By Luminate

New Investment Promotes Civic Tech and Tech for Good in Manchester

Social enterprises offered free working space at Manchester’s Federation

Tech entrepreneurs tackling social issues and developing civic technology platforms will be offered free working space in Manchester’s leading digital hub, The Federation, thanks to one of the world’s leading philanthropic investment firms.

Omidyar Network, established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam, has provided £700,000 of funding over two years, so that the Co-op Foundation can offer up to 60 individuals a chance to base their tech social enterprise at The Federation, the new co-working digital community established by the Co-op in central Manchester.

This is the first time that Omidyar Network, which has committed almost $1.3 billion dollars worldwide to education, emerging technology, financial inclusion, governance & citizen engagement and property rights challenges, has invested in an organisation focused on delivering positive impacts in the UK.

The funding means that the Co-op Foundation, the Co-op’s own charity, will be able to offer successful applicants desk spaces, meeting rooms and access to the building’s extensive events area as well as linking them up with The Federation team and wider Co-op group colleagues who can help with advice and networking.

The money from Omidyar Network will also be used to support a collaborative year round events programme, open to all, that will tackle some of the major issues around creating a more inclusive digital economy and the development of a civic technology sector in the UK. This will include looking at the impact of technology on broader social issues such as loneliness, inclusive participation and the right to privacy.

Although only officially opened in November, The Federation, which comprises eight floors at the Co-op’s former textile warehouse near Victoria Station in the city centre, is already 90% occupied. It has been designed to attract the North’s digital businesses and innovators, who share ethical Co-op values and an ambition to work towards creating a better digital economy and ensuring that technology works for the public good.

Stephen King, partner and global lead for the Governance & Citizen Engagement initiative at Omidyar Network, commented: “We believe that data and technology should work for the public good, enable greater participation in the democratic process, and give people the means to make government more efficient, responsive and accountable. We’re pleased to partner with the Co-op Foundation and theFederation as they create the space to support a new wave of social and civic tech entrepreneurs for the UK. These entrepreneurs and technologists will not only help establish Manchester as a city at the forefront of a more inclusive digital economy, but will help to shape the UK’s thinking, innovation and tech solutions.“

Steve Murrells, CEO of Co-op Group: “We want to champion a much more ethical and inclusive digital economy where the benefits are shared much more widely. 

“Omidyar Network’s support for the Co-op Foundation means we will be in a position, not only to offer free co-working space for up to 60 individuals but also to address some of the key issues around how we can create checks and balance that ensures this digital revolution that we are all living through enhances life and not diminishes it.”

Jamie Ward-Smith, Chair of the Co-op Foundation, said: "Digital is a critical tool for the future efficiency and sustainability of charities and social enterprises, with the potential to transform how they deliver services, raise funds and engage more volunteers. 

“This exciting investment from Omidyar Network, and our partnership with The Federation, allows us to offer practical help to innovative start-ups, and to champion sustainable, community-led digital solutions that make a real difference to people's lives."

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said: “I feel the digital economy should embrace collaboration and co-operation as much as it does competition. We need to build groups of people who can collaborate and through that collaboration achieve more together.

“This funding from Omidyar Network and The Co-op Foundation will provide so much more opportunity to do just this in Manchester. I look forward to seeing the growth in our tech co-operatives, community interest companies and social enterprises as well as a renewed focus on civic tech in the city including Civic Tech.”