Spotlight Interviews with Cooperators

Cooperative housing for refugees in Greece

“Spotlight Interviews with Cooperators" is a series of interviews with cooperative leaders from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work with cooperatives. For this issue, ILO interviewed Ms Polina Gkioka, Vice President of Wind of Renewal, a social cooperative in Greece. She joined the cooperative in October 2014 as one of the founding members.

Article | 9 décembre 2016

Q. What does the Wind of Renewal stand for?

Welcommon collecting clothes for refugees
A. The Wind of Renewal (WoR) was founded in 2014 with ten people. The cooperative is working to advance a number of social and economic objectives, including integration of refugees into host communities and promotion of sustainable and green social enterprises.

To advance these goals, the WoR has been collaborating with local government, EU institutions, cooperative movement, other civil society organizations (CSOs) as well as universities and researchers on wide range of projects and activities. Some of the recent activities of WoR include awareness raising on energy cooperatives, workshops on migration and social enterprises, research on green local policies, and drafting a code of conduct for social enterprises, among many others.

Q. What is the “Welcommon” initiative about?

The first guests for Welcommon’s housing facility
A. In September 2016, the WoR launched “Welcommon”, a pilot project that provides housing to refugees and supports their social integration into host communities. Welcommon’s refugee housing facility is located in Exarhia, Athens. It is operated within the framework of cooperative and social enterprise management scheme of the WoR and the Athens Development and Destination Management Agency (EATA).

Welcommon accommodates up to 200 people with separate rooms designated for families. The project functions under the framework of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) relocation programme for refugees. Beneficiaries are identified by the UNHCR within the framework of its relocation programme, with priority given to vulnerable groups including pregnant women, families with children, and the elderly, among others. Currently the majority of the 160 guests are Syrian children, who are usually accompanied by only one parent.

Welcommon covers the costs of settlement and all the basic needs of the refugees beside housing facilities. The project organizes training for refugees, and facilitates their active participation and cooperation with the local population. It aims to provide adequate infrastructure and quality services, while applying good practices that ensure the dignity of the refugees.

Welcommon created 29 new direct jobs in 2016 and will create six more in 2017 for Greek citizens. The majority of the previously unemployed employees, have experience on refugee response. In addition, more than 20 volunteers support WoR on daily tasks. The project also supports refugees with facilitating employment opportunities.

Q. How are decisions made within the cooperative?

A. Each member of WoR has one vote and is welcome to take part in the yearly general assembly, which makes decides on the next year’s activities and gives political directions to the Governing Committee, which consists of three members elected every two years (President, Vice President and Treasurer). The Governing Committee meets at least once a month and decides on strategic and management issues.

Spotlight Interviews with Cooperators is a series of interviews with cooperative leaders from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work with cooperatives. The responsibility for opinions expressed in this interview rests solely with the interviewees, and the article does not constitute an endorsement by the International Labour Office.