AltCity Impact is a non-profit organization legally registered in Lebanon in 2015. Bloom is an affiliated project of AltCity Impact which leverages new methods and technologies to support character development, skill development, entrepreneurship education and MSME development with a focus on building inclusive and impact-driven economies.
• MSME: Micro, small, and medium enterprises
• Inclusive: Supporting entrepreneurship and economic opportunities for marginalized and under-represented communities including youth, women, refugees, migrants and others.
• Impact-driven: Supporting innovation, entrepreneurship, and enterprises that help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with a focus on our top 5 priority impact areas.
Our story with supporting entrepreneurship in MENA goes back to 2006, with visits, research, and examinations into challenges for entrepreneurship in various countries in the region, especially Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria. In 2007, David Munir Nabti (DMN) started working on plans to launch a co-working space in Lebanon, along with various activities to encourage and support creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation. The doors opened in 2008 under the name RootSpace, and we had a constant stream of coworkers, activities, and workshops. Soon after, DMN and Dima Saber also jointly co-founded a youth media outlet, Hibr Lubnani. Those various efforts were supported by an amazing team, including Julnar Doueik, Aly Ghamloush, Paula Korban, Rodrigue Kortmossian, Pippa Nairn, Nawar Nohra, and Maya Rahal, amongst others.
In 2010, we started working on an effort to expand to a new location, with a new approach, and a new name, AltCity, which (re-)launched with the support of the team above, and under the leadership of three core partners, David Munir Nabti, Dima Saber, and Samer Azar.
The new AltCity community space launched in Hamra in early 2011, with early support from Mercy Corps. It included a cafe, coworking + offices, workshop spaces, art spaces, and an event space. Often hosting multiple events per day, the space saw tens of thousands of visitors, and partnered with hundreds of organizations between 2011 and 2015.
Some highlights of programs we hosted there included a game development program (with the Embassy of the Netherlands in Lebanon), a media entrepreneurship program (with CFI), regular language and media workshops for migrants and refugees, a theater production with Zeina Daccache, regular TEDxHamra Salon events, Behance and other design events, the coordination and hosting of Open Innovation Week (with the World Bank, Stanford University d.School, MIT, and others), and many more.
That same period also saw a worsening of the conflict in Syria which started in March 2011, around the time when AltCity opened its doors in Hamra. Those years saw a worsening of the economic situation in Lebanon, an influx of refugees, a decline in private sector support for entrepreneurship and innovation, and a shift in international funding from “development” to “humanitarian” activities.
As projects evolved and shifted away from a media focus, some of the original core team shifted on to other pursuits, including co-founder Dima Saber who continued her focus on new media and social change at the Birmingham Center for Media and Cultural Studies, and Birmingham City University.
AltCity shifted to focus more intensively on entrepreneurship, launching an early-stage Bootcamp program in partnership with Banque du Liban and AM Bank. Our passion for social impact led to the creation of Elevate Impact Accelerator, a joint initiative with UNICEF Lebanon (the first impact accelerator launched in collaboration with UNICEF globally), and SoUK.LB (a joint project with the UK Embassy in Lebanon, Alfanar, and DAI), amongst other programs.
With the changing times and in an effort to have greater impact, the AltCity team decided to shift from a “space focus” to a “program focus” in 2015, first moving offices to Antwork, then to BDD, and meanwhile running programs and activities in different locations. We long wanted to explore ways to leverage tech more substantially, and so starting in 2016, and in collaboration with Bilal Ghalib, we started the shift from a “program focus” to a “tech focus”, and after various explorations and pilots, the idea of Bloom was born, an approach to run online programs that could have greater reach and potentially greater impact than traditional offline programs. While the Bloom platform and approach could be used across various sectors and program types, we started with entrepreneurship programs under the name of Pitchworthy, with the goal of expanding access to entrepreneurship education to all people, everywhere, through powerful online methods, content, and tools.
While our programs have often focused on “startup”, “enterprise”, and “social innovation” supports, our primary mission has always been on education, personal growth, and community development. We appreciate and leverage “entrepreneurship” both as an outcomes-oriented process (new enterprises or jobs created, impact through social enterprises, etc), and as an educational pedagogy of participatory, solutions-oriented, project-based learning.
These tools of “accelerated project-based learning” are helpful far beyond the startup space, and from our work and research, we now believe in the near universality of values-focused project-based learning to personal, professional, and community development. The methods can be applied in startup accelerators, classrooms, international organizations, companies, policy-making environments, NGOs, and most anywhere.
As we continue to improve our online tooling to run improved programs across those domains, we are working to soon launch the online platform Bloom to support those activities.
The legal name of the non-profit organization in Lebanon is still AltCity Impact.
As the programmatic focus evolved over the years, so has the team.
To see the current work of Samer Azar, visit Alex the CFO.
You can see the current AltCity Impact / Bloom team on the About page.