Collaborative Hubs for the Private Sector that Improve Efficiency – Cynnal Cymru – Sustain Wales (2024)

Our previous story was about 11-year-old Cameron, who tells the journalist about his education system and the way it prepares students for skills needed to tackle relevant societal challenges. After hearing Cameron’s story, our journalist seizes the opportunity to interview Cameron’s father, Luke, who is an innovative business developer that has restructured the way business operates in Swansea in 2051.

A day in life of Luke

Just as Luke was ready to bid farewell to the journalist, Adi said, “I think you should show him what you do.” And so, just like that, Luke agreed to take the journalist around and explain how he became a business owner. He hesitated because he felt his business was nothing special. But contrary to Luke’s sentiment, his business structure had tried a different operating method than traditional shareholder value driven businesses. So, the next day, Luke and the journalist met on the outskirts of Swansea in a circular business hub, which was a sight to behold. There is lots of greenery, bike lanes, an occasional EV delivery truck, a beat of music and lots of art. The journalist stopped and said to Luke, “Wait, I did not know you were a musician”. “I am not, I am a circular economy coordinator, and this is the beating hub of the region”. The journalist murmured something, trying to make an impression indicating that he knew what Luke meant, but in fact, he could not put one and one together. If this is something of an industrial estate, he thought to himself, then why does it have a vibe of a festival?

Luke, in a matter-of-fact way, pointed to a bird sanctuary, to a vertical farm, playground for both adults and their children, to a canteen full of colourful produce, a walkway up in the sky, a stream; and rows of warehouses with green walls, containers with solar panels on; and what looked like a shop.

It looked like something well-to-do neighbourhoods used to have, but in 2051, it is an industrial estate.

At this point the journalist had to admit he knew nothing about this hub and so Luke decided to tell him how it came about, what is being produced here and how it benefits everyone.

Luke’s Humble Entry as a Social Enterpriser

“It might surprise you” said Luke, “but I was not into this at all. I was 19 when the world started falling apart and I realised this is just temporary. Neither my parents, nor my mates believed that climate change is going to affect us; and I certainly thought I would be back renovating houses for well-off people and retire at the age of 40 to travel the world, and maybe settle down. But, a year passed, and another and I began to panic. I blamed everyone and yet I kept on disputing facts; listened to the populist media channels, and followed influencers who had more wealth than two continents combined. I was in a really dark place and all I wanted was insane wealth so I can run away from the city I loved. I did not connect my desire for wealth with the destruction of my community, let alone the world. And how could I? Nobody around me said anything, and I was told I am not academic enough to be able to voice the nagging feeling that something is not right.

But, one day I was placed onto a 6-months programme with a local enterprise that combined learning a new trade with building confidence to sell new skills. I did not know that the training programme was about learning to renovate houses with climate in mind and acquiring a new business acumen through self-discovery. I was 21 at the time of the programme, and oh boy, I hated the first month. I was ready to abandon the scholarship, which was well-paid, with boarding and a guaranteed job at the end.

So, I stayed. I was probably the worst student in the first month, but by month five, I was second, and in the end, I was a top student and felt like Leonardo Da Vinci. OK, maybe I was not able to paint portraits, but I was able to think across disciplines, connect the dots, learn climate science, understand behaviour change science, learn from nature and anthropology how houses used to be built, and circulate materials in a closed-loop system.

The key that unlocked that knowledge, well, two keys really, were the tutors and the hands-on learning. Our tutors were blokes like me who were told they would amount to nothing but who had immense hunger for change but could not articulate it any other way than living up to the power and wealth hungry masculine role models represented in social media. These lads were innovators, artists, and young fathers who had lost more than gained trying to live up to the standard of living that did not deliver on the fundamental front: belonging.

Connecting the Dots to Learning, Practice, and Funding

Luke continued with his monologue, “These tutors knew exactly what men go through, and they knew they could only instil a sense of belonging by showing a path where success meets belonging and emotional stability. This is how the second key to my transformation came in: we were placed onto renovation projects alongside anthropologists, scientists, electricians, builders; and innovators. We were not just to fix things, but unlearn what we knew about houses, cities, nature, people and so forth. We had compulsory classes in nature and climate; but also on circular economy and materials science.

Because I had an exposure to renovation of houses, it all clicked. I could understand how to build without waste; how to work with nature to reduce use of artificial lighting; how to change design of our houses to use rainwater and so on. Often, we had to draw on ancient literature.”

