Odyssea Academy promotes professional integration for vulnerable people, such as migrants, young locals with low income and marginalized women. Originally the building, in a degraded neighbourhood of Athens’ Metropolitan area, was an abandoned warehouse. A team including architects and designers conceived renovation plans around the inclusive OA project. Refurbishment was carried out with local residents and beneficiaries, using reclaimed materials. Today the Academy is a nurturing environment for personal growth, training and self-reliance.
It all began in a 600 m2 abandoned warehouse at a deindustrialized neighborhood of Athens Metropolitan Area when a team of architects, designers and passionate makers decided to create a space able to host, represent and promote an alternative model for the professional empowerment and employability of vulnerable groups such as migrants, young locals of low income or marginalized women among others. In the core of the initiative was the establishment, in terms of both facilities and processes, of an innovative and integrated VET services’ provision model known as Odyssea Academy (OA). The space transformation process and the development of the Academy’s context went hand by hand and provided a final result that, although not in purpose, incorporates all three dimensions of the New European Bauhaus, while the movement had not yet officially appeared.
Inclusion is by principal the foundation of the Odyssea Academy endeavor:
- in social terms regarding the vulnerable or excluded populations as beneficiaries’ groups,
- in spatial terms after selecting a degraded neighborhood
- in terms of community aspects given the participatory involvement of individuals during the reconstruction phase and the close cooperation with adjacent municipalities and social structures.
Sustainability as a permanent parameter in the overall Odyssea’s context was also applied:
- All furniture was designed and fabricated by beneficiaries and staff also utilizing reclaimed wood from the surrounding industrial area.
- Tech hardware used for the courses were refurbished equipment scrapped by corporations
- A zero waste policy is held
Aesthetics is the 3rd but equal important component of the OA. Beauty is not a luxury but the better means to express the respect that the Academy model shows against vulnerable groups and also to promote the vision of a world worth living in.
Odyssea participates in similar projects in Nigeria and Bangladesh in cooperation with international foundations
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context
People’s resilience belongs in the core of the overall sustainability context. In this sense, the Odyssea Academy initiative serves the sustainability target in an essential way.
Regarding the tangible aspect of sustainability, the overall plan is characterized by a series of design choices and construction processes that directly serve and promote the above goal:
Not one more building was added in already overbuilt surroundings. The renovation of the abandoned industrial warehouse offered an added value to the downgraded urban environment and the neighboring to the school units located just across the street create a local educational hub. The new premises are fully supported by the mass transportation infrastructures.
All furniture was designed using participatory design processes, capturing the needs of the community and fabricated by our beneficiaries and staff also utilizing reclaimed wood from the surrounding industrial.
Refurbished hardware was also used for the training equipment and workplaces’ simulations.
Most of the equipment and renovation costs (up to 300k) were covered through in-kind donations from volunteers and local NGO partners.
In addition, the overall financial concept of the Odyssea Academy for free provision of services to the vulnerable groups is based on funding from foundations. This contributes to the stability of the local community by leveraging fundings that finally regenerate the local market.
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context
Odyssea’s logo is a not perfect handmade circle. No perfect live exists. Individuals’ artistic / emotional expression can’t be standardized.
Odyssea’s color is blue as it tries to express the sea journey that the archetypal Greek myth describes. Vulnerable people, especially refugees and migrants, experience their lives as an Odyssey. Odyssea’s aesthetics represent this journey in terms of shapes also. The curved forms that dominate the Academy space are inspired by the sea waves and are completed by the white ceiling decoration, also in a smooth wave shape. Odyssey as a journey in a sea of concerns ends to the promised land of integration.
Intense sea’s presence is linked to the initial stimulus of the arrival of migratory flows by sea and the characteristics of the specific area such as the proximity to the sea front and the big number of professional sailors among the residents. Thus, the inspiration from the landmarks contributes to the sense of belonging for the local population while it promotes diversity and transferability: the logo of an Academy in a mountainous area could be a brown tringle instead of a blue-white circle as the rational would be different.
At the same time, the use of wood and industrial materials (plastic or metallic ones) that characterizes the design of the space lead to the coexistence of tradition and post-modernism; to the understanding of tradition as the set of all innovations of the past; to the regeneration of a new craftsmanship fabrication supported by high technology towards mass customization but always keeping a personal creative footprint.
Final but not least, the use of Art as a core component of the followed STEAM training model provides tangible tools on aesthetics and how to incorporate in our everyday life.
Please highlight how the project can be exemplary in this context
A key element for inclusion is the effective integration into economic life. This is achieved by fully developing the potential of the individual and promoting it in employment. Vulnerable groups presumably face multiple obstacles to this objective. Therefore, the basic framework of ΟΑ. is inclusion from the outset.
