Repower Greece: The New Game Plan

My laptop always freezes when I need it most. When Firefox has at least ten tabs open, when Facebook chat has four heated conversations going, when there are six Word documents minimized, and when the one I am furiously working on has yet to be saved, my laptop flashes me the virtual equivalent to the middle finger. It decides that it has simply had enough, and is not going to take my abuse any longer. The frozen screen is technology’s way of saying “Leave me alone. Get lost.”

Today’s Athens bears a strong resemblance to a frozen computer screen. After that exhausting period of three-week garbage strikes, constant public transportation strikes, and those persistent demonstrations that occasionally escalated into violence, the muddle and disarray is still everywhere you look. The credit binge, over-spending, tax evasion, and rampant corruption have buried Greece beneath a mammoth unforgiving deficit. The EU and IMF have forced the screen to conk out, screaming “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! CEASE AND DESIST IMMEDIATELY!” and forcing the entire mechanism to shut down.

When the screen goes blank, the computer is faced with a crucial decision: to be or not to be. If you’re lucky, a new blue screen smiles back at you, as you hit the repower button and the sweet start-up melody floats from your speakers. Your desktop gears up, and then there it is: a bright-eyed and cheerful screen waiting for you with open arms. The memory of your lost work evanesces at the promise of a better future. A fresh start is exactly what you had needed. But sometimes the computer simply goes bust. “Nope,” it says, “just nope.” It sinks into a defective state, refusing to display anything but that dark abyss of nothingness.

Greece now stands at these very crossroads. Will it repower with a new sense of fiscal responsibility, reinvent old industry, and re-energize the spirit of her youth, or will it fade into the Third World? The crisis is providing the country with the perfect opportunity to reinvent itself, to repower with new values, and to reposition itself within the international sphere. It is with these lofty hopes in mind that I joined the RepowerGreece social awareness initiative. The campaign’s underlying goal is to create a springboard for change and progress by showcasing editorials, success stories, and snap-thoughts that reflect innovative, out-of-the-box ways of thinking. Through this platform of interesting texts, the campaign seeks to narrate a story of Greece that is often ignored, but still worth listening to, inspiring onlookers from both inside and outside its borders.

Put otherwise, the RepowerGreece campaign endeavors first and foremost to encourage positive change within the domestic realm by highlighting particular examples of successful, upstanding, and hardworking Greeks. If RepowerGreece does this successfully, the initiative will alter the way that the country is perceived in the eyes of the international community. In doing so, the campaign intends to jump-start both social and economic growth from within, thereby revitalizing the country’s strategic industries and encouraging investment.

There are several success stories that were “no brainers,” like Korres, COCO-MAT, and Plaisio. Korres is a Greek skin care brand comprised of over 400 natural and certified organic products, with brand presence in thirty markets worldwide. Korres approaches skin biochemistry from an unusual angle by using Greek herbs, traditional remedies, and premium active extracts to create new products. Similarly, COCO-MAT is a brand with tremendous global presence. With a growing network of stores in ten countries, COCO-MAT harnesses Greek traditions to produce the world’s finest natural sleep products such as mattresses and linens. Its factories are committed to using only renewable sources in the most sustainable way possible, championing a 96 percent recycling rate. Perhaps even more impressively, Plaisio Computers has ranked amongst the 500 fastest growing companies in Europe for eight consecutive years. Assembling and trading personal computers, telecommunications, and office equipment at competitive prices, Plaisio seeks to reduce the supply chain. It is unique in its abridged management structure and its resulting ability to adapt to rapidly changing economic conditions and consumer habits.

