautifully, but when it does, it often rises from efforts more organic than this one. In any case, the Kollective will be one project to watch over time to judge its actual performance against vision.—Chelsea Dennis and Steve Dubb