The procedures that ΟΑ has developed to achieve the goal prevent any discrimination related to the origin, religion, sex, age or sexual orientation, while low income is particularly focused on ensuring the goal of equal opportunities. The full picture on diversity aspect regarding the OA beneficiaries’ characteristics is provided in the Odyssea Platform
During the implementation of the reconstruction, the participation of the local community was not limited only to individuals but attracted the support of local businesses with contributions in kind. The initial support evolved into the necessary institutional cooperation with the local Municipality of Moschato – Renti and extends to neighboring municipalities. The proximity to the local school units has added additional momentum to the initiative as well as the exploitation of the local workforce and market.
Full accessibility to the facilities of people with kinetic impairments was a key design concern and during the pandemic a large part of the training program was adapted to distance learning.
We have left for the end the greatest proof of the inclusive dimension of the project , which is none other than the completely free provision of services to the beneficiaries based on the support of foundations mainly from abroad. In this way, the model of OA acquires a global dimension in practice.
Please highlight how this approach can be exemplary
The key factor for the combination of NEB's principles lies in Odyssea's vision for a better world and a life worth to live. To realize this vision, we are guided by our own principles:
Resilience - We nurture the ability of a person to be strong, independent, and successful in life
Compassion - We place ourselves in the shoes of others and acknowledge their needs and aspirations
Innovation - We challenge ourselves constantly to be the best we can be for the people we serve
Integrity - We are committed to our mission putting our values at the heart of our work
So, the Academy project, supported by the strong engineering background of the organisation (architectural, structural, mechanical) is the place where Odyssea’s principles meet NEB’s ones:
in social terms regarding the vulnerable or excluded populations as beneficiaries’ groups,
in spatial terms after selecting a degraded neighborhood
in terms of community given the participatory involvement of individuals during the reconstruction phase and the close cooperation with adjacent municipalities and social structures.
All furniture was designed and fabricated by beneficiaries and staff also utilizing reclaimed wood from the surrounding industrial area.
Tech hardware used for the courses were refurbished equipment scrapped by corporations
A zero waste policy is held
Aesthetics: Beauty is not a luxury but
the better means to express the respect that the Academy model shows against vulnerable groups and also
to promote the vision of a world worth living in.
While a lot of references regarding the transferability of the model worldwide are provided below, the exemplary aspect of our project is demonstrated by the discussions under development for the establishment of more Academies in North (Thessaloniki) and South (Crete) Greece in cooperation with foundations or institutional entities.
Regarding the “places and people that need it the most” category, Municipality of Rendis is a deindustrialized low-income community and beneficiaries of the OA services are, by definition, vulnerable and even marginalized groups.
2021 for OA was a resilient, intense and highly socially impactful year. As soon as the reconstruction was accomplished, OA received 3431 applicants eager to join our services of three core programs. From those vulnerable applicants in 2021, we were able to serve 1,217 vulnerable participants. More specifically:
In the Academy program we:
- Skill assessed 959 beneficiaries, verifying their hard and soft skills thoroughly. Additionally, we also provided crucial career guidance to all those beneficiaries.
- We enrolled 678 people that joined our OA services.
- We created 58 classes of participants and offered 1335 hours of training courses.
- 87% of our graduates reported themselves as fully satisfied with OA offerings. What we count as a huge achievement was the low dropout rate that averaged out to 14% of enrolled participants.
80 participants received Healing through making & STEM education for unaccompanied minors. The participants for this program were referrals from NGOs operating in the field.
- 483 people received Employability services
- 115 people found jobs (employability success) 54%
- 210 beneficiaries have managed to get a request for an interview
- Growth network of companies: 30+ companies
31 participants of the incubation program. 24 participants completed the program, each round completed 16-hour basic entrepreneurship training.
A key figure that speaks volumes of the OA team's effort is the increase of the overall participation of vulnerable women in our programs to over 40% x amount in total. We also managed to increase the participation of vulnerable host communities, where more than 35% of people resulted in 210 vulnerable Greeks
Please also explain the benefits that derived from their involvement.
With regard to the involvement of citizens and civil society in the overall project, we must separate the phase of the creation of space from the phase of integrated operation that followed and is constantly taking place.
The construction phase evolved during the first period of the pandemic when the restrictions on mobility and social distancing were very strict. We consider it particularly important that the objective of involving residents and civil society organisations has nevertheless been largely achieved. During this process, the presence and active participation of the beneficiaries of OA was important both during the execution of the works and the planning. The inspiration and the main design approach belongs as it is obvious to the team of the organization but the contribution of the supporters led to the final realization of the project.
Much more powerful is the contribution of the beneficiaries and organizations during the operational phase as both the selection and organization of training courses and the development of educational curricula is done in close cooperation with the recipients of services for their adaptation to existing learning abilities and living conditions. NGOs are permanently the liaison to migrants and refugees’ communities while most of the referrals are made by the organisations as they do not provide training services. An extended network is established to ensure this process including NGOs, state cervices and international agencies.
