The Athens Partnership – Innovation Abounds!
Athens is an amazing city and it also has tremendous potential for advancement. It has energetic citizens, advanced educational institutions and an innovative private sector. But the city’s assets do not always come together in meaningful ways. The Athens Partnership was created to bring together the resources and expertise of the public and private sectors to address priority, public needs.
The Athens Partnership is a transparent and accountable nonprofit organization, designed to serve a unique role and benefit Athens residents. Mayor Georgios Kaminis has been the biggest advocate of the Partnership and it would not be possible without contributors, including founding support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and strategic guidance from Bloomberg Associates.
Politismos is pleased to share this interview with you, our readers, about the efforts and successes that the Athens Partnership has found and its continued efforts to bring innovation, advancement and hope to the Athens.
What are some of the successes the Partnership found since its creation?
Over the past two years, the AP has helped the City of Athens implement innovative solutions to some of its most pressing challenges. Examples include introducing digital case management in social services provision citywide; enhancing the city’s center with pedestrian paths (less vehicular traffic), cleaner streets and state of the art smart lighting; and transforming 24 public schools into innovative places of learning, giving teachers and students new tools to shape their environment. Perhaps more important than any individual project success, these changes have given rise to hope about what we Athenians can achieve together!
What were some of the challenges you faced as this program got underway? How did you work to overcome those?
In the midst of the economic crisis, in 2015, the City of Athens was struggling to address basic needs on many fronts, and challenged to think about proactive steps it could take to better serve residents. While Mayor Kaminis was committed to cross-sector collaboration, there was not a strategic approach or vehicle to seek synergies and manage projects with partners. The creation of the AP was the first step but for every initiative, we have had to create the project management structure, build capacity, and, frankly, learn along the way. We are very committed to tracking the outcomes of our projects, so there is a means to course correct along the way.
Thankfully, even in the face of obstacles, we have found great enthusiasm for change and the willingness to embrace new ways of thinking. We have had the opportunity to work with incredible public servants, as well as community partners, who are enthusiastic about these projects and roll up their sleeves to achieve our collective goals. While Athens is known for its history and antiquities, we always say that our biggest asset is our people—without the spirit and energy of Athenians, none of our achievements to date would be possible.
Tell us a little bit about the team at Athens Partnership and how are they helping to bring about change from their own experiences or goals for Athens?
We have a small but fierce team at the Athens Partnership—we have six full-time employees in Athens. Alexandros Kambouroglou, the AP’s Executive Director, was a former City advisor. He studied journalism at Columbia University in the U.S. and worked in media for many years prior to city government, From his experience in and outside of government, Alexandros recognized the resources that each sector could bring to the rebirth of Athens and wanted to take an active role in that work.
Natalie Weeks, the AP’s Strategy and Partnership Director, is a Greek American who returned to Greece after working for years as a journalist with Bloomberg News. Covering the crisis years for her network, Natalie wanted to play a role in helping the country she loves dearly. For her, this opportunity was presented with the AP, even though it meant taking a huge pay cut and working in very difficult conditions.
During the economic crisis years and the more recent refugee crisis, so many people in and outside Greece have looked for ways to help Greece. For each of the AP team members, the opportunity to work with Athens Partnership has provided the vehicle to make a difference in Greece.
How was the city, businesses and citizens responded to your efforts? What are some of your “best responses”? Or some of your most challenging, that you were able to overcome.
The response has been overwhelmingly positive from different sectors wanting to work together, especially with an established framework. For example, local and global organizations working on refugee services responded en masse to the City of Athens’ call to coordinate their services. Starting with 35 members in June 2017, the Athens Coordination Center for Migrant and Refugee issues (ACCMR) now has 88 members, including nearly all international and Greek NGOs and agencies working for refugees. Similarly, the Athens Culture Net, a network to promote cultural cooperation in the City, now has 44 members, who plan joint cultural events and exchange best practices about bringing the arts to the neighborhoods of Athens.
The biggest challenges come with trying to tackle decades-old habits that run very deep in Greece. For example, Athenians are so used to parking illegally in the center of Athens that just parking tickets were not enough to stop this practice. We had to work closely with community members and convince people not just that illegal parking is wrong, but to communicate the benefits of the new plans in the Trigono area, including the boost to businesses and our local economy, public art, cleanliness, and more for all.
Tell us a little bit about some of your youth programs. Who are some of your partners or sponsors in these programs and what are the goals in creating these programs?
The “Open Schools” program has opened school buildings that normally remain shut after school hours. These “sleeping giants” in ‘Athens neighborhoods were turned into community centers that offer free activities to adults and children alike. The program has been so successful and has been so enthusiastically adopted by neighborhoods in Athens, bringing together people from diverse backgrounds, that the Council of Europe highlighted Open Schools as a best-practice for social integration of refugee children across Europe! The Open Schools program is a true public private partnership. Through the City’s resources, a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, and participation from almost 150 different organizations (offering educational and cultural activities, ranging from theater lessons with the National Theater of Greece to IT training with Microsoft), over 27,000 Athenians have been the beneficiaries of this free program.
The “Designed for Better Learning” program has created a new paradigm for education, changing the relationship of schoolchildren and teachers with their school. Through this program, the City of Athens has upgraded 24 schools and has created for the first time a municipal Maker Space, complete with digital design and creation equipment. It’s amazing that children and educators can now visit the Maker Space, and design and create equipment that can be used in the classroom to transform teaching and learning! For this program, again supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, we have cooperated with the Transformable Intelligent Environments Lab of the Technical University of Crete. Kostis and Marianthi, the Lab’s leaders, are amazing team who have brought their research experience from Harvard and MIT to develop their own approach that combines pedagogy and architecture – it’s unique by international standards and adapted to the needs of Greece!
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INTERESTED IN SUPPORTING THE EFFORTS?
The Athens Partnership is reliant on generous donations and grants to support their work. This can be done in a tax-efficient manner through the 501(c)(3) vehicle, the Athens Partnership US Fund at King Baudouin Foundation.