An Initiative Created by Youth for Youth
Youth have the potential, the capacity and the creativity to make change happen – for themselves, for their communities, and for the rest of the world. However, in many cases they do not have enough opportunities to join forces and act locally. In an effort to empower young people and give them the space and tools they need in order to act, a team of experienced youth leaders created a few years ago the Hellenic Youth Participation (HYP), a non-governmental education and empowerment organization, based in Athens, Greece.
A few words about HYP
“We wanted to give the opportunity to young people to create networks – both at a social and action level – so that they can act without having to belong to a specific group, whether it is a socially vulnerable, a religious, or a sports group,” says Eleni Kardamitsi, educator and project manager at HYP.
The organisation focuses on personal and professional development and youth activation through experiential, differentiated and non-formal activities at local, national and international level, such as youth exchanges, educational programs, practices abroad, educational tours, seminars, groups and actions in the city. And even though HYP is mainly focused on youth, still it is open to everyone. “For us, being young is a state of mind, so we are not only open to ages 13-35, but to any person who wants to be activated,” says Ms. Kardamitsi. “The main target group is people aged 13-35, but we are also addressing the general public, because we want to give everyone the opportunity to be activated.”
Working on a wide range of topics such as employability, environment, interculturalism, human rights, and lifelong learning, the organization’s goal is to mobilize and empower young people to cooperate and act first locally, in order to bring a substantial change to their communities and to the world. “All they need is to get together, have some basic skills and just do it. We don’t need too many ingredients to do something good.”
The initiative “Solidarity for Fashion”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, HYP implemented a programme aiming to promote the concept of sustainable fashion, and contribute to changing people’s fashion choices and reducing fashion’s negative environmental and social impact. The initiative was called “Solidarity for Fashion” and was funded with the support of the European Solidarity Corps, a European programme that helps young people take part in projects that benefit communities. It started on August 2020 and was completed on November 2021, offering impactful youth actions throughout the pandemic.
Ms. Kardamitsi is very clear on who initiated this programme: youth. Most programmes that HYP has been implementing are based on young people’s ideas and are co-decided by them. The same applies for “Solidarity for Fashion”; a programme initiated and implemented by young people, but at the same time open to all audiences. “The action was very much supported by the people involved and the people involved were from all ages – from 18 and above,” she says.
“Solidarity for Fashion” was about promoting sustainable fashion actions and included 12-month targeted campaigns against so called “fast fashion”, focusing on ways we can reduce our fashion environmental impact. As Ms. Kardamitsi explains, linear fashion is based on the “take, make, dispose” economic model. Simply put: we take raw materials from the earth, use them to make products to sell and, once these products have reached the end of their useful life, we dispose of them. This is a significant problem on a planet with finite resources. So, it is important to move towards a circular model that involves a complete rethink of our approach to products and services and how we consume them. In this case, fashion.
“Fast fashion leads to a lot of problems for the economy, the environment and in terms of human rights, so we have to understand that it really matters what we buy, where we buy it from and what we need to change in this. Most importantly, we have to understand that we don’t always have to buy new clothes, we can also trade clothes with each other and not be ashamed of this,” says Ms. Kardamitsi. “It’s about adding value to the things we already have.”
“Solidarity for Fashion” included a wide range of activities – both physical and online – such as round tables with companies promoting sustainable fashion, school activities, the creation of a dictionary explaining the relevant terminology, swap parties where people could come and exchange old clothes without any financial contribution, and swap parties where people could come and exchange old clothes without any financial contribution.
Research that HYP has conducted shows that in a city of almost five million people, there are only 60 businesses promoting sustainable fashion. “We can see that there is not such a movement in Greece. Generally, in Europe we are falling behind in this area, but especially in Greece even ‘thrifting’ for example is still unknown to many people,” Ms. Kardamitsi says.
Some participants were familiar with this kind of concepts, while some others were not. The important thing was that the initiative was aiming to empower and inform people, so no one joined the team as an expert, even the members who initiated it.
HYP’s initiative met great success, considering that although it has been officially completed since November 2021, the group has been renewed with new people who continue to take action without being under the ‘umbrella’ of any European program. But why was “Solidarity for Fashion” so successful? According to Ms. Kardamitsi, success was first and foremost based on the fact that young people care about the environment and realize the importance of promoting sustainable fashion. Another factor was HYP’s know-how in supporting this kind of actions, as well as its ability to give young people the motivation to continue, when times are difficult.
A survival mechanism in times of pandemic
Even though it was not initiated as a response to the pandemic, the “Solidarity for Fashion” programme proved a survival mechanism for many people. The initiative was launched in August 2020, while its first activities started in October, when the second lockdown was imposed in Greece. “The fact that we had the opportunity to meet online 14-15 people every Saturday at 6 pm, when the curfew was starting, was an opportunity for us to share things, connect and feel less isolated. For me, personally, and for many other team members it was a bright moment during that gloomy winter,” says Ms. Kardamitsi. “We gave a lot of energy and love to this initiative, because during the pandemic we all had a hard time; there were moments of depression, so through our action we supported each other.”
Which is the key to a successful youth initiative?
HYP considers that the key to success in such initiatives is the level of active participation and the feedback that participants give, both during the actions and after their completion. But the most important, according to Ms. Kardamitsi, is quality, which cannot be measured by any indicator. “Because quality involves the element of effort that is made by every participant and ultimately determines the success of every action.”
An advice that Ms. Kardamitsi would give to any organisation interested in implementing youth initiatives is that ultimately success lies in simplicity. “There’s no need for big funding, there’s no need for a very large team and you don’t need to know everything to be able to start. Your initiative, willingness and passion are more than enough to do wonderful things with great results. It is very important to believe in it. The rest will follow.”
For more information about the Hellenic Youth Participation, you can visit https://hellenicyouthparticipation.com/.