Meet The First Social Entrepreneurship Hub In Azerbaijan

About 5 months ago I did not know anything about the country Azerbaijan. However, this all changed on a bus in Germany. Making small talk as we waited for the ever-late Flixbus, I met a guy from Azerbaijan. He told me all about his country, his start-up and how the country needs to focus on the future including renewable energy sources. We chatted for ages and I enjoyed learning about a country I had never heard of before! He invited me to check out the country if I was in the region. He probably didn’t think I would ever take him up on the offer but when I was in Turkey, I decided to make the trip across the Caspian Sea to Azerbaijan.
Staying in Baku, the capital I was immediately shocked at the beauty with a range of intricate buildings spanning various ages. My friend showed me around the city, with beautiful shopping strips (many designer brands I will never be able to afford!) as well as local cafes and restaurants. 

Azerbaijan has formed much of its wealth through the oil and gas industry, which is evident as you walk through the streets. Not just from the expensive buildings and shops, but there is a thick scent of petroleum in the air. It took me quite a while to adjust! 

While exploring the streets and avenues of Azerbaijan, I came across a really interesting company called Baku Idea Lab. Their mission is to create a better environment for people making positive social change in Azerbaijan. Young entrepreneurs (ages 18-30) are a key focus for them to retain talent from a globally competitive market. I was fortunate enough to meet with the team and hear their views about the emerging social entrepreneurship market in Azerbaijan. 

The Baku Idea Lab

The Lab officially started in 2017 after they won a tender service contract from the Swedish Embassy’s Economic Department to build a social entrepreneurship market in Azerbaijan. As their project commenced they soon realised that there was a need to continue this beyond the project completion date. They have now evolved into a social business, offering membership including co-working space, community events and training to drive social change through entrepreneurs in the Baku region. 

‘We were the first of our kind in Azerbaijan,’ shared Ilyas Farhadli who is the Development Manager at the Baku Idea Lab. ‘We have developed a really strong brand in the region by providing strong capacity building for entrepreneurs, a great network for them and a safe, community space so they can succeed.’ He said. 

To date they have about 20 members who are driving social businesses that span from environmental to social issues. 

Using the SDGs to drive positive change

The team discussed the success of using the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within their network. ‘It is really important for the community to understand the SDGs as they help them to understand the social and environmental issues in more detail.’ Gunay Rzazada, the Community and Program Manager said. They use a range of tools including webinars, public talks and programs to help their community to learn more about the goals and how they can make a positive impact on Azerbaijan and the world. 

Here are some of the initiatives they are doing that align to the SDGs: 

SDG #5: Gender Equality

‘Gender equality is a hot topic in Azerbaijan at the moment. It is important because business is better when women have the opportunity to use their skills and make change.’ One of the team members said. Although women may not be represented at a startup or corporate level in Azerbaijan, at the Baku Idea Lab, women are core to the business and the community. A key reason for their strong female population is that they create a safe, community led space for people to grow together and build their skills in ways that are unique to the individuals. 

One of their programs is ‘She is my hero’. It is designed to offer practical training conducted by experts on the topics including visual stories, communication and leadership. Participants will then present a video clip and photo illustrations to develop their ideas in the form of team mentors. This will be open to 80 female participants who want to change the world through the power of business. 

SDG #11: Sustainable Communities and Cities

One of the important aspects of social change for all countries around the world is sustainable urban and regional planning. In Baku, this is another hot topic and the Baku Idea Lab has run a number of events about the topic of urban planning and future focused design. In these public talks they have discussed topics including ecological management in urban planning.  

SDG #13: Climate Action

Climate action is an important yet challenging topic for the Baku Idea Lab. ‘Sometimes it seems like people in Azerbaijan don’t care about climate change because they cannot see the impacts of it in their lives. It is almost seen as a problem for tomorrow. But we need to act now.’ One team member said. 

Although there doesn’t seem to be much public interest in the topic, Baku Idea Lab have it as a focus of their business. They try to promote local organisations who are working on environmental issues and want to increase the number of public talks that focus on the topic of climate change. One of the challenges they face is the lack of global experts in the field who can discuss climate change and how local people can make positive change. One of the team members shared how difficult it can be to find relevant expertise to share their insights as well as people who can implement long term change in the area of environment. However there are some great organisations including Greenify and EcoBaku who are working on these issues and they are always looking for ways to collaborate further. 

Get Involved

If you’re an expert or passionate advocate for any of the topics above and would like to contribute to the Baku Idea Lab community through a webinar, please contact them at info@bakuidealab.az. They are always looking for people from around the world who can discuss topics including:

  • climate change-  circular economy, zero waste systems, activism, sustainable agriculture and others
  • female empowerment- corporate and startup perspectives, programs, sociological insights
  • sustainable communities- urban planning and regional development. 

Their public talks are very popular and love to work with people to share their experiences in Azerbaijan as well as learn from global experts/leaders. 

Overall 

Meeting with the first social entrepreneurship hub in Azerbaijan was an interesting experience. As they are building towards a sustainable business model, their focus is to create high impact, high value programs and events to continue to grow. It was very evident that their co-working space is viewed as the differentiator as the team take so much pride to create a safe and empowering space for their entrepreneurs to succeed.

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