The European Commission announced Athens as the 2018 European Capital of Innovation (iCapital), along with a €1 million prize. Cities considered for this prestigious award are judged on how they implement innovative solutions that address societal challenges. Led by Mayor Georgios Kaminis, the City of Athens implemented an innovation strategy that delivered more results with fewer means, by engaging citizens and the private sector in broad alliances. Many of the initiatives highlighted in consideration of this award were coordinated by the Athens Partnership, with lead support by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

"This award is a tremendous recognition of our city's resilience and work to find creative solutions that address our biggest challenges," said Athens Mayor Giorgos Kaminis. "We have overcome many obstacles by coming together as citizens, universities, private institutions, non-governmental organizations, municipal agencies and other partners committed to making Athens stronger. Our new digital strategy, which has increased the municipality's ability to serve residents, and programs such as Athens Open Schools, which provide beacons for community members to learn and connect, are just a couple examples of how we are innovating and strengthening through collaboration."

Athens was among 26 competing cities for the prestigious award, and in a final phase of 6 finalists, which included Aarhus, Denmark; Hamburg, Germany; Leuven, Belgium; Toulouse, France; and Umeå, Sweden. Cities that were shortlisted are those that manage to build open and dynamic innovation ecosystems, involve citizens in governance and decision-making and improve resilience and sustainability. The Athens Partnership, which works closely with the Municipality to pilot innovative public initiatives with cross-sector support, facilitated numerous programs in the City of Athens’ candidacy, including:

·       Athens Trigono project leverages existing government resources and private investment to create a more vibrant and sustainable public space. Project partners included synAthina, an online platform that engages and connects hundreds of community groups in civic activities. 8,300 sq metres of graffiti were removed, new pedestrian zones created, and 29 arts events hosted in Athens Trigono engaged 178 artists.


The Athens Trigono project is helping revitalize public space.

·       Athens Culture Net connects Athens cultural institutions through a digital platform and maximizes the city’s potential for cultural outreach and production. Through Athens Culture Net, 52 cultural institutions joined forces, forming 16 working groups, leading to 50 joint events in collaboration with another 200 cultural groups and institutions, and Athens’ first ever Culture Night.


Athens Culture Net organized the City’s first-ever Culture Night.

·       Athens Digital Lab promotes digital innovation in municipal government to better serve residents. Launched with an exclusive grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the support of telecommunications companies, Cosmote and Nokia, the Lab is developing city solutions with technological applications. In its first round, six startups were selected out of more than 110 applications, developing 4 prototype apps, which are currently being piloted across the City of Athens.

athens digital lab.jpg

The Athens Digital Lab helps young entrepreneurs develop their innovative tech solutions for the City.

·       Athens Digital Council provides strategic guidance to the City on the use of digital technology to improve government and services to Athenians. The Council is composed of leaders representing the largest digital, telecommunications, research and development and software solution companies in Greece, as well as distinguished professors from leading Greek universities, including Google, Accenture Nokia, and Microsoft among others. Since June 2017, Council members have supported a number of civic projects including the Smart Triangle project.

·       Athens Open Schools was designed to convert school buildings, after dismissal, on holidays and on weekends, into vibrant community centers. This covered the need for personal development opportunities, as well as providing safe, open public spaces in many neighborhoods. The program offers a variety of free, targeted activities and workshops for all ages. 27,000 Athenians took part in 470 different free educational and recreational activities in 25 Open Schools across Athens.

Athens Open Schools.jpg

25 new public spaces, offering free entertainment and development opportunities for all, were created by Athens Open Schools.

·       Designed for Better Learning & Maker Space, a program created with the expertise of the Technical University of Crete’s Transformable Intelligent Environments Laboratory, it transformed the environment and educational experience in 24 public schools (5% of schools stock in Athens), from preschool to high school. The City of Athens’ Maker Space, the first municipal maker space in Greece, is a laboratory that provides schools with access to the latest technology and equipment such as laser cutters and 3D printers, giving students and teachers the opportunity to create their own educational tools. Already 1160 children and 168 teachers have been trained in applied digital technologies that can help transform their educational environment.


Designed for Better Learning created the first municipal maker space in Greece, training school children and teachers in applied digital technologies.     

·       Athens Coordination Center for Migrant and Refugee issues was developed to bring together the major entities serving refugees. Within just a few months of launching, the new Center included the largest national and international organizations, sharing data and resources to strategically address immediate and future needs of refugees as well as inform policy and spending. 90 international and Greek agencies, with 370 delegates, and 12 Municipalities in Greece, are now coordinating to tackle challenges related to refugee and migrant integration.


