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December 2016

WELCOMMON, an innovative project for hosting and social inclusion of refugees

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#WELCOMMON is an innovative community center for hosting and promoting the social inclusion of refugees. It is implemented by the social enterprise Wind of Renewal (“Anemos Ananeosis”) in cooperation with the Athens Development and Destination Management Agency (EATA),  in the framework of the relocation program of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).


The building

Wind of Renewal/Anemos Ananeosis has rented the WELCOMMON building (a former clinic) for 9 years. The building is located in the central Athens (4 Kapodistriou St.), has 7 floors and an area of 3200 square meters. Its central location and its accessibility by the public transport contributes to avoiding the marginalization of the refugees and facilitates the participation of local people in its activities.


The WELCOMMON building was overhauled in August and September 2016. Wind of Renewal renovated and refurbished the building throughout, adapting it to its new requirements and giving it a “second life”.  Mostly repaired and second-hand furniture have been used, combining social and environmental responsibility.


It meets all appropriate specifications for the safe and decent accommodation of guests:

  • 66 rooms most of them with private bathroom
  • fire-extinguishing systems
  • safe balconies and staircase
  • accessibility for handicapped individuals
  • 24-hour entrance security
  • facilities for gatherings, tutorials, artistic and other activities
  • Wifi and TVs in each floor
  • Washing machines, driers and refrigerators (common use)

The building can host up to 200 refugees and 15 volunteers from abroad.

Professionals as well volunteers have contributed to this hard work –completed in less than a month-and-a-half at a cost of less than €50,000.


The structure of WELCOMMON

WELCOMMON presently employs 29 professionals in the following areas:

  • Administration / management / secretarial support
  • Reception
  • Interpretation / cultural mediation
  • Social and psychological support
  • Primary health care
  • Building maintenance
  • Human resources
  • Education/training/capacity building
  • Security

Many of our employees, previously in the ranks of the unemployed, have experience on refugee issues.

More than 20 volunteers are supporting our daily work continuously.


Synthesis of Welcommon’s guests

WELCOMMON welcomed its first guests on 12th of October 2016. Guests are selected by the UN High Commission for Refugees, in the framework of its relocation program and asylum seekes and with priority given to vulnerable groups, such as pregnant women, families with children, the elderly, handicaped etc.  The majority are Syrians (90%) and children (65-80%), often accompanied by only one parent, usually the mother.

At the moment (11/12/2016) Welcommon hosts 162 people.  91 of them are underage:

  • 10 babies up to 1 year old
  • 11 from 1,5 to 3
  • 17 from 3,5 to 6
  • 33 from 6,5 to 12
  • 20 from 12,5 to 18

We are also hosting 6 pregnant women, some of them from 16 to 18.  We have already seen the first 2 births from a mother 16 years old and a mother 18 years old hosted in Welcommon!


Health issues

All our guests undergo the Mantoux test (for tuberculosis). We also ensure that all children are vaccinated so they can attend the formal education system (school or nursery structures), according to Greek legislation. We have established a close cooperation with doctors hired by the Athens Development and Destination Management Agency, in the framework of its refugee program.

In all cases, we strive to provide services to the refugees in cases of urgent health needs. We organize their medical records so they have at their disposal all relevant data, whether they resettle in another country or stay in Greece.

In cooperation with the community of Syrians living already in Greece, we are in the process of setting up a network of Arabic-speaking volunteer doctors of various specializations. We are also developing close ties with social clinics.

Social workers and interpreters accompany our guests to doctors and hospitals. Welcommon covered the whole cost for medicines and vaccinations through donations.


Welcome classes and education/training of children, a basic need

Refugee children have remained out of an education system for between two and five years. Some of them could never attend school. This, combined with the fact that they are for a long period away from home, leaving in camps and moving from one place -or country- to another, most of the time under difficult conditions, results in a lot of problems. Therefore it is essential for them to return to a formal as well as to a non-formal education and training system as soon as possible.

At WELCOMMON we provide support at three levels:

  • Enrolment in the Greek formal education system based on the existing public structures and their age (kindergarten, primary, secondary and high school). Before they begin attending school classes, we provide them with the health checks and vaccinations necessary, according to Greek legislation. We believe their attendance is very important, not only for gaining knowledge and skills but also for their social life in the future and their adaptation to social realities.
  • Opportunities for non-formal education, training and empowerment with social skills, despite limited appropriate resources. Such facilities are provided inside WELCOMMON itself with the help of volunteers, but we also looking for cooperation with other organizations in the form of workshops and classes for language learning (Arabic, Greek, English, German), painting, music. We are also in contact with specialists, sports clubs and other experienced organizations that can offer opportunities for participating in sports activities.
  • Empowering parents (often single) to be fully able to take proper care of their children, offering them a place for gradual rehabilitation as well as social, psychological and pedagogical support. This is obviously something that takes time and needs more human and financial resources which we are lacking at the moment.


