Have you ever been walking through Stephen’s Green, past the swans and fallen leaves, and had an epiphany about how we could make Dublin that little bit better?
Dublin now has the perfect outlet for such eureka moments.
Earlier this month, SOUP Dublin held its first event, an evening of conversation about the city and how it can be improved. For €5 on the door, the audience got debate, and a hot cup of soup with fresh bread.
The concept is simple.
Four people have four minutes each to pitch an idea that could make the city friendlier, or greener, or swankier, or just a bit better. Then the audience asks each speaker four questions.
The audience discusses the four ideas among themselves over soup. And then they vote for their favourite idea.
The person with the most popular pitch goes home with all the money taken on the door, so that they have some start-up funding to translate their idea into reality.
The launch wasn’t advertised, but a crowd showed up that was big enough to send the winner home with a pocketful of €300.
“We were really happy with it, we got a good, engaged crowd,” says Paul McDonald, a member of the organising committee. “There’s a nice simplicity to it . . . If you have an idea that’s going to better Dublin society or its physical environment or whatever, come and persuade people and you take home your seed funding.”
SOUP Dublin is hosted at the YMCA on Aungier Street, in a bright sterile room normally used for sports by youth groups, which was transformed into a cosy space with a few fairy lights, furniture, plants and steps to the stage.
Both the YMCA and Third Space café have played parts in getting the SOUP idea up and running.
“[The YMCA] donate the space and the staff to set it up,” says McDonald. “Third Space donate the holding area for people to come in and register, as well as the soup. Then, between volunteers and the committee, we do everything else.”
Inspired by an article in the Guardian about urban renewal and a soup event in America, McDonald had this plan in the works for a couple years.
The concept seems to have started, or at least been popularised by Detroit SOUP, and then spread to Australia, the UK, and other parts of the US.
When the YMCA partnered with Third Space last year on Aungier Street, McDonald discussed the concept as part of lease negotiations before the café was even built. The two organisations decided to come together to set it up.
The winning pitch of SOUP Dublin’s first event was: “How many Dubs does it take to change a light?”
Ally McGeever had noticed a pedestrian crossing in Dublin where the sequence was out. The pitch was to conduct a social experiment to see how difficult (or easy) it is to engage with civic society and get this changed.
McGeever plans to record the journey with a video blog, tracking how many emails, phone calls and letters it takes to fix it.
Other ideas included a socially conscious Airbnb for the homeless, and harnessing “city tribes” by getting people to unite around a cause and push for change through social media.
There was also a plan to empower migrant women – some of whom are in direct provision – through fashion design, by selling accessories they made and investing any profits in programmes for them.
Lye Ogunsanya was looking for seed funding to market bow ties and pocket squares. His pitch didn’t win, but he’s still glad he took part. “I think we’ll probably get a meeting or two from that pitch,” he says.
The SOUP Dublin team are trying to make sure they welcome more than the usual suspects to events.
“It’s got to be a good blend and not just one cohort of Dublin society,” says McDonald. “And the more people that buy in, the more seed funding people will go home with.”
Where the Money Goes
The micro-loan is no-strings-attached, yours-for-the-keeping finance. It can go towards any cost associated with the project, from building a website to equipment and plants for a community garden.
The committee plans to track how much money was invested in each idea, and hopes winners will stay in touch and perhaps give updates at future events.
“Just as a check in. It would be very much a community thing,” says McDonald. “And we would definitely keep track when ideas go live and are successful.”
In the US, some successful social enterprises and causes grew from the soup events, he says.
Since the event bloomed in Detroit back in 2010, the city has hosted 130 dinners and raised $118,554 (€105,110) for projects around the city.
Past Detroit SOUP winners have started nonprofits, local businesses, rooftop gardens, after-school programmes and park clean-ups.
SOUP winnings have aided in the launch of a pop-up café, a non-profit Shakespearean theatre, a Detroit-inspired colouring book, a historical museum and a charity that provides medical care to homeless people in the city.
“With a small bit of money, they’ve gone on to success,” says McDonald. “We’d love to be in a position to be able to do that.”
Every Six Weeks
If all goes to plan, SOUP Dublin will take place on Thursdays, every six weeks, with registration at 6.30 pm in Third Space, and presentations upstairs at 7 pm.
McDonald hopes to establish a routine. “They’ll know they’re going to come in, be well fed, be engaged and they’ll be out the door by 8.20 pm so they can go about their Thursday evening in the city,” he says.
The next event is on 21 April and will have room for 100 socially minded Dubliners. You need to register for tickets on Eventbrite. Pitches can be submitted through the Facebook page or at [email protected]
There are already a couple of pitches in for next month’s meeting, but McDonald says no ideas will be excluded. All they ask is that the ideas are new.