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Elizaveta Bersegova
August 28, 2015

People in Beta: Daniela Marzavan

Welcome to our PEOPLE in Beta series. We are requesting a little insight from speakers and workshop holders of People in Beta festival about who they really are. Daniela Marzavan has been involved in building up the first betahaus | berlin, bringing the concept in 2010 to Lisbon with betalab | lisboa. She was designated the European honorific betahaus user by the betahaus |barcelona team! She spends most time teaching the phenomena Design Thinking in Barcelona (ELISAVA) and Berlin (HTW), conducting a PhD about organisational change by design and advising governments or companies. This year she set up the DesignThinkersTemporaryStudio in Bucharest spoke re:publica about collaboration and SPOCs , gave a workshop in Lisbon about Coworking and Design Thinking and just came back from Colombia where she worked with hackers, makers, innovators and storytellers as well as Governments and Universities. She will tell us more about that at 12:30 on the main stage. Read on to discover Daniela's thoughts on hacking and a most inspiring Egyptian proverb.

What are some unique inter-cultural challenges you have faced when setting up coworking communities in Europe and North Africa?

Great concept, but this would never work here because our culture is so different!”

This is a sentence that unifies all cultures! Both in the 'national state' context and in 'organisational contexts'. It's funny when you hear it everywhere you go, with the same arguments:

“Principles like 'sharism', 'collaboration' and 'openness' only work in Western European Berlin-based StartUps. People here are different!”

People tend to be very judgemental about their own people and culture.

Colombians doing great things in Bogotá claimed they needed to learn more from highly innovative Europe or US. Although they were already intuitively running startup accelerators, coworking spaces and maker spaces since 2005 and their Universities had interdisciplinary curricula - which is a huge bureaucratic challenge in Germany.

In Japan, while coworking spaces were successfully opening up in Tokyo, a sociology professor in Kyoto was telling me how Japanese people were too shy to communicate - so the model would never work in his culture.

In Lisbon, Portuguese people were convinced that their fellow citizens would never embrace a culture of sharism because the 'Portuguese people steel ideas'. Funnily enough the Romanians said the same about their fellow citizens and of course the Brazilians – and it was not a Latin trait. The Arabs said the same thing in Egypt and Algeria.

So one big challenge is to make people understand that there is no such thing as 'cultural barriers' for collaboration. The lack of trust and empathy is a universal and personal challenge that we all need to work on.

Of course “designer-ly, startup-y kind of people” aka “hipsters” or digital nomads already exist in every country in this world. They feel connected as one culture and it is very tempting to communicate with them as 'door opener', but that might make the movement inaccessible and unattractive to 'normal' people or other subcultures. That is the second challenge.

How can hacking be used for good, not evil?

Someone told me about an “adultery dating website” that has been hacked. Apparently the hackers were romantics who thought adultery was something bad. So they asked the platform provider to close down the platform, otherwise they would publish all personal data of the users. The provider did not conform to the requirements of the hackers so the data has been published. Some of the affected partners apparently committed suicide after they found out their beloved one was cheating on them. Maybe it is a rumour. No idea!

But would that be hacking for good? Who is the ethical arbitrator? Who decides what is good or evil?

In my work I've often observed how mindsets that are associated to hacker's mindsets are becoming more popular amongst people that work in public administration or other highly bureaucratic institutions or complex networks:

  • Constantly challenging the status quo
  • Cleverly bypassing existing rules and constraints
  • Asking for forgiveness rather than for permission

In Colombia we run a workshop with Innovators from within the governments called GovHack. The starting question was: When was the last time you hacked the system? In Africa my friends from GIG (Global Innovation Gathering) successfully set up an event called 'Makers meet Ministers'. KidsHackdays are very successful all over the world so it has become socially acceptable to educate your kids to think like a hacker!

When you were a kid what did you dream of becoming when you grew up?

I wanted to do the job I am doing right now. But I did not have a name for it back then.

Neither do I have it now.

What's your favourite way to blow off steam in your free time?


What quirks or virtues impress you the most in people?

I like people who show backbone, are authentic, empathetic, reliable and optimistic.

But I am most impressed by people who know how to listen - they are so rare.

Who's your nearest and dearest person in the world and why?

There is more than one - the world is such a big place.

What makes you feel lucky to live in this time and place?

The Internet.

What's the one thing you would change about the world if you could?

I would introduce 'common-sense' as a mandatory class in all types of schools, five times a week. That would challenge many other classes and create a small revolution.

Tea or coffee?


Share your favourite piece of wisdom with us, whether it's from a well-known hero, your mom or even yourself!

"انت بتدور ف صحراء؟Enta betdawar f Sahara” - is an Egyptian proverb that students in Alexandria taught me. It means something like “Why didn't you find it, were you searching in the desert?”

We had been doing a joint digital workshop with a group of Egyptian and a group of German students about the 'Future of Work' for two months already. While I was in Egypt my German students sent me an email saying they were desperately looking for Egyptian interviewees in Berlin, but could not find any. So they could not complete the task I had given them!

The Egyptian students then had the idea to answer back with a picture of them with this proverb, saying: “We are right in front of you! One click away! Most solutions are right under your nose!”

Want to join Daniela and other entrepreneurs at betahaus? See how here!