It began as an almost outrageously ambitious project, fuelled by an almost impossibly optimistic idea, of the sort that takes root gradually but eventually seems unstoppable. Such were the beginnings of Olbios, a project of exceptional variety and reach that showcases everything that is worthwhile and hopeful in this torn and troubled world.
Yet its core philosophy is not merely to show but to inspire and galvanise into action through direct participation. To this end, the Olbios Network for Action presents three interlinked services covering a smorgasbord of initiatives, cutting-edge ideas, and reform efforts in practically all sectors of social activity. Small wonder that among the people endorsing it is Michel Serres, one of France’s most prominent philosophers.
We caught up with Emmanuel Ioannidis-Damigos, the driving force behind the project and an extremely busy person these days. He is understandably pleased: after seven years of painstaking work, the project is up and running. With content in two languages and a further two in the works for the site, the Olbios Facebook page is picking up steam at a rate of 130,000 likes in just over two months.
So what is Olbios?
OLBIOS.org is a global Network for Action that addresses the urgent need for including everyone, anywhere in the world, in positive change initiatives. It consists of three interlinked services: a Journal that presents inspiring projects in all sectors and all countries, a Social Network that will serve anyone who wants to become involved in transformative social action, and a crowdfunding platform to fund the project and the people working for it. We got started three months ago by launching the first edition of the OLBIOS Journal in English.
As projects go, this is quite ambitious. How did the idea come to you? Was there a gradual build-up or did you have a eureka moment?
It was more of a gradual build-up from many directions. I had a very strong feeling that we all need a place on the internet that will give us all the tools we need to stop being passive, pessimistic spectators of what is going on in our lives, where we live and beyond. It seemed to me that lots of people were both angry and fed up with seeing so many incompetent and self-serving people set the agenda on what happens and what we learn about.
I also felt an urgency to create a platform that would respect and respond to many people’s wish to take social action, to help. This wish is the most precious thing we share, so it really has to be made known and strengthened in every possible way.
How is this different to other similar projects? What I am asking is, do we really need Olbios?
At Olbios we would like to offer everyone, anywhere, a platform for knowledge, a place to connect with friends and potential project collaborators, as well as the potential for finding funds to put together their own social action. I think that helping people to become part of what is happening around them in all three ways is really urgent and certainly worth trying.
I think in this respect, Olbios is quite different to other similar projects and I would like to think of it as perhaps the most useful site around in its category. As you can tell, I am both very excited and proud about the project and the people contributing!
Olbios is open to all, but who is your ideal contributor; what sort of person did you have in mind when you set it up?
Anyone who is attuned to and cares about the social issues and the initiatives that take place around the world in one of the 24 sectors of social activity we cover. And, of course, anyone interested in acting to change things.
The active, collaborative element is really very important and I think many people today are frustrated by passivity and want to feel that they can contribute, in whichever way they can. I think anyone who wants to contribute, to feel that he or she is helping, will be heartened to find other like-minded people. Also, I think it is important to keep in mind that each person is able to contribute in different ways. I like to think that Olbios makes things easier in that direction, too.
What is the most difficult part of the project?
The idea is very simple really, and I was very happy doing the work and the research for Olbios over the years. Now I am even happier to do the research and take the project to the next level because the whole process has been made more exciting by the arrival of many new friends and contributors.
However, trying to create a journal in four languages, and a new social network, and a new crowdfunding platform in addition to our Ethics Advisory Group and our Institute, does involve a slight amount of complexity at the planning, coordination and execution levels. Overall, one of our most important and complex tasks is doing justice to all the projects that we feature on our site, to give them the audience they deserve.
The numbers on Olbios’ Facebook page are pretty big. Why is that, do you think?
I am not sure − maybe there is a need for another media approach or even a new paradigm on what is really worth talking and thinking about. We are actually trying to promote and throw the spotlight on the part of humanity that restores a sense of dignity and the potential for moral beauty within us. This dimension is often ignored by the media, and even in our daily discussions.
But I think people really need to be reminded of our power to collaborate, create and care for each other. Especially as things around us are making us more and more anxious.
Is Olbios completely free? How does it fund itself?
It is completely free. Until now I have managed to fund it myself with the support of some friends. We are now talking to several foundations and venture philanthropists.
What lies ahead for Olbios?
Several new editions, the ones in French and Spanish will be online in the following weeks, and we have proposals for editions in German, Italian and of course we are working on our edition in Greek. We also want to develop our own social network and our own crowdfunding platform, which will require considerable funds; this is why we are now exploring funding opportunities and will do a crowdfunding campaign so that people will decide by themselves if they want to support our efforts and offer all the services we think they would need.