But along with profiling these established companies, we also profile the start-up companies, recognizing their extraordinary ability to wriggle their way through Greece’s crushing economic climate. In the face of skyrocketing taxes on everything and anything, there are a surprising number of businesses that have managed to carve out their own niches in the marketplace and, not just remain afloat, but actually thrive. While the international media fuels the stereotype of the Lazy Greek, focusing on the strikes, protests, and demonstrations, RepowerGreece seeks to contest this image of Greece. Within most media outlets, the portrayal of Greece has yet to shift from the country that nearly toppled the eurozone to the country that is trying to regain its footing. While the focus of the global community lingers on the appalling stories of tax evasion and corruption, RepowerGreece spotlights and elevates the stories that illustrate new values and ideals. The campaign seeks to convey a new message both to Greeks and to the world: Greeks are industrious, resourceful, and persevering. We’re changing and we’re changing fast. Moreover, the goal is to create a viral effect– to make these new ways of thinking contagious.

Green Grow is the perfect example of this “better” Greece. So as to ensure product quality, this company espouses the cutting-edge agricultural approaches that allow fresh products to be grown in a controlled environment. It is one of the only companies in Greece to adopt techniques like hydroponics, aquaponics, and permaculture, and the first to introduce the products required for these practices to the Greek marketplace. Green Grow surveys and counsels growers, and installs hydroponic and aquaponic equipment on an individual basis, in addition to carrying out studies for closed aquaculture and permaculture construction products. For those of you who, like I, have trouble making sense out of sentences like that, let me try and explain.

Hydroponics is the process of growing plants without soil, instead using water and mineral nutrient solutions. When you combine hydroponics with a traditional aquaculture (picture a fish tank) in a symbiotic environment, you create a sustainable food production system known as aquaponics. Similarly, permaculture creates productive, sustainable systems that provide for human needs by incorporating the land (instead of the plants and the fish tank) with its inhabitants (yes, instead of the fish). Permaculture systems aim to restore environments- whether it may be a dense urban settlement or a farm– by correlating climatic factors and weather cycles with ecological processes and nutrient cycles. The outputs of one element become the inputs of another, in an effort to maximize effect and minimize work. In other words, as “wastes” become resources, productivity and yields increase. Grounded in a wide range of scientific fields, permaculture seeks to create sustainability by perfectly incorporating the inhabitants into their environment.

Recognizing that technical stories like this appeal to some, but bewilder others, RepowerGreece offers a broad spectrum of success stories. SKEP (a Greek acronym that translates to “Association of Social Responsibility for Children and Youth”) is one of my personal favorites. This recently established nonprofit organization seeks to create a society in which all members feel useful, accepted, and valued. Through a series of art workshops, festivals, and presentations, the organization encourages children with physical and mental disabilities to interact and collaborate both with each other and with children who are not impaired. Striving to overcome a national education system that prevents inclusion, SKEP aims to alter the way people perceive diversity by uniting the Greek youth of today. Over the past three years, the Athens-based organization has provided more than 8,000 young people from 148 special schools across Greece the opportunity to work together and identify with each other.

Likewise, Boroume (a Greek term that translates to “We Can”) is a nonprofit initiative that fights food waste by coordinating daily donations of surplus food to orphanages, soup kitchens, and other welfare institutions. Boroume seeks to confront the fact that, before the crisis set in, one in every 11 citizens in the Attica region was struggling to secure food on a daily basis. Today, as the brutal austerity causes this ratio to escalate uncontrollably, initiatives like this are needed more than ever.

Boroume recognizes that staggering quantities of consumable food are thrown away everyday by hotels, restaurants, bakeries, and other eateries across Athens. The nonprofit organization endeavors to resolve this paradox by connecting the institutions that look to feed starving people with those that constantly produce surplus food. Boroume neither stocks nor transports the food, but rather makes the arrangements and puts the right people in touch, so as to create lasting relationships. Seeking to strengthen ties between groups of people living within the same neighborhood, the organization arranges for food to be donated and received within the same general area- sometimes just a few blocks apart. Aside from coordinating the exchanges, Boroume holds food drives in schools across Attica and obtains the necessary tools and appliances for welfare institutions by appealing to institutions like hotels for their secondary equipment.

