Impact Hub Concludes First Half of ‘Future of Cities’ Theme at 2016 Unlikely Allies Festival
19 July 2016 - techteam

On July 5-6 in Seattle, Washington, Impact Hub hosted Unlikely Allies 2016.

Our annual flagship event convened a diverse mix of global and local thought leaders, changemakers, inspired citizens, artists, policy makers, activists, corporate innovators, and designers around the launch of a special two-year theme: Future of Cities. The UN estimates that by 2050, 65% of the world’s population will reside in urban areas. This means that now is more critical than ever to build the cities we all want to live in—and we are working on it.

“We are the impartial territory where legislators, counselors, the police,
and communities can come together to co-create a better future
and find a sense of common ground. And that’s really inspiring to me.”

– Danielle Steer; Manager, Operations & Member Experience Design;
Impact Hub Minneapolis – St. Paul

Every day, Impact Hubs around the world host conversations and provide meaningful experiences where people can find the common values, shared purpose, and collaboration needed to make real change happen on key issues of our time. Through the Unlikely Allies festival, we aim to scale our entrepreneurial action both to collectively shape the future of our cities as well as to realize our vision of becoming town halls for civic engagement and social change in the world. The numbers say we are off to a good start.


“I love the international flavor of it. On the Creative City Learning Expedition,
of the 20 people on it, I am one of two from Seattle and one of four from the States.
Everybody else is from all over the world.”

– Andy Jensen, Seattle Public Theater, Civic Engagement Manager

At Unlikely Allies 2016, Impact Hub welcomed 478 people (including 82 speakers) representing 76 cities and 40 countries from all six habitable continents.

The event boasted a City Solutions Laboratory: a broad spectrum of over 50 keynotes, think tanks, case study and open space sessions, pitches, and master classes focused on sharing insights, ideas, and best practices from across Seattle, the U.S., and dozens of global cities (see the full program here).

“We operate in Ghana, very far from a lot of Impact Hubs across the world,
so it’s always really exciting to see other builders in cities that are very much unlike us,
hear their stories, and learn from what they’re doing.”

– William Edem Senyo, Co-Founder, Impact Hub Accra

Konda Mason Imandeep Kaur Impact Hub Seattle Unlikely Allies 2016

Konda Mason, Co-Director/CEO of Impact Hub Oakland, and Imandeep Kaur,
Co-founder of Impact Hub Birmingham, host an an exchange session (Photo credit: Lydia Yekalam)

There were 12 enlightening documentary and educational film screenings featuring the best in contemporary impact cinema from the Social Media Impact Awards (SIMA). And we took 80 participants out into Seattle on four different full-day Learning Expeditions. Breaking away from the traditional conference structure allowed us to offer a more hands-on approach to exploring important topics such as homelessness, climate justice, the arts, and civic engagement.

“I was on the Learning Expedition around homelessness with a whole bunch
of interesting people and experts. We actually went and visited some of the parks
and the centers where this problem is manifested and talked to people to understand
why and how they are living and what are potential ways to tackle the problem.”

– Vladimir Olarte, Growth Manager, Impact Hub Global

Our 30 wonderful partners made sure we were supported from every angle, from supplying the festival with Seattle’s favorite food and drinks to throwing us a surprise ice cream party in the street (Ben & Jerry’s, you rock!). The Vancouver Economic Commission even hosted an “Allies Auction,” a last-chance networking opportunity to pitch for unlikely like-minded partners.

Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream Pioneer Square Seattle Impact Hub Unlikely Allies 2016

Ben & Jerry’s ice cream party

Two radio stations covered the event. National Public Radio (NPR) came to interview several keynote speakers, while The Launch Pad broadcast live interviews (listen here!) with Gabriela Gandel, our Global Managing Director; Steve Johnson, the CEO of Impact Hub Seattle; Nele Kapretz, Co-founder of Impact Hub Berlin; and William Edem Senyo of Impact Hub Accra.

