Beyond our chronological development presented below, learn more about the story, context and vision that IVunited orginated from, here:
IV : Creation
We started by exploring rural Cyprus for a commercial venture, mainly in the hopes of finding ways to connect remote villages to fast delivery options and understanding local agricultural norms. What we found instead of ideas were insidious traps for human trafficking hiding in plain sight. This shocking observation lead to a two year long research into the landscapes of causes in Cyprus, as well the study of existing non-profit and humanitarian structures set in motion in the country.
As our most valuable and active collaborators mainly included individuals with no affiliations to other organizations, we named the initiative Independent Volunteers, or IV.
What we did in 2016 :
- Research : Permacultural Design & Biological Agriculture Innovation Possibilities in Cyprus. Design of the Village Stamp project, focusing on the commercial distribution of produce coming from unionized production.
- Research, activism & marketing support around the animal rescue field in Cyprus. Development of technical development strategies for sustainable growth of sanctuaries and volunteers recruitment channels.
- Design of social enterprise business models inspired by biomimetic analyses.
We started our first platform independentvolunteers.com. A holistic platform for collaboration around causes, featuring the following support tools :
- 1. IVOnline (Independent Volunteer Online) : allowing people to volunteer online and register to volunteer in person to support local causes and NGOs in Cyprus. It was then the first digital platform allowing to volunteer online in Cypriot causes and projects on task-based missions.
- 2. United Causes : Needs & Offers Listings. A page listing the needs of causes and initiatives around the island on one hand and listing bulk donations for material goods and valuable free services that could benefit causes on the other. We mainly focused on big causes without representation (like the refugee camp)
- 3. IV Media – We provided photo / video recording equipment and article templates to volunteers on missions with NGOs in Cyprus in order to livestream and document humanitarian and geopolitical conferences and create content for NGOs and initiatives in Cyprus. Our hope was to open the digital windows to the conversations held behind closed doors and allow to progressively open-source humanitarian development and innovation. We also built websites for free for grassroots initiatives around us.
- 4. The first donation platform in Cyprus (or perhaps even in Europe – to our knowledge) for cryptocurrencies at the service of causes + blockchain technology experiments applied to non-profit management of data. A platform that we created with the help of a volunteer who had been among the first cryptocurrency miners in Sweden and Iran back in 2009.
We pulled the platforms in early 2019 because our maintenance needs surpassed our managerial capacity. Also, our lack of visibility, a lack of support from the national media because of our foreign nature and multiple sources of plagiarism from well established NGOs were interfering with our development goals. We will relaunch each digital project in the upcoming two years, hopefully in a way that can this time last the test of time.
Besides our digital launch, in 2017 our main line of work focused on the support and development of the main refugee camp in Cyprus, Kofinou, as well as a set of action taken in addressing support to victims of human trafficking.
KOFINOU CAMP FOR REFUGEES & ASYLUM SEEKERS – CYPRUS
The Kofinou Camp for Refugees and Asylum Seekers is Cyprus’s main reception center managing and hosting refugee migrants in Cyprus.
– Lack of community management authorities inside the camp. Kofinou’s management has been outsourced by the government to a security company working on premises solely on entrance clearance security and administrative matters. No authority was in charge of providing support of any kind to the camp’s residents, with the exception of translation services (1 part-time translator) and catering services (2 meals per day).
– Lack of supervision around the distribution of donations. People who wanted to donate money or resources to the camp had no one to address. Material donations by rare donors were thrown over the camp’s fence in garbage bags. In the past years, groups of dominant men claimed ownership over all goods thrown over the fence. The donated goods were sold by a small minority of camp residents, leaving mainly women and children with no access to donated resources.
– Lack of maintenance services provided for basic hygiene and living condition norms overview. Broken toilets, broken showers, broken cooking areas, sewage systems spilling on the camp’s property, broken heating / cooling systems and lack of proper resources such as mattresses and blankets were daily occurrences and health hazards that the camp’s residents needed to learn to live with and navigate.
– Lack of coordination, strategy and leadership between the NGOs offering activities and occasional support to the camp (mainly Protestant Church, Mormon Church, Oasis (Catholic organization), the Red Cross & Caritas). The NGOs being mainly religious christian organizations offer charitable and spiritual support delivered sporadically by missionaries. The cultural barrier with the majoritarily Muslim population of the camp, the limits of the charity-driven mentality, as well as the evangelisation involved in the NGOs’ actions lead to a favoritism of converted camp residents and an inappropriate importance of religion in humanitarian outcomes.
