Officially constituted as a Greek NGO in November 2016, the ideology behind Campfire Innovation began formulating more than a year earlier, on the islands of Greece.
Campfire Innovation was inspired by humanitarian aid volunteers who, at the peak of the crisis, sat around campfires on the islands while waiting for boats of refugees to arrive.
Before Campfire Innovation:
During winter 2015, the growing wave of refugee arrivals to the Greek islands reached a peak as more than 3,000 people reached the shores of Lesvos and other Greek islands every day.
The media was flooded with scenes of boat landing. The sea was dangerous and hundreds of people drowned in a tragic incident on October 28th 2018. The images of the “Spanish lifeguards” pulling bodies out of the water shocked the world.
But arriving to the Greek shores was not the end of the journey.
The island was chaos. The conditions were bad, and got worse as the winter set in. Infrastructure was insufficient and Greece was not prepared for any of it. The area surrounding Moria was all mud and small tents as people waited for days outside before they were even let in to be registered. At the same time, thousands more refugees were making their way up to Idomeni, an area at the border of Greece and F.Y.R. of Macedonia. They waited for days as less and less were let in. There was no formal camp. People camped out at the EKO gas station. Those that made it through often walked all the way to Austria and Germany in the bitter cold. Eventually the borders started closing but people remained in Idomeni and kept arriving in Greece, misguided and misinformed, or just in the hope that they would find a way through.
During the intense and chaotic period of Winter 2015, Ioanna, our founder, had been volunteering in Lesvos and then in Athens. Besides the misery and hardship, what she saw were thousands of volunteers and hundreds of small organisations arriving in Greece, moved by the image of Aylan Kurdi. They wanted to help. Most of them had no humanitarian experience but they had energy and enthusiasm. It was all ages, all background, all countries.
Slowly, projects started emerging. Someone started cleaning up the area around Moria and created a queuing system with numbers. Better Days was born (then known as Better Days for Moria). Arrival points were set up in North Lesvos with blankets and hot tea. Information Point for Volunteers Lesvos set up a Facebook group, a WhatsApp system and a Google Docs detailing information for new volunteers on how to help.
That’s where the idea for Smart Aid was born. There was something extremely inspiring about the hundreds of little projects that were keeping people’s dignity. They were coming up with new models of asking “what if we did this differently”.
Not all projects were great and there have definitely been example sof volunteers that have mismanaged projects, caused more trouble than good, or come only for their own ego and “white saviour” story.
But that only makes the great projects shine brighter.
Campfire Innovation is born:
When Campfire Innovation was established, we spent much of that time mapping out organisations across Greece.
It became apparent that knowing who is out there, would become our foundation. Mapping the organizations in Greece has proven to offer a hopeful perspective on the refugee crisis.
We also developed an early version of our “Smart Aid characteristics” and worked on how to store the information on these organisations. However, the question that kept coming up was HOW we could help. For the first phase, collecting and identifying best practices and attempting to increase collaboration was our primary focus.
How Can Campfire Innovation Help?
We started looking for activities that would help organisations do better and tackle key challenges they faced. The most frequently brought up were: lack of access to funding, lack of coordination and knowledge of other organisations/programs, lack of expertise to tackle issues such as accounting, legal set up, financial planning, website design, operational tools, recruitment etc. We understood that the organisations in our network use some really great methods and have very dignified approach to refugee response but apart from collaboration, they very often they lack resources and capacity.
Over the next few months, we launched a series of activities that sought to address those, focusing on the topics of increasing collaboration and buidling capacity. While some of the activities have been retired in Campfire’s practice now, some of our most important programs still in practice today, grew out of this time.
Smart Aid Gatherings: monthly events to bring together all groups from the grassroots community to network, connect and exchange best practices.
Athens Coordination System: A system to improve coordination across Athens on issues such as sharing resources, joint advocacy and information sharing. Our role was to design the system in partnership with Help Refugees.
Representing the Grassroots at UNHCR and Municipality meetings
Resources Library: A series of case studies and how-to guides from the grassroots, to the grassroots, to help them improve their operations.
Defining Innovation and Measuring Impact
After reviewing our 2017 activities, we decided to narrow down our scope to focus on innovative grassroots organisations - SmartAid organisations.
Offering activities open to the whole grassroots community that require few resources
Providing activities for the Campfire community that focused on providing them with resources to grow their organisations
This has led to:
Refining our definition of Smart Aid and creating internal guides on what characterises Smart Aid and how to conduct an assessment interview
Reviewing all organisations in our network to ensure Members of the Campfire Community match the Smart Aid criteria
Relaunching Smart Aid Gatherings
Creating tools to improve the capacity of organisations: (Guidebooks & Newsletter)
Establishing our Impact Metrics Platform that would allow organisations to track their performance and communicate it to donors.