Written by Paul Wright

Launching mid-November 2016 a web documentary, Waynak, looks at the mechanics of social innovation projects that combat injustice faced by refugees. Following around Europe and the Middle East, accompanying the webdoc, we also introduce you to the individuals whose enduring spirit and minds keep these social innovation projects burning bright.

Read on to find out the triggers that got them involved by design or proxy in the Humanitarian Aid sector, along the way getting to know Omar Berakdar co-initiator of ARTHERE Istanbul, Hanzade Germiyanoglu, Field Coordinator of Support to Life, Shannon Kay who manages Small Projects Istanbul and Joanna Theodorou, founder and Partnerships Coordinator of CAMPFIRE Innovation.

Paul Wright

 

About the writerPaul Wright is an English guy working as a journalist in Paris and runs the award winning radio show called bienurban and is part of the global network SpottedbyLocals.

joanna theodorou

Joanna Theodorou, founder and Partnerships Coordinator CAMPFIRE Innovation,
training volunteers to use various open source/low tech tools at Orange House,
a community centre and accommodation for vulnerable refugees in Athens

Joanna Theodorou speaks to us from her desk at Impact Hub Athens in Greece. She possibly has as many digital conversations via Skype and WhatsApp as she does meeting people face to face. To get going I clarify the bit-rate quality of our connection, to which Theodorou tells me yes I’m hearing you ok, adding with poetic tilt, but “sometimes it skips a beat”.

Theodorou embraces her strengths as a communicator, admitting that although willing, her small physical frame renders her less efficient at the lifting and building in the refugee camps, and saw another way to combat the injustice faced by refugees: “I’m good at telling stories” she adds.

Putting her feelings into action then, Theodorou set-up CAMPFIRE Innovation to showcase grassroots efforts, community actions and small NGOs; projects which she says show “so much humanity, and so much dedication and passion about what they’re doing.”

Giving a brilliantly simple explanation as to impact that thousands of volunteers can have she tells me “the effect is they balance out [the dire situation] towards the good”. And following up to ask if her perception of humanity may have altered during the recent refugee crisis, Theodorou’s illuminating determination shines through again:

“There are days when you just wake up on the wrong side of the bed, thinking ‘oh my god, this is terrible’, [so] this is why Campfire Innovation exists, to find the flickers of hope in the darkness”

Before realizing Campfire Innovation, Theodorou had set-up the anti-austerity project Reload Greece with the help of friends back in London; as she puts it, “a sort of trying to save Greece through entrepreneurship, creating organizations and companies” meaning she already had a notion that small ideas can have a massive positive impact.

The trigger though that got her involved, came in reaction to seeing the media images flooding our news screens; which ignited memories of the few years that her family lived in Syria; the crisis then suddenly hit closer to home. Although logic seems to lead her way, empathy struck a deep chord with Theodorou in a realization she says, “that I could have crossed them in the street, have gone to their shop.”

joanna theodorou

Joanna Theodorou, founder and Partnerships Coordinator CAMPFIRE Innovation,
making a site visit at one of the camps in Jordan

joanna theodorou

Joanna Theodorou, founder and Partnerships Coordinator CAMPFIRE Innovation
attending and speaking at Diasporas in Dialogue:
Multiculturalism, Migration and the Improvisatory Imagination

Campfire Innovation is continuing to showcase Smart Aid projects which the 26-year-old says emerged from a crystalizing ‘ah haaa’ moment, in reaction to observing first-hand smart projects being created by smaller teams and she got to thinking “look, they’re small, but they’re super efficient. Why’s nobody paying attention to them.”

It’s hard to disentangle the demands of the initiative from Joanna’s self-determination to give her all, yet she manages to find support in her close networks which she identifies as family, but also the group of people she’s been lucky to have had the support of over the past few years.

Energy! How does Theodorou recharge her spirit but also maintain a clear mind? Given, as she admits “I can’t eat or sleep without think about Campfire Innovation!” Where is respite, if at all? Well, thankfully there’s an invaluable well of energy and clarity that comes from being connected to and sharing ideas with others, in particular those making up a support network called Global Troopers:

“Being surrounded by these people, there’s an incredible energy, and [sharing] the same sort of will to do stuff keeps you going; and the start-up community and all the people who’ve been been doing really cool stuff for the refugee crisis keeps me sane.”

joanna theodorou

Joanna Theodorou, founder and Partnerships Coordinator CAMPFIRE Innovation,
posed in front of an artwork sending a clear message ‘As One I am Fragile,
Together We Are Strong – Standing Together With Refugees’

Paul Wright