The buzz around the festival was palpable and contagious. At one point, our official hashtag, #UA2016 was trending number one on Twitter in the United States!


We were honored to have the Mayor of Seattle, Ed Murray stop by to kick off Unlikely Allies 2016. He is the city’s first openly gay mayor, and one of few openly gay public officials in the nation, currently nearing his 25th anniversary with his husband and his third anniversary legally married. Under his leadership, Washington became one of the first states to legalize gay marriage, and Seattle became the first city in the country to guarantee a $15 minimum wage.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray at Impact Hub's Unlikely Allies

Seattle Mayor, Ed Murray kicks off Unlikely Allies 2016 (Photo credit: Lydia Yekalam)

Speaking to a full house, Mayor Murray reminded us that the U.S. is a country of immigrants, and that “a key ingredient to what makes a[n American] city work is diversity.” Diversity of thought, the challenge of having to get along with those different than oneself, and knowledge from different places is what interacts with each other to create something new. He encouraged us to not be afraid to fail, challenged us to help the government figure out how to address the income inequality crisis, and proposed that the government is not the problem but a partner in the solution.

We had an exclusive interview with the Mayor minutes before he walked on stage. Watch the video here!


Unlikely Allies 2016 featured seven other keynote speakers in addition to Mayor Murray. We attended each of their sessions in order to share the festival-insight love with those who couldn’t be in Seattle. Be sure to check back for links to behind-the-scenes video interviews below!

  1. Gordon Feller, Meeting of the Minds (and) Cisco Systems, Co-Founder (and) Consultant: Internet of Things and Talent
    • Can technology in a city be not just connected and smart but can it be just and equitable? Can we allow those who are disenfranchised, on the edge of the economy, and not connected to the public debate about the future of technology in cities to also benefit and get access to better services? Gordon explained how Meeting of the Minds is actively looking at who is supplying the best tech solutions, where they are testing and fully deploying those them, and what their impact is in the real world. New stories are published on the blog everyday.
  2. Imandeep Kaur, Co-Founder / Director, Impact Hub Birmingham / 00
    • In a presentation that moved the audience to a standing ovation, Imandeep shared her journey of building Impact Hub Birmingham in the year since its launch. Her take on building a civic movement vs. a civic moment is that the former entails creating an authentic invitation to a shared challenge and facing the ‘ugly truth.’ She emphasized that change in this world cannot be designed as a strategy written for or by one organization. It must consist of an investment in growing the movement of change, taking part and innovating together, a shared understanding of interdependent issues, and distributed collective intelligence.
  3. Majora Carter, President, MCG Consulting, LLC and StartUp Box
    • Majora introduced the idea of community as corporation regarding the need for talent retention in low-status America. She encouraged us to re-imagine disadvantaged communities, as there is more opportunity for everyone in more economically diverse ecosystems. But how does one do that when real estate development has typically been used for gentrification? Through something like StartUp Box, her social enterprise that is creating opportunities for the South Bronx to join the tech economy.

    Majora Carter Impact Hub Seattle Unlikely Allies 2016
    Majora Carter during her keynote speech (Photo credit: Lydia Yekalam)