Other Repower stories are much more profit-oriented, describing lucrative initiatives that capitalize upon Greece’s unique competitive advantages. For example, T&T Executive, the country’s leading firm in corporate travel, has just recently launched a medical tourism division by expertly combining Greece’s superb geographical location and world-class accommodations with its high quality medical services and facilities. This new division is firmly rooted in the company’s fifteen-year record of professionalism, consistency, and responsible service. In addition to coordinating transportation and accommodation, T&T Executive can make any and all arrangements for surgery, treatment, and recovery. From initially collating a patient’s medical file to following up upon his return back home, the firm seems to do it all.

For starters, medical tourism enables patients to keep their vacations intact, instead of sacrificing their travel plans in favor of the medical attention that they require. But more importantly, such travel allows for the most relaxing and enjoyable recovery period possible, fully devoid of day-to-day stress. Breathtaking at any time of the year, Greece offers everything from cozy mountain resorts to sweeping beaches with spectacular blue seas. T&T Executive incorporates exemplary individualized service into this ideal environment, thus allowing patients to fulfill their healthcare needs in the best way possible – while vacationing!

Some of these stories sound too good to be true. As I help with the campaign, I find myself forwarding profiles like these around to friends and family– not because I’m looking to publicize, but because I’m actually just downright impressed. These stories paint a picture of Greece that is incompatible with the unfavorable image that is widely accepted these days. They portray an admirable, invigorating element that underlies the country. They help Greece regain her footing (or her dignity, as some might say) within this volatile context, reminding her that she is most beautiful when she turns to face the consequences and then rebuild. They champion a new mentality– one that espouses innovation, entrepreneurship, and hard honest work.

Like T&T Executive, Ergon is a company that capitalizes upon a variety of Greece’s unique facets. Seeking to preserve and promote regional dishes and ingredients, Ergon began by selling its products online, and has since expanded to boast a deli and a “Mezepolion” restaurant in Thessaloniki, soon to open in London as well. Ergon endeavors to promote traditional recipes within the ever-changing culinary scene, while maintaining the high quality of Greek products. One of the most interesting aspects of the Ergon website is the feature that allows the viewer to trace the origin of Greek olive oil — to determine the origin of the olives, and then to trace oil through its testing, bottling, and packaging– by simply typing in the product’s bar code information. Another nonprofit aspect of the Ergon website is its expansive repertoire of regional recipes– recipes that are, of course, featured at the restaurant as well.

The company seeks to preserve Greece’s finest flavors, ingredients, and regional recipes through a modern approach, namely singling them out and then making them available online. One of Ergon’s most notable products is “Melissas Ergon,” a honey made from a combination of Greece’s best honeys: blends from the pinewoods of Thassos, the flower fields of Macedonia, and the thyme slopes of the islands. The site also promotes nonperishable spreads and mezedes, or “appetizers,” made with seafood from the Aegean, according to traditional island recipes. Particular crowd pleasers include the salmon spread, the cod roe spread, the garlic cod spread, and the tuna from Alonissos that’s preserved in olive oil. Of course, this particular olive oil (from Chania, Crete) is yet another one of the products that Ergon isolates and promotes, deeming it to be amongst the finest varieties that Greece has to offer. The site, deli, and restaurant also feature a wide range of other delicacies, like  mushrooms, roasted peppers, roasted eggplant, legumes, and different rices, to name a few. Each one of these products has been hand-picked from small independent farms all throughout Greece.

Ergon’s success story was RepowerGreece’s most recent addition but will certainly not be its last. As we continue to search out inspiring stories, we continue to be amazed by what we find. Though Greece is wading through merciless austerity and humiliating media coverage, she is still keeping her head proudly above water. Stories of honest, innovative, and hard-working Greeks abound. The country is battling an upstream current, but she knows where she is going. She stands at a crucial crossroads, but she will not collapse. Buttressed by a history of perseverance, she knows her way. Her people are resilient and strong, especially with the diaspora community standing proudly by her side. Though her blue skies have grown dark and her seas surge violently, we know that her next magnificent sunrise cannot be far away.