Social Innovation and the Social Economy in Greece

Social Innovation and the Social Economy in Greece

Social innovation and social economy in Greece are relatively new concepts mainly associated to what is known as ‘Solidarity Economy’. While in other European countries discussions related to social innovation have taken place for almost 30 years now, in Greece, organised forms of social ventures are apparent for only about 10 years, though in an experimental stage. It was especially due to the economic crisis that heavily hit Greece that has led to social innovation becoming a necessity. 

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 This alternative to capitalistic economy gained interest and entered the political agenda very recently. It was only in September 2011 when a law for Social Economy and Social Entrepreneurship passed by the parliament and the distinct legal form of Co-operative Social Enterprises was created. Before that time, the lack of institutional framework created serious problems in the development of the sector. Apart from bureaucracy, the lack of business know-how and staff training, the difficulty of networking, marketing products and services and limited access to funding have hindered the development of such initiatives in Greece. Hence, the social ventures were held captive by government funding and depended on the “sensitivity” or “good faith” of the private sector and individuals.

Social innovation is time and context specific. That means it can mean different things in different context. What might not seem innovative in one country, may be ground breaking in another. The political and cultural background is important to understand. There are also a wide variety of organisations involved in this field, each have different perspectives. So, the purpose of this page is to demonstrate a variety of views on what social innovation means to different kinds of organisations in Greece.

The voices from Greece

In 2011,Fani Dami provided a brief overview of what social innovation in Greece looked like at the time. She touches on Greece’s law for Social Economy and Social Entrepreneurship:

A recent study on entrepreneurship, foresees that social entrepreneurship will contribute both to employment and innovation. It is also considered important for the socio-economic integration of socially excluded groups and for the strengthening of alternative forms of local development. Therefore, it is very positive that social economy is now included in the national policy agenda; and hopefully instead of becoming the substitute for the dismantling of the welfare state, it will actively support inclusive alternative structures.”

In 2011, Dr. Ioannis K. Nasioulas from the Social Economy Institute built on the general overview by discussing the channels of social innovation and the “enemies” of it. He notes the political system, criticizing the Social Economy and Social Entrepreneurship law:

It would certainly sound peculiar, but the mightiest enemy to social innovation is the political system and the state administration in Greece. Regrettably, this also includes the format of the currently introduced Law 4019/2011 on Social Economy and Social Entrepreneurship, which many say it was constructed in favor of various groups related to the politico-state system and the funding mechanisms tightly controlled by it.

In 2015,Dr. Ioannis K. Nasioulas provided another contribution, outlining some of the challenges with social innovation in Greece.

Greece was heavily hit by the economic crisis which is still persistent: with an unemployment rate reaching 27% and a corresponding rate of youth unemployment around 60%, social cohesion has been put under critical stress. The social state suffers chronic deficiencies and social institutions have come to the fore combating state, private and third sector failures with scarce resources. Social innovation has become a necessity, since disinvestment in social development has become the norm. […]Public sector demand is only scarce, ergo-variable, non sustainable in the medium term and driven by the fierce political necessities of the electoral cycle.[…].”

He also further expanded on his previous contribution, discussing the role that the Greek Orthodox Church has taken, providing an alternative channel of social innovation:

A major break-through was the establishment of the Social Development Society in Thessaloniki.  The Social Development Society, headed by his All Holiness the Metropolitan of Thessaloniki ANTHIMOS, is a social innovation organization with the statutory aim of reverting the brain-drain effects induced by the crisis in Greece. It pools the excellent amongst the most promising young scientists, setting the standards for impact-investment in human capital and mobilizing a vast community of volunteers throughout the country and abroad. Alongside the Social Economy in Greece, the Christian Orthodox Church has been an important channel for social innovation, specifically with the recently established Social Development Society.

Who are the key actors? – What kind of businesses, what parts/levels of government, which sectors support social innovation if anything? What other organisations are involved in doing social innovation? What about citizens or local communities? Who is promoting social innovation?
Major actors of the social innovation sphere in Greece are high-net-worth individuals and charitable foundations linked to them, social associations, major non-profit societies, traditional rural and civic cooperatives. As well, tailor-made contributions come from Limited Liability Social Cooperatives; some fifteen of them provide for decent employment opportunities for people with mental disabilities. By January 2015 over 700 Social Cooperative Enterprises have been established.

Credit : European Commission

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