During the years of the Greek crisis, Athens turned to its civil society’s untapped potential. Instead of using its increasingly-scarce resources to engage the disengaged, the city concentrated on identifying community groups whose existing initiatives contained seeds for higher impact.
Not only were extreme poverty and the refugee crisis met with relief initiatives, but Athens also became a test-bed for innovative ways to reactivate and integrate inactive populations. Previously-abandoned buildings became the site of ground-breaking co-management models and new uses for public space. Neighbourhoods were co-designed with local inhabitants. Social innovation sprang naturally as the city turned to its citizens for new models of engagement and participation.
Athens received many accolades for its handling of the crisis, in part for the civil society platform, SynAthina. It achieved this, not with the capacity of a well-resourced and powerful city, but by embracing its compassionate and committed communities.
For the Athens team behind this experiment, 2020 is a year to reflect, share, question and reimagine the importance of what happened.
Amalia Zepou (@amalia_zepou) served as vice mayor for civil society and innovation from 2014 to 2019 at the Municipality of Athens. She is the founder of the civil society platform SynAthina, and was responsible for the nomination of Athens as European Capital of Innovation 2018 and the establishment of a social innovation sector in Athens. Zepou is now the Bloomberg Visiting Fellow in Government Innovation at LSE Cities.
Geoff Mulgan is the Professor of Collective Intelligence, Public Policy and Social Innovation at UCL and was the Chief Executive of Nesta from 2011-2019.
Savvas Verdis (@SavvasVerdis) is a Senior Research Fellow at LSE Cities and the Deputy Director of the Executive Masters in Cities.
Twitter Hashtag for this event: #LSEAthens