Co-authored by Erika Spagakou and Lia Papazoglou, Co-founders of Ecogenia
Proximity and distance have taken on new meanings during the course of the pandemic; and in our case, this has facilitated connections that in normal times would have been unlikely. While we have never met in person, seeing as we are based on opposite sides of the world in California and Abu Dhabi, we have united behind our common vision for a sustainable future for Greece and have spent the past year turning it into a reality.
That reality is Ecogenia.
Our shared passion for sustainable development and alignment in our values carried us into co-founding an innovative non-profit, the first of its kind in Greece, that would design and carry out a roadmap for sustainable change with active citizenship as the foundation.
Our diverse backgrounds are our force, and leveraging these nuances has proven to be critical as we develop our model. Much of this stems from our unique connections to the country; we are a first generation Greek-American with a track record in civic engagement who is constantly seeking to connect to her Greek roots, and a born-and-raised Athenian who left Greece at the height of the financial crisis in 2010 to pursue further academic and professional opportunities abroad. These perspectives have made us particularly aware of and sensitive to the need for more targeted skill development and pre-professional training opportunities for the Greek youth. Coupled with our combined 20+ years in the sustainability space, setting the foundations for a green workforce is, in our opinion, intrinsically linked to Greece’s sustainable and inclusive post-pandemic recovery.
We are aspiring to drive brain gain in the country, specifically one that is bolstered by a green workforce.
This is where Ecogenia comes in. A nascent organization, our mission is to be a part of building a more sustainable, inclusive, and prosperous Greece.
How will we do this? By devising a viable civic service model, whereby young Greeks are given the chance to offer their talent, ideas and service to support initiatives that foster sustainable development at the community level, in exchange for short-term paid employment and intensive professional training opportunities.
We believe that the answers to Greece’s development challenges rest in empowering the next generation of Greek sustainability leaders; that is simply good for development, good for Greece, and ultimately good for the planet.
We are of the generation who entered the job market at the peak of the 2008 financial crisis, and are disheartened by the fact that young Greeks face similar obstacles today, over a decade later. Add to this the climate crisis and current pandemic, and the prospects for Greek youth are slim as they are subjected to job insecurity and a sense of pessimism for the future. Yet, against all odds, young Greeks are mobilized now more than ever, and are eager to be agents of change. Ecogenia aspires to encompass the vision of an entire generation. We equip them to bring about this change by actively participating in the job market and constituting a sustainability minded workforce that uplift local communities and carry Greece forward.
In our model of partnering young Greeks with community organizations for a paid professional and community development program, our objective is to serve as the bridge between a ready workforce and a recovering economic landscape. And with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as our guideposts, we intend for our programs to target the specific needs and opportunities of each community we work with, so as to best secure a green future that is responsive across ecosystems and contexts.
Moving forward and uplifting Greek society as a whole requires an ethos of partnership and collaboration, and this is the work we are eager to do.
While forging ahead with this vision, we are mindful of the climate around civic discourse in Greece. With our offer to link sustainability with professional development and public service, we are focusing our efforts on fostering dialogue and creating openings to reevaluate cultural norms, behaviors, and perceptions.
In this spirit, it is only appropriate that our community and endeavour have grown so organically. This is because we, as a global society, active citizens, and as Greeks recognize that we are at a critical juncture, and we need everyone involved. As a testament to this, despite the circumstances, we have been able to mobilize an incredible network and community of advisors, collaborators, and partners whose support has been incredibly humbling, and has propelled us forward.
This Earth Day, much like last year’s, sees us still on lockdown and deep in the battle against COVID-19. And as we continue to think about recovery, the momentum around prioritizing sustainability is palpable.
We are proud that against that backdrop and in a rather fitting symbolism, Ecogenia is responding to the proverbial “If not us, who? If not now, when?”