– Widespread suicidal tendencies, high suicide attempts rates, several cases of suicide per year in the camp and dozens per year for newly intergrated refugees living in Cypriot communities.
– Medicine-induced Alcoholism & Drug abuse : Many camp’s residents arriving to Cyprus in a state of severe PTSD were given strong antidepressants and pain medication without any additional treatment, psychotherapy or even much explanation about the drugs they were prescribed. For many this has been the gateway to apathy, isolation, self-medication and addiction that they are being blamed for and made their integration into society that much more of a struggle.
– Isolation, abuse and discrimination towards women. Segregation between men and women and the exclusion of women in rare participatory activities that advantaged men
Rumors of frequent cases of rape and abuse were reported to the volunteers although no cases go officially reported to authorities as there is no support system for women seaking protection or justice.
– The police’s refusal to enter the camp in case of 911 calls. All camp resident’s attempts to contact the police (that we have heard of or witnessed) have gone unanswered, including that regarding a threat of immolation made to our own team of volunteers who locked themselves inside the distribution center for protection during a risky situation.
– Integration Discrimination : Inability for refugees to find housing and employment outside the camp based solely on openly racist discrimination by potential landlords and employers.
– Endless bureaucracy with no humane explanation about contexts and development possibilities. Most of the camp’s residents did not know how long their asylum application or transition to another country would take, no resources other than word of mouth and legal documents were made available. Waiting periods for what is supposed to be a “transitional state” in the camp can extend to years, 21 years being the longest registered waiting period for a refugee living in the camp.
More insidious problems are on this list, linked to the presence of specific people in leadership positions guarding and halting the development possibilities of the camp, matters which we have to navigate with caution as doing otherwise will make the future of our involvement uncertain.
Our long-term goal was to develop a holistic plan – rooted in user-friendly decentralized automated digital tools for coordination, needs management and recruiting – aiming to create a unified strategy and management platforms allowing to start a cooperation between all Cypriot NGOs, grassroot initiatives and governmental organizations that worked on refugee matters. We also focused on the importance of the central place of the members of the refugee community themselves in order to carry out those plans – we wanted to make sure that the members of the refugee community are in managerial positions of power, in order to create employment opportunities, educational / professional growth opportunities and a place in society. Our aim was to develop one branded initiative inside the refugee camp in order to increase the efficiency of the camp and solve all pressing problems for the community’s safety, health and future hope. This initiative was to serve as a root strategy to which we could branch unlimited projects, both independently led and in cooperation with national and international organizations.
- Creation of a Distribution Center managed by independent volunteers : with the support of the camp’s authorities, we assigned a space that served as a distribution center for all goods donated to the camp. Twice a week, resources gathered from several donation points around the country were redistributed evenly to the camp’s residents based on their living situation and track record of past resources acquired. The tracking of donations and overall accumulation of data allowed us to make sure that we are designing a fair distribution system leaving no one without access to bare necessities of life.
- Corporate donations & CSR : The creation of the distribution center and network of interconnected volunteers working in collaboration country-wide opened the door to a communication campaign advocating CSR steps to companies. Corporate donations allowed us to accumulate resources in large quantities for items such as hygienic and cosmetic products, oil and preservable goods, left-over luxury catering, furniture and the occasional more valuable items such as electronics.
- Recruitment automation of volunteers : The increase in donated resources increased our need for volunteers’ turn-over. After many struggles for approval, we launched the camp’s Facebook page as a main point of contact for volunteers and people desiring to contribute to the camp’s development and support and have been able to drastically increase the camp’s efficiency, visibility, message and launch a country-wide notion of understanding of the refugee community that was up until then discriminated against, even openly by the media.
- Coordination & Transport of Goods and Volunteers : We launched partnerships with NGOs in Cyprus hosting EVS volunteers (now called ESC volunteers) in order to send their volunteers to the camp’s distribution missions, thus having a more predictable source of volunteers recruitment since ESC / EVS is an European Union funded program with predictable numbers and time periods of service.
