Originally published January 25th, 2016
We caught up with GloVo's founder; Kostapanos Miliaresis the self-proclaimed backpacker turned social entrepreneur. GloVo is a Greek-based global volunteering platform that aims to energize and encourage youth to become more active participants in society.
Read on to learn more about GloVo, Kostapanos' tips for keeping volunteers engaged and how he managed the transition from student to entrepreneur.
Tell us about GloVo, what sets it apart from other volunteering platforms?
Specialization on quality and education! In the beginning, and throughout the first year, we focused specifically on events. There are many platforms working on various aspects of society but not really any dedicated to events. But since then, we’ve had huge changes by becoming more socially active and community oriented, organizing our own projects and various social actions. Throughout our entire development, whether it was our project or an external event, we put all our effort into preparing the most valuable experience for our volunteers to reach their maximimum potential and enhance social inclusion!
Given recent events in Greece, how do you think GloVo, and volunteering in the broader sense, can instigate meaningful societal change?
They said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
As we all know, things have not been going so well in Greece in recent years. But exactly this is what energized the society and the youth. The biggest enemy of man is certainty, and during all previous years in Greece, the youth weren’t that radically active, as they didn’t feel the need to. (With some exceptions of course). In the last 3 years, many young people have had an internal feeling of having to do something and not wanting to wait for everything from others, like society, university and the government. The only issue was that they didn’t know how to get involved or how they could instigate a meaningful change.
Here is where GloVo comes in. We empower the volunteer to do what's next, instead of figuring out what's next from behind a desk. We somehow made it emotionally and socially safe to contribute.
When GloVo was founded, we were constantly told that volunteerism in Greece doesn’t exist after the Olympic Games of 2004 and the youth isn’t that interested. After gathering more than 2000 volunteers in less than a year, we knew that we were changing something!
So GloVo, and volunteering in the broader sense, can be the spark of activating a big part of the society. To give them the mentality of action. So if you don’t like something… Don’t just complain, but do something about it!
GloVo was founded by a group of university students - how did you turn it into a sustainable business?
As Walt Disney said: “I only hope that we don’t lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse.” I think the same case could be for GloVo as well.
GloVo started with a single volunteer and since has expanded exponentially. Our goal is to create a valuable experience. We kept this belief, and our why and purpose, at the center of everything we developed. Everything we were missing, we found at Startup Weekend University, the national entrepreneurship competition which is where it all got started!
Using the strength and diversity of our individual backgrounds, we manage to achieve all the rest. After all, we didn’t develop in a single moment. It was just one step at a time, one foot in front of another.
What tips do you have for organizations that rely heavily on volunteer support - how can they keep volunteers motivated and engaged?
Business comes second, your people comes first! To keep you volunteers engaged and motivated, the first thing you should do is put yourself in their shoes and see what they really want. You must create the right path for them, with a complete experience, making clear their benefits, and the added value, in every phase of your relationship. And with value in volunteerism we mean:
By giving them opportunities to overcome themselves and their limits, you have enough possibilities to keep them close to you and passionate for your project - not necessarily forever, but for a quite long time.
In GloVo for example, step 1 for our GloVo community, is for members to come and participate in an event or social action. After having participated in 5-6 events, they are looking for their next step, which could be becoming Volunteers Coordinator. Or at the same time, after having a better understanding of the GloVo culture through their experiences, they can join an organizing team of one of our projects. At that specific moment, they are ready to take the full responsibility and get a leadership position!
Last but not least, the best combination for a successful e-community is the right balance between online and offline; online to be fast and effective and offline to build trust and share beers!
You recently made the transition from being nationally-focused to globally-oriented. What challenges did that pose and how did you overcome them?
The main issues we faced were how not to lose the culture and quality, how to expand, but the same time manage to be local, and how the general idea won’t lose its core belief, but manage to adapt in the local culture. The most important thing is to see the expansion as an investment and that nothing is obvious. It’s like starting something from zero and having to focus a lot on educating the team so you can have the right transition of knowledge. Be open to understand the importance of the local environment in each specific case.
In 2014, the project GloVo.4 All was founded to help people with disabilities become more active. As of this year, GloVo.4All also recognizes mental health as a disability. What led to this change?
It wasn’t a change. The disability accessibility issue was always there.
In 2014, we were fortunate to receive a scholarship from Mrs Angelopoulou and the Clinton Global Initiative, which provided us with the resources to do something about this. As I said before, volunteerism and social entrepreneurship is a way of living based on action. When you don’t like something, you don’t just complain and feel pity about it, but you act and do something to change it! That’s what we do!
We didn’t like having so many valuable people in our circle that couldn’t participate in all our actions because of a kind of disability. And we changed it! We saw a problem and made a change.
What has been the biggest triumph for your company to date and why?
It’s difficult to choose just one. Small wins give you the championship! Since day one when we were winners of the National Entrepreneurship Competition, till today, we had the honor to receive many awards, scholarships and media recognition. Speaking from the heart though, these aren’t the most important accomplishments for us. Of course it’s a nice feeling, but it’s not the purpose.
The number matter more for us. 55% of our volunteers didn’t have any other volunteering experience before GloVo, so for us, that’s 55% more change makers that we have inspired. It’s a great honor for us to be able to inspire Greek youth to begin volunteering.
What makes you a changer?
Not accepting things that aren’t going well and really doing something about them! It doesn’t matter if it’s something small or big. What matters is to stop talking and start acting! Everyone keeps saying that things in the future are going to be better. But this doesn’t mean you have to stay still and wait for something to happen. In fact, you have to stand up and improve things, so the new generation to find them better!