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Greeks Respond to the Euro Crisis

July 9, 2012 11:03 am

Olivia Spiridopoulos, small business owner in Athens, outside Syntagma Square, the center for much of the protests [photo credit: Rima Abdelkader]

By: Rima Abdelkader

As Apollo gives way to Dionysus, one Greek doctor prescribes a remedy to austerity measures and a failed government – save my clinics, and you help Greece.

“It’s a very emotional time for Greece,” said Dr. Nikitas Kanakis, who heads the Greek branch of Doctors of the World. “We have to create a safe net for the very very poor.” The forty-five year old said one of the most challenging projects is maintaining volunteer turnout.

The local dentist maintains a few clinics throughout Greece. Among them is a clinic on the outskirts of Athens in the port city of Piraeus, once a flourishing ship industry town. He’s seen a dramatic rise in the number of people his clinics serve. More and more Greeks have come to his facility for food and medicine in recent years, a change from what was normally migrant workers.

At the international nonprofit humanitarian aid organization, Dr. Kanakis who maintains the facilities fears that the port city might be on the brink of a humanitarian crisis, and is running on limited supplies. His chapter sent out a request for medical supplies to keep his clinics afloat. International chapters of the group of doctors met recently in Athens for the first time to meet the medical needs of the economic crisis.

Dr. Kanakis who has served the organization for 17 years believes the free clinics are an example of what’s working, and what needs to be sustained in tough times to save Greek lives.

“By the end of the day, economics are people,” Dr. Kanakis said on the sidelines of the conference.

For Greek entrepreneur Nikos Drandakis in Athens, the dismal economic situation hardly matters. He’s taking “making ends meet” to a whole different level. He’s starting up an Athens-based mobile technology in a recession and expects to pass his breakeven point by summer’s end.

“I had my eyes open for an opportunity in the mobile space which I thought will change our lives until I came across a problem finding a taxi,” Drandakis said in an email.

Last May, Drandakis started Taxibeat through the help of some Greek angel investors. It’s a mobile device that enables passengers to hail a taxi driver through your smartphone in real time. He earns 50 cents in Euros from the taxi drivers per ride.

“You can’t be creative and productive when you see people around you in despair,” Drandakis said. “We offered taxi drivers the hope of a few more jobs every day. And it worked.”

A recent tweet from a user shows the service helped him pick up a cab to the airport: “@ckorakas: Unexpected in #Greece: picked up my night cab to the Airport using @taxibeat a very innovative mobile service… taxi driver loves it.”

Like the user, Drandakis caught himself in a similar situation that sparked the idea. “I was looking to my iPhone’s Google maps searching for nearby central streets to move to until I thought, “what if taxi drivers had a same device like mine, sending their position in real time?”

He has a fleet of 1,500 taxi drivers and said the process “liberates” drivers and enables them “to promote their inner entrepreneur to the customers.”

Drandakis worked as a web developer and said he failed at jump-starting two tech startups before succeeding with Taxibeat. He assembled a team of web and mobile developers, peers from his previous startups and close friends, and applied for a tech investment fund. His idea was chosen and put his time in the project in the middle of bad economic times.

Drandakis now manages a team of 13 people from four in Athens and seven more will be added overseas in Brazil, France, Romania and Norway this summer.

He meets with like-minded professionals at The Benaki Museum monthly, and hopes that more online networking will be a part of the economic solution.

From parking solutions to crowd-sourced weather conditions like wind kite surfing, these young Greek entrepreneurs feel they are focusing their energies on the right solutions with their gadgets.

“The Internet is still in its infancy, but more online networking could be a part of the solution,” said Panayiotis Papadopoulous, one of the organizers of the meet up.

Online business owner Olivia Spiridopoulos agrees.

Spiridopoulos started an online business for a designer-hand bag rental company and fears the current situation might not help her international business prospects.

“It was an auspicious year for Greece after the Olympics,” Spiridopoulos said. “It’s not looking too great now.”

Spiridopoulos, 45, says the “gr” domain name of her website Starbags which she started in 2005 might negatively affect the prospect of doing business with international buyers. It’s a reason she’s seriously considering changing it to an “eu” domain name.

“We can’t afford a third election,” she said, sitting in the foyer of the Grande Bretagne.

A receptionist nearby shares that times haven’t been particularly great for the hotel. Positioned near Syntagma Square, where much of the rallies have been held, they’ve had to expend more resources from security to marble restoration. The marble outside the hotel was used to throw at the parliament across from the square.

Time will tell if Greece’s new coalition government will exceed the expectations of the Greek people for more stability. For Dr. Kanakis, Spiridopoulos, Drandakis and his group of tech friends, they’re moving forward a midst despair with their creativity and skill.

“We are too focused in our daily jobs and don’t feel very connected with what is going on “outside,” Drandakis said. “We have breathed some air with the election results before diving in the same problems again,” he added. “Every new day holds surprises but we try to setup our international expansion to reduce our dependence from the local economy.”


Have a story idea? You can reach Rima Abdelkader @rimakader on Twitter.

Follow Nikos Drandakis @drandakis



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