It’s called HIGGS and it’s the first Incubator and Accelerator for NGOs in Greece. «It was founded in 2015, with the aim to reinforce non-profit organizations, through capacity building, in particular training, mentoring, networking and events. HIGGS provides the NGOs with the necessary skills, tools, knowledge and support, in order to operate effectively to the full of their capacity and maximize their social impact», explains a note of the organisation.
In the first two years of activity of HIGGS 60 NGOs from across Greece, which affect more than 100,000 beneficiaries coming from vulnerable groups, have participated in its programmes. Indicatively: children, homeless, refugees, imprisoned, drug addicts, blind, mentally disabled, people with mobile disabilities, patients, the elderly. HIGGS’ work also affects 5000 stray animals.
HIGGS collaborates with acclaimed experts of the NGO sector that have worked in NGOs and foundations in Greece and abroad. They have three major programs, aiming at reinforcing NGOs operating in Greece: Incubator, Accelerator and Recharge. HIGGS’ founding donor is the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
We have met Katerina Matiatou, Manager of the HIGGS Incubator.
How did HIGGS start and how does it work?
We were founded in 2015. Prior to that, between 2012 and 2015 our team had worked with the University of the Peloponnese on Thales, an evaluation programme for NGOs here in Greece. We got in touch with about 420 NGOs and of them about 150 were evaluated, so we gained much knowledge about the sector in the country. At the same time the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, which is also our founding donor, came to us with an idea: they wanted to set up a seminar for NGOs that would enhance their abilities and capacities in order to submit improved funding applications. They wanted to receive better applications in order to be able to make more donations. That’s how we started. What we gained from these programmes, the Thales programme and the capacity building programme, was actually an assessment about the sector, that led to creating HIGGS. It showed us that the solution to the problem was creating a place where we could enhance our services by providing specific programmes designed according to the organisations’ needs.
They could have their offices at very low prices, we would provide training and advisory services and we would help them network amongst themselves, with funders of all kind and the media.
HIGGS was born of that and it is about bringing together all the organisations and the creative powers of the ecosystem, helping them collaborate, evolve and advance. We have several NGOs on our premises, 60 NGOs in our programmes whose work affects more than 100,000 beneficiaries and 5000 stray animals. We are very happy because the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, one of the largest foundations in Greece, believed in our work and they are our founding donors. Our collaboration is not only in terms of grant funding but in terms of know-how, communication, good collaboration and maximizing the social impact of all.
You are one of Greece’s huge success stories….
I couldn’t say that, but our team has experience in the field since 2008 in Greece and abroad. There’s 9 of us right now in the team and we have worked in European programmes, in universities, in foundations, in other NGOs. We have gathered a lot of knowledge and we try to share it with the ecosystem. There has been rising demand of NGOs services here in Greece with the crisis in the last few years. We help NGOs adapt to the situation and respond to their needs in the most efficient ways. We give them the trainings, the tools, the advisory services, space and networking in order to maximise their capacities.
What is your aim?
Not to exist in a few years. We want not be needed anymore. We want to create a society where nobody needs NGOs because there are no social needs and everything works perfectly. The medium vision is to become a place where all the NGOs can come and get knowledge and help. According to our data-because we did a huge research, trying to find out how other incubators work especially in the start-up ecosystem and in the NGO ecosystem as well - HIGGS is the first incubator for NGOs in Greece, and the third Incubator for NGOs in Europe. We are collaborating with many organisations besides the 60 that are in our programme and we are collaborating with all the major foundations in Greece and not only in terms of donations, but also in terms of know how, in terms of helping the organisation provide better results. We have done a donors speed date event here, bringing 12 foundations to have speed dates with 36 NGOs from across Greece. We try to be creative and effective at the same time.
How are you financed?
For the first year of operations the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, our funding donor, has helped us operate. Now we have there continuous support but we also have a core funding from European programmes and from other foundations here in Greece, like the TIMA Charitable Foundation, The Hellenic Initiative, the John. S. Latsis Foundation.
How do you reinforce NGOs operating in Greece?
We have 3 major programmes:
1. the Incubator, that is addressed to very young organisations with up to 2 years of operation or NGOs that haven’t been founded yet . It aims at helping them organise and operate efficiently, run their first projects and secure their first funding. It’s a 12 months’ programme.
2. the Accelerator, that addresses the needs of organisations that have more than 2 years of operations and up to 40 people of administrative staff. It’s a 4-month programme and it aims at helping organisations design and submit a successful funding application as well as accelerate their growth.
3. We also have the Recharge programme, which is a very new service line, addressed to operating NGOs with outdated organizational structure that support beneficiaries unable to turn to other entities for help and that are facing viability issues. This programme lasts from 6 to 8 months.
4. Besides our 3 major programmes, we also cooperate as external evaluators for projects. For instance we are now working with the Municipality of Athens and with projects that are run by other NGOs in Greece.
NGOs entering the Incubator and Accelerator go through the HIGGS Bootcamp, a basic intensive training, lasting one month, in 17 different subjects - like how to design and implement a project, how to monitor and report, how to do fundraising, legal, marketing, NGO management... anything they need to know in order to operate. This is the basic knowledge that they need to have in order to work with the team. We are very happy because we have together with us people from the NGO Sector, the CSR sector and the NGO sector. For instance we have the general director of ActionAid in Greece, we have the youngest Director of Bold Ogilvy, which is one of the largest communication corporations in Greece, we have experts from all the fields and we constantly enrich the team.
Are your programmes free of charge?
Yes, all our 3 major programmes – the Incubator, the Accelerator and the Recharge - are offered free of charge to the NGOs. Also we cover the expenses for the hotel stays for the organisations that come from outside of Athens to attend the trainings at HIGGS. We also offer Job-shadowing opportunities and an international internship opportunity as well. Additionally, organisations have free access to the building and they can use the spaces for free and we sponsor the rent: the first year we sponsor 85% of the rent, the second year 75% of the rent. When NGOs outside the programs want customized programmes that do not apply to the HIGGS 3 major programs programmes, then there is a price for that. And there’s also a price when organisations come to us to do evaluation programs. Now that we are working with the municipality of Athens in two evaluation projects, we are going to be paid, and this is part of our fundraising plan.
Do you have relations with third sector stakeholders abroad?
We recently had a training that was called Tech Camp Athens 2018, that is organised in several places around the world, and we worked with the Educational department of the US Embassy here in Greece. We brought 42 NGOs from 5 countries in the Balkans and provided intensive training in digital skills. We are also participating in European programmes and we have trained various organizations from abroad in collaboration with EPIM and Caritas. Currently, we are cultivating our relationships with foundations abroad and in general we are very keen to work with them and very open to future collaborations.
All pictures are from HIGGS. Opening picture: HIGGS team.