The initiative started as an idea in 2012 when I was a student in high school. The occasion was the need for blood by the grandmother of a friend. The inability to find blood in the hospital on the island of Lemnos, made me realize the problem. Through this incident, I realized that although all people have blood in them when someone needs it, it is too difficult to find.
At university, I found another two friends that helped me create Blood-e in 2014. We are all graduates of the department of Management Science & Technology, each one with a different specialization. Our training helped a lot as a starting point because we knew about the management of an organization, and how we can make use of new media and technologies. But we also encountered difficulties. It took us a lot of time at the beginning, to see how we can technology meet our purpose. Also, we were only 19 years old and, as students, we didn’t know so much about the complexities of our cause. In times, it felt like we were on a ship in the middle of the storm, and didn’t know where we were going.
All of us come from families that communicated the values of volunteering from a very young age. Therefore our families were our first recruits. We started by organizing a series of blood donations in Athens and then created a digital platform where people who with a need for blood can notify suitable donors. Slowly, we started having a better understanding of how to motivate people and cultivate the culture of volunteering and donating.
Greece is not the ideal environment to start something, but there are people in the public and private sectors that will listen and can help. Unfortunately, the legal framework for social entrepreneurship is very cloudy, resources are limited and opportunities for fundraising are minimal. There is, of course, huge bureaucracy, with regard to information about how to establish an entity. Over time, though, we have managed to overcome internal organizational issues, but also to find some resources to start our action.
Blood-e has to do with the motivation to get someone out of the house and go give blood on a voluntary basis. Hence, we work with various organizations, communities and the National Centre for Blood Donation. We try to create synergies and collaborations, aiming to maximize the value and social impact of the project.
Blood donations is an official responsibility of the Ministry of Health. The collection, testing and transfusion is only possible in public hospitals. When someone needs blood, he/she usually invites a relative or friend. Apart from the moral aspects, this also has some safety implications. When somebody gives blood with motivation other than volunteering, it is easier to lie to medical questions on medical history that made the donation. As a result, there are many patients who cannot find suitable blood, and receive infected blood.
Through Blood-e, human needs are met in real time. The donor knows where his/her blood goes. The contact with volunteers continues after the donation through the digital community, where everyone can find material on blood donation and blood. The environment in which someone gives blood is also important. Instead of the sterile hospital environment, we organise collections at working space, or along with friends. This generates an experience that people will want to repeat at some point in their life.
Compared to these rates existing in the country, where only 50% of total blood needs are covered by voluntarily donations, we feel satisfied with the results of Blood-e. Certainly, it could be much better. We are trying to see what new things emerge, in order to create a culture around blood donation, aiming to grow the rates of blood donations coming from volunteers, while striving to cover the needs.
From the very beginning, there was a positive response from the public. Eighty percent of our volunteers are young, and give blood for the first time. in their life. We especially target young people and students, who have never given blood before. We are very satisfied with the response, which is not in line with the percentage of blood donated in the country. Our goal is doubling every six months the volunteer base that we have in our platform.
What we propose is different and changes the mentality of the public hospitals. Our initial thought was to integrate this information system in the official health care system. This means that the hospitals would notify any needs, rather than the patients. This requires, of course, the collaboration of public hospitals.
In the future, we want to launch a series of games in schools for children. Beyond that, we wish to continue growing the number of volunteers. We approach this through partnerships with companies and organisations, which can unite our message, to strengthen voluntary blood donations.
What is missing in our team, are people with a medical background, who are willing and want to engage with new technologies and such initiatives. Due to lack of resources, we cannot support more staff. Most young people also imagine themselves in a for-profit environment, rather than a social enterprise. They believe that either you have to be a volunteer, or to make money. Therefore it is difficult to find people who fit in our philosophy and our own needs.
We have a demanding job, where we talk with people who fight very difficult diseases and a blood donation might be their last hope. Especially when talking about platelets or bone marrow. Some of them die. In our everyday lives, we are facing very difficult circumstances. But the feeling that remains at the end of the day, is fulfilling for what we do and offer. This balances the psychological stress and bad feelings that arise in times.
Within Blood-e, we have created a philosophy of continuous education. We started something that we did not have the knowledge to implement, but eventually learned to do. As for skills, we have developed whatever has to do with digital marketing and communication and how to run a business. As well as the psychology of how to contact volunteers, patients and partners. Beyond that, we created a lot of soft skills. Namely, how to persevere, to have audacity and tolerance. To ignore those that say that “these things cannot be done”, to respect that many partnerships will not be successful, but always keep on.
This is necessary for operating in a country that huge institutional gaps exist. Social entrepreneurship in Greece is a concept still quite unknown. There is no much public understanding of its benefits, but it is something that is slowly growing. What we do is to look at things with optimism. The country is missing optimistic voices, that -while recognizing that things are difficult- they strive to change things.