Greece’s Economy Reconstructed by Grassroots Actors

Greece. For some the headache of Europe, for others an opportunity for Europe. Media reports on strikes, political instability and austerity measures. One year ago, one of the largest peaceful demonstrations took place, right in front of parliament. It was in the form of tents, public discussions and the self-organisation of citizens. Even if it was not supported by the whole population, the movement spread to other Greek cities and the local squares became an open market of public dialogue. What we’ve see over the last two years is the development of grassroots movements in various sectors, with different approaches and changing the dynamics. Politics, society and entrepreneurship are playing a strong role on the public agenda. Fwd Greece Today, Repower Greece and Startup Live Athens are three out of many movements of civil society. They unveil not only questions that have arisen from the socioeconomic crisis but also crucial points for the future of Europe, as Greece is one of the most affected countries.

The recent national elections took place a few weeks ago and were accompanied by pressure from the European Community. What if the movements could speak now to the European Parliament, European Commission, the Troika? How would they describe the situation in Greece and could be done in order to help the country?

“Greece has reached a point where it is in serious need of immediate reforms, social peace and European solidarity. What the previous three years have shown is that our political, social and economic leaders lack basic capacities to negotiate and prepare a national blueprint of strategic reforms for the country to exit its current turmoil,” says Panagiotis Vlachos, one of the initiators of Fwd Greece Today, a political community of dialogue, putting the European character of Greece on the agenda. Vlachos continues: “An unfortunate aspect of this culture of polarisation has been our entry into a continuous election period – with two consecutive general elections – which have brought the administration and the real economy to their limits. The answer to the problem is fast, sincere, deep and structural integration at the financial and the political level. At least, the countries of the European South, mostly affected by their competitiveness deficit should develop a common negotiating front and fight for the continuation of reforms through growth incentives, private and public investments, access to credit and export driven growth. But first, we need to fight uncertainty and the EU’s ‘credibility deficit’ with bold decisions and common financial and funding mechanisms.”

Alexandros Costopoulos, the founder of Repower Greece, a grassroots, public diplomacy initiative, suggests: ”Just as we may lack of self critisism and courage to accept our mistakes, they should have done the same, especially since we all know that regardless of the fiscal choices of Greece the roots of the problem lie in the inabilities of the European structure to form a better union and safeguard member countries by over borrowing (even when much of that is spent for the blooming of other fellow member economies). However, as we have seen repeatedly in economic history, the solution for excess debt, which is mainly what the EU faces with regards to Greece, cannot be found in crippling societies. In Greece we need structural reforms – there is no question about that.”

During last summer, Startup Live Athens was born out of the desire of young entrepreneurial minds to give back to the community: “We do not preach that entrepreneurship is the only solution for Greece, but it definitely is a tool to unlock untapped human potential. After all, if we do not try and test ourselves on difficulties, how will we evolve”, wrote the team behind the initiative, Petroula Karagianni, Xenia Mastropetrou, Lefteris Kontaxis and myself.

Grassroots movements will play a role in the establishment of a new economy in Greece and already help different ideas flourish and develop into innovation and concrete actions.

“Instead of investing and committing our resources to cultivate a fresh, innovative and results oriented way of civic consciousness that could safeguard economic progress and social prosperity, we relied almost solely in constructing a false reality, choosing to evolve as a society on the back of others, mainly on the EU, allowing the lack of meritocracy and the so called political cost to define change, resting on the alibi that this is how things work in Greece,” suggests Costopoulos. “This is a task for the people and in my opinion this is the role of grassroots and thus, of Repo(we)rGreece. To be able to appeal to micro social environments, to blend together voices, opinions, stories, thoughts and ideas and forge solutions that will redefine change and will shape a new economy.”

Vlachos states: “Social and intergenerational justice has never been part of the public agenda. Our generation – aged around 30 – has the credentials to alter the nature of Greek politics, participate, cooperate and bring justice and common reason to the surface of the public agenda and policy making. Forward Greece highlights innovation as one of its major values. Innovation in thinking, acting, policy-making, doing business and bridging social gaps. Innovation needs a reliable institutional and economic environment to flourish. We are determined to support any governmental or non-governmental efforts for sustainable solutions in support of creative and outward looking thinkers and entrepreneurs.”

Entrepreneurial thinking does not only belong to the business world but is also common ground for grassroots movements that aim to impact public dialogue and enhance structural changes within a democratic frame of civil society. What the three movements share is their different approach and their commitment of engaging youth into the discussion about the future of Greece and Europe without excluding them from decision making.

*Originally published on “Innovation Conversation”

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