• Written by Mark Charmer
    18 September 2011

On Friday night we launched AmLab, our new work space in the centre of Amsterdam. It’s a spectacular building, being the former headquarters of the Dutch West Indian Company. We’ve already written about the history of the place, here.

But really the question is what can we do with the building now, and how can we turn it into one of the most important and exciting work hubs for international development. As Peter said in his opening speech on Friday evening, for centuries the building was connected to the world by canals and the sea. Now it’s connected using the internet and mobile devices. The question now is how can we apply this amazing new communications infrastructure, to help people radically improve their living conditions and situation in other parts of the world?

AmLab is short for Amsterdam Lab. The goal is to create a hotspot for innovation and development of new tools and approaches and where people can work together on new ideas. It’s founded by 1%CLUB, Text to Change and Akvo and we want it to become an innovation lab for web and mobile for international development in Amsterdam. Of the group, it’s the 1%CLUB that has the track record in creating innovation spaces – it set up Nailab in Nairobi, Kenya, which is doing really well. So we start right away with another hub to link to, in one of the most interesting innovation cities in the world, right now.

To sum things up (as we see them now) AmLab is a space where:

  • Text to Change, Akvo.org and 1%CLUB host their offices
  • new tools and solutions for international cooperation are being developed
  • we develop open source software solutions together
  • people organise presentations, meetups, bootcamps and hackathons where innovators, change-makers, techies and social entrepreneurs can meet
  • there are great connections to other innovation labs all over the world

Some quick background on the three founding partners:

1%CLUB (www.onepercentclub.com) is the online crowdfunding platform that connects people with smart ideas with people, money and knowledge around the world.So far over 500,000 euro was collected online which made it possible to fund over 200 out of the 300 projects in 62 countries.

1%CLUB is the founder of the NaiLab Incubation Space in Nairobi and organizes the yearly 1%EVENT and monthly Co-Creation Sessions where they connect change makers en young professionals all over the world.

Text to Change (www.texttochange.org) (TTC) combines the increasing growth of mobile telephony with the need for better healthcare projects, innovative education, economic development and transparency.

TTC uses sophisticated mobile phone technology to send out and receive information on such issues in Africa and South America. TTC’s pioneering model is based on interactive and incentive based SMS programmes. Together with their local partners, TTC aims to support change by increasing awareness and enabling citizens to take their health and well being into their own hands.

Akvo (www.akvo.org) creates open source web and mobile software, and builds networks of skilled partners that can change the way development aid is allocated and reported.

This is important, because it improves the way projects are implemented in some of the poorest parts of the world, making them more effective, efficient, sustainable and visible. Many of Akvo’s partners focus on water and sanitation, but Akvo now also covers health, education, economic development and IT projects.

I arrived at the party having just shared a stage with Hajo von Beijma of Text to Change, at the PICNIC Festival over at NDSM Wharf, where we both talked about innovation and development in Africa. So already we’re doing more together. For my photos from Friday, click the collage below. For more background on our decision to move, and for photos of the shell of the building, take a look at this piece here. It was also very nice to have people come along from the International Water House, our former home in the Hague, and they did a really touching leaving presentation to a few of us. It meant a lot. I hope everyone there will feel they can come and spend time at AmLab, because they helped make it possible.

Mark Charmer is a co-founder of Akvo.