Greece: 'The crisis has brought out solidarity, love and collective action'



, founded in April 2013, is an initiative that aims to help homeless people. Emfasis teams go out in the streets at night in some of the more dangerous parts of Athens. The volunteers get to know the homeless and build a relationship based on trust.

To our knowledge it is the only organisation that does this kind of fieldwork, although there are others that have facilities where people can wash their clothes, or receive a clinical examination by a doctor.

They provide people with the information they need to improve their lives, such as where to find food, medicine, or a place to take a bath, as well as psychological support and consultancy. So far, the team has worked and there have been positive results: one client recently found a job after living on the streets for 18 months. It’s a long-term process that takes time and needs patience and persistence. The team’s focus is on the future, not on what actions brought them to this situation.

Tassos Smetopoulos, one of the three founding members, says: “We are their vehicle, their crutch, we’re not the solution. We did not start as saviours.” Theemphasis is on helping individuals to be self-reliant.

Tassos went to school with fellow founder Maria Karra, but then left to work for NGOs around the world. When they bumped into each other again in November 2012 they decided to put their experience, knowledge and passion into a joint effort. The foundation receives no government money but raises funds from the Greek diaspora.

Lower and middle class people are now at risk of homelessness. Photograph: Yannis Behrakis/Reuters

“If Grexit [Greece leaving the euro] happens, there will be a rapid increase of people in great need of immediate support,” says Smetopoulos. “Unfortunately, this situation has arisen due to political decisions irrelevant to the appalling living conditions of the vulnerable and socially excluded. The situation we are experiencing today is a kind of slow death for a large number of Greeks, while a Grexit would most likely feel like a sudden death.”

We are unable to distinguish which one is less painful and catastrophic. However, historically speaking, the countries that have experienced sudden deathmanaged to go through a lengthy but effective recovery, leaving us with a sense of hope.”


Shedia, meaning raft or float, is the first Greek street magazine. It’s and is now distributed by homeless people in Athens and Thessaloniki, who earn part of the sale revenues.

Shedia started life in the , which was set up in 2006. But the need for a street magazine for the homeless became more apparent after the in 2009. There were homeless people in Greece before the crisis but Christos Alefantis, the magazine’s editorial manager, says Greek society now faces the phenomenon of “”, with the middle and lower classes at risk of being forced to live on the streets because of austerity measures and burgeoning unemployment.

“Human beings and human dignity are the benchmark of the initiative,” says Alefantis.

There are now sellers at central points of Athens every day. A lot of people pass by without buying the magazine, but Shedia sellers keep smiling and don’t act like beggars. Shedia – which recently won the European Citizen’s Prize – can offer homeless people a limited economic revenue but its most important contribution is giving them hope and the feeling that they are not excluded from the society.

Christos Alefantis can’t predict the impact of an eventual Grexit on Shedia’s activities. But he says: “The NGOs are not separated from the rest of society. They are, rather, inextricably linked with them. The prolonged social and economic crisis affects negatively both the economic and psychological state of the citizens, who have lost their faith in the institutions. Nevertheless, the crisis and all its suffering has brought out the power of solidarity, love, collective action, and the determination of a whole nation to move on.”


is the brainchild of six young men and women who decided to channel their collective energies into policy monitoring. It’s a technological tool that allows citizens to pose their questions directly to MPs, allowing them to become the “watchdogs” of political virtue, honesty, effectiveness and transparency.

Stefanos Loukopoulos, chief executive officer of VouliWatch, says the site’s twin goals are to inform and mobilise. “VouliWatch is trying to build a culture of civic responsibility that will work interactively between citizens and politicians.”

Apart from the exciting day-to-day interactions between citizens and politicians, and the synergies with similar NGOs elsewhere, such as in Germany, the data gathered through monitoring the activity of parliament is useful for political analysts and for citizens, who can monitor over the long term whether politicians keep their promises.

A woman receives a portion of food at a soup kitchen in Athens. Photograph: Marko Djurica/Reuters


Another recent youth-led tool of democratic participation is . It is an open-source, free of charge digital platform that records the problems citizens face in their everyday lives. Anonymity ensures all problems are treated equally. YouRule urges its members to become active citizens, exchanging know-how and best practice as they attempt to find solutions for every registered problem, a form of crowd-funding that collects ideas, information and knowledge instead of money.

Ioanna Fotopoulou, the founder of, says: “Now it is time for innovation if we want to change our societies. And true innovation is what YouRule represents: active citizens exchanging know-how and good practice anonymously. Just like social media brought our personal lives onto the internet, we are now adding society to it. Because the first one is a social luxury, the second one is becoming urgently a social necessity.”

Democracy Reborn

is a Greek campaign for democracy supported by Dimokratia Ideon, a nonprofit political organisation. Democracy Reborn aims to raise awareness about the democratic deficit in Greece and inform the public by presenting democratic policies, applications and tools that have been proven successful across the world. At its heart, it is advocating political transition through the drafting of a new Constitution by the people. The vision of the project is ambitious and has a global perspective as it supports “direct democracy” over today’s established republican forms of government.

Maria Kottari and Christina Kanata are founding members of . Follow on Twitter.

of development professionals and humanitarians. Follow on Twitter.