What can innovation do for Famagusta?

This week, Lina from the Renewal team shares with us how a team of Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots from the Famagusta region have joined forces with the innovation platform Mahallae to crowdsource creative solutions from a community in need.
I have been working with the Renewal team since September 2014. We work closely with citizens and municipalities in the greater Famagusta region to address specific problems the region is facing.
Our efforts are focused on the walled city of Famagusta as well as the three communities of Deryneia, Frenaros and Vrysoules. Although quite diverse within itself, this region is nonetheless subject to a great deal of shared problems, among which is a very difficult economic situation.
The greater Famagusta region suffers from the highest unemployment rate among yimage (3)outh in the whole of Cyprus. The unemployment here has reached 40%. As you can imagine, the side-effects of this level of unemployment are devastating psychologically, economically, socially. We have a lot of young people leaving their homes in search for opportunities in other cities over the island or abroad. As we took a look at this grim picture, we wondered what we could do as the Renewal team that has never been done before. We began by offering a series of seminars on entrepreneurship, in partnership with the Cyprus Enterprise Link (CEL). This allowed us to build capacity and create an extended network of young people who were meeting frequently to learn together.
But we wanted to go beyond merely offering skills – we wanted to offer the Famagustian youth a chance to put their newfound skills to use.
This is how our collaboration with Mahallae was born, to launch what we are calling the Famagusta Region Challenge. Using the Mahallae platform, we are taking an in10922361_600964856717103_3025988399328892618_onovative approach to supporting positive economic and social development in the region. We are asking young people to submit their ideas; the winners will receive the funding and support from our team to kickstart their efforts. We are giving Cypriots a chance to put their ideas and talents together in order to create a service or product that benefits the communities on the island.
I feel like what really makes this project special is the fact that it has been directly designed based on the needs of the people in the area. As the Renewal team, we are constantly in dialogue with the citizens of the region. The Mahallae Challenges is our response to the ideas and experiences you shared with us on how you can spark change in this region. We are open to everyone’s suggestions, so please don’t hesitate to join us on this journey. And don’t forget to visit Mahallae’s page and read all about our Famagusta challenge. We want to work with you and make you innovative ideas come true!

Ellada Evangelou on Mahallae: “Innovation is not just an empty word”

Following up our spotlight pieces on SCORE project’s Maria, and David on behalf of the Civic Participation Course team, this week we discuss Mahallae with Ellada Evangelou

Hi Ellada, thanks for talking to us today. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hello, and thanks for the opportunity. 🙂 Well, I don’t have a traditional NGO background, and I’m even surprised sometimes that I’m here. But it’s a good place to be, so no complaints!

Ellada_EvangelouI have a background in English, Dramaturgy (which is applied theatre) and a PhD in Theatre Studies / Cultural Analysis. As an artist and researcher, I’m interested in the relationship between identity and the arts, which is why I have been a practicing theatre facilitator and director for many years now, and believe in the arts for social change.

I am also fascinated by the area of the Euro-Mediterranean, the historical trends and the contemporary issues. I feel deeply rooted in the place, the island and the whole area, in spite all its challenges, or perhaps because of them.

How did you get involved with Mahallae?

Mahallae was a natural development for me. After working on Knowledge Innovation as part of a project co-run by the NGO Support Center and the Management Center of the Mediterranean supported by the UNDP-ACT, the opportunity came to work with interesting people on a challenging idea: a platform that would bring people together – Cypriots and from communities in the area – around the practice of innovating towards healthier societies. I was intrigued so I hopped on board, and it’s been a fantastic voyage ever since, more than a year ago now.

What excites you most about the platform?

Mahallae carries the potential to bring different people together to facilitate their working towards a common vision. This will (and already has) overcome barriers of language, cultural perceptions and others.

What is your proudest accomplishment so far?

To see individuals feeling empowered with their own ideas, and spreading that energy, it’s a very rewarding experience. Especially through the Challenges we organize periodically, and the workshops we run, you can see timid individuals flourishing and becoming empowered. That is priceless. I have come to realise the power of innovation… it’s not just an empty word, it has meaning and substance in the context of Mahallae, and it’s building a community of people around it that are creating inspiring work.

Do you think Mahallae can contribute to the peace process in Cyprus? How?

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Ellada poses with participants after a two day Mahallae workshop in the Buffer Zone.

Mahallae, its values and practices are about creating social structures where people are comfortable living. This inherently supports the idea of peace, not peace as the absence of war, but peace as a pro-active process of individuals and groups for self and collective betterment. In this general ideological framework, yes, Mahallae can support the peace process, since it nurtures a community of people who care and act on it.

How can interested people get involved in Mahallae?

As I mentioned before, Mahallae is a community, so other than the Challenges, which are opportunities for people, groups and organisations to run innovative projects based on a theme, people can join us in workshops, events, product testings and other activities. The Mahallae Challenges winning teams also have interesting events, which is a great way to meet cool people, build capacity and generally become more involved in a community that is growing. Follow Mahallae online and register for our newsletter, it’s a great way to stay in tune with what is happening. You can also follow us on our Facebook and Twitter, of course! And we have a blog!