Innovation and Sustainable Leadership in Action: A Young Greek’s fight against corruption?

Umesh Mukhi

 Fighting Corruption in Greece; The Sustainable Leadership Method

SLI MIndthis

Ioanna SLI

This interview is an exclusive part of the Mindthis Sustainable Leadership Series which features cutting edge thought leadership from change makers across the world.

Today I interview Ioanna Fotopoulou on her thoughts on Sustainable Leadership and learn about her entrepreneurial journey to promote transparency and anti-corruption in Greece. I hope youth leaders will enjoy reading this short interview which sheds light on wisdom and passion required for pursuing our mission to make the world a better place to live.

 So Ioanna, how does it feels to be a youth leader coming from Greece? What are the aspirations and challenges you face?

I could definitely state that being a 25 year old in today’s Greece is really difficult. Difficult due to the political circumstances, due to the economic crisis and all the bad things that derive from it. But I have always been a positive person, the glass is always half full and getting victimized is not in my character. The situation is the way it is, we need to cope with it and not to stay passive and cry for our lost destiny and generation. This crisis taught me to be strong, to fight for my rights and never lose hope. So to be honest, I think that the challenges that Greek youth encounters doesn’t really differ from the challenges that the youth faces all around the world!

Moreover, on the opposite side of these gray days and these depressing news circling is a bright past of my country. A rich past which is full of philosophy, peace, democracy and inclusion. A past that young Greeks find difficult to stand up to its expectations but sooner or later each one of us feels more and more attached to it!

Your idea about the startup promoting transparency in governments is impressive? Can you share some insights about your startup? Don’t you think that governments or nation states will fear your startup because of its disruptive nature?

Having worked with corruption issues in Greece and the Balkans and being very active in this aspect, I can see that we have a lack of understanding on what corruption really is. And as I stated before, corruption is like an hour glass, starts from the top and as time passes it reaches the bottom. This is why YouRule is vital. It targets the local level of governance by establishing transparent networks of communication between politicians and citizens. It has to do with the interaction of ordinary people like me and you! It is the first anonymous social media, where every citizen can locate a problem in the map of its own country, state it, explain and but also propose a possible solution. Like that we shape not only the critical view regarding the everyday problems but also the feeling of participation and engagement to the society. YouRule shapes civil society in a fun and interactive way.

However, I wouldn’t say that the idea is impressive on its own. I will be able to tell you that it is something impressive after it starts and when people will embrace it, use it and change it in so many different and beautiful ways. Now it is just an idea that I had, when it will become a place full of ideas that we have then yes it will become amazing.

As for the governments, I think most of them, at least in Greece, realize that they need to change the way they operate. The ones brave enough to engage from the beginning will be the ones that will stay in favor of its people. The others will have to be part of the history. You can fight many things but no man can fight the future that is about to happen. No man can fight the truth when the time to be spoken has come, and this is what we provide, the truth of all the citizens in one single platform.

Sustainable Development is of course very holistic in nature, so what does Sustainability means to you?

Sustainability is a hard term to define. Just like corruption. What we need for such “big words” is to define them in the simplest possible way so that we can come back to them, work with them and shape them again and again. So if I had to define sustainability in my own simple words I would say that sustainability is the way we can keep going to our future by having higher numbers of advantages than disadvantages.

Why is that we are facing a leadership crises in business, government and social sector? What can young people do to tackle this crisis in leadership?  

I don’t really believe that we face a crisis. We are just in a critical point of our history where things need to be changed. We live in a world where the younger generation matured much faster due to the unlimited knowledge that it was provided to us through internet and all kinds of social media.

So what we are in charge of doing is staying calm, staying real and use this maturity we have obtained so early in our lives in order to step by step change the way politics, business, government, you name it, operate. However, we need to be very careful and we need to stop disregard everything old. We might have more knowledge available and more power due to our interaction with technology that feels easy like breathing. But I see many times in myself as well that we lack the so called “life lessons” that you can only get as the years go by. Many young leaders need to accept that like it or not they need the older generation. And to be honest I feel more secure that they are there, ready to guide us and give us advices. I don’t plan to reinvent the wheel, I want to work on the current situation and make it better. If only all the “older” leaders were ready to leave their comfort and let us in, the transition that is clearly needed today would be more smooth and effective.