90 local and international agencies come together to coordinate on refugee response, under the Athens Coordination Center for Migrant and Refugee issues.

·       Athens World Book Capital 2018 program, a partnership with UNESCO, to make books accessible to the city’s entire population, including migrants and refugees. The program includes meetings with writers, translators and illustrators, concerts, thematic exhibitions, poetry readings and workshops for publishing professionals. Already over 150 events have been realized, including inspirational hubs in the form of round tables, open discussions and creative dialogues and with the presence of distinguished writers.

World Book Capital.jpg

Acclaimed author Jeffrey Eugenides discusses with book critics and the public, at an event hosted by Athens World Book Capital 2018.

·       Athens Tourism Partnership & Athens Greeters, a new alliance between the City of Athens, Aegean Airlines and Athens International Airport, with support from The Hellenic Initiative, developed to promote Athens as a modern, welcoming, year-round destination. A multi-media campaign targeting European audiences was complemented by volunteer enthusiasm through a new Athens Greeters corps whose members personally welcomed and shared their knowledge of the city with thousands of visitors. The efforts of the Tourism Partnership were contributing factors to an impressive 10% year-on-year rise in overall Athens visitation numbers in 2017.

Athens Greeters personally welcomed 70,000 visitors in Athens.

The Athens Partnership, championed by Mayor Kaminis, was created with strategic guidance from Bloomberg Associates, a pro bono city consulting service offered by Bloomberg Philanthropies, to be a catalyst for innovative public programs. It was designed to intersect between city government and the private sector, leveraging the strengths of both. Project partners include academia, nonprofit organizations, civil society, and private supporters, including over 20 leading foundations and corporations.

"The Stavros Niarchos Foundation is proud to be a strong ally of the Municipality of Athens' innovative initiatives, which are recognized by this award," said Panos Papoulias, Deputy Director of Programs & Strategic Initiatives at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation. "Our donation of €10 million to the City of Athens supported ground-breaking projects in collaboration with the Athens Partnership, such as Open Schools, the Revitalization of the Commercial Triangle program, and the city's first Digital Lab. These initiatives are improving and enhancing the quality of life of Athenians and the emergence of a city that promotes innovation and creativity. The iCapital distinction is a great validation of our partnership and it is shining a brighter international light on Athens and Greece for all the right reasons."

“Under the leadership of Mayor Kaminis, the City has worked hard to engage citizens and the private sector to help tackle its toughest challenges,” said Athens Partnership Executive Director Alexandros Kambouroglou. “The Athens Partnership is honored to collaborate with the City and help marshal cross-sector forces to benefit Athenians. We are grateful to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and all of our partners, which are investing in innovative and meaningful initiatives that advance our city. The iCapital recognition is a great testament to the Mayor’s vision, our city’s resilience, and power of collaboration.”

OECD Highlights the Athens Coordination Center for Migrant and Refugee issues as a best-practice example for the effective integration of migrants

A recent OECD study examined the challenges related to the integration of migrant populations in 72 cities, with a particular focus on 9 European cities, including Athens, Greece. The report highlights successful and innovative actions taken by cities that aim to address this major challenge. This is essential in order to succeed in the complex task of providing coherent and effective policies for migrant integration, since, according to the report, 80% of cities participating in the survey believe there are information gaps between local authorities and higher levels of government that hamper effective policy-making.

ACCMR Liam language seminar

A 3-day Council of Europe “train the trainers” language workshop was recently hosted at the ACCMR collaborative offices.

The OECD study presents the Athens Partnership as an effective mechanism for the strategic use of funds from the non-state sector at the local level, to exchange information on needs and implement innovative solutions. In this case, this is done through the Athens Coordination Center for Migrant and Refugee issues (ACCMR), which was created with lead support from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, and which the report highlights as a “promising example of innovative co-ordination mechanisms”. Only a year and a half since its formation, the ACCMR has already brought together 88 organizations and agencies active in migrant and refugee services provision. The OECD report states: “The key aim of this initiative is the mapping of needs, the identification of gaps in the provision of services, and the collaboration for the development of a strategic action plan for the effective integration of refugees and migrants living in Athens. The ACCMR also acts as a hub for the formulation of collaborative proposals from its members, while also liaising with potential donors and supporters for funding in order to implement innovative projects.”

The ACCMR members have produced 65 proposals for projects and initiatives addressing migrant and refugee needs, while, through the ACCMR, the City of Athens is leading the exchange of best practices and capacity-building for 10 Greek municipalities. Synergies between organizations and agencies also produce concrete actions targeted to migrants and refugees. For example last week, a 3-day Council of Europe “train the trainers” workshop was hosted at the ACCMR collaborative offices, aimed to empower language teachers and provide them with the tools to adapt effective teaching to migrant and refugee needs. In addition, the second workshop coordinated by ACCMR members to address barriers to migrant and refugee integration in the job market was held, including representation by private companies and the opportunity for participants to engage in speed interviews.

