Wednesday 19 September 2012

Tales from the resistance

Cut out and wear with pride

Greece; you only have to say the word and it conjures up a myriad of images. Sun, sea, ancient civilisation, wonders of the world, economic crisis and moustaches. What doesn't spring to mind is entrepreneurship and business acumen.

Greeks have traditionally fallen into two categories as far as work is concerned; public servant or self-employed. With private-sector employee being very much a consolation prize. A job, any job in the public sector has always been regarded the safe, secure route, not overly taxing with tenure and a reliable pay-cheque. Self-employment, on the other hand hovers around nearly 40% of the workforce, more than twice the UK level and nearly four times the US. Greeks have been running their own businesses for years. From fishing boats to cigarette kiosks, from farming to shipping, Greeks have been doing the business in business. In fact, in spite of the efforts of the country's largest employer, the government, the people of this greatly misunderstood nation have managed to turn a tidy profit and send a fair bit of it to Germany; there are more Mercedes on Greek roads than Fords.

Then, quicker than you can yell 'Opah!' it all started to go horribly wrong. It seems the nations care-takers had not been taking enough care with the balance sheets and it was time for the nation to settle the account. Swathes of cuts in the public sector along with scything fear-mongering from the press and media and the economy was in free-fall.

The idle Greeks were blamed for all of Europe's woes and everyone waited for Germany to stroll in and buy up the all the sun-loungers, put the people to work digging up the countries untapped natural mineral resources including oil and gold and redirect the sunlight to Frankfurt.

a beautiful shipwreck - not yet!
Well, there are a number who are ready to be counted. A resistance movement of the young and educated (mostly abroad) and the determined. Those who haven't given up yet and are not looking to the far-right to kick the future into shape.

I recently found myself in a electrical super-store (German origin) and greeted by lovely young lady (Greek origin) and asked if I had seen the MLS mobile phone. I hadn't but was curious “the first Greek Mobile!” she declared. Greek phone? And it was, with a brace of handy 'talk & call' apps and sleek styling. It's no game-changer but in this climate, it exists and that is more than a good start.

An old student of mine, now a chemist, is utilising Greece's huge botanical pharmacy to make a range of natural creams and remedies.

I was invited to the Thessaloniki 'Open coffee' event at the town hall and to be honest what I envisaged was a mayoral soirée. The Greeks have so many ways to drink coffee I was curious to see what developments had been made. To my minor disappointment Mr. Boutaris was absent, probably saw my rsvp on FB, but what was there was far more significant. Imagine a TEDx with people talking about clever things they had done. Not theory or thought provoking but actually made happen.

Like two guys who had built their own city trike 'the Paastel'. Another group who have set up a crowd source rental site Rentareto; imagine ebay with rental. Another crowd-source catering site Cookisto; imagine ebay with pie and cake.

Then there's my favourite, Innovation Farm, a team of professional business consultants, marketeers, imagineers and entrepreneurs who are joining up the dots for others who have a good idea and need investment, mentoring, promotion and just about anything else. I had a chat with the John Galt-like leader and they have some pretty big ideas brewing of their own. I am expecting big things from them.

Teaching the Brit to dance
The point is that Greeks are still as entrepreneurial as ever, still as obstinate as ever but they are getting smarter. Wisened by brick-wall bureaucracy and tempered by euro-austerity the Greeks are coming back. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that there is a long road ahead but the Greeks are not to be written off so easily. The MLS may not be the iPhone 5 but in many ways it is so much more important, its innovation is in its existence.   

They have formed a resistance force and are ready to see off the invaders. The moustaches are gone but Zorba still has a thing or two to dance about.  

Join the resistance become part of the solution.

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