Paula Schwarz abandoned a career in financial consultancy to launch a social initiative tackling the refugee crisis head on.
With a stellar education in politics and investment management, 25-year-old Paula Schwarz was destined for a successful career in financial consultancy. Instead, she launched a social initiative, which is now helping to tackle one of the greatest crises facing mainland Europe since the Second World War.
“I’ve always had a very deep love for Greece. I’m half Greek myself and spent much of my childhood being brought up there. So when the country was hit by an economic crash, and then one of the largest refugee crises in history, I knew I had to do something. The problem? I didn’t know where to start.
“The country is on its knees economically, tourism is suffering and the refugees themselves are in a desperate situation. Instead of joining an existing NGO, I decided to invite a team of entrepreneurs, company executives and venture capitalists to a boat off the island of Lesbos to discuss a new approach to the crisis. My hope was that these people would apply their passion, innovation and business-sense to solving a social issue.
“Eighteen people attended the first ‘Start-Up Boat’ meeting and the end product was an online platform called First-Contact, which provides the key information refugees lack when entering Europe. On the day it launched, the website attracted 18,000 hits, it now has hundreds of thousands of users.
“Since then, Start-Up Boat has created Migration Hub, a collection of four co-working spaces in Berlin, Athens, Lesbos and Samos, where those working on migration-related issues can work rent- free. And more recently, we’ve launched Marharcar, a carpooling service that connects volunteer drivers and coordinators with emergency refugee personnel to help deliver much needed supplies to the frontline. We currently enable 200 deliveries a day and are looking to expand to Macedonia.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learnt from all this is that it requires very little input to create game-changing ideas. If you can make a website, launch a newsletter and think like an entrepreneur, then you can effectively change the world.”
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