Building a Movement for Social Purpose Real Estate

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Bodies gyrated. Arms flailed. Hands clapped. Hips swayed. Some more in time with the beat than others, but everyone was moving in some way. It was a familiar scene for a wedding reception.

Except this was an industry conference. Not the most likely setting for such a display.

How did this happen?

Like with all movements, all it took was one crazy dancer to start things off.

One lone wild dancer is an anomaly. It’s uncomfortable. Out of place. But what happens when another dancer joins? And then another? And then a few more?

Pretty soon you’ve hit a tipping point and then the crazy dancers are the majority. It’s awkward to not join.

Now we had a movement.

With the help of some brave volunteer dancers, we had demonstrated the basic principles of movement building and broken the ice at the opening party of the 2015 Building Opportunities, The Social Purpose Real Estate conference.

Sure we could have explained what a movement was, but it’s one of those big open concepts that’s hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. Or better yet, experience it.

The Movement Potential of Social Purpose Real Estate

The topic of social purpose real estate is a compelling one for us. We come from architecture and design backgrounds and have a lot of experience on all sides of the real estate development process with all sorts of players, so we see the need to undo the formula and develop a more socially and environmentally committed business model.

Our role at Building Opportunities was to help the diverse group of players in this growing sector unearth the culture that defines and unites them.

When a conference is designed for “anyone interested in sustainable community development, cutting edge financing of real estate projects, efficient operations, quality workspace and innovative shared services for the nonprofit sector” you know you’ve got a broad group to bring together.

We wanted to find the common thread between these interests and the people behind them. We wanted to help transform this from bunch of good ideas practiced in isolation to a movement.

Our major tool for this was (in addition to the dancing flash mob) was the Future Laboratory.


The Future Laboratory Findings

We set up shop as a live engagement experience throughout the conference. Conference goers could join us at anytime and go through some of the activities and conversations we go through with our clients when we help them define their organizational culture and build their brand.

After two days, we presented a closing plenary on the status and the future of the social purpose real estate movement and how it could become a movement.

Or, as As Lucy Lau put it in Vancouver Magazine  “though the range of industry professionals who attended share a common drive for collaboration, there are systemic barriers—rooted in access to resources—facing a number of social-purpose real-estate developers. A need for a shared platform for data was voiced—critical in securing partnerships as traditional sources of financing become less readily available.”

How do you turn that into a movement? We closed the conference with these guidelines….

How to Build a Movement

1.  Be open, courageous and creative

2.  Nurture relationships. It won’t always be easy.

3.  Be the norm, not the niche

4.  Lead followers and follow leaders

5.  Create remarkable places

6.  Always remember that Misfits will lead the future

We are grateful to Vancity for presenting us with this opportunity and especially Kira Gerwing who had the vision and guts to let us take the concept to this more daring place.  The leadership of SPRE (Social Purpose Real Estate) and NCN (Non-profit Centres Network) have formed a tremendous partnership with a lot of potential to create a shift in the ways we live, work and play in our cities.