We had some fun jumping over to the west coast to talk with Sheri Lozano of Link2Lift. Sheri discusses her innovative and collaborative idea to use unused spaces for lifting others.
Welcome to episode 99 of the Bonfires of Social Enterprise! Wow-wee, almost at 100. Thanks for your loyal support over all of these past episodes! Oh, by the way, this is Romy, and we had some fun jumping over to the west coast to talk with Sheri Lozano of Link2Lift. Sheri discusses her innovative and collaborative idea to use unused spaces in lifting ways. Be sure to stay until the end for a great song from a Detroit artist!
Now, first, we have to hear what Natalie has come up with for the fun fuel on this episode.
I’m Natalie Hazen and I am bringing you this episode’s Fun Fuel.
Coworking is everywhere. What is coworking you ask? It is a work trend bringing together professionals from across all industries to form inter-connected communities. According to the website, Mindspace, the concept of a coworking space started in 1995 Berlin with 17 computer enthusiasts got together in a facility to create a space where people with an interest in computers could gather to collaborate and work in an open environment.
Fast track to 1999 New York City and 42 West 24 opened to offer a work environment with flexible membership options for teams and individuals seeking a workspace. The difference here was that there seldom were any organized community events.
In 2005, Brad Neuberg from San Francisco launched the first official co-working space originally referred to as a “9 to 5 group.” It was a was not a huge hit at first as no one showed up for the first month, but soon interest sparked and coworking took off.
Coworking leads to great collaboration. When I hear the word collaboration, my mind goes to the lyrics of Vanilla Ice’s 1990 release of Ice Ice Baby. I hear collaboration and I then start singing: stop, collaborate and listen and then goes on to say, “if there was a problem, yo, I’ll solve it.” Makes me smile every time.
Let’s jump on over to see who Romy is collaborating with on in this episode and what problem they are solving.
Okay, I absolutely love Natalie’s fun fuels! That was so interesting about co-working spaces! And, now I have the Vanilla Ice song in my head! Ha Ha. I have to look that up next! What a perfect lead into a collaboration that Sheri Lozano has tackled with Link2Lift. Let’s drop in on my conversation with Sheri…
Romy: Sheri, why don't you give us the background about what Link2Lift is?
Sheri: Link2Lift is a company that we developed in response to underutilized space. It seems like we've had a ton of buildings that are left unused, and we've developed a process where we can create co-working communities but with a purpose.
Voice: Let's talk about how you got inspired first just to get everyone caught up to what originally lit your fire if you will.
Sheri: You know, it's interesting because I never intended to develop a business. It was more a response to an experience that I had as a volunteer going back and forth to international ... as a volunteer doing international work with communities and then coming back to America, which is so rich, and realizing that we have needs here. And how come with all of the wealth that we have in our own county, we still have people in need?
And so, I just started to be a little curious, and we talk about collaboration, that we have resources, and are we really collaborating? Are we really using our resources well to help our communities that are in the minor, and it was amazing to me that I could go into a Third World country under-resourced with 25 people from the U.S. I've never met before and go into a community where I didn't speak the language, and we could somehow see 700 patients a day. Or we could see high volume, and we could work together.
So, in America, as I started to research this, it was more just out of curiosity. What I found was amazing. There's a lot of people that want to do a lot of great things, but I wasn't happy with the way I saw collaboration working, and I just thought, "We could do better."
Romy: And, Sheri, what did you find some of the main key barriers or maybe just all out fail points that were reoccurring from what you were observing? Why it wasn't working?
Sheri: Yeah, what was interesting, the pain points usually were really out of people wanting to do good. It wasn't a matter of people not wanting to spend their money or give or people not having heart to do well. It was truly just a lot of repeated work, a lot of overlap, a lot of people not realizing that there is something much like their great idea just down the street or next door.
I did this kind of boots on the ground. I decided I ... of course, attended conferences and listened to think partners, but I also decided to do just boots on the ground. And by doing boots on the ground, I could walk with each different sector with channels of influence and see what they were experiencing, and then, I would take copious notes.
So, I could walk with the family who was being cared for. I could walk with the city official. I could walk with the faith community and an investor and take notes, and what I noticed was that there was a lot of duplicate effort, and I felt like that was the one takeaway. I have to be a part of solving this problem, the duplicate effort.
Romy: You hit on a lot of points. It was the faith community, perhaps the government or civic, and then, the beneficiary. It might be a family or a person, and then, what else did you say in there because the faith community, government, and maybe the family or social mission beneficiary and ...
Sheri: And the non-profit [crosstalk].
Romy: And the non-profit, okay. Okay, yeah. So, you've got this discovery because I think that a lot of us acknowledge that that is happening. How did the different groups respond when you started to highlight some of this overlap? Were they defensive, or were they openly looking for a solution?
Sheri: That's a good question. I think it comes with a mixed response because a lot of people, I'm sure, felt the same thing. This was not a new revelation to them, but they're weary, right?
Romy: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Sheri: It's like, how do you make time to collaborate well? So the good thing was coming in as a neutral convener, coming in with the heart that I just want to help make this better, and I wasn't trying to change the identity of each of the organizations and what they have to bring or even how they want to do it.
