The Mountain Path to Ecotourism

Rethinking Greece’s core industry through civic service

Damianos Chrysochoidis

Damianos Chrysochoidis

Program Development & Storytelling Associate

For young people living in Greece, including my 21 year old self, the scarcity of work opportunities leads many either to unemployment, or slightly less worse, to underemployment or having to leave the country to pursue opportunities abroad. The generation I am a part of is eager to turn this reality around and take action to reclaim our future by creating viable opportunities for ourselves across sectors. And we are asking for a platform to inspire us to take such action, new action that will characterise us as a generation.  

Hardly anyone expects to get their dream job at 21, in part because no one knows what they really want to do yet at that age. On the other hand, young people do not deserve a job that only compensates a small portion of their living costs, offers poor working conditions, and stifles personal development just because they are young. What a young person at my age deserves and should be entitled to is a job that offers sufficient financial compensation, but most importantly self-development prospects and a purpose; a purpose to grow and acquire the skills and knowledge that will allow us to build a strong foundation for setting long-term goals for our lives and careers.

What if every young person in Greece had access to a job that combines their young spirit and appetite for work with the noble cause of civic service? What if – even better – this was done in the name of sustainable development, which is a global mandate and imperative of our times? Well, that is where Ecogenia comes in. If we, young Greeks, were given the chance to elevate ourselves while at the same time contributing to our country by promoting environmental and social civic engagement, then we could be talking about a very different Greece. A Greece that can diminish unemployment and reverse brain drain, by mobilising its youth to build better social structures and advance sustainable growth for all its citizens.

That is Ecogenia’s vision. But, before reaching this ideal destination, we should first recognise the journey that Ecogenia has undertaken over the past year, a journey which has been vital for our development as an organisation. As Ecogenia was taking its initial steps, the only thing we were sure of was our civic engagement model which had proof of concept in the USA and France; we did not yet have a plan to run pilot projects or a fully-fledged team. As any start-up, everything was fluid. But we made that fluidity work for us. We took the right time to develop our pilot  programming with care and intention. Our co-founders, Lia Papazoglou and Erika Spagakou, identified key stakeholders that they envisioned could be valuable partners in carrying forward the vision of sustainable development and gathered a great team where we now all devote our time to make the Ecogenia program a reality in Greece. 

So, one year later a lot has happened, both for Ecogenia and for Greece. As of May 15th 2021, after a taxing year of lock-downs and closure, Greece is starting to restore one of its key economic pillars, tourism. One of the main reasons tourists decide to come to Greece is to enjoy time by the beach, and preferably on the Greek islands. By abstraction, this leaves the mountainous beauty of Greece untapped. In thinking about sustainable development, this void in tourism in remote mountain areas in Greece stands as a great opportunity for eco-tourism to step in and initiate the creation of a new sustainable reality for the local communities.

Upon realising these connections and their relevance to our work, the Ecogenia team started exploring a pilot application of our model in a mountainous area in Greece that lends itself to developing ecotourism further, and so a pilot application in North Dorida was discussed and agreed with local authorities, which for me personally was very close to my heart, as Dorida is where my family comes from. As a mountainous region, a big part of Dorida’s economy is based on the hiking trails and their conservation. Opening hiking trails is not a one-off job, the trails need to be maintained and taken care of on a regular basis.

You may be wondering how we could convert all this into an Ecogenia program application for Dorida? And the answer is both very simple, and extremely impactful at the same time. Ecogenia will bring the civic engagement model into the region. Young Ecogenia representatives, who would have applied and been accepted to participate in the program,  and who are determined to contribute their work and ethos for a more sustainable Greece, will be paid by Ecogenia to support local stakeholders in opening and maintaining hiking trails to help bring sustainable tourism to the region. The program will be piloted for 3-years to measure impact, meanwhile these young changemakers will have developed skills and a deep understanding of the applications of sustainable tourism and a sense of pride for being part of this noble movement of civic service. An attachment that transcends their time of service and changes their lives forever. In order for them to bring change, Ecogenia will provide them with continuous training and capacity building so they can really create that professional foundation to kick-start their professional trajectory from a perspective of social impact. . 

On a personal level, I cannot wait to see the place that I so deeply love, supported effectively. Every year close to the 15th of August (Dormition of the Mother of God), people from various parts of Greece like myself honor their Dorida roots by attending a hike in the mountains of the region. I have been attending this hike since when I was a kid until my adult life and the most beautiful memories were created there; admiring the rich nature and biodiversity, the pines, the streams, and in the end claiming the prize of a ‘Dorida Style’ bean soup, pitas and various appetizers. An experience that brings people together, that creates a family, that creates the feeling of being part of a family/οικογένεια (Ecogenia). If citizens from Nafpaktos and Patra and villages nearby were encouraged even more than they are now to pay a visit to Dorida, to visit its nature, its local economy and its people then that would be a massive success for all parties involved and therefore a major success for Ecogenia and ultimately for civic service in Greece. 

As Ecogenia, we will learn how to best implement the Ecogenia model into the Greek reality, specifically to boost the country’s biggest industry. We will achieve this by producing and analyzing metrics to evaluate the program and find how it can be improved and what aspects of the program were successful during the process. We aim to mould Dorida into a showcase of the impact civic service can achieve, and a model for sustainable tourism in Greece. In doing so, Ecogenia is giving our generation a way forward; a platform to dream big and act locally to be able to better our country while bettering ourselves as active citizens.