The journalist asked how funding was made possible and so Luke explained that the Government in Wales realised that they could unlock sustainability by investing in such training and this was done on a massive scale across industries. The model however worked such that when students gained jobs or opened their businesses, they would sponsor another student and so this virtuous cycle grew bigger and bigger over time, with government eventually stepping back. There was a clear understanding that only by investing in those without jobs, and those who lost them due to unplanned transition, and young people who barely made a dent on economy, Wales will be able to deliver on its sustainable commitments.

After this long monologue, Luke finally moved on to the topic of the hub and his role. “You see, when I finished my training, I began travelling around the training programmes in the agricultural sector, manufacturing, healthcare and so forth and came to the realisation that not only do we have the same mindsets across industries, but we also need each other to keep going. So instead of clustering around sectors, we clustered around challenges and opportunities. So, this hub is about food challenge: to grow all year round, no waste, no imports; no additives; nutritious; within the carbon and nature budgets; and accessible. So, my role is to know what is being grown, who can take it, how can we distribute it without packaging that will create waste and how to create seasonal dishes without making people say this is boring! So, we also have artists and chefs from around the world to make humble foods be fun, inspirational and healthy.”

Learning from Nature and Working in Partnership

Without even being promoted, Luke started talking about the impact of the hub. “It has been a great success because everyone sees how they benefit from being in the ecosystem of a challenge and opportunity, rather than in an ecosystem of competition where the winner takes it all but eventually loses as the newbie will take over. So we are learning from nature to be symbiotic not parasitic! Which is why you see so much nature here.

We apply the same principles to our processes, so we think before we reuse, or redesign and recycle, and so the system-thinking approach for us was the biggest game changer. Do not get me wrong, some people still want to have a more cushy lifestyle and want to keep the profit to themselves and they can but only after they paid their fair share to the hub, the tax office and to the training programme. We recognise that there are moments in business cycles where some things are doing better than others, and that can change due to the weather and things we cannot expect. Which is why we do not envy someone’s bumper year. We celebrate it knowing this will benefit us all in the long term and that when other businesses have a lean year, others will come to the rescue. This is because the collaboration and structure of working in the hub have made it evident that the businesses here are interdependent. So if one breaks down, the rest will struggle. So on balance, we all win. However, until we had a few cycles of ups and downs, we could not see the true value of this model. This is why it was so important that the government holds its promise to support the programme and the hubs until we reach that new balance and learn to adapt to change and embrace it.

Our challenges are well predicted because we have climate models, and we know what effect they will have on us, so we plan years in advance. We have planning and strategy teams that work on new stuff while old stuff works perfectly fine. There are no questions as to why we plan for the future because we know this is what a smart business owner does, which is, plan ahead of foreseeable future challenges with a positive, yet realistic outlook”.

The journalist raised his eyebrows and wanted to say that perhaps this utopia will only work in Wales. But Luke got there first and said, “We use this model worldwide because we know collaboration yields more than competition. And look at us—we are all still giddy here in this hub. We work hard, but we know it is worth it for us, our children, our colleagues, and citizens worldwide.

I love what I do and I wish everyone around the world see the point of it. I get to have time with my family, I have a great life, I live in a beautiful home, and I eat healthy food. I don’t need the stuff I used to want, because the stuff I have now is perfect, lasts and can be passed on. I do not need to chase after money to buy things that end up in the bin. My mates are the same and so we spend time outdoors here in beautiful Wales. It took time to restore it, but we got there in the end which is why we cherish what we have.”

The journalist stood there speechless and for the first time had no more questions to ask. So instead went off for a wander soaking the hub’s atmosphere.

Did you like this story? How did it make you feel? What aspects of the story provoked you the most? Email your response to shwmae@cynnalcymru.com.

Follow next week’s story about Aman, a refugee and farmer from the horn of Africa who uses his expertise in flood resilience to turn the farmlands at a community farm into a flourishing community hub.

How can we develop and use the skills needed to create a 2051 we are proud of? Join Karolina and Camille for a free online Green Skills event on 28th May.

And how about training in climate and nature?Even better, why not help us help you become a future-proof business?Take a look at our range of services.

Collaborative Hubs for the Private Sector that Improve Efficiency – Cynnal Cymru – Sustain Wales (2024)

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