Our first priority is to enroll as many children as possible in neighboring schools, according their age. But due to lack of vacancies it was possible -up to now- to enroll only few of the children in schools (only 8 of a total 91).  For this reason and in order to give both to children and parents the opportunity to return in a “normal” daily life, we are planning an integrated program of non formal education activities. At the moment, a lot of activities are organized and implemented with the valuable contribution of our volunteers and include languages lessons (german, english, greek), pottery, painting, cinema and dance classes. Also, usually on Sundays, we organize visits to interesting sites of Athens, parcs and art exhibitions.

For 2017, we plan to expand the non formal education acitivities for children but also for adults, so that all of them during their stay in Welcommon to have the opportunity to participate in a complete and integrated training program similar to the formal education program. Our aim is to provide basic knowledge, skills and capabilities similar to those provided by the formal education and additional social skills through creative activities and innovative learning methods.

We can afford the rooms and places for such an education and trainning activity, as we are going -by the mid of January – to transform the rooms of a whole floor (2nd) in small classes. It is true, that we need more human and financial resources in order to be able to offer such services to all the children. Therefore we are seeking foundations and citizens who would like to support our plan.


Resources – fundraising – donations

Although the basic costs for hosting the refugees in WELCOMMON are 80% covered through the cooperation with the Athens Development and Destination Managerment Agency, in 2016 – and we hope to see this cooperation extended in 2017 – there are many other costs not covered by this grant.

We are seeking donations and more resources in order to promote social inclusion, health services and materials, training, welcome classes and creative activities (e.g. painting, music, dancing, sports, language lessons, capacity building etc.), as well as environmental management, energy efficiency and the maintenance of the 3200 sq.m. building. 



Three meals per day are offered. Our first priority is to provide food, in line with our guests’ individual nutritional requirements, according to age, state of health or religious persuasion. Due to the large number of babies and children and to their special nutrition needs, we had to offer extra food stuff such as infant milk (formula), fresh milk, yogurt, fresh fruits and juices. In addition we purchased 3 refrigerators and placed them in the communal areas of the floors, in order to store the fruits, the milk or other food.



We organize very often live music nights thanks to musicians-volunteers playing Arabic, Mediterranean and Greek music. All, but mainly the children participate and enjoy very much hearing music and dancing.


As the majority of our guests are underage, we had to purchase an amount of toys for different ages. We selected those that can be used not only to provide fun but also educate. In addition as we organize several artistic classes, we had to purchase the necessary materials, such as papers, markers, pencils, brushes, canvas, pottery tools and other crafts materials.

For the entertainment, but also for the daily briefing, of the adults we purchased satellite TVs and placed 1 at the gathering place of each floor.

As we organize cinema afternoons, 2 per week for adults and 2 per week for children, we had to buy the relevant equipment, such as projectors, speakers etc. Some of them are second hand.


Clothing – shoes – basic needs

Clothing and shoes in good condition, donated by citizens, institutions and social agencies, are classified and made available to our guests according to their needs.

We purchased two sewing machines and sewing materials and made available a room next to the clothing “store” so that guests can repair the clothes.  As some of our guests are tailors and dressmakers, we asked them to organize the place and the materials and also to help or to instruct those who are interested. This process is a tool for empowerment with skills and abilities as well as a means for capacity building and a return to a normal daily life.

In addition we bought 4 washing machines and 4 driers which are placed in the basement and are available to the guests who can use them to wash their clothes, according to a weekly schedule.

        Some more future plans     

In the near future WELCOMMON aims:

To offer opportunities for employment, by tapping the skills and aptitudes of the guests, mainly the asylum seekers who will remain in Greece, through their participation in the running of the organization and in collaboration with other organizations and agencies.

To create a data base with the curricula vitae of refugees –both inside and outside the facility- so as to facilitate their employment in businesses seeking specific qualifications and skills.

To set up social enterprises with the participation of Greeks and refugees/ immigrants, in the following areas:

  • Repair and reuse of clothing and footwear -which will create jobs for both refugees and the local population- and sale of clothing at reasonable prices.
  • Renting of various products, such as baby items (cots, cradles and carriers), items for handicapped people, special equipment for the chronically ill (oxygen apparatuses, special beds, wheelchairs etc.) at reasonable rates.
  • Food and catering

To develop a network and permanent cooperation with similar initiatives and structures at regional, national and European level, as well as in other neighboring countries, for an exchange of experiences and good practices, through regular meetings, seminars and workshops, thus building bridges between different cultures, societies and activities.

We aspire to contribute not only to relief efforts but also in the form of education and social inclusion strategies and practices.

We would like to see a real change in the hosting policies implemented in our country and the development of a holistic strategy for the refugees in Greece.

Bank accounts:

Anemos Ananeosis / Wind of Renewal

Pireaus Bank: GR8301720180005018077868253   BIC: PIRBGRAA

Eurobank: GR7202602440000180200876471   BIC: ERBKGRAA

For Welcommon project

Contacts: or

tel:               00302103803959 or 00302103810646

 “Wind of Renewal” in COOP Spotlight

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Wind of Renewal is a social cooperative in Greece founded in 2014 with ten people.

Article | 09 December 2016–en/index.htm?shared_from=shr-tls

COOP Spotlight is a series that showcases innovative cooperative initiatives from around the world with whom ILO COOP is engaging for exchange of learning and future collaboration. The fourth cooperative featured in the series is the Wind of Renewal, a social cooperative in Greece.

