About a year ago I was made aware of a group of folks working on solving social problems together as a human network. The place was called Matryoshka. If you don't know what a Matryoshka is, its a Russian nesting doll. On two different legs of my trip to the U.K. I was able to meet with folks from Matryoshka to better understand who they are and what they are doing. Let's start with the basics.
Matryoshka is a community that began with the work of a woman named Shannon Hopkins. Creatively working in the U.K. she created a pub initiative that helped fight human trafficking and a creative arts project called, "Doxology". She learned she had a knack for this kind of social impact work and that she was adept at gathering others who were interested in this kind of work as well. Overt time a community began to develop of people who were skilled at collaboratively working on engaging social problems in area.
Today, Matryoshka is housed in its own space in the Canary wharf area of London. They have a co-working space that includes folks inside and outside Matryoshka's direct network. Many of these folks are engaged with Christian faith, but others are not. That characteristic is not considered a necessity to solving pressing issues. What is clear to me is that their faith does inform both the work that they do and the way that they gather in intentional community. Matryoshka uses this co-working model to sustain part of its operations, but the majority of their sustainability comes from what they produce.
Matryoshka has begun to develop tools to help non-profits create solutions to intractable social problems and to figure out how to better measure the impact of their work. They sell these tools to organizations throughout the U.K. and the U.S. as well.
There are a number of organizations that are designing tools to help faith based organizations ideate and innovate, but what makes Matryoshka unique is that the people that design their tools are people who are on the ground and have experience practicing social innovation. They are actually engaged in the work on the ground.
Many folks who are beginning to design tools in the U.S. have not themselves actually built any social change organizations or enterprises. It is far more likely that they are able to design tools because they have the time to do so (afforded by their institution) and access to larger institutional funding. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but I often wish that practitioners of innovation were the ones designing tools rather than exclusively research institutions or large ministry companies. My own sense is that if practitioners were at least more heavily involved in the design process and testing process that significantly different tools and ideation processes might be developed.
My hope is that research institutions will begin to creatively partner with those that are doing the innovation work to generate ideas and gatherings that might help other individuals do similar kinds of work more effectively. Social innovators who are on the ground take a ton of risk and invest loads of blood, sweat, and tears in their work and they should have a seat at the table to share their expertise when they can. They not only have a clearer sense of what is possible, but also are the embodiement of the passion and ethos that is required to make this kind of work happen. That spirit, or elan, is not something that is reproducible and I am not sure that it is possible to do this kind of work without it. Last, its worth noting that in Matryoshka's early days it was Christian institutions that pulled funding away from their trafficking initiative because it overemphasized social justice. It is important to understand that many Christian practitioners of social innovation are seeking to avoid the church and have often been burned by it. One of the reasons that I think involving and funding practitioners matters is that generally speaking Christian companies and learning institutions are generally not very good at finding, reaching, and involving these sorts of outsiders.
For Youth Ministry Innovators, the hope is that we can begin to utilize some of the tools that Matryoshka has designed as we work with churches and youth ministries that are seeking to impact their localized communities through the work of their churches. I also hope we can be a helpful conversation partner with Matryoshka to help them reflect theologically on the work that they are doing.
Regardless of what happens, they are doing amazing Kingdom work. They work collaboratively on problems that each of them faces, they have common gatherings and meals together, and they have a well developed sense of their values:
-They believe that social innovation is a tangible expression of God's Kingdom.
-All people are designed to do good work.
-Hospitality is critical and their community is shaped by the radical welcome of God in Christ.
-Christian Social Innovation is a particular kind of innovation that is guided by the life and work of Jesus.
-The process of innovation involves critical discernment, imagintion, creation, and inspiring future expressions of Kingdom work in others.
Matryoshka is a fabulous organization and one of the most unique expressions of the gospel that I have ever seen. We hope to continue to partner with them in some way moving forward.