New Solutions for Greece: Innovations for social and economic inclusion

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The economic recession in Greece is affecting many people, families and communities, but it also reveals economic and social problems that predate the crisis. The “Destination: Change. New Solutions for Greece” competition is seizing this opportunity to find sustainable and systemic solutions for the entrenched problems that face Greek society.

Ashoka Greece and The Hellenic Initiative have launched this competition to find new, empathy-based solutions that provide social and economic inclusion. These solutions will go beyond offering charity by empowering communities and creating more fair systems for Greek society. 

The economic and social impact of the Greek recession is becoming more severe as it enters its seventh year. Greece now has the European Union’s fourth highest percentage of persons at risk for social and economic exclusion, according to the European Commission. This number has risen from almost 28 percent in 2008 to more than 34 percent today.

More than one-third of Greece’s population is below or close to the poverty threshold, with many people suffering from severe material deprivation and facing under employment, or an inability to find any work. Vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, impoverished, and mentally ill or disabled, are more at risk for bearing the brunt of social and economic exclusion due to rising unemployment and cuts in wages, pensions, and social spending brought on by austerity measures.

Citizen initiatives such as sharing economy and solidarity networks, and other actions, have increased throughout the country in recent years, but there is a need for sustainable solutions that address the systemic and chronic problems of the economic and social system that predate this economic crisis. Ashoka Fellows around the world, representing the world’s leading social entrepreneurs, are pioneering innovative approaches that empower and provide access to vulnerable populations through new collaborations with social, private, and public sector partners. These social entrepreneurs prove that a united community can overcome even the most daunting economic barriers.

The Hellenic Initiative is offering an award for a project that provides a system-changing solution to strengthen economic and social inclusion for vulnerable populations in Greece, as part of the Destination: Change. New Solutions for Greece online competition, launched in collaboration with Ashoka, the John S. Latsis Public Benefit Foundation, Boehringer Ingelheim Ellas, and SAP Hellas. The competition partners are offering a total of four monetary prizes in the competition, and free software and training for one winning project.

The work of Ashoka Fellows demonstrates that solutions to tackle social and economic exclusion, and the isolation of vulnerable populations, must begin by empowering people and building support networks and alliances to ensure they are included in local social and economic systems. These social innovators create and leverage connections between food, health, community, and economic security in order to build sustainable, system-changing solutions, while responding to basic needs.

Ashoka Fellow Guillaume Bapst is alleviating poverty in France by providing low-income households with access to food through a network of solidarity grocery stores. He visited Athens in March to discuss access to food and nutrition, and share his model and insights.

Bapst described how his organization A.N.D.E.S provides a good selection of quality, nutritious food at a low cost, in a discussion hosted by Ashoka Greece and the Agricultural University of Athens, supported by The Hellenic Initiative and Robert Bosch Stiftung.  A.N.D.E.S forms partnerships with large-scale producers, fishing communities, and others to order food in bulk. Access to nutritious food products and produce helps address hunger, health, and economic empowerment, while bringing dignity to low-income populations.

Each A.N.D.E.S store provides more than just food. Customers are given access to a store after they agree to participate in a project, in consultation with social workers. These projects are often self-help programs that revolve around learning to manage a personal budget and reduce personal debt.

A network of almost 300 stores creates jobs for disadvantaged people who form small units that receive food from various sources, checking the quality of the food and organizing food distribution and other logistics. Distributing these groceries becomes a sustainable way to help impoverished individuals regain their sense of economic independence with support from the community and businesses.

Anshu Gupta left the corporate sector to develop a new model of sharing surplus wealth in India while empowering impoverished rural populations to be part of the solution and the transfer of surplus clothes and materials. He participated in several disaster relief efforts in India, and witnessed problems in the approach of these efforts – including the assumptions and treatment of the poor people they aimed to serve.

Gupta’s organization Goonj carefully analyzes the needs of poor communities. It focuses on transforming donor attitudes about reusable resources that are left lying unused in their homes in order to cultivate conscious giving rather than thoughtless dumping of extra goods.

To help villagers go beyond charity providing charity, “Cloth for Work” supplies surplus clothes to self-organized development activities in villages that include sorting, repurposing, and packaging donated clothing. GOONJ also works with more than 200 citizen sector partners to help them manage logistics management and collaborate creatively.

Ashoka Fellow Stephen Leafloor noticed that at-risk or minority communities in Canada are in dire need of young leaders. He found that sexual abuse, suicide, depression, family violence, and dropping out of school were rampant in these communities.

Stephen’s organization, BluePrintforLife uses hip hop and traditional Inuit performance arts to teach leadership, community development, healing, and social work, in order to build a wider network of support throughout the community. So far, his organization has engaged about 5,000 young people by facilitating 70 programs.

These social entrepreneurs are demonstrating innovative ways to solve problems that can be applied beyond their countries or regions, and around the world. The economic and social problems in Greece have been exacerbated by the economic crisis, but they were already there.

Greece will recover eventually, and the speed and manner of its recovery is in the hands of its people. Through the power of community, we can all work together toward create a brighter future for Greece.

 

Author:

Samantha Riemer, Ashoka Greece