The Wrexham Hack of Kindness

On 5th March we held the first ever social enterprise hackathon in Wales, the Wrexham Hack of Kindness. Over twelve hours, 42 people developed their ideas, learned the basics of setting up a social enterprise, networked with a variety of mentors and pitched in front of an audience and judging panel. It was a full on high energy day of creative learning with the aim of generating new social business ideas to benefit Wrexham.

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What’s a hackathon?

I wanted to take the hackathon concept of an event where people work in teams to solve problems over a longer-than-usual-time-period (in this case a solid twelve hours) and put the spotlight on tackling social issues with sustainable business ideas. Solutions can be tech based (hence the ‘hack’ part), but not necessarily so. Being a creative thinking and ideas day with time pressure and a pitch was what mattered most.
As the Social Entrepreneurship Officer at the Wales Co-operative Centre I wanted to develop hackathon events as a powerful way to draw people together and to promote social enterprise. Starting in Wrexham was no accident.

Why we called it the ‘Hack of Kindness’

Calling it the ‘Wrexham hackathon’ would not have sparked the imagination. Social enterprise is about combining doing good for communities with commercial sustainability, or ‘profit with a purpose’. The title did its work. People signed up because of the idea – an opportunity to work together to help their community.

How it came about

Like any idea it was a seed that needed to be planted and nurtured to become a reality. It started with a conversation, drew in others, and grew into a collaborative event. More on that below.

The social themes we tackled

The day was built around finding ideas that would address five key issues. We consulted on what the most pressing issues for Wrexham are and together came up with social isolation, health and wellbeing, being an eco-town, safety on the streets, and homelessness.
Once we started promoting it people could sign up on Eventbrite in teams of six around the issue they wanted to work on, or else indicate which issue they wanted to address and join a team on the day.

What the day looked like

After kicking off with breakfast and a bit of networking at 8am we spent an hour together looking at where ideas come from and the principles of setting up a social business. After that the teams spent their day developing their ideas with the help of a series of workshops and some input from mentors and role models from Social Business Wales New Start and Big Ideas Wales.

The workshops covered the building blocks of starting a business – engaging with stakeholders, working as a team, marketing, brand identity, funding and finance, PR, measuring social impact, and how to pitch your idea.

The day culminated in all nine groups pitching their ideas to a panel of judges. We were not looking for one overall winner. Instead we wanted to connect viable ideas with the next steps of support and funding to make the ideas happen.

Here are the nine big lessons that we learned from the Hack of Kindness:

1. Partnerships make good things happen

The Hack of Kindness developed out of our partnership work with the Wrexham Enterprise Hub. That expanded to involving Wrexham Council, Big Ideas Wales, Coleg Cambria, Glyndwr University, UnLtd, WCVA and AVOW.

2. You learn about social enterprise best by doing

It is impossible to be passive at a hackathon – you spend the day being creative, planning, managing, learning, negotiating, being a team player, pitching…it is a perfect immersive environment to learn about social enterprise.

3. Business needs kindness and kindness needs business

At its best social enterprise is the marriage of delivering social impact through sustainable profit making commercial business (profit for good, not profit to line the pockets of fat cats). This is exactly what our world needs.

4. Good ideas come from ‘the people’

Good ideas can come from anywhere, they are democratic. This was about grassroots thinking, not top down. It was all about people working together.

5. The creative unknown is an exciting and challenging place to be

Twelve hours working as a team with virtually an eight week business course squeezed into a day’s worth of sprint workshops. Would it work? Oh yes, but it was nervy. Some ideas didn’t crystallise before the clock struck 5pm…with the pitch at 7pm.

6. Co-operation beats competition every time

This was the anti-hackathon hackathon. It wasn’t about one idea being better than the others. It was about a community of people coming up with loads of good ideas and celebrating that fact. ‘Best idea’ is not a moral category.

7. You need people with different angles on the problem

We had students, retired folk, those who were long term unemployed, local councillors, third sector workers, a magistrate, retired teachers, business owners, and Labour party members. That mix really worked. There’s nothing quite like having someone from a different background to yours giving their honest take on your ideas.

8. Creativity needs time, space and pressure to thrive

From idea to pitch in twelve hours, with input, revisions and creative discussions throughout. How much better to have people come up with viable ideas like this rather than being consulted and told what is going to happen.

9. Ideas, support, and investment need to be in the same room

At the heart of the event was the desire to connect people with viable ideas to funders and support organisations. By spending the day together talking, engaging, eating, listening to pitches, it accelerated the step from concept to support and development significantly.