Compared to other conventional forms of leadership (charismatic, democratic etc.) how do you perceive Sustainable Leadership as a concept, is it too ideal, too theoretical or practical and realistically applicable?

The only way I will allow myself to answer this question is with this: We tried to change the world with revolution and we seriously failed, time after time. Now it is time to try innovation. And this is what Sustainable Leadership is for me, constant inputs of innovation in politics, in social behavior and innovation in human relationships. Sustainable Leadership in just a phrase contains all these. It can be ideal, but this is what we need right now. An ideal to believe in all over again!

One of the main characteristics of Sustainable Leadership is developing a spiritual dimension through practice of meditation and yoga, how do you see the importance of such practices for developing leadership skills amongst all sections of society?

I cannot lie; I have hard time every time I practice Yoga! It is too much for my Greek temperament if you like [hahahaha =)]. But as I always say, we need to find the way to practice this spirituality. Meditation might not be the way for me right now, but I see that every time I am in a stressful situation I maintain my nerves and stay calm by using a simple technique. A technique I am doing since I am young and now I see that it is the main yoga technique. I count my breathing. I just leave everything outside my head and just concentrate all my thoughts and emotions in the simple procedure of breathing in and out. That helped me avoid some very serious mistakes I was about to do! So I definitely advice everyone to find its own meditation that feels comfortable with and stick to it.

What is the role of mindset in developing leadership skills, how can young people develop a Sustainable Mindset?

This is something you need to really fight for. You can read, or listen or watch documentaries about it but how I see it, creating a Sustainable Mindset you need to live it. It is very important to keep a sustainable mindset, to be ready to give in your power to the next one when you have nothing more to give. To be mature enough to accept the fact that you are not irreplaceable and to be brave enough to ask for help when you cannot deal with a situation. All these create a Sustainable Mindset but you are not going to learn it from me or anyone else. There is only one way to do it. Just dive in, get up from your couch and start exploring.

So if I would have to ask you about your definition of Sustainable Leadership, how would you define it?

Sustainable Leadership is the leadership where the leader is preparing the one that will follow him. Where this leader is giving the best of him and stays aside to see the miracle happen and understand that his thoughts, ideas and ideals became true through a different approach, from a different person. Who took them, nurture them, changed them and made them even better. But the first material was that of the first leader. This is the core of Sustainability, getting the best and advancing them.

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What would be your three key advises to develop Sustainable Leadership (at personal, organizational and societal level)?

I have only one advice that is applicable to all the levels. Question..! Question everything! What you read, what you hear, question your parents, your friends, question yourself. But do that with the highest of respect. Like that you can find the real you, your beliefs and you will become stronger as leaders, ready to give something from yourself to the people around you.

And finally this my last question, Ioanna, how do you keep this high energy level? What is the secret mantra of your enthusiasm and energy?

Does it count if I say the sun? I love waking up in the morning and just see that it is sunny. I feel a great freedom when I know I am only 5 meters from the sea. And this breeze in the port of Thessaloniki, this salty little air waves! It feels that it is always worth living. There is no big secret, I promise. Just love your surroundings and every day you wake up you will want to give all your passion to make it even better. I don’t love everything in Thessaloniki, don’t get me wrong. There are many things that annoy me. But if you stick to the best things that you are grateful for and you learn to live with compassion then energy and enthusiasm never live you!

About Ioanna

Ioanna is a young Greek politician. She was the president of a Rotaract club in Thessaloniki and the first woman president in her engineering department. She is active for many years in the fight against corruption and the reshaping of civil society in Greece. She is the founder and CEO of YouRule, the first anonymous social media that establishes transparent networks of communication between local governments and citizens. Recently she got elected as the Coordinating Ambassador of Europe 2 region for One Young World and selected to be a Cultural Innovator of Goethe Institute. Among her passions always football is one and she is an appointed referee from the Hellenic Football Organization since 2010.

The Interview can also be accessed on Sustainable Leadership Blog. The Sustainable Leadership Initiative is global platform to showcase best practices and engage trans-sector dialogue from business, government and social sector across the world in context of sustainability and leadership. You can follow them on Twitter: @sleadersummit and make sure you like them on Facebook!