ATHENS WINS EUROPEAN CAPITAL OF INNOVATION AWARD AND €1 MILLION GRANT

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Athens Digital Lab: Supporting young entrepreneurs and embracing new technologies in the City

It’s been a year since the launch of the Athens Digital Lab (ADL) and our teams have been building a portfolio of stories to tell and impressive futuristic gear to display! Tales of smart recycling bins that reward you and systems that can predict the health of all the plants in the city’s parks are now a reality…

The Athens Digital Lab teams, with San Fransisco-based tech coach, Christos Kritikos.

The Athens Digital Lab teams, with San Fransisco-based tech coach, Christos Kritikos.

Let me start with a recap: ADL was created by the Athens Partnership and the Municipality of Athens, with an exclusive grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the support of two major tech companies, Cosmote and Nokia. Six startups were selected out of more than 110 applications, following ADL’s 1st open call in November 2017. The teams’ goal was to develop their ideas for city solutions into real technological applications and to do this they were provided with technical equipment, mentoring and access to real data sets from the City of Athens.

Recystrust has developed a smart recycling bin that is already being tested in City Hall and public schools.

Recystrust has developed a smart recycling bin that is already being tested in City Hall and public schools.

After 6 months of work, guidance and evaluation, four of them are now testing their products in real time in field trials across Athens. One of the teams, Recytrust, has designed and developed a smart recycling bin, which uses sensors and Internet of Things (IoT) technology to provide real-time data about recycling performance. Individual users’ waste behavior is monitored through personalized swipe cards. These innovative bins have been placed in 20 spots, including City Hall, as well as 10 primary schools, and aim to educate and gamify recycling for Athenians.

Inagros is testing its green spaces management system in the National Garden.

Inagros is testing its green spaces management system in the National Garden.

Another great example is Inagros, which has developed a green management smart system, at the heart of which is a project management platform that is connected with the sensors that are installed in parks, gardens and green areas of the city. Through these sensors, city management officers will be able to monitor and control water and fertilizer levels, and predict plant health. Fifteen sensor nodes have already been placed and tested in the National Garden of Athens.

In order to exploit the transformative opportunities from collecting and analyzing a massive amount of information by IoT devices, Thing of Me designed and developed a big data marketplace. Their pilot testing started and new types of data are constantly being uploaded.

The fourth ADL team, Smart City Spaces, has developed a crowd-based platform and an application that lets the Municipal Police monitor public space use. Through open WiFi networks, by using data from smartphones that connect to these networks, public spaces and pedestrian foot traffic can be monitored throughout the city. This data can be used by the City for policy-making decisions, to identify popular areas and to monitor public safety. Also, Smart City Spaces has developed a “digital” ID for all businesses, enabling the city to monitor cafes and bars that use public space.

As the teams’ work progresses, the Athens Digital Lab is increasingly able to attract the best of the Greek startup ecosystem - entrepreneurs, business experts and researchers to share ideas and expertise. In early September, ADL welcomed Christos Kritikos, a San-Francisco-based tech entrepreneur - product-project manager and dreamer, startup coach at Emerging Humanity who has run numerous tech projects for several multinational companies, for a two-hour workshop on product management, exclusively for ADL teams. Christos also acted as a mentor, advising them on how to further develop their products.

Athens Partnership Executive Director, Alexandros Kambouroglou and ADL project manager, Antonis Papadopoulos present a workshop on how public-private partnerships can be the key to unleashing smart city potential, at the 83rd Thessaloniki International Fair.

Athens Partnership Executive Director, Alexandros Kambouroglou and ADL project manager, Antonis Papadopoulos present a workshop on how public-private partnerships can be the key to unleashing smart city potential, at the 83rd Thessaloniki International Fair.

What is more, in mid-September, ADL joined the 83rd Thessaloniki International Fair as part of the “Digital Greece” pavilion in mid-September, along with other Greek startups and leading innovation hubs of the ecosystem. It was a great opportunity to present ADL’s vision on what really makes a city ‘’smart’’. Alexandros Kambouroglou - Executive Director of the Athens Partnership and Antonis Papadopoulos - Project Manager of ADL, ran a workshop on how Athens is moving towards a Smart City and the pivotal role of the Athens Partnership in the digital transformation of Athens.

