ODYSSEA: A Journey Towards Social Innovation & Sustainability

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In a climate of social and economic instability that has spread within the last years in the whole country, Greece has unexpectedly proven to be a cradle of innovation and continuous discovery while facing these challenges.

This year Greece welcomed more than 800,000 refugees on their islands and this proved to be a significant help to those fleeing war in their countries, but in the same time, also a challenge for the local environment: more than 1,200 tons of non-recycled materials from boats and life-vests were left behind on the beaches of Chios and Lesbos islands.

This threat to the environment combined with the urgent need of helping and providing refugees with necessary items for their living such as food and accommodation was the starting-point of Jai Mexis innovative and inspiring idea that soon developed into a startup, Odyssea. His voyage from London where he followed his studies brought him back to Athens, eager to contribute towards a social reformation and soon the dream came true: this year, Odyssea was founded as a non-profit social enterprise that designs resilient solutions for both environmental and humanitarian challenges. The purpose? Through redefining current values in Greek society, the organization brings forward innovative solutions that contribute to a great extent to the improvement of the current situation of the refugees as well as to the promotion of its products around the world thus helping raising awareness to the environmental issues as well as gather funds for future medical solutions. Jai was soon joined in his mission by Irini Psifidi and many other volunteers involved shortly after in their activities and workshops for the sake of the social and environmental cause.

The Life-Vest Mission As A Key Point Of Odyssea’s Educational Strategy

The way Odyssea describes its mission and philosophy is simple and straightforward: they try to redefine the values and structures of current society and furthermore respond with empowering and educating people to become active citizens and engage in one of their many activities and workshops and help them in their biggest challenge: to succeed in transforming around 50 tons of refugees waste into useful products that can be both given to the refugees for further use or sold to the world. According to their view, solutions can be provided only through education of the citizens, they should feel part of a sustainable future and be ready to go a step further in experimenting with potential solutions through smart technologies. This is currently done by working within a large network of partners and organizations for example Makers unite or ROW, for the creation of social innovation investment programmes accessible to the private, public and third sector.

The gathering of funds and development of workshops within the organization help Odyssea to contribute to a large extent to an educational venture as well as to Urban Ecology, through their strategy: raise environmental awareness, manage waste efficiently, creatively and bring closer the local community together with the welcomed refugees.

Their initiatives definitely stand for their mission and values. The most known among them is the life-vest mission, with the main task of cleaning the beaches from refugee waste, store it safely and protect the environment. So far the life-jacket mission has made an impact, addressing a huge environmental problem and has actually become a symbol of the refugee crisis in Greece. Waste is up-cycled into useful products that are either given to the refugees for further use, for example, mattresses, bags or they are sold all over the world as phone cases, bags, accessories, keys and many others. The ambitious plan of the project is that with the funds gathered from the profit sales, Odyssea aims to fund a mobile health care unit for both poor locals and refugees in the near future. As explained by Jai and Irini, the plan in the future is to start a small factory on the island of Lesbos where everyone including refugees or volunteers can work in the manufacturing process and create items from the abandoned life jackets. The project is ongoing without a clear deadline due to the fact that work permits for Greece should first be obtained by the refugees.

Recycling & Innovative Transformation Of Materials

The Astro-lab co-working space comes as another major initiative of Odyssea, providing accessible workshops to everyone regarding the design and transformation of recycled materials, cooking and serving free food to everyone and avoiding food waste, as well as a wide range of other activities such as vocational training, wood and metal workshops.

Last but not least, Lovest comes as a very community-friendly initiative of Odyssea for recycling abandon materials and encourage local workers to transform them into functional accessories, in only three steps: collecting and sorting the materials, cleaning and redefining them and finally, adjusting them so as to serve their needs. The main goal for this project, according to Odyssea’s initiators, is the protection from polluting the marine environment of the Aegean sea and has double benefits in the long run: it minimizes the amount of waste and discarded materials and it also reduces the reason for producing raw materials. Statistics estimated that they were more than 30,000 m3 of plastic on the island of Lesbos before the project started.

Through efficient communication of their project for environmental awareness and conservation of global resources, a lot of locals, volunteers, also refugees willing to use their crafting skills joined the cause and helped in creating a new industry within small villages and communities, “a breath of fresh air after decades of mass produced machine made products”, as stated by Odyssea.

How Odyssea Contributes To Community Interaction & Involvement

During the last months their workshops have become real hubs of innovation, idea-exchange, product design of great use and value. The workshops are open to everyone, from businesses, investors, funders to activists, volunteers and are divided in three main categories: utilitas, firmitas and venustas.

  • Utilitas represent a series of creative workshops that take place in different camps and squats around the Attica region and contain a broad range of activities: Art Therapy, upcycling, children focus.
  • Firmitas workshops are in charge of practical design assistance, use of industrial and manual sewing machines and guidance for different types of projects and they are held on a monthly basis at Odyssea’s workplace in Athens.
  • Venustas workshops aim at encouraging and educating people and startups through discussions, debates and seminars, also held at Odyssea’s workplace.

According to the organization, there are a lot of people volunteering for designing the products, from Greece and abroad and the feedback received so far from everyone was positive and enthusiastic. Odyssea’s team welcomes members from everywhere, no matter the background, willing to work creatively and make a change for the better in their society. By spreading a message of solidarity and support for refugees all over the world, Odyssea as a representative of the Greek community of startups wants to go a step further in this process for solidarity and mutual support and hopes through their mission for a better exemplification of Greek values and desire for change. Through innovative design, ideas and communication, people are educated for the aim of preserving also their natural environment and surroundings, towards a healthier social and business environment “where all people realize their full potential and have the opportunity to belong in and contribute to a prosperous society”.

Odyssea has succeeded in receiving a lot of media attention and coverage on sites and online platforms, in both Greek and foreign magazines (Greek cultural centre Romantso, Antenna News, Politischiosand, Sputniknews, America Aljazeera, Sustainablog, The Guardian, Euronews). Moreover, last month, together with Makers Unite from Amsterdam, they won the Newcomers challenge prize for the project WHAT DESIGN CAN DO. The team works currently with different organizations outside Greece, distributing life jackets for reuse in other parts of the world, such as in Netherlands.

For more information on their mission, workshops and how to get involved, you can check their website, as well as their YouTube channel.


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