Article in Doukas School Special Edition “Human Rights Today”
The 20th Right of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations declares: “Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. No one may be compelled to belong to an association”.
The right to assembly is the right to meet (convene) with others, either privately or in public, in order to attain collective expression, to promote, identify and support common interests and values. By adding the term “peaceful” or “with peaceful means”, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and most countries’ constitutions aim to ensure that an assembly or cooperative is peaceful, that it should seek to preserve peace.
It is this very fundamental right which prompted five friends from school to conceive and establish Desmos in 2102. What brought us together is our shared personal imperative to help confront the humanitarian and social crisis which we saw unfolding before our eyes, as a consequence of the economic collapse of 2009. Having completed our studies and taken our first steps in our professional life abroad, we decided – each one for her own personal reasons – to return to Greece at the same time, at exactly the period that our country was heading towards insolvency, which resulted in the impoverishment and destitution of large parts of the population. Fundamental rights which until then had been taken for granted – adequate food for schoolchildren, access to welfare care, protecting the elderly from poverty – collapsed. With the state unable to perform its primary role, civil society actors had to fill the gap. Despite limited resources and a lack of trained persons, civil society organizations strived to meet the ever-growing needs.
At the same time, on a daily basis we were coming across individuals who were able and willing to help, but who didn’t know how to. They didn’t know who to approach, and most importantly, given the situation in Greece, they didn’t know whether their actions would actually have an impact.
Making full use of our right to assemble freely, we met regularly and discussed the ways we could contribute in order to address the humanitarian and social needs that were not everywhere around us. At the time, we came to the conclusion, and this is something we believe in even more strongly now – that it is imperative to bridge the gap between individuals willinng to offer and civil society actors or organizations who were already capable of providing help. We asked ourselves “if it’s not us, then who?”, we took a deep breath and took the next logical step which was to meet for a collective, peaceful cause: that of co-operation.
Desmos was founded in January 2012 as a Non-profit foundation with a vision to inspire the act of “giving” as a way of living. In the 6 years which have since passed, Desmos has grown and evolved, both in its structure and its activities. Our core mission remains to match donations from the private sector with the social welfare organizations (charities) that need them, in order to support the vulnerable and those in need.
The team of Desmos has grown. Of the five friends who started up collecting essential goods and items such as food and clothing in our homes, distributing them in cars during our free time all over Attica, we have now grown to:
- Seven fully dedicated staff and seven active members from the Board of Directors
- Offices in Athens and Thessaloniki reaching the whole country
- A warehouse for storing donations in kind
- Α van for daily distribution of goods all over Attica
- A network of over 800 Public Benefit organizations, 300 companies and hundreds of private individual donors
- 1100 registered volunteers of all ages, constituting the backbone of Desmos
- Nationwide programs focusing on social welfare, health, creating a better future and emergency response
The Impact Assessment Report for Desmos, conducted by Deloitte in April 2018, showed that our insistence on a light organizational scheme coupled with the efficient management of our operations through these years, have indeed delivered results: for every one euro invested on Desmos’ operation, €9 are generated for society. Furthermore, alongside our decisive support of multiple causes and vulnerable groups, Desmos’ total financial return to Greek society exceeds €7.000.000.
A particularly significant aspect of our evolution, which, to this day is close to my heart, is that Desmos was born out of the common vision of 5 friends to find solutions to a social issue. This would never have been possible had we not had the freedom to meet wherever and whenever we wanted, to cooperate with whoever happened to share our concerns, without harassment from the authorities, without the need for them to approve our actions.
We continue to look for more effective ways of making each donation impactful, with maximum positive social and humanitarian impact. We are thrilled that our work inspires and mobilizes many more who wish to cooperate with us, unite and join us in our actions and to support those in need.