Interview: A modern Odyssea
The project of Jai Mexis, one of our residents at Stone Soup is called Odyssea. Odyssea is a social enterprise designing solutions for environmental and humanitarian problems in Greece.
We sat down with Jai to talk about Odyssea. So this is what he had to say.
Q: Jai, tell us a little bit about Odyssea.
As the name suggests, it is a journey. And my journey started when Ι was having a social kitchen in Pireus, trying to help start another social kitchen. That is where Ι saw the amount of craziness and all of the material, the waste that got landed on our shores by the refugee influx. It was a pretty shocking experience spending the last summer there (Summer of 2015) before the NGO’s arrived. It really was eye opening and when I realised that just by picking up some wood from the bottom of the boats that are lying on the shores you can build a shelter. Ιn fact, we build six shelters for people in just four days by picking up this wood. That’s when you realise what you can do and really change your perspective to waste, and view it as a resource that is completely left over and thrown to the garbage. Not only that, but I very quickly understood that the life vests could be transformed into different kinds of products of use. We could do that sustainably so it’s not so much about creating some kind of incredible idea or some kind of divine experimentation. It was really about seeing how a sustainable social business could work in Greece. It is crazy enough to do any kind of business in Greece right now but trying to see how a social business would work was a really interesting experience and such an eye opener.
Q:How did you manage to get results so fast? What motivated your team?
It started with us already working with “disconnected” people so we had a starting team of 7 to 10 people that were either refugees or homeless or people who were on an island, desperate to have a job. For example the mastic cultivators in Chios. Since all the mastic trees got burned and the place where this huge mountain of life vests were gathered, was actually in the middle of those fires, people were in dire need.
Q: How big is this environmental and humanitarian problem?
To give you a sense of scale, there have been more than a million people arriving on the greek islands and there has been one thousand two hundred tons of non recyclable material from life vests and thousands of boats left which is a huge environmental hazard. Because just like a plastic bag, those polymers from the life vests become many little pieces and lots of them are in endangered areas so it’s a huge environmental thread for the local islands. It is also toxic so it cannot be burned or buried.
Q: So what is to be done with them?
Upcycling is a good solution. Not only you are able to remove the inner of the foam melt that down and recycle that, you can upcycle the fabric into different products and these products are not just simple products. They have a huge story behind them, they create awareness and they bring people together. They let the story be told and continued and not end up in a dump site.
It really brings people in a position to touch the fabric and understand what has really happened. 2015 has been a year that the history of Europe has really changed. These people came to our doorstep and really changed the way people think. People saw that the problems that we create can really come back to us in different forms. These people, like us Greeks, came all the way from minor Asia, they have a huge story that we can relate to. This story should not be forgotten so this is what we are trying to do. It is primarily an environmental project but it also has this humanitarian side. We tried to work with people who need the job and all the profits of the initiative go back in a mobile medical unit.
Q: If I want to buy a product, what do i do?
For now you can see our catalog and send us the form on the bottom. Anything in the catalog. Simple as that.
Q: It is really nice to see true social entrepreneurship succeed. Anything you want to add?
It’s a completely social project I would say. And except of these things we are trying to see if we can make a mentality change in Greece because that’s what we think is most important. Closing, I would like to say if my dream or my message could be anything, it would be lets have young Greeks return from abroad and really give it a go and try, with their amazing skills that they have to see jobs differently, to create jobs, be more creative in turning problems into opportunities. Work with the land, work with innovative ideas and the sky is the limit.