Since the Kofinou camp is situated in a very remote location with no access by public transport, and considering the fact most volunteers helping the camp were young foreigners with no car in Cyprus, we started working with Cyprus’s main carpooling networks, and helped the carpooling networks grow in size as it was not a common practice in Cyprus. Through the coordination between the carpooling network, the NGOs sending EVS / ESC volunteers, the eagerness of our young volunteers to learn and contribute to the fullest, several municipality’s ability to provide us with warehouses to stock goods, corporate donations of goods, as well as some grassroot initiative focusing on the development of the Cypriot circular economy, and the link to some of our other projects rooted in cultural integration, education and entertainment, we managed to implement something that was overall very practical and useful, making a big difference for Kofinou and the refugee community in Cyprus. What we were most proud of was the fact that it was all tied to very humane and very real relationships with the people who needed support, in a way that pierced traditional barriers, both cultural or institutional, surrounding the activities of the camp.
- Confidentiality Contracts & Children’s Protection : Trending social media activism has brought on a new source of danger coming from the well-intentioned volunteers themselves. It might not come as an obvious fact to all that the refugee camp is a place hosting people in extremely vulnerable mental and financial situations, as well as people in actual physical danger living abroad in secrecy. The notion of consent even for a picture or recording is a grey area when we are dealing with power dynamics such as those between refugees and the people responsible to give them access to resources. This is the main reason why we introduced a project regarding dignified representation, as well as confidentiality contracts for volunteers and a child’s protection policy in all public communication about the camp. Our plea was carried out by all organisations both public and private involved on any aspect with Kofinou, including the UNHCH, the Cyprus Refugee Council and all religious organisations, that stopped featuring refugees in positions of vulnerability for promotional purposes, and started blurring the faces of children in all of their communication channels.
- Participation in yearly commission with the UNHCR, Cyprus Refugee Council & other involved authorities : Leading of the briefing, agenda and development plans for the camp.
- Life Watch – suicide prevention teams & training : This was an initiative we hoped to be able to pursue further, as matters of personal disagreements around the camp’s Facebook page’s administration got in the way of our work at a very dark time. A wave of suicide attempts and acute suicides had hit the refugee community. We set in place a training program rooted in positive psychology and a very easy to learn / low risk to execute support system rooted in Maslow’s pyramid of human needs was taught to a small group of volunteers who were then able to become supportive guides and companions to a number of people at risk in the camp, taking them step by step through Maslow-inspired steps-like activities and field trips to discover life in Cyprus and find their way back to a sense of hope and meaning in life.
CURRENT STATE :
Prevailing Issues : Our main struggle with Cypriot authorities and organizations is the overly academic, bureaucratic and simply stuck-up approach to dealing with community development matters. Nationality, formality and financial ties matter more than smart efficiency, democratization of power and open kindness. Speed, drive and structured layered development plans are looked at as suspicious agendas. The monopole of recognized authority by traditional and mostly senior individuals with a distaste for technology and speed of action, and an actual yet disguised tendency for racism that perpetuates ways in which refugees are supervised and not empowered is another serious barrier to an open and inclusive path towards progress for the refugee community in Cyprus and hopefully in Greece.
HUMAN TRAFFICKING PRIVATE INVESTIGATION ASSISTANCE & RELIEF MISSIONS
- Spotting of common human trafficking traps through patterns observed in Cyprus : Bazaraki traps, the main web listing service in Cyprus / Facebook job listings traps / Casino & Night Life Industry traps.
- Safe rescue missions
Organization and payment of safe houses.
Income provision to victims for the first months of rehabilitation.
COOPERATIVE ADVOCACY FOR OPEN-SOURCE DEVELOPMENT IN THE THIRD SECTOR
Advocacy for strategy, branding and communication for the third sector / Open Source coordination strategy development for unified action between NGOs, grassroot initiatives and the public sector.
THE NORMAL INITIATIVE
Creation of The Normal Initiative, a project dedicated to fast and safe employment opportunities for individuals from marginalized or otherwise exploited groups in Cyprus. The Normal Initiative focused on the organization of events and markets, mainly in the divided buffer zone of Nicosia, promoting art, crafts, food and performances through climate of festivity, peace and kindness.
CONTEXT : Fast employment opportunities in philanthropic entertainment development for vulnerable professionals (LGBTQ+, refugees, exchange students, young artists, the mentally challenged and other usually underpaid and exploited people at risk)
– in Cyprus, the Normal Initiative was additionally standing for peace between the divided North and the South, creating points of union for peace building between the Turkish and Cypriot communities and fostering friendships and collaboration between the younger pacifist generations.
