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Public discussion and programs related to social economy, social enterprise, startups, entrepreneurship and even volunteerism are on the rise in Greece. The focus is on each of these individual elements as a potential solution for the economy, for employment, or for social welfare services. But the discussion that remains to take place is about Greek society as a system: how can society find strength through inclusiveness, adaptability, and resilience?
Greece needs sustainable solutions that address the systemic and chronic problems of the economic and social system, which predate the heightened hardships of the last few years. Such solutions would require more collaboration across the public, private and citizen sectors.
An ecosystem that allows new ideas to emerge and effective models to grow across sectors is what leads to jobs, enterprises, and strong communities. It also makes it possible for citizens throughout a society to contribute their skills, ideas and energy in a collective effort to anticipate and respond to changes before they become deep social problems.
While launching Ashoka Greece this year, we have observed three key areas that require more focus so that the initiatives, intermediary support organizations, grant or investment programs, and related efforts can become a dynamic ecosystem for social innovation.
1. Looking past technical definitions and towards solutions
In Greece, the accepted definition of social entrepreneurship is quite limited; it’s regularly described as a business model with social mission or with a cooperative aspect (profits redistributed among members). But this distracts from the most important point: the question of whether a product or service is offered as a new, creative and effective solution to a problem or need in society. Social innovation comes out during the persistent pursuit of solving a tough social problem, and that innovation can take the shape of different kinds of business, legal or technical models. The type of enterprise or revenue model is simply a tool that allows us to implement the solution and deliver impact and results. Moreover, the more models we have, the richer and more diverse our economy is.
In a context of increasing costs and limited resources for health care and social inclusion, for example, people in Greece propose solutions through different enterprise models:
The team of the startup enterprise Filisia creates accessible music and multimedia interfaces (hardware and software) that support the rehabilitation process of people with disabilities. Their focus is to use music to motivatepeople with disabilities in their rehabilitation process and give them another way to express themselves, so they design their product in close collaboration with therapists, users and families.
BRACE is a social cooperative enterprise that supports those that care for others to transform families and empower people to prevent poverty. The team supports caregivers and children through educational, training and mentoring programs, including the Marte Meo program, and the Aflatoun Programme.
The truly important shift beginning in Greece is around the role of citizens in society. Citizens are seeking new ways to be more empowered to solve problems. Rather than furthering a never-ending discussion about which legal framework should be used when solving a problem, we all need to think about how institutions support citizens who are trying to create change and contribute to their communities. Legal, regulatory, policy and economic institutions must support citizen-led efforts for creating jobs, shaping local economies, leading the growth of new or key industries, developing new models for production and service delivery, and leveraging new market opportunities based on their own insights and community priorities.
2. Working in alliances
Social entrepreneurs alone cannot change society or tackle a pressing social problem, such as a stagnant or top-down economic system generating large-scale unemployment. They can, however, trigger large-scale solutions to unemployment and other challenges resulting from economic crises by providing innovative models for social service delivery, inclusive labor markets, entrepreneurial culture, and social cohesion. Still, they require partners and allies to scale and replicate these solutions throughout society. Felix Oldenburg’s recent Forbes post tells of a great example of this sort of alliance building for solving social problems.
3. Impact on society
When dealing with limited resources, as Greece and much of Southern Europe is, measuring impact becomes the key to building alliances and re-focusing existing resources on the most effective solutions. Most importantly, we need to understand the root cause of the problem and have the necessary tools to track, measure and share the impact achieved, in order to bring more people on board and spread the solution.
One tool to measure and report impact is the Social Reporting Standard, used by many leading social entrepreneurs and the partners that support their efforts, which is now available in Greek. Additionally, better transparency, technology, open data, privacy and accountability systems within individual organizations but also across society, and funding and investment models that focus on impact and long-term strategies are also important components of an ecosystem that is adaptable and able to innovate for effective solutions.
There is a high potential for stronger communities and a healthier Greek society. For this to become a reality, people need to have the freedom, confidence and support to take action, address problems and focus on the societal impact. The ecosystem is as important as the innovative individuals leading new ideas and turning them into action; a handful or even a thousand social entrepreneurs can solve some problems, but together, the public, private and social sectors can change the entire system for the better.
POST WRITTEN BY Aphrodite Bouikidis
Aphrodite Bouikidis is the founder and launch director of Ashoka Greece.