So, what happens next at ADL? Next month we will announce our 2nd Open Call and an event will be held at Serafio to present the results of the 4 current product/service pilots. We will march into our second year with new teams working on smart city solutions in 5 different areas, new partnerships (to be announced soon!) and a roll out of exciting events on entrepreneurship, tech and more by Greek/US/European leaders of the field.

Don’t miss a thing... Stay tuned and follow Athens Digital Lab and Athens Partnership on social media!

Enduring change in Athens Public schools

How Athens took ‘experiential learning’ and ‘participatory design’ from theory to practice

Two and a half years after the start of the Designed for Better Learning program at the City of Athens, how enduring is the change in culture and attitudes for the 4,000 children in the 24 pubic schools that were transformed through this Athens Partnership program? Are new students faced with a changed experience or is the impact of the DBL program gradually fading away?

5 City of Athens nursery homes that share a common courtyard were renovated through the Designed for Better Learning program.

5 City of Athens nursery homes that share a common courtyard were renovated through the Designed for Better Learning program.

Starting in the Spring of 2016, the Designed for Better Learning (DBL) program, supported through an exclusive grant by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF), transformed 24 schools, equal to 5% of all public schools overseen by the City of Athens, using a groundbreaking approach that combines education with architecture and actively involves teachers, students and parents in the process and maintenance. The result was not just much better looking schools, but also a cultural shift which came from a significant increase in the sense of a personal connection and engagement with the school. The Athens Partnership coordinated the program for the City of Athens, while the Transformable Intelligent Environments Lab (TUC TIE Lab) of the Technical University of Crete was responsible for the scientific planning and implementation.

Stelios Vassilakis, Director of Programs & Strategic Initiatives, Lenia Vlavianou, Group Director of Communications, Alexia Vasilikou, Communications Officer and Aristi Stathakopoulou, Program Officer at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, met with the principals of all the kindergartens, who shared their first-hand experience of the changes brought about by Designed for Better Learning.

Stelios Vassilakis, Director of Programs & Strategic Initiatives, Lenia Vlavianou, Group Director of Communications, Alexia Vasilikou, Communications Officer and Aristi Stathakopoulou, Program Officer at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, met with the principals of all the kindergartens, who shared their first-hand experience of the changes brought about by Designed for Better Learning.

Popi Baskeki, the Principal of one of the preschools, speaks enthusiastically about the change that happened through the Designed for Better Learning program.

Popi Baskeki, the Principal of one of the preschools, speaks enthusiastically about the change that happened through the Designed for Better Learning program.

Last July, we welcomed the Stavros Niarchos Foundation for a visit to the pre-schools that were revamped using this innovative method. The changes included a redesigned common courtyard for all, upgraded internal spaces, as well as new educational games and constructions for the 500 children and 60 educators at the 5 Nursery Schools of the Municipality of Athens, at Christodoulakio, on Kifissias Avenue. After a tour, we sat down with the same team of educators who took part in planning the changes at the very start of the program.

The nursery school principals recalled the planning stage of the program, when DBL architects and researchers sat together with educators to discuss how they envisioned a more functional, education friendly school environment. The greatest challenge to overcome for the 5 nursery schools was that they were housed in adjacent buildings that shared a common school yard that was separated by gates, fences and walls. These boundaries divided up the space and also created visual barriers between the educators and the children.

Vaso Leneti, principal of one of the nursery schools (left) with Marianthi Liapi, DBL project manager from the TUC TIE Lab of the Technical University of Crete.

Vaso Leneti, principal of one of the nursery schools (left) with Marianthi Liapi, DBL project manager from the TUC TIE Lab of the Technical University of Crete.

“When we first heard about the program, we were very enthusiastic and hardly believed all these changes were possible! The project team, architects and researchers, were asking us ‘what are your wishes and dreams for this school?’” says Popi Basdeki, the Principal at one of the five nursery schools.

