Kostapanos Miliaresis, Social Entrepreneur, Idealist. He is the Founder of GloVo (now: Ethelon), a global volunteer platform that connects social projects to volunteers. His story propelled him on the “Forbes 30 under 30”-list, made him a Sandboxer, an Ashoka Changemaker, TEDx Speaker and on and on and on. What sounds like a solid list of achievements and awards founded upon a passion for volunteerism was actually born out of the chaos brought upon Greece amidst the financial crisis. Today, Kostapanos talks about his journey, challenges and his big fat dreams. – Interview by ASTRID SCHRADER and CHRISSY SCHRAMKE
The Arc: We are now in the year 2017 and your Facebook page is scattered with pictures from all over the world as a successful social entrepreneur. It wasn’t always like that. What’s your story?
Kostas: Interestingly, I do not believe social entrepreneur to be a title; rather, it is how you do things and how you find solutions. I did not wake up one day thinking, ‘Oh I want to be a founder and CEO.’ Instead, it was me seeing everyday problems and trying to find solutions to these problems. Both entrepreneurship and volunteering are not about the title. They are about changing things.
I grew up volunteering in my community through the scouts at eight years old. Since then, through the scouts and other youth organisations, my life began to revolve around creating things with others. I really believe that is what life is about – creating things with other people.
At some point during my university time I founded GloVo, Global Volunteer Platform. We were 2-3 team members and we had to learn really fast. As the initiative grew quickly we had to come up with HR contingency plans for our volunteers educating volunteers to volunteer coordinators to project managers and so on.
In 2017, we noticed that volunteer programmes in other geographies were somewhat similar to us. We believed we should join our power and we wanted to merge. Interestingly: a non-profit merger had never happened before in Greece. The lawyers told us: You cannot do that. There is no legal way. We and the ecosystem literally had to learn how to do it. It was a great decision. We had complementary strengths: They were the stronger builders and their staff was much more experienced. We were all young, pretty extraverted and had a lot of energy. Together we have grown quickly. We started with a few people and now we have 40 volunteers that don’t just work on our projects but on our organization.
Because we are so many more people now I can focus on scaling our methods. I am currently in the US where I consult other organisations on how to set up structures like we did in Greece, but I am also meeting a lot of entrepreneurs asking how we can learn from each other.
Honestly, I am trying to keep a myself down to earth. At the end of the day it’s not about what we talk about and what we tell people. It’s about what we are doing in our every day life, behind the scenes. Especially in the beginning it is easy to get lost in the enjoyment of travel and dreams. At the same time travelling allows you to stay in touch with the world. It is about meeting new people, connecting different points and creating new ideas those things you could never get in the bubble of your office.
The Arc: You founded GloVo in the middle of the financial crisis. How was it being an entrepreneur in such days and what about that time has struck you the most?
Kostas: GloVo was something we planned to do in our spare time as students. We didn’t expect the impact it had later on. The crisis ended up being good for us. We had nothing to lose. We were not quitting any job. Our idea was nothing hugely creative or unique. But the crisis grew the startup ecosystem in Athens. And – maybe sadly – we had a good market fit: Volunteering had been huge in Greece during the Olympic Games , but then nothing happened for a long time. During the crisis many people wanted to volunteer again – for some this meant bridging the time until they found a job.
The Arc: Of course we have stalked you and one of the things we studied was your TEDx-Talk. You mentioned that the biggest thing standing in people’s way of following their own path is their perfectionism. Are you a perfectionist?
Kostas: Haha. Not at all. We are trying to be humble, to continuously improve things, to work on every single detail, how to progress and how to be different. If you want your project to run well, you must let down your ego. No way could I have done everything the way I wanted it. For example: We are running events. Once we hit 500 events it as impossible to be responsible for everything. We made mistakes. And we had to learn from them. For instance: Since our volunteer community consists 75% of females, and we wanted to make projects that could be more interested for them.. like fashion. In the next months we sourced a couple of events, but we hadn’t researched them properly. One of them had the topic … Brides! It was a disaster. No volunteering spirit at all, it was more like a marketplace. Nothing for volunteers to gain. since then, we are 10x more careful about the projects we take responsibility of. Luckily volunteering is a secure place to make mistakes.
The Arc: Another aspect of your talk is the idea of “going an extra mile”. You link this topic to creativity. Can you explain?
Kostas: Going the extra mile means to be focused on how you can improve things, how you can do them differently, to be more unique. I don’t like being the one that stands still in the crowd. Not seeing the easy, the fast way, but seeing the longer, the different way that after all will be better. This is also why I have been travelling and exploring other cultures. To me it is important to listen and to learn about how to connect different dots. Travelling reminds me a lot about Steve Jobs’ speech at Stanford and on how he talks about that only later you see the connection between things that might seem unrelated.
The Arc: Last but not least – Who do YOU dare to be and which IMPACT do you wanna stand for? You have 30 seconds to answer 😀
Kostas: I dare to be the person who will never complain and endlessly discuss about things I cannot change. I dare to believe that nothing is impossible. You can have all the impact you can dream of. And if you really want to, you can find your way.
The Arc: Thank you for this interview! It’s been such a pleasure talking to you!