An experiment with 'Startup Service'

Posted by Deven Shah on Dec 16, 2013

Startup Service is an initiative for turning your service intention into action. It brings together people from diverse backgrounds and facilitates the process of starting a new project, adding momentum to an existing project, or collaborating with like-hearted participants on emerging projects.
Who should attend?
This gathering is meant for anyone who has an entrepreneurial spirit and wants to practice service and generosity for inner transformation. Have you had that one idea at the back of your mind that would create a positive transformation in society?  Do you want to be in a space with project initiators and support an idea from the start-up stage?  Or do you already have a formal organization running and are looking into include more volunteerism and transformation into particular projects?  Whether the ideas are small and local or high-impact and systemic, whether your idea is about leveraging latest mobile technology or about crafting up new visual designs or building more efficient systems, if you are looking for an ecosystem of inspired change-makers who want to make a positive contribution to society, then this event is for you. 

What resources should a participant expect?   
The biggest resource is the pool of participants themselves.  Among us will be technologists, designers, students, writers, artists, and more -- all of whom are moved by the spirit of service.  Additionally, we will have renowned mentors from various sectors, from practicing Gandhians to venture capitalists to established social entrepreneurs.  To complement the powerful set of people and thought leadership, we will also provide frameworks that can effectively help you turn ideas into sustained action.  Oh, and, lots of fun too. :) 
Why was Startup Service created?
We firmly believe that there is kindness in each and every one of us. People have good intentions to serve selflessly and make a positive difference, but due to variety of reasons, many of them don’t turn into action. This event holds a space for people to come together with a commitment to give one weekend towards that intention.  When many like-hearted people put forward their intentions and commit to support each other with action, even if it is for one weekend, it creates a very strong environment for positive ripples to emerge.  Even more importantly, the event is designed to be very process-oriented, so we also hope that participants benefit from a personal transformation and build lasting friendships with kindred spirits.
Who are the organizers?
Startup Service is organized by volunteers at ServiceSpace, a fully volunteer-run organization that has delivered millions of dollars of web-related services to the nonprofit world for free. It now creatively leverages web technologies for collaborative and transformational giving.  ServiceSpace’s 4,00,000+ members incubate compassionate action in a multitude of ways. They have co-created over a dozen projects and initiatives that includes positive news, KindSpring Smile Cards, KarmaKitchen restaurants, Awakin Circles, and many more, including various "Moved By Love" projects in India.
What exactly will happen at the first gathering?
The first gathering is planned to come together for 3 days. On Day 1, all participants will be invited to share their project intentions with everyone. The participants will collectively select few projects that we all will work together as smaller, yet connected teams to help turn intentions into actions.  There will be mentors who will hold short workshops and discussions throughout the event to support the project execution. In the evening of Day 3, all teams will make a final presentation to an audience comprising of inspiring leaders and investors who can further support the projects by offering capital that can range from material and financial to spiritual and social capital.
Here’s an example: 
-- Let’s assume there are 40 participants, of whom, 25 will present a project intention, and then 15 others are open to support any project that they like.

-- 25 participants presenting will be given 3 minutes to share their project idea with all participants. After the 25 ideas are selected, the collective may select top 5 ideas through democratic voting.

-- Participants who presented those 5 ideas will become project leaders for the event. So we will have 5 project leaders, each representing one project. The remaining 35 participants will then choose to join any of the 5 projects they prefer to work on.

-- While the participants are free to choose any project of their choice, we will try to balance the teams in a way that each team has  about 6-8 participants.

-- Teams will work throughout the weekend (with a few breaks and sleeping time :) to develop the project. Each team will be assigned a mentor and there will also be short workshops/talks and reflective discussions to guide the project in the right direction. The beauty is in learning by doing and lots of cross-pollination happens in an environment that is full of lively people from diverse backgrounds sharing with each other.

-- Final presentations are made to an audience comprising of inspiring leaders and investors (financial and non-financial :)) who can further support the projects. There will be some prizes offered based on the nature of the projects and what they need to take them to the next level. But this is not a competition and we hold all projects as winners.

If this is not a competition, then shouldn’t we allow all project intentions to be developed? Why do you ask the collective to choose a select few ideas on Day 1?
The thought process behind inviting multiple projects to be presented and filtering it down to few projects has many dimensions:

-- If we allow all intentions to be developed into projects during the gathering, then the team size for each will be very small - e.g. Just 1 or 2 people per team if we have 25 projects being developed among 40 participants. This will restrict the collaboration among participants and may not do justice to the development process of each intention.

-- This format also brings together people who are coming to the gathering with a readiness that even if their intention is not selected, they will happily work to support someone else's project. This brings in people with a very open mind set to serve, which is quite different from the mind set of: "I want to participate just to take my project ahead".

-- The participants as a collective decides how many projects to work on during the 3 days and the project selection also happens through democratic voting by the participants, so there is flexibility in the model to let things emerge based on what the majority of the participants prefer.

-- At the end of the event, every team is a winner and will be supported depending on what they need to take their projects ahead. Even those who supported somebody else's intention learn a lot from the whole experience and build relationships that are very different from typical "networking" or "competition" events.

So it is not about competition, but people from different backgrounds coming together with intentions for positive change and openness to support each other. So even a person who just has a noble intention - no team or organization - can come and share it with the participants and if there are more people who resonate with that and would like to support it, then it will get transformed from an intention to an experiment with team and a plan or a 'prototype' by the end of the event.

What are the fees to attend this gathering?
The gathering works on the principle of Gift Economy - it has been paid for by previous gatherings, and what you offer will allow us to host such circles in the future :)

Do I have to stay at the campus on all 3 days?
Yes. The learning and interaction among the participants will keep happening till late in the evening and hence we have made staying arrangements for all the participants in the ESI Campus. 

I’m interested. When and where is it happening?
The first gathering happened on February 14-16, 2014 and here are some reflections.

The second gathering is happening on October 17-19, 2014 at a retreat center on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, Gujarat. To register, please fill out the form here: and we will call you to take the conversation ahead.

Posted by Deven Shah on Dec 16, 2013 | permalink

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Previous Comments
  • Catherine Peyreaud wrote ...

    any chance that this retreat could be postpone to the weekend after??? February 21-23, 2014? BY the way it is written February 2013. I suppose it is a mistake?? I would love to attend this "special space for co-creation".

  • Deven wrote ...

    @Catherine Thanks for pointing out the 2013 error, have corrected it to February 2014.

    The dates for Startup Maitri Space in February are finalised as Feb 14-16 - we have booked the venue and many participants have already confirmed. We intend to host such gatherings regularly and you can stay updated by following this page: (see link) or by signing up for our monthly newsletter. Stay connected and hope to see you at one of the gatherings soon.

  • George Kao wrote ...

    Awesome vision -- clear and inspiring! Count me in for an event in the San Francisco Bay Area! A great retreat center is (see link) -- it's connected with the Institute of Noetic Sciences.