September 2011 I arrived in Melbourne for my second IODA (International Organisation Development Association) conference. I was going there together with my friend and colleague Cyriel Kortleven because we both believe that we can create more human and society oriented organisations instead of the mainly profit oriented ones that still rule a big part of our corporate landscape.
It was another step in my search for a purposeful career, which had started in 2006 when I decided to leave IT behind me. It was a bigger step than I had expected. The first night when I sat down for dinner at Fed Square with Cyriel, mere hours after I have arrived after a 23 hour journey from Belgium, I immediately has this visceral feeling that came over me: I am home! It is this feeling that made me say yes to a request from someone I met during that first visit. The request was the following: ‘Could you come and speak at a student conference in March next year? … But it’s only 15 minutes and we can not pay you.’ March 2012 I boarded a flight to bring me back to Melbourne to go and speak at the student conference and the investment of my time and money has more than payed off. Sometimes we just need to follow our instincts and do things that people consider to be batshit crazy I guess.
I spent 2 weeks in Melbourne that time and my network just simply exploded. Part of it had to do with the people I met through the conference, another part of it with the fact that I went back to the HUB, a co working space that I got to know on my first visit. It is there that I really experienced the value of what a co working space can bring for the first time. I had been to co working spaces before. I had been to the HUB in Brussels and had facilitated the opening of S2M in Eindhoven. But until then I didn’t really ‘get’ it. It’s a concept you need to grow into when you come from the ‘normal’ corporate world I guess and it requires a shift in mindset that can take some time.
Now that I ‘got’ it I wanted more of it. This was a great concept and I wanted to be part of it! I re connected with the HUB in Brussels but it was just too hard to get to due to their location and not long after they went bankrupt. Sad because they really tried to build community. Then, after my move to Antwerp I tried out a couple of co working spaces there. I was left disappointed though because I was missing the social aspect that I had experienced in Melbourne. The setup of the space was just too office like in order to facilitate the social connections that I deemed so valuable. It felt more like a rented desk than a co working space.
And there was another issue that I ran into: competition between co working spaces. It confused me. How can you set up a space that aims to increase collaboration and then go into an almost cut throat competition with other spaces that aim to do the same? It just didn’t make sense to me … from a value oriented point of view that is. From a profit or business model point of view it makes all the sense in the world … if you limit your thinking.
Things work different in Melbourne. They don’t have the level of collaboration that I would like to see in the co working space world but there also is no cut throat competition going on. There is an constructive relationship between the owners of most of the co working spaces I have been to. And yes, I have come back to Melbourne many times and will continue to do so in the future.
I love the diversity in culture there, the friendliness of the people, the fact that they are willing to try things out instead of killing it off with a ‘yes, but’ from the get go. I love the artsy fartsy vibe of the city, the vibrant dance community I started tapping into during my second visit, their totally unpredictable weather and their world class coffee. Yes, Melbourne turned me into a real coffee snob 🙂 It’s a city that beats in synch with my rhythm. People are passionate about what they do, work hard and are also laid-back, a combination I really like.
Since the fall of 2015 a new mission has been added to my stays in Melbourne. In 2014 I was working on creating a platform that would connect people and grassroots projects. This idea was born out of the realisation that there are a lot of groups working on projects which could be a real boon for society but their efforts often fall short because most of them are working on their own little island without a tool to easily connect them to other, similar project groups. After having a chat with Frederik Feys we decided to do something about that. We wanted it to be easy to use and require as little effort as possible from the users. For that I was looking at artificial intelligence. I was pretty sure that we could implement and train an AI that could learn to recognise similarities in people and projects. To realise that we needed to get IT people on board though and that proved to be harder than we anticipated, especially since we did’t have a budget to work with and it proved to be hard to sell something that was mainly focused on creating value instead of profit. So the idea got kind of shelved. Up until a meeting that led me to re connect with Seats2Meet in Utrecht. After a very inspiring chat with Lenneke van Rossum and Vincent Ariens I came to the discovery that they had implemented what I was dreaming of, an AI powered platform that connects people and learns form the feedback. That was not all though. The value oriented drive that I discovered behind the organisation was what I missed with most organisations and co working spaces I had been to. The business model almost always took precedence over the value model, something that often frustrated the hell out of me. Here I had found people who had the guts to do it the other way around. It was then and there that I decided to become an ambassador for them in Melbourne.
I believe that we need to evolve to a more collaborative society. The human race did not get this far through competition but through collaboration. We thrive through sharing. The pre requisite for that is that we feel safe doing so, something that is often severely lacking in the world we live in today. Especially in corporations where it’s too often about beating the competition and eating as much of the pie as possible instead of sharing it. That model is not sustainable and it will run us into the ground. It is a breath of fresh air to see different models. I believe that Seats2Meet and the values they represent can create positive change in this world and that’s why I came on board.
I did not get where I am on my own. There have been many people and organisations that have inspired me, believed in me and supported me on my journey. Some I already mentioned in this post and there are many, many more. I could not have done this without them. I especially want to thank Pacquita Balcaen and Matt Batey for re connecting me with Seats2Meet, Andre van den Toorn for giving me the opportunity to publish on this platform and Renske Mennen for being my partner in crime in Melbourne. The journey has just begun and I am excited to be on my way.
My name is Stef Kuypers and I am a Stand-Up Entrepreneur