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A driven and restless person, Fanis Kollias is a young entrepreneur who inspires with his work ethic. When we first met a year ago, he had just launched his new project Solomon, a digital magazine where people from different backgrounds living in Athens, present an alternative perspective of the local society through stories and experiences. The team of seven editors aimed to create a community, where social integration wouldn’t be hard to be achieved.
A year and a half later, Solomon’s community has grown and Kollias now leads a team of 25 people from around the world. In the following interview, Kollias talks about his professional journey, the making of Solomon and social entrepreneurship in Greece.
You are a student at the Business Administration Department of the Athens University of Economics and Business, but chose to follow creative professions like communication, advertising and journalism. What made you switch a career orientation?
Fanis Kollias: When I moved to Athens from my hometown Tripoli to study Business Administration, I remember listening to a lot of music. I had just began guitar lessons, wrote song lyrics and did shows on web radios. Later on, I got a job at the Nueva Trova music venue in downtown Athens as an event manager, meeting artists while continuing my studies. My main responsibilities as a manager were to book live shows, arrange and promote them. My work experience so far has been related to the focus of my studies, so I didn’t really follow a different career path.
What was your first job in the media and how did you benefit from this experience?
F. K: I had reached a point in my career in which I was working six unpaid jobs at the same time, from writing for web outlets to being a copywriter at an advertising company. Copywriting was something I really liked but I had to continue with my studies. While in my senior year at the university, I became interested in startups and even though I had ideas to create a business, it never happened. In startups you can try something as many times as you want. In other jobs, I didn’t have the chance to experiment, there were specific tasks Ι had to follow for which I sometimes couldn’t agree. However, I was always expressing my opinion and thoughts on a project, it’s just not the same experience when you have your own venture and failure is an important step to keep you going. I tried to build startups and failed up until my enrollment in Ms Olivia Kyriakidou’s social entrepreneurship classes at the Athens University of Economics and Business. I then received a scholarship for the Social Entrepreneurship diploma and got hired to work at Greenpeace, becoming more involved in NGOs, various organizations and initiatives. It was then when «Solomon» was born.
What was Solomon’s initial goal? Do you believe you have achieved it, in a year and a half after it was launched?
F. K: To tell you the truth, there were no goals when Solomon started. The reason I didn’t have a specific goal was because Solomon was part of a project at the social entrepreneurship diploma, I had to form and bring an idea to life. I was an active member at the Refugee Welcome Greece program at that time, focusing on the refugee crisis. I combined my skills and interests and submitted informally my idea. I was lucky to have my professors and fellow students’ support on this journey. In December 2015, Solomon obtained its first team. Unfortunately, I realized I had the worst idea because I was actually marginalizing people. Fortunately, the idea in its initial form was not realized and Solomon was redirected.
What have been the biggest challenges in the making of such a project?
F. K: Well, honestly from a practical point of view it was the capital controls, as we were not able to open bank accounts. At early times when occupied with startups, there was financial hindrance. There were no money to begin, so I said to myself “why do I even try?” At the end, I established Solomon anyway. I quit my job at Greenpeace and used part of my last salary payment to immediately proceed, since I already had a debt without a safe job.
How do you foresee the future of social entrepreneurship in Greece?
F. K: To be honest, although my studies focused on social entrepreneurship, I still do not understand the distinction. Does that mean that the social entrepreneurship’s role is to save the world whereas that of conventional entrepreneurship is to ruin it? The name of the game is to have an entrepreneurship, call it honest if you may, but at the end of the day regardless of being social or conventional, your actions end up in society. What I see is that now more and more are turning to social entrepreneurship. Once, the trend was for startups and everyone wanted to produce applications. Nowadays, I see many thinking of developing an organization, a social initiative. This does not immediately imply an NGO but even a startup aiming at profit, while exerting social impact at the same time.
Are you planning to go abroad with or without the Solomon project?
F. K: This is something I’ve been thinking since Solomon’s day one. Although so far I had no economic returns from Solomon, I was able to take many trips around the world through the project. I had not traveled abroad before Solomon and I found myself in some kind of a shock, realizing the way other organizations were operating there and their challenges. I was always coming back thinking what would have happened if I were to establish Solomon in Germany, for example. I believe things would have progressed much better because difficulties there, are very different. On the other hand, you can’t be sure unless you have lived and witnessed everyday’s reality there. Anyhow, I’m gaining confidence Solomon will open its wings and I will exploit new opportunities. I believe that once creativity should not be confined only in its home boundaries. Things are evolving so fast, it would not be wise on my side to consider establishing something in your “neighborhood” and leave it there.
What should we expect from Solomon and yourself in the next two-three years?
F.K : In fact, my plans coincide with those of Solomon at present. Parents, friends and relatives keep telling me that having fulfilled my hobby, it’s time to concentrate on my studies, graduate and have a “serious” job. I try to explain to them that I’m already working. Solomon is my job and not just a hobby and this is the message I wish to spread, Solomon is an enterprise. My main concern is how to make Solomon economically viable, so that people contributing to it should be paid. For the time being we are 25 contributors from 11 different countries, who focus on the achievement of something financially rewarding, since it already is at a social level.
*Photo by Constantinos Stathias