Thirty-three Greeks involved in economic development gathered for a six-week workshop in Athens. SFU's Centre for Sustainable Development co-delivered the capacity-building workshop.

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SFU centre co-delivers economic development program in Greece

November 03, 2016
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By Diane Luckow

Gretchen Ferguson (Hernandez) is just back from a working trip to Greece where she was helping to foster leadership for building sustainable local communities.

Ferguson is an associate director of SFU’s Centre for Sustainable Development (CSD), which this fall co-delivered a six-week capacity-building program in Athens for local practitioners involved in social enterprise and co-operative initiatives in Greece.

Greeks trying to keep rural economies alive

It’s a timely program as the Greeks struggle to find new ways to collaborate and survive the country’s deep financial crisis.

Gretchen Ferguson

“We ran the program at the invitation of the Hub for the Social Economy, Power and Innovation (KOMVOS) in Greece,” says Ferguson, “because nothing like this program is available there.”

She, along with two SFU adjunct professors and three Greek instructors, taught 33 Greek participants about various aspects of community economic development—everything from how to analyze organizational strengths and weaknesses to building organizational capacity and holding meetings.

The overall agenda, she says, was to teach participants how to take profits from a social enterprise and turn that into a multiplier effect in a local community’s economy.

“People in Greece are very worried,” she says. “If they’re young, they worry about whether they have a future in Greece. If they’re old, they worry about their children’s future. Many of the people who took our program were from the islands and from agricultural areas in the centre and south of Greece who are trying to keep their rural and island communities and economies alive.”

Greece has potential for greater sustainable economic development

Ferguson has spent much of her career delivering community economic development programs in Latin America. She found the situation in Greece to be quite different, and says the Greeks have far more opportunities than they may realize.

“Their digital infrastructure is much better than in Latin American communities where I have worked,” she says. “And they’re still connected to the European Union in terms of markets and tourism. As well, the Greek people are highly educated and really engaged. They have a lot to build on, but no access to credit or investment. The only way to move forward is with credit unions or co-op institutions.”

Now that Ferguson is back home, she’ll be working with colleagues in Greece to revise the program so it can be offered in regional development centres throughout Greece.

“It’s all part of the CSD’s strategy for international engagement,” she says. “We want to foster leadership for establishing sustainable local economies around the world.”