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Rebuilding Greece: Groups Try to Shake the 'Crisis'

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Stories of Greek 'doom' are widespread. In many ways, rightfully so: Greece is in crisis, a fact that is universally acknowledged. Yet this narrative glosses over the work of the people, unassociated with institutions or politics, who are proving that Greeks have the strength to rebuild their country.

Shaking the 'Crisis' Label

"It's hard." That is how Peter Economides, a leading brand strategist of Greek origin, describes seeing his country lampooned in the press. His solution: rebrand Greece, create an image that can transcend the 'crisis' label, and change the future of the country. In 2012, he launched an initiative called 'Ginetai' (53:18 onward) meaning, 'it is possible,' to support rebuilding Greece. Ginetai aims to showcase and inspire Greek ideas by providing an exhibition and conference space as well as investors, mentors and advisors who will be present to help innovators understand the complex status quo in Greece. The country is in trouble, Mr. Economides argues, and only inspiration, identity, and innovation can get it out.

In 2011, Panos Zamanis created the Hellenic Start-Up Association (HSA) with the goal of changing how Greeks thought about business by providing support to new startups through a network of professionals and events. Similarly, coLab workspace, created in 2012, provides startups with cheap office space, meeting rooms, training events and a network of successful business connections to motivate innovation. They have yet to have a business fail and have managed to help set up Athens StartUp Weekend, Greece Entrepreneur Week and Ignite Athens -- all events to promote entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurship and innovation seem almost herculean tasks in the current Greek context, but some dare to defy the odds. This is the sort of innovation Greece needs.

Greece's International Image

Efforts to fix up the city center, which suffers from structural damage and a 'bad name' following frequent protests and heightened criminality, are crucial in rebuilding Greece's image. Most notably, a project called 'Rethink Athens,' launched by the Onassis Foundation, calls on architects to help rebuild the city center around Panepistimiou Street, making it more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly as well as cleaning up the area to bring back the inhabitants
that once made it so vibrant. The competition, which is open until September 12, 2012, invites architects from EU countries to compete in two rounds that will eventually crown three winners -- and a new city center.

Tourism, one of Greece's most important industries, is projected to drop 15 percent this year largely because of Greece's negative image. To combat this, a group of expats in the U.S. have used their spare time to start UP Greek Tourism. The initiative uses crowdfunding to create an advertising campaign attracting tourists to 'Join Us in Greece.' In May 2012, they had managed to place two billboards, one in New York City's Time Square and the other in Washington, as well as maintaining an active Facebook campaign. Similarly, Greek magazine ViMagazino called on advertising house Saatchi & Saatchi to create a new campaign focusing on the positive things in Greece. The result was a loud and clear statement: Greek Beauty. Not in Crisis.

Helping Society

"No Act Of Kindness, However Small, Is Wasted." Following Aesop's words, Greeks are rallying around the less-fortunate in an effort to restore hope, even when some of Greece's wealthiest seem unwilling to help.

In January 2012, 5 young professionals established the non-profit Desmos to bridge the gap between surplus and need, heightening corporate social responsibility. They locate and reach out to companies and individuals that can provide surplus goods, distributing these goods to humanitarian organizations and social welfare institutions in a fully transparent process. They don't ask for money, they simply facilitate the donation of otherwise wasted goods to those most affected by the crisis. They even receive material donations from U.S.-based sponsors through HelpingHellas. The result are already tangible.

A similar group, 'Boroume,' focuses specifically on allocating food surpluses.

Ηundreds of professionals around the country have begun offering their services for free. Teachers from both public and private institutions grouped together to form tutorPool, a website connecting teachers and struggling students in an effort to offer them free tutoring.

Doctors in Thessaloniki, Greece's second largest city, offer free consultations, examinations,
and tests -- a trend that is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon. In addition, so-
called 'Community Markets' have begun to spread like wildfire around Greece, providing all the
basic necessities you would otherwise find in your local market for free to families that are unable to support themselves.

Greeks now face their own Odyssey; they must fight to return Greece to its former self. Hopefully, on their journey, people such as those in this article will create a new innovative and
self-sufficient Greece, free of suitors and sirens.