  4. Jason McLennan, Chief Executive Officer + Partner (and) Founder, McLennan Design (and) International Living Future Institute
    • As “one of the most influential individuals in the green building movement today,” Jason spoke on the exciting concept of regenerative design and his Living Building Challenge. What if buildings generated more energy than they consumed through the use of site resources, solar panels, and rain collection? He was called crazy for having impossible ideas that were too expensive. However, he revealed that the real barrier to regenerative design often isn’t financial but is rather attitudinal and cultural. Building with this concept was illegal in many places; for example, water laws needed to be changed. And while it’s true that more money is required up front for green buildings, Jason can assure that they pay off fast.
  5. Shayna Englin, Managing Director of North America at
    • Shayna discussed how organizations can adapt to the new realities of technology by embracing power-sharing and service. She explained how people go around institutions that hoard power. In this age, power lies in our ability to convene and share and is all about network and community. Optimization for engagement and connection are key. By the way, did you know was founded at Impact Hub San Francisco?
  6. Randy Engstrom, Director, Office of Arts & Culture – City of Seattle
    • According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, creative industries represent 3.1% of the country’s GDP ($700 billion). It is the fastest growing sector of the economy, third only to government and healthcare. Randy underlined the need to invest in creativity because it is the linchpin of a successful economy in a global world. He also recounted how people are moving to cities in a way that they haven’t in 100 years, despite the fact that the infrastructures of city centers haven’t been maintained to receive people at that rate. He believes the creative community is uniquely positioned to be able to help, both through inspiring people as well as imagining new and better ways to grow more inclusive cities.
  7. Carol Coletta, Senior Fellow: American Cities Practice, Kresge Foundation
    • Over a 40-year period, the number of high-poverty Census tracts in the U.S. has tripled, the population has doubled, and only 105 of the 1,100 high-poverty tracts have rebounded to low poverty. At the same time, Americans are spending significantly less time with their neighbors. Carol explained how when we privatize our daily time, we only connect with people that have the same interests. This means we minimize diversity and end up having less understanding of those different from ourselves. Investing and engaging in shared public spaces leads to a more informed communities. “To change cities you have to acquire double vision,” Carol concluded, by finding a way to write a collective story without diminishing anyone’s individual story.


We are currently compiling outcomes and next steps and will release a mini-report and festival summary in September. This year’s solutions from our sessions and learning expeditions will be integrated into changes, programs, and activities in Seattle. Knowledge and ideas will also be carried back across the globe and adapted to bring change in other cities.

“The best solution I heard was utilizing people as resources
and recognizing that community doesn’t just mean community of need …
We think of the homeless community as a big problem, but we should
be thinking of them as people and how they can make a contribution.”

– Claire Devaney, Co-founder, Citizen-i

Pioneer Square Seattle Impact Hub's Unlikely Allies 2016

(Photo credit: Itai Boublil)

We would like to express an overwhelming feeling of gratitude for all of you who who joined us at Unlikely Allies 2016. Each one of you played a role in the event’s success, and it wouldn’t have been the same without you.

“I’m not part of Impact Hub, but now I feel that I want to be. It feels like a family.”
– Laura Vega, Co-Founder, Hot Desk International

Sarah Studer Susan Lloyd Impact Hub Seattle Unlikely Allies 2016

Impact Hub Seattle’s Susan Lloyd, Operations & Finance Manager, and Sarah Studer,
Community Partnerships & Sales Manager (Photo credit: Susana Musi)

And, of course, enormous appreciation goes out to our hosts, Impact Hub Seattle for opening their beautiful space to us all and perfectly curating every last detail. Without the dedication of their super team, this festival would not have been possible. As Imandeep Kaur, Co-Founder of Impact Hub Birmingham said during her session, “No one in the Impact Hub network is individually brilliant, it is an iterative process of building on the shoulders of giants.” Thank you for being such a solid foundation.


In 2017, Unlikely Allies will travel to Berlin, taking the Future of Cities theme along with it. Our 2016 learnings will be incorporated into next year’s programming to compile a more robust set of recommendations from the overall two-year festival, and you won’t want to miss it! So please save the month of July; exact dates will be posted here are soon as they are released.

“Once a year you spend all your time getting inspired by others
when your day job at an Impact Hub is to inspire everybody else.
Being able to be at a place that fills you up with new energy so that
you can go and do it again for a year is what’s so important.”

– Terri Barreiro; Co-founder & Board of Directors, Chair;
Impact Hub Minneapolis – St. Paul

Until next year, share your voice! You have the power to shape the future of cities by participating in the conversation.