Greece: a third sector response
With the Greek public sector unable to provide sufficient aid to those suffering from the economic crisis, third sector initiatives are looking to fill the gap with new models of social entrepreneurship.
"Some initiatives are informal or community-based and taking their first steps," says Konstantina Zoehrer, Loft2Work
A recent change in legislation is enabling the promotion in Greece of new social initiatives to encourage entrepreneurship. A new framework for social economy and social entrepreneurship was written into law in September 2011. Among other provisions, the law creates a distinct legal form of co-operative social enterprise - a civil cooperative with a social cause possessing entrepreneurial capacity. A General Register for Social Economy was created in February 2012.
Individual initiatives are now being established. In June 2012, StartupLive, a rolling international multi-city event to promote entrepreneurial start-ups, hosted an event in Athens to find and encourage social entrepreneurship, attracting 60 participants. The event featured two keynote speakers: Alexandros Costopoulos, founder of Repo(we)r Greece, a social change organisation, and Isabelle Moser from Randstad Hellas, an HR solutions and services company.
As well as a networking opportunity, prizes were awarded for the best ideas in social entrepreneurship. The winner, IncludAbility, works to fund increased access and awareness for people with disabilities in Greece. The other two winners were We Protect the Forest, an enterprise that works simultaneously to relieve the national problem of forest fires and provide homes in the Arcadia region with more affordable heating, and Women on Top, who are arranging a career-mentoring network for Greek women. IncludAbility was rewarded with tickets for the Pioneers Festival, a global event in Vienna to support start ups, while all three will receive complimentary access to educational and training programmes and recruitment services and membership of the co-working space and social economy network Loft2work.
According to StartupLive, the June event was the first in Greece on cultural and social entrepreneurship that combined intensive business idea development, mentoring and learning experience. "We aimed to create awareness around those two specific sectors of entrepreneurship, as we believe they offer great potential for the country's financial and social development," commented Konstantina Zoehrer from the host organisation and business development and strategic partnerships director and cofounder of Loft2Work. "The most challenging issue is the sustainability of social ventures and the development of the social entrepreneurship sector in Greece, as it is still not very well known in the business sector."
Meanwhile, some of the more traditional philanthropic organisations are putting measures in place to help alleviate the effects of what is broadly seen as both an economic and social crisis. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, for example, has introduced two new initiatives in the last eight months. In November 2011, SNF provided €1,500,000 ($1,995,600) in grants for a series of pilot programmes to address social issues. In January 2012, the board of directors committed a further €100 million ($130 million) over the next three years to easing the adverse social effects of the ever-deepening economic crisis.
"The process has been very challenging; the crisis has not only exacerbated the demand for support, but it has also brought forward a completely new set of issues such as homelessness and undernourishment, which neither the local public nor the non-profit sector have the capacity and know-how to deal with effectively," said Lenia Vlavianou of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
A new non-profit has also emerged as a reaction to the economic troubles. Desmos, a foundation created in November 2011 provides welfare organisations with liquid and illiquid support, to bring efficiency to the act of giving in Greece.
The impact of the newer initiatives is difficult to judge at this stage. As the development of a social entrepreneurship sector is still nascent, the results, both for Greek society and the Greek economy, have yet to be seen. But, the pace at which it is growing does indicate that this new spirit of social and economic solidarity provides at least some hope of easing recent Greek hardship. Loft2work, for example, is collaborating with the regional authorities in Crete to set up an entrepreneurial social economy space, which will be self-sustained and impact-oriented. Zoehrer says there is a well developed social economy on the island of Crete though, she adds, "Some initiatives are informal or community-based and taking their first steps."
Vlavianou at SNF also expresses a cautious optimism when it comes to the impact of the foundation's recent investments. "Although we would like to state that our support has had immediate impact, it is too early to draw conclusions and we reserve judgment until after we have had the opportunity to go through an evaluation process," she says. "However, since the beginning of the year, and as part of this initiative, the SNF has committed grants totalling approximately €28 million in support of numerous not-for-profit organizations around the country, including providing support to the homeless and food aid to schools - programmes which have immediately and directly helped our fellow citizens in greater need."