The first stage of Designed for Better Learning focused on large-scale architectural interventions: unifying the separated playground, creating more efficient interior layouts, upgrading facilities such as the bathrooms. And change did not stop here: through the “Educational Pla(y)ces” structures, the DBL team worked with students and teachers in each of the schools to enrich learning spaces and incorporate educational equipment.

One of the new educational tools designed by the DBL team together with educators, created at the City of Athens Maker Space, also a part of the DBL program.

One of the new educational tools designed by the DBL team together with educators, created at the City of Athens Maker Space, also a part of the DBL program.

“Through this program, we came to put to use concepts that we previously talked about theoretically, like ‘experiential learning’ and ‘participatory design’, but could never really enforce in our environment”, says Maria Vlachou, Principal of the Christodoulakio complex. The testimonials make it clear that the transformation had a deep impact on school culture.

“The combination of top-down and bottom-up changes is the unique element of this approach”, said Marianthi Liapi, Project manager of the DBL program. “We found the common ground between the needs and visions of educators and the school community, bringing innovation together with tailor-made solutions that served that specific community at a world-class standard.”

Children now play in a stimulating environment that supports development and allows them to take more risks while exploring their environment.

Children now play in a stimulating environment that supports development and allows them to take more risks while exploring their environment.

The tour showed first-hand what data already indicated to us – which is that 2.5 years later the transformation has been maintained and supported by these schools. Although construction crews transformed the architectural environment, it was the DBL methodology which went below the surface and engaged teachers, parents and the children in a way that made them stakeholders and guardians.

Art At All Hours -- Bringing Athens’ Cultural Institutions Together

Athens, a city long known for its history of philosophy, art, and literature, is now gearing up to host its first Culture Night.  The free, after-dark series of cultural events and activities produced by Athens Culture Net, will take place throughout the City this Friday, October 5. 

This celebration highlights the relationship between art and narration in partnership with the 2018 Athens World Book Capital. Events are planned at dozens of cultural institutions and more than 26 galleries across Athens with exhibitions, live music, theatrical performances, poetry readings, mystery games, cultural treasure hunts and movie screenings. For a full listing of all of the events, activities, and participating cultural institutions, visit this link.

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Over the past two years, the Athens Partnership has been proud to support Athens Culture Net (ACN) and promote Athens’ multitude of cultural assets - ancient and contemporary alike.  ACN, whose founding donor is the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, is a network of cultural organizations operating in partnership with the Municipality of Athens. ACN promotes collaboration, idea exchange, use of public space, and shares best practices to elevate Athens as a destination for creativity. With 52 of the most prominent cultural institutions in Athens as members and growing, ACN has supported over 35 events since its creation including:

·        Documenta 14: ACN supported the coordination of the documenta14 art fair, which hosted art exhibitions and installations in 40 sites across Athens including major squares like Syntagma, Kontzia and Victoria. This was the first time that Kassel, Germany co-hosted the fair with another city.

Documenta14 art fair attracted international attention

Documenta14 art fair attracted international attention

·        Athens World Book Capital: A year-long celebration of literature with events happening across the city aimed at fostering a culture of reading in Athens.

Author Jeffrey Eugenidis at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center

Author Jeffrey Eugenidis at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center

·        Cultural programming at the Theotokopoulou Building: ACN undertook the planning and coordination for programming at this historic building, transforming it into an education, innovation, and cultural facility for Athens.  Theotokopoulou has already hosted a number of creative groups and workshops in its first few months of operation.

·        Open Schools Programming:  Through ACN, the National Theatre, Museum of Cycladic Art, and the Music Library of Greece provided free workshops for students of all ages as part of the Athens Partnership Open Schools program.  Open Schools is a municipal program offering free recreational and educational activities at 25 public schools during evenings and weekends.

Open Schools programming: theater for children

Open Schools programming: theater for children

·        ACN Social: More than 100 attendees from 50 different cultural groups participated in an event to enhance social media skills and communication strategies at cultural organizations. This is the first in a series of workshops that ACN is producing.

For more information on the Athens Culture Net, visit www.athensculturenet.com

Event hashtag: #culturenightathens