From the onset, “Curing the Limbo” has already set the bar high for the City of Athens. Local population, internal bureaucracies, beneficiaries and the project team itself will all face significant challenges in order to leave their respective “limbo statuses” behind.
Challenged by the bureaucratic limbo
The first six months of the setting up of the project has included countless hours spent on bureaucratic procedures. A lot of work has been done within the municipal structure and among the project partners, in order to identify the best formula which will allow the project to be fully adopted by the city’s administration.
Despite the public sector’s natural innovation shyness, we found that both city and ministry employees were keen to find the right administrative fit and a solid basis for this new program. We thus thought we should report to present readers and potential future innovation colleagues in Europe, not to lose their patience when it comes to working through what otherwise looks like inflexible bureaucratic processes. This aspect seems to be a very important part of the project, and we found that the extra effort at this early stage will help us later on.
Inaugurating a new space
During the same period, we’ve prepared the ground in order to move in to the Athens’ brand new Serafio- sports, culture and innovation center, which will house the “Limbo Exit Lab”- the headquarters of our pilot social exchange program. This is the place where the beneficiaries will find a “Menu of options”, giving them access to training classes and affordable housing in exchange for their participation in local activities for the benefit of the city, along with active citizen groups. Setting up our space to welcome beneficiaries has not been without its challenges, since the “Lab” has to feel welcoming, safe and familiar, and the interaction with the local community has to be smooth and inclusive, but we are very happy with the way things are shaping up. All partners have agreed on the need to cultivate a strong brand identity around the “Limbo Exit Lab” for all of the project’s participants, be they employees of the program, direct and indirect beneficiaries.
While working on administrative solutions, four workshops were held between January and March between all project partners: the City of Athens and its Development Agency, the University of Athens, the International Rescue Committee and Catholic Relief Services. The workshops helped set up the framework for the first year of operation, while also discussing the project’s implementation timeline. We agreed on the main milestones, such as the opening of the “Limbo Exit Lab” and the beginning of the classes for the beneficiaries, and worked towards identifying ways to synchronize all the parallel activities that will take place in the framework of the program. A timeline has been agreed for the entire first year and discussions pertaining to the launch event were also advanced.
Defining the “limbo”
Given that our project aims to empower refugees in their transition from a state of limbo to active citizenship, we thought that an essential part of this process would be to define our project’s main values and ensure they directly reflect a common main goal. This involved agreement on redefining limbo as a journey rather than a fixed state, including a transformative process for both beneficiaries and working teams. It also involved fine-tuning the characteristics and profile of all people in the project’s lifecycle.
Beneficiaries’ selection criteria
Choosing from a very large pool of potential beneficiaries – refugees in the city of Athens- requires criteria and well-defined selection processes which have been improved following the clear articulation of the projects’ objectives. The key words, which constitute the modality of exchange we are aiming for, have been thoroughly discussed, and are gradually forming the program’s backbone. Chief among them are: commitment, engagement, activity, voluntary participation, flexibility and availability.
All brainstorming sessions lead to our next, big challenge: leaving the limbo behind would mean having to change our project’s own name. To be continued…
Author: The Curing the Limbo project team