Normal Fest : Festival of Arts & Crafts, promoting peace and diversity.
Normal Days : Weekly activity at Imagine (open air cafe venue). Ethically driven leisure & sports activities for the union of the Greek. Cypriots & Turkish Cypriots
Normal Models : Body Positivity Models – casting, representation, salary negotiations.
Retreat : Participating in the training of the next generation of climate youth activists through a retreat in the Troodos mountains.
First actions dedicated to learning to navigate the Greek third sector.
IV becomes IVunited
Restructuring of our development strategy and branding.
Preparation of IVunited’s official incubation framework supporting the development of philanthropic projects.
Estia is a project of social enterprise focused on unionized commerce.
Circle is a very layered, large and long-term community development project that we developed in order to address insidious systemic issues in our communities. Circle’s focus is the creation of strategic and logistic support systems for communities. We focus on the creation of a holistic participative environment targeting positive goals, rather than the isolation and specialized problem-solving of an issue. People from a specific target community are supported through a framework that helps them overcome insidious systemic issues without them realizing that they are a part of an effort targeting their life’s problems. Our frameworks are built around principles of evolutionary psychology and biomimicry, which allows us to have a model that we can easily tweak and adapt to fit the needs of very different types of communities.
Our holistic community support systems are called Circles. Here we will focus specifically on the Business Women’s Circle, the circle we developed in order to support women in business, working towards professional gender-equality and finding practical collective solutions to overcome situations of poverty for women. In parallel to the Business Women’s Circle, we work on the Business Circle, aiming to integrate the work done by the Business Women’s Circle into mixed healthy environments and thus include men in the establishment of work habits and norms that build progress towards gender-equality. All that we developed for the Business Women’s Circle, we will adapt progressively to the mixed environment of the Business Circle.
- Greece lacks user-friendly ways of dealing with fast evolving professional opportunities. The very outdated and complex bureaucratic system also imposes multiple conditional barriers interfering with smooth professional development for individuals.
- The Greek laws around independent professional activities and small businesses make it very hard for people to navigate realistic possibilities to legally earn money and find legal quick earning possibilities.
- The reality of shame surrounding financial, professional or gender-related struggles prevent women from seeking supportive communities that are defined by and limited to the problem.
- The narrow definition and negative connotations of feminism outside of feminist or ally environments prevent men and women in tradtional communities from reflecting on the necessity of bringing on changes that will lead to gender-equality in their communities.
- Lack of transparent and open-source collective work between women-centered organizations and initiatives prevent people who aren’t already involved with the organizations from offering their work to collectively bring on change in our communities.
- Covid-19 has brought on a new financial struggle that affects most brutally small businesses and independent professionals.
- The isolation and psychological toll linked to the Covid-19 lockdowns has brought on serious risk for women’s mental health.
- Daily online coworking and support group of 400+ women accompanied through COVID lockdowns.
- A holistic system designed to provide solutions to insidious professional issues.
- Legal advice for professional independent activities :
- Progressive professional establishment of authority and representation :
- Daily Support
- Organization of professional collectives to facilitate independent professionals’ employment
- Peer-to-peer commission based earning system for fast and trustworthy work opportunities.
SOUTH OF GREECE : PUBLIC ADVISORY
Since 2019, IVunited has been supporting and advising unions and public offices around development matters in the South of Greece.
We have legally represented 7 grassroot projects (worshops, support groups, events, independent activists) enabling community development initiatives at local scale under our organization’s umbrella.
GREEK WOMEN IN STEM
Support & digital development of the Greek Women in STEM project. Greek Women in STEM provides a platform for the promotion of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Development of our digital development incubation framework, allowing us to provide free websites and digital tools to our organization’s incubees and otherwise supervised philanthropic causes.
Development of our intelligence framework for research and data modeling.
We have legally represented 5 grassroot projects (worshops, support groups, events, publishing platforms) enabling community development initiatives at local scale under our organization’s umbrella.
EUROPEAN SOLIDARITY CORPS
IVunited becomes an official part of the European Union’s European Solidarity Corps program by acquiring the necessary quality label for verified organizations.
The European Solidarity Corps, or ESC, is part of ERASMUS+. It allows us to welcome, guide and host volunteers from around the world who decide to join our solidarity projects in Greece, through grants provided by the EU.
Launch of IVArcadia the first platform for cooperation and sustainable innovation in the South of Greece.