The transition to a more sustainable, resilient, and inclusive economy requires the participation of everyone. Therefore, through the creation of a community of incubators operating in the regions of Greece, with a focus on environmental sustainability, Impact Hub Athens, with the support of Google.org, aims to strengthen social innovation in the Greek region and promote a fair transition towards an “eco-systemic” change.
The “eco-systemic” change involves interactions and flows of resources, finances, energy, and knowledge among different entities, similar to the natural world. The development of the ecosystem requires interaction, trust, common actions, shared goals, and continuous engagement of contributors who contribute to its evolution. Part of the process also involves disseminating the terms, language, and culture of social and environmental innovation.
The Rural Incubators program aims to achieve two main objectives. Firstly, it seeks to multiply opportunities for skill development and social economy entrepreneurial projects without any exclusions. This includes empowering and providing access to business guidance for underrepresented groups within the social innovation ecosystem. Secondly, the program aims to develop solutions for environmental sustainability issues that directly pertain to and emerge from the needs of local communities. Additionally, an important goal of the program is to strengthen the relationships of key stakeholders with the social economy ecosystem across Greece, including local authorities, regional research centers, and influential private organizations.
The program was inaugurated at Impact Hub Athens with the two-day “Rural Incubators Retreat,” during which the strategy and common actions of the 9 participating organizations were outlined. These organizations will simultaneously run entrepreneurial empowerment programs from September 2023 to February 2024 in the following regions: Northern/Southern Pindos, Zagorochoria-Ioannina, Rethymno, Karditsa, Florina, Alexandroupoli, Cyclades, Kalamata, and the broader area of Messinia.
The entrepreneurial structures participating in the community of rural incubators are:
- “Ta Psila Vouna” Social Cooperative: Founded in 2016 in Zagori, with the aim of creating sustainable communities in the high mountains of Pindos, utilizing networking, social innovation, and economy, and co-equal production.
- Bizrupt NGO: Since 2017, based in Heraklion, Crete, Bizrupt NGO envisions creating a robust ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship in the region of Crete and the Dodecanese, with the goal of achieving continuous and sustainable development for a better future.
- Youth Development Group of Florina (O.E.N.E.F. S.A.): Since 2010, it has been dedicated to supporting the youth of the region, empowering them to learn, act, and engage with respect, with a primary focus on social and environmental benefits. By 2024, they plan to inaugurate the largest Youth Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center in the area, aiming for a fair transition.
- Karditsa Development S.A.: Established in the early 2000s, ANKA focuses on “capacity building” and “empowerment” of the local population, particularly the most vulnerable groups.
- ETAP (Development and Progress Company of Peloponnese and Ionian Islands): Founded in 1998, initiated by the Chamber of Messinia, with the purpose of supporting entrepreneurship in Messinia and promoting outwardness through the interconnection of businesses in Peloponnese and Northern Greece, providing specialized services.
- LightHub – Chamber of Commerce of Evros: Light Hub is the entrepreneurial support structure of the Chamber of Commerce of Evros. Based in Alexandroupoli, it supports the interconnection of innovative business ideas with the market, enhances the marketability of new products and services, and provides substantial guidance and interconnection to turn entrepreneurial visions of enthusiastic individuals into reality.
- Impact Hub Athens: Taking their work of the past 5 years in the Cyclades to the next stage, the Impact Hub Athens team becomes part of the regional ecosystem, offering services with a dedicated focus on the development of projects that prioritize biodiversity conservation, circular resource management, and regenerative cultivation.
Furthermore, the program also involves the following fellows:
- “Boulouki” – Itinerant Workshop on traditional Building Techniques: Since 2018, “Mpoulouki” has been exploring ways to harness the knowledge and community it has brought together. It is now developing a new service that supports projects incorporating traditional building knowledge and local materials into modern construction practices, imbuing sustainability and revival into their endeavors.
- Phaos Social Cooperative: This cooperative supports innovation, social entrepreneurship, and collaboration for new ideas and initiatives in the region. It provides services through the multifunctional space “HOUSE by PHAOS” located in the center of Kalamata.
During the Retreat, we delved into the functioning of a rural incubator and its role within the ecosystem as a developmental vehicle. The rural incubators’ community will adopt diverse approaches in each region, according to local needs and specific areas of development. In addition to creating and reinforcing local ecosystems and establishing long-term entrepreneurial support structures, all rural incubators aim to create a blueprint for entrepreneurship with a focus on environmental sustainability. We hope that other organizations will follow suit, taking similar steps towards a more sustainable future.