What does the Wind of Renewal stand for?

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.

What is the “Welcommon” initiative about?

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 ANEMOS ANANEOSIS/WIND OF RENEWAL 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.

How are decisions made within the cooperative?

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.

Simel Esim (ILO): Cooperatives, resilience to crises

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Translation of an interview of Simel Esim (ILO) on , to crises including on a Greek online news outlet–en/index.htm?shared_from=shr-tls

Cooperatives, resilience to crises

The Greek Magazine Efsyn interviewed ILO specialist on Cooperative, Simel Esim, on the role of cooperatives and other social and solidarity economy enterprises in crisis response including with regard to refugees.

Analysis | 12 December 2016

Can the social and solidarity economy to help countries like Greece to overcome the already protracted economic recession?

It has been observed across the world that in times of economic crisis the existing cooperative and other social and solidarity economy structures grow in terms of numbers of members, supporters, volunteers, beneficiaries and service users.

This applies equally to different types of cooperatives, for instance financial, retail and housing cooperatives, among others. New social and solidarity economy initiatives are created during such times at local levels. Governments and development agencies also rediscover cooperatives as part of timely and relevant community driven response strategies to these challenges.

But the social and solidarity economy cannot, and in fact should not, be expected to assume the role of the state in the provision of goods and services. It would be unrealistic to imagine the social and solidarity economy as a magic wand that once activated will put an end to crises. The formula is more like that of tens of thousands of initiatives, big and small, public and private, some more successful than others, converging together in partnership toward creating a critical mass that reaches a tipping point.Yes, but are not cooperatives themselves beaten by economic crisis?

The International Labour Organization has conducted research documenting how cooperatives have fared in terms of their resilience to the global economic and jobs crisis. This report reviews the performance of financial cooperatives, looking in particular at the aftermath of the 2007-2008 crisis and the continuing long austerity period. It documents ways financial cooperatives have proven to be more resilient tha their non-cooperative counterparts pointing to the specificities of the cooperative model of enterprise.
How can cooperatives and other social and solidarity economy enterprises support refugees in a sustainable way?

The number of refugees has reached record levels around the globe. Many host country governments’ systems in provisioning goods and services have become overwhelmed. So it has become necessary for national and local governments in host countries to partner with local community based solutions. Provision of goods and services through local cooperatives and other social and solidarity economy enterprises can help refugees escape the vicious circle of poverty and find a job, while distributing the available resources more fairly within the local economy and for the local communities.
Are there any specific examples?

There are examples of cooperatives that have been set up specifically for refugees, or refugees joining existing cooperatives in growth oriented sectors of the host country’s economy as workers and members.

We have seen refugee women, for example in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon come together in business groups to market their products in local community markets in Lebanon which helped generate incomes and create bridges between refugee and host communities.

In many countries, existing cooperative have moved to assisting refugees. In Italy alone, social cooperatives provide services to 18,000 refugees, asylum seekers and migrants with services and projects in 220 welcome centres and 170 dedicated housing structures.

The UN World Food Programme has been procuring staple items for emergency food assistance to refugees through producer cooperatives in 20 countries.

In Germany, housing cooperatives have started reserving larger homes for refugee families and consciously renting them to Syrian refugees to help them integrate and benefit from the social support system.

Another example are 200,000 of the nearly one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, who have settled in the Akkar region in the north of the country, doubling the population of one of Lebanon’s poorest regions. Here, the agricultural sector constitutes a major source of income, employing one-fourth of the workers. UNDP and ILO have supported the establishment and growth of a Green House Nursery cooperative, which treats, grows and sells seeds at an affordable price in the region. The cooperative benefits 200 Lebanese farmers and Syrian refugees.
Recently the Greek lawmakers voted for a new law on social and solidarity economy. Are you aware of the changes the new law brings? Did the ILO make any proposals?

The very tight deadlines for consultation around the drafts was not sufficient to allow the ILO to provide an official response on the law. Clearly it is the Greek people who own this law. Hence the national consultations between the government, social partners and cooperatives and social and solidarity economy entities, networks and platforms are critical. It was therefore great to hear Dr Rania Antonopoulos, the Greek Alternate Minister for Combatting Unemployment, indicate her readiness to engage with the Greek cooperative and social economy partners to further improve the law.

A number of European cooperative and other social and solidarity economy partners provided inputs to the Greek government on the draft law. In fact, cooperatives and other social economy actors from around the world continue to show great solidarity with Greece. The Italian cooperative movement has indicated its readiness to support Greek government in its work on developing legislation on worker buyouts. Spanish and Argentinian worker cooperatives, and French financial cooperatives also have declared their willingness to engage.

It is worth noting that the enabling environment for cooperatives and social economy is not just dependent on passing of a law but include activation of implementation mechanisms including the establishment of financing tools, development of technical assistance programmes and building new institutions and reforming existing ones.
The Greek government, social partners and cooperative and other social economy enterprises have the continued support and commitment of the ILO in this important endeavour.

The following article has originally been published in Efsyn Magazine in Greek , and has been translated into English from the original.