As an indication of the ACCMR’s success, in partnership with the International Rescue Committee and with the support of the European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), the ACCMR expanded its activities on capacity building work towards other Greek municipalities. Going forward, there is great interest from other major international institutions in supporting ACCMR’s work.

Read the OECD report’s references to the Athens Partnership and the ACCMR.

European distinction for AP-coordinated Open Schools program

The Council of Europe’s latest handbook on “Promoting Human Rights at the Local and Regional Level” includes the City of Athens’ Open Schools, a program coordinated by the Athens Partnership based on an exclusive grant by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, as a best-practice example for promoting the smooth integration of refugee children. The Handbook presents 65 good practices implemented in over 25 countries all over Europe, aiming at showing how Local and Regional Authorities can implement initiatives that make human rights a tangible reality at the grassroots level.


The Council of Europe’s handbook states:

"By transforming 25 public schools into centres for scientific, creative and sports activities, as well as for language courses for Athenians and refugees, the city of Athens managed to bring together refugee and Greek children, increase the involvement and interaction of neighbourhoods and local schools in the refugee integration process and offer refugee children a safe environment where they can learn and spend time outside of their accommodation centres.

In 2015, the city of Athens launched the initiative “Open schools”, a programme aiming to transform the local public schools in the municipality of Athens into centres for sports, creative learning, language courses and other activities for all Athenians and refugees. With this initiative, the school buildings remain open from the end of school hours until 9:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekends. Not only do the workshops enhance language skills and cultural understanding of refugee children, but they also contribute to a direct exchange among newcomers and resident population at all age levels. Using the school buildings to host creative workshops for all ages, revitalises the spaces and brings the local community together in an effort to increase the involvement and interaction between neighbourhoods and local schools. The programme is led by the city of Athens and financed by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

During the summer of 2016, 450 out of the 1,250 participants in activities of the open schools were refugees. Today the initiative comprises 25 public schools in the municipality of Athens and numbers 170 courses with a total of 10,184 participants.”

Athens earns EU award for innovative solutions to migrant and refugee crisis

The City of Athens received €5 million award to implement the proposal “Curing the Limbo” which was submitted to the second call of the Urban Innovative Actions initiative of the European Union. The results were announced during the European Week of Regions and Cities 2017 in Brussels.

Urban Innovative Actions (UIA) is an Initiative of the European Union to provide urban areas throughout Europe with resources to pilot innovative solutions for complex urban challenges. Among the themes of the second call were (a) the integration of migrants and refugees, (b) circular economy and (c) urban mobility. Athens’ proposal in the topic “integration of migrants and refugees” was selected along with 15 out of a total of 206 proposals from 21 European member states.

The City of Athens’ proposal “Curing the Limbo” is about empowering stranded refugees who have been granted asylum to get out of a characteristic state referred as “limbo” which has struck a part of the population doomed to months and years of waiting for the next stage in their life. It involves four strategic partners: two international NGOs, CRS (Catholic Relief Services) International and IRC Hellas (International Rescue Committee), the University of Athens and the Athens Development and Destination Management Agency S.A.

From Brussels the Mayor of Athens, Georgios Kaminis stated that: "I am particularly glad that once again City of Athens’ engagement in social innovation projects and especially its’ linking to the important issue of refugee integration is being awarded and supported by European funding, proving that cities can provide solutions to the multiple challenges Europe is facing”.

The program connects refugees with active citizens of Athens offering an escape from inertia through their participation in activities for the public benefit that respond to existing needs of the city. At the same time it develops the soft skills required for the refugees’ integration and offers incentives and tools for the acquisition of affordable housing.

The idea addresses a universal phenomenon burdening the spirit in many other European cities: The inactive population, whether it consists of newly arrived refugees, under-skilled migrants, unemployed locals, or solitary pensioners, is a challenge of our times.

“Athens’ proposal was based on the experience earned by the City of Athens in the last two years by managing the refugee crisis through the Coordination Center for Migrants and Refugees-which is exclusively funded by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and facilitated by the Athens Partnership-and the Accommodation Program for Asylum Seekers. Through these initiatives we realized that there was an unaddressed urgent challenge in the city. The implementation of the idea will be coordinated through synAthina, which connects Athenian civil society with local government to maximize impact”, stated Amalia Zepou, Vice Mayor for Civil Society and Innovation. synAthina was a 2014 winner of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Mayors Challenge, an ideas competition for cities.