Melina Taprantzi Leads Wise Greece on an Entrepreneurial and Philanthropic Path
February 2, 2021
While the challenging year of 2020 spread anxiety and hardship across the globe through the COVID-19 pandemic and other fears, from Brexit to the threat of war and more, it was also filled with hope. There are countless shining examples of individuals and organizations who stepped up to help their communities, some with new pandemic-driven initiatives, others by continuing their original missions.
Established in 2013, Wise Greece is a ‘social entrepreneurship’ pioneer that helps small farmers improve their farming and business practices while also assisting people living below the poverty line. The organization purchases food from those farmers and donates it to people in need.
Apropos of the pandemic challenges, The Hellenic Initiative established a new program in 2020, the Venture Impact Award for young enterprises that combine commercial success, job creation, and philanthropic support helping people on the ground in Greece. The awards were established with the generous support of the Helidoni Foundation and on December 17 $250,000 in cash prizes were awarded in $30K, $20K, and $10K groupings.
Wise Greece was among the three winners in the top category.
Melina Taprantzi and her brother Alexander are co-founders, but they share credit with all their co-workers, especially Giorgos Pappas who was there from the start.
Raised in Athens with roots in Central Greece, Μelina and her brother were raised by their businessman father and teacher mother. Alexander is also one of Greece’s leading YouTubers and bloggers, whose channel is Booyah TV.
Melina’s path is paved with the excellent education, training, intuition, and vision common to all entrepreneurs, guided by the compassion and conscience characteristic of philanthropists.
With a marketing and communications background, she joined a not-for-profit in 2013 that runs community general stores that help people in need obtain food, clothing, etc. At that time however, in the darkest days of the Greek economic crisis, all they had to offer people were shaving razors.
“I was shocked,” Melina said. “People needed food. I asked why only this and I was told, ‘this is what was donated, this is what we offer.’”
She immediately began to think about what could be done. “I thought about how institutions could obtain food, but also, how we could help the Greek economy.”
The timing was right because Melina knew that “small enterprises in the food industry were beginning to do very good work.” Before that “they were not so entrepreneurial, there were problems with packaging, etc. but the new generation is making very nice products.”
Connecting these two realities, she created Wise Greece as a not-for-profit. Melina built a model that consists of supporting 100 small producers of food products and helps them promote and sell their products in Greece and abroad. What is left over from the sale of the products, after covering expenses, is used to buy food from those same producers, which is given to orphanages, homes for the elderly, soup kitchens, and the communal general stores.
So there is a multiple multiplier effect – Wise Greece helps enterprises sell and are customers as well – and they create jobs in their own organization.
Armed with a vision that was noble, practical, and urgent, Melina said, “we began taking baby steps with a small team.”
She explained that “the social entrepreneurship concept was very new for Greece,” but while the execution can be challenging, the idea is simple: “there is a social problem and a social entrepreneur develops a business plan for solving this problem. Greece has many social problems and we don’t have to wait for the state to solve them, with proper support, social entrepreneurs can solve them.”
But they are different from traditional charities. Social businesses don’t rely on donations – they create sustainable business plans that enables them to pay for their expenses. “They welcome donations, naturally, but that is not their main revenue stream,” Melina says, “it’s not sustainable to only rely on donations. What happens if an important donor says ‘I’m not going to support you anymore’”?
Social entrepreneurship is thus a way to reduce the crowding out effect among non-profits, where many organizations are chasing the same dollars and euros.
Melina takes every opportunity to share the news that in recent years Greece has made tremendous progress in export markets. “The new generation realized investments could and should be made in the ‘Greek Diet’ by investing in the food industry, emphasizing quality and very good packaging for its products – that is what the global consumer values.” Indeed, consumers around the world have begun to appreciate the value of Greek products, gaining increased market share.
“The rise of the Mediterranean diet – which includes the Greek diet, has helped,” but they are also working hard on building Greece as a brand.
The activities of Wise Greece also spur cooperation among Greek producers within given areas – and also between different areas. “We have to break down the silos” among products and producers. “We have an unbelievable variety of products – olive oil, wine, honey, liqueurs, marmalades, herbs, all under the umbrella of Wise Greece. We tell the world Greece produces more than oil and olives – that we have a huge variety of quality products.”
And the Hellenic Diaspora is always on her mind. “There are so many things I would like Greeks abroad to know. I want them to see Greece not just through the lens of ‘poor Greece, let’s help Greece’ – and that’s it.”
Greece has exceptional minds, she said, sharpened by the fact that they are survivors. “I emphasize that because the people who remained in Greece and turned to entrepreneurship during crisis and succeeded send the message: ‘We can adapt to all circumstances – we are tough cookies, so if you are going to invest, invest in people in this country who have demonstrated that they can make it.’”
Melina believes Greeks abroad can help Greece develop economically by helping Greek products penetrate their home markets – and by promoting Greece tourism and culture.
And she is thrilled there are organizations such as THI that are working with companies and organizations worthy of their support.
“THI is doing this for many years and it helped to create an ecosystem that includes entrepreneurs, NGOs, the THI Young Leaders. They know very well who to work with and which companies to support. Their screening is very good and valuable.”
“I have been following THI for the time of its establishment,” she noted. “After Wise Greece was established, I met people who represented THI in Greece, and this year I learned about the Venture Impact awards. We made a proposal – and we won!”