I was just trying to find where are the common points so that we can really reduce overhead. We can reduce duplicate efforts and increase our impact, and people responded really well to that.
Romy: Yeah, I bet. Weary, I feel is an operative word there. You can see a solution, but when you're just so tired, and you're just trying to get to that very next step, changing it even for the better sometimes can feel overwhelming, you know?
Sheri: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Romy: Yeah. We do have a lot of ...
Sheri: And the good thing is, at that-
Romy: Oh, I'm sorry. I talked over you by accident. Go ahead.
Sheri: That's okay. The good thing is at that point; you have to keep in mind that I was still on my curious journey. So, at that point, I wasn't coming in as a business, I wasn't, or even a non-profit or a program. I was coming in asking questions.
So, it seemed like for the first time, maybe why I gained some favor in the research was because I really was curious. I did not come with answers. I came to create a conversation, and I think that was really refreshing for the people who at least I spoke with.
Romy: Yeah. And then now, it's fully turned in to a physical space as of last week, right, June of 2018, right?
Sheri: Okay, well, so what I do is my client has physical space, so in this curious journey, what I realized was space played a role in collaboration. All these people who had weary work and were working in isolation, many times when you get them in the same room, they're more than happy to work together.
So, when I identified space played a role in collaboration, and yet almost every time I had a meeting, I was meeting in these big buildings that were empty, and it just ... I found irony in it. So, yeah, we turned the idea, all the research from 2013 to two thousand ... really '15, '16. I turned it into, "Okay, how can we repurpose tools that are right at our fingertips?"
A lot of these people have access to buildings, and co-working is not a new idea, but what if we applied co-working a little more intentionally and either the client as a business person who would like to build an accelerator or use technology to your advantage. But what if we dedicate a tenth of that to this non-profit collaboration?
And so, in doing so, I've been able to run this model of how we can do that in almost any space, and it seems to be catching on. You're right. Last week, we opened the first center that completely went through all four stages of our company, and it's the Palau LinkCenter in Portland, Oregon.
And what's fantastic about it is it's a co-working space but with a purpose, and so, these tenant partners, they have their own identity. They have their own organization, and yet, they have intentional time where they will connect with one another, do strategic planning.
The co-working space, the Palau LinkCenter will become a strategic asset. It's almost like I have to be there at least once or twice a week, or I'm going to miss something. I would say that would be the element that's a little bit different than the trend-on co-working style, which is great. But Link2Lift, we're committed toward a little bit more intentional sense of community and purpose in how the workflow is in the space.
Romy: And for just as a side note, let's give them their website in case they want to look at some of the pictures while you're talking here.
Sheri: It'll be PalauLinkCenter.org.
Romy: And let's spell that for them.
Sheri: P-A-L-A-U-L-I-N-K [inaudible]C-E-N-T-E-R.org.
Romy: Okay, perfect. Perfect, perfect. And there's a lot of pictures on the Link2Lift.com website, and that's www L-I-N-K2? The number 2? L-I-F, as in Frank, T as in Tom dot com. All right, so just a little sidestep there. If they want to just tune into your pictures while you're telling this great story. So let's talk about your program, The Common Good. Its Common Good Collaboration Model? Is that the full name of your program?
Sheri: Yeah. For short, we call it The Common Good Collaborator, but it's a process, and so yeah, they model. It's a process of four stages. I like to go in with my client and ask a lot of questions. Usually, people have come to me because they've heard that I can help reimagine their space. It's interesting the amount of people who have this dilemma now. You look at retailers; you look at the commercial property, church buildings, faith communities, it's kind of a dilemma. What do we do? Now that technology has allowed us to do so much remotely, it's changed the consumer, how they think. So, when people approach me, they usually have an idea that they would like to impact their community. Whether it's through jobs or some other way. And so that first process is really important where I just ask a lot of really good questions. Because I believe that property owners have to really resonate with the community that they attract, you know the co-working space they attract. So, whatever it is they care about, we're gonna build something under that umbrella. I think it's the highest chance of sustainability when the owner's really behind it.
We explore all the options of what that can look like, and to be honest with you, this is like the funnest part because I approach the common good collaborator like a city. Imagine a thriving city and what it takes to have a thriving city, and a post office, and a gas station, and a market, and work, and so I put that into a building, and so we have a lot of fun learning what would create a thriving community in your building, and what kind of community do you want that to look like. What kind of culture, who do you wanna impact as a result? And that's really the fun part, and then we get to create it. Have a network of people that we can bring into the conversation.
I love using local talent. I think everyone who lives in town could be a part of building this space, architect's design if there is a budget for that. If not, there are a lot of people that are very creative, and they can repurpose space. But, if the property owner or my client really feels like they want me to bring in the talent like you have that and we can definitely consult on that. And then we go through just this release phase where we say to the client, "Hopefully we have helped create a co-working or shared space environment that a portion, at least a portion of it, is dedicated through common good to create greater impact. And here is the strategic plan for the next 12 months."
And then we check in with them, and we help develop that shape, that culture of the community because it is gonna require a new muscle memory than the way people have worked before. Because remember, the way we worked before was very much in silos and very much caused weariness and duplication of effort. But, in that same weariness in the new environment, there's this temptation to go