Tackling crisis with confidence
As Greece’s political and economic turmoil continues, Giorgos Christides speaks to two fellow Greek alumni about their inspiring responses to their country’s crisis and the influence of their Edinburgh degrees.
Xenia Papastavrou and Demetrios Iatrides have very different academic and professional backgrounds, but one important thing in common: the two Edinburgh alumni have been making a difference in their home country, Greece, as it continues to deal with its political and economic crisis.
Xenia, the founder of the innovative non-profit group Boroume, is helping provide meals to thousands of Greeks suffering from food insecurity; Demetrios, who has spent much of his career in government and other public sector roles, has helped a new generation of innovative Greek farmers thrive against the odds, in a barren economic environment.
Xenia founded Boroume, which means “We can” in Greek, in 2011 after working for more than 12 years as a senior editor at a large media group. Boroume is a non-profit organisation committed to reducing food waste, by acting as a bridge between those who have food to spare and those who need it.
“We save and donate food that would otherwise end up in the garbage, and we do it without storing, transporting or delivering it,” Xenia explains. “We operate as a virtual food bank and this ensures that we can have maximum impact with the lowest operating cost. For every euro we get from donations, we provide 10 meals.”
Boroume had a modest start, initially connecting two bakeries with one soup kitchen. But as the crisis deepened, its web-based network of donors and recipients grew fast. Boroume is now offering more than 11,000 meals a day across the country. Beneficiaries include more than 1,000 welfare organisations and municipal services.
“Boroume has saved and donated more than five million meals since it began,” Xenia says.
Xenia has bittersweet feelings about Boroume’s success. The growing demand for its services is partly explained by the increased recognition of its work. But it also reflects the bleak living conditions of millions of Greeks. Food insecurity is a major aspect of a crisis that has cost Greece more than a quarter of its economic output since 2008, condemning more than one in four working-age people to unemployment. According to the latest survey by UNICEF, 40 per cent of Greek children are living in poverty.
“My studies in Edinburgh equipped me with the knowledge and skills necessary to do the things I wanted back in Greece. And my readings and experiences helped shape the person I am today,” says Xenia.
“My studies in Edinburgh equipped me with the knowledge and skills necessary to do the things I wanted back in Greece.”
One particular influence stands out. “At one point we studied Plato. And learned that social communities are built when people realise they are not self-sufficient. This is what is happening today in Greece. People no longer feel self-sufficient and seek cooperation and solidarity.”
Soup kitchens and growing poverty are also the feature of the Greek crisis that stirs Demetrios Iatrides the most. Demetrios, who graduated in Law in 1997, cannot help but compare this predicament with how things were in Greece as recently as 15 years ago.
In 2001, at the age of 29, he completed his army service and joined the Olympics 2004 Organising Committee. Back then, Greece was thriving. In 2002, the euro replaced the drachma and a period of rapid economic growth, increased incomes and general optimism was under way. Two years later, Demetrios was part of the success of the Olympics’ homecoming, running an Olympics venue and managing a team of 1,200 staff, volunteers and contractors.
After the Olympics, Demetrios took up senior posts at the Hellenic Parliament, Greece’s national broadcaster and the ministries of health, defence and foreign affairs.
Then, in 2010, he saw the miracle collapse, when Greece was cut off from international credit markets and was forced to ask for a bailout from its European partners and the International Monetary Fund in exchange for tough austerity measures and reforms. “The shock was violent,” Demetrios recalls.
Before returning to the private sector a year ago, Demetrios was Special Secretary for Community Resources and Infrastructure, within Greece’s Ministry of Rural Development and Food. During his 18 months there, he oversaw the distribution of €1.3 billion in funding, increasing the take-up rates of EU cohesion funds by more than 600 per cent. As special secretary, Demetrios identified the growing desire of young Greeks to go back to working the land. He initiated the Young Farmers’ Agriculture Programme, which gave working capital to aspirant farmers and start-ups. More than 11,000 men and women gained a job through the programme.
He says the key to success was cutting red tape and adopting a hands-on approach. “We identified the problems, and then swiftly solved them.”
Demetrios is the president of the University of Edinburgh Greek Alumni Association. “Edinburgh taught me how to think out of the box,” he says.
And his Edinburgh years have brought an additional benefit: the apparent omnipresence of Edinburgh alumni. “When I negotiated with the European Commission, for example, being an Edinburgh graduate proved vital. We spoke the same language, and many EU officials were fellow alumni,” he recalls.
Demetrios sees an uphill road for the Greek economy, but is confident that Greece can be transformed in the coming years. “I believe that if we work hard, Greece will finally become be a turnaround story.”
The Greek Alumni Association is one of 16 active alumni groups across continental Europe, part of our community of more than 200,000 alumni throughout the world.
Demetrios Iatrides has a BA in Economics and International Relations from Brown University in the US, an LLB from Edinburgh, and an MSc and MBA from the Athens University of Economics and Business. His early career was in finance in Greece and the UK, before joining the Organising Committee for the Athens
2004 Olympic Games, first as Sports, Finance and Human Resources Manager and, later, as Venue Director.
He has served as adviser in the Greek Parliament, in the Public Broadcasting Company and as special adviser to the Ministers of Health, Foreign Affairs and the National Defence. Between 2013 and 2015 he was Special Secretary for Community Resources and Infrastructure of the Ministry of Rural Development and Food.
Xenia Papastavrou has an MA in Philosophy and Ancient Greek from Edinburgh, an MSc in Industrial Relations and Personnel Management from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a Diploma in Creative Writing from the UK’s Open University.
She has held senior editorial roles in magazine publishing, and until recently taught the core Theory of Knowledge subject to International Baccalaureate students at the Moraitis School in Athens. She recently joined the Bodossaki Foundation, a Greek organisation that seeks and distributes funds for public good.
In 2011 Xenia founded Boroume, a non-profit group connecting unwanted food with local demand for food. Boroume has enabled the supply of more than five million meals to date.
Giorgos Christides has a journalism and communication degree from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, and an MSc in European and International Politics from Edinburgh.
He is currently studying for a PhD on the Greek and Eurozone debt crisis at Aristotle University.
Giorgos is a correspondent for the German news magazine and website Der Spiegel and a regular contributor to BBC World Service, for both radio and online news.
He is a former economics editor of the Greek newspaper Makedonia. He has worked as a translator for three major Greek publishers.