The local community is also engaged, mainly the local companies that supported the project with donations in kind and still do it. Thus, mutual benefits derived from this cooperation due to the contribution to the regeneration of the local market and the increased Odyssea’s capacity to accomplish and continue the project. Into the same direction a structured cooperation with the municipalities is under development.
Starting from the global challenges as defined in the higher official level, OA contributes to address the following UN SDG goals:
1 – No poverty, 2 – Zero hunger, 4 – Quality education, 5 – Gender equality,
6 – Decent work and economic growth, 10 – Reduced inequalities,
11 – Sustainable communities
Detailed data and statistics related to the core operation of Odyssea are provided in the Odyssea Platform as the organisation follows a data driven approach.
Besides UN SDG, Odyssea adjusts its operation to address specific current situation occurring at national level such as migration crisis of 2015 – 2019, the economic crisis still ongoing since 2010, or the COVID 19 pandemic. Some examples:
- Social kitchen (5 years, 150,000 meals) for homeless in Piraeus port and other shelters of unaccompanied minors
- June 2020: Odyssea & TIMA Foundation – fabricate and donate 50,000 face-shields to the Ministry of Health https://bit.ly/3Cm7vZR
Regarding the universal dimension, the main goal is to standardize the model of a hybrid VET space focused on employability for vulnerable groups in multiple global locations of developing countries working with the local government of Anambra state and the World Bank in Nigeria, the central government of Bangladesh and Jordan.
- January 2021: ISF project with NFF and BRAC foundations.
In 2021, Odyssea worked as a partner of NFF in a project that was located in Bangladesh. The aim of the project is to initiate a systems-level change in the makerspace ecosystem in Bangladesh by on boarding makerspaces scattered across the country onto a common, easily accessible, and managed network and platform. As part of this program, Odyssea created educational modules for the platform and will perform train of trainers for Makerspace
The Odyssea Academy model is an innovative complex consisted of the following components:
- Parallel model to mainstream practices / policies on VET and Employment
- Direct response to the needs of the labor market
- Flexibility – compatibility to local conditions
- Inclusive features of the provided services
- Providing personalized services
- Addressing the needs of job seekers, hiring companies, social services and local communities.
- Contribute to support the overall needs of an individual looking for a job
In order for such a model to be fully functional the hosting shell must be reciprocal to the local profile and potential, become part of the community history, and enhance the creation of strong bonds between relevant factors individuals looking for a job , local services and municipalities, local private sector and inhabitants in general. This conjunction has been achieved at the very first moment
- by adopting locality as a core component
- by cooperating with local official and private sectors
- by co-designing the space and cooperating to the reconstruction process with beneficiaries
Most important however, is that the Academy is a nurturing environment for personal growth and self-reliance, a melting pot that includes all races, genders, religions, and social backgrounds. Within the educational process Odyssea creates a cultural hub that welcomes diverse mentalities and serves as an integrational steppingstone and as a healing through making experience for vulnerable people who have experienced trauma.
So, the Odyssea Academy intends to promote a local VET – Employment HUB model of which the shape is adjusted by case to the local characteristics in order to be attractive for and accessible by the community. If 20 HABs would appear in Athens Metropolitan Area in next five years none of them would be same to the others but all of them would tell similar stories.
Please provide clear documentation, communication of methodology and principles in this context.
The need addressed by the OA model is not limited to national or other frameworks since it is developed in contexts with common characteristics such as: unemployment, skills development, free labor market, presence of vulnerable groups, deprived areas, etc.
Due to its multidimensional and flexible character , the model can be transferred to local conditions.
The main stakeholders, as listed below, are found in each country and level of development, which ensures a constant interest in the model:
- people of vulnerable groups as beneficiaries of the services provided
- companies as they exploit the processes and potential of labor demand
- Local government entities and the community
The documentation and processed procedures for every operational aspect and the case-by-case adaptation results in a manual for the model application.
Regarding the provided services the Manual will foresee:
- Process of attracting beneficiaries: communication plan with the specific target groups, evaluation and recording tools, registration and promotion platform
- Empowerment process: soft skills, hands-on skills VET courses
- Employment promotion process: CVs, psychometrics, specific Employability Platform, screening, monitoring / support system
Regarding the internal process and operation:
- Description of the educational approach (STEAM, project based)
- Training curricula
- Tutors’ qualifications and cooperation forms.
- Specifications for workplaces’ simulations
- Accreditation / Certification rules
- Funding schemes to achieve sustainability
- Cooperation frameworks with the community
- Legal support
Regarding the options related to the shell, the model by principle freely adapts to local conditions with the necessary adherence to the three NEB principles.
@ODYSSEA AMKE, 2020
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