Could social enterprise be an answer to the Greek crisis?

The mistakes of the past have resulted in the dire situation that all Greeks now face. Yet the crisis in Greece is not a financial one but rather a political one and the long-term solution will never be found in ministerial speeches or government buildings. It will be found where the power now truly lies, with the young unemployed throughout Greece, with any person with an idea, even with the protestors themselves.

Last month, I was lucky enough to lead a fantastic group of social entrepreneurs and young business people from across the UK to take part in Entrepreneur Week in Greece, run with the Hellenic Start up Association, founded by Dimitris Tsigos

Greece faces huge problems: an unemployment rate of almost 50% amongst young people and national debt running at over 160% of GDP. But it also lacks real support or networks for business – the current system seems to inhibit business start-ups and therefore job and wealth creation. One example of this anti-business culture is the obligatory payment of around €200 per month that has to be paid to the government, by anyone starting a business regardless of its profitability. As one of my colleagues on the UK delegation, Joanna Montgomery, Founder of Little Riot said: “There is absolutely no way I would still have my company had I been subject to a similar system.”

But not all is doom and gloom, there are rays of light over Athens, one excellent example being that of Co-Lab, a social enterprise that has been founded by Stavros Messinis. It is based in Central Athens and is a start-up hub to encourage and facilitate collaborative working as well as running regular start up weekend events. This is what Greece needs. It has the people (the second highest level of university education percentage wise of population), it has the aspiration, judging by the number of people I met who want to run their own businesses and with the current economic turmoil, it now has the reason.

Every new business that sets up in Greece could have a social impact as well as a financial one and every person, young or old, who is setting up a business can be socially entrepreneurial and in turn benefit many others. Young Greeks in particular have the chance to create a better society for themselves and generations in the future. As such they need to realise the potential they now possess and face up to the responsibility that has been thrust upon them.

The Greek government is not the change maker; the real drivers of this desperately needed shift, are the citizens of Greece. They need to create the business, economic and social solutions to the problems that Greece does and will continue to face. They need to embed a culture of responsible capitalism within business at all levels from start-up through to the established corporates. The need to create an entrepreneurial and business environment where start-ups and companies are not just job and wealth creators, but have positive impact and active engagement that creates long term social solutions within the communities in which they operate will be critical.

What Greek politicians can do is encouraging people like Dimitris and Stavros. These individuals are social entrepreneurs, creating initiatives and enterprises, which focus on a profit with wider social purpose. They highlight the power individuals can have within their local sector and the wider society. If Greece can nurture a culture and ecosystem that encourages enterprise growth alongside positive social impact, then maybe the Greek economy can be the fist one to aim for a truly national form of responsible capitalism, with individuals signing up to a wider social contract.

In the UK and across Europe, we need to ensure that the individuals within Greece who are trying to create positive change for themselves and their nation don’t stand alone. We need to help them develop the skills sets needed to create sustainable and profitable social enterprises. The power is shifting, the Greek population now have the responsibility to provide positive change for their country and we have a responsibility to help them do exactly that.

Comments from the UK delegation to Entrepreneur Week Greece:

Glynn Pegler, founder of youth media organisation Culture Group:”It was painfully obvious that no system of support for entrepreneurs in Greece exists. The private and public sectors are completely blurred. The mindset is some 10 years behind countries like the UK. Greece needs changes in infrastructure, changes in the mentalities of the facilitators and the standards that they expect. There is a need for people who can turn knowledge into change. I am pleased to support Young Brits in calling for a new fiscal framework for Greece; faster procedures for the creation of businesses there and the re-organisation of the public sector to facilitate the building of networks and peer support.”

Nathaniel Peat, Founder of The Safety Box: “Greece needs to change the whole legislation to allow young people to start business, the education system needs to be redesigned and entrepreneurship and enterprise needs to be taught on all levels both primary, secondary and post secondary education”.

Joanna Montgomery, Founder of Little Riot and Shell LiveWire Award Winner: “I feel incredibly lucky for everything the UK affords me. I have been supported and encouraged on so many levels since I started out, and organisations such as Shell LiveWIRE and others add an extra framework around young entrepreneurs like myself. I believe Greece could really flourish if similar support was made available to young entrepreneurs.”

Nathan Dicks, Founder of Rewise Learning and UnLtd Award Winner: “The key in Greece is a more equal society and a morally justified form of capitalism where everyone can benefit from growth”

Marty Bell, Founder of We Own and Virgin Media Pioneer: “Although the country is in a dark place, there was a huge amount of positivity over there. They understand that there must be a new mentality towards entrepreneurship, a mentality that fosters creativity & pushes ambitions, that won’t be linked with safety – but with innovation and creativity.”

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