Today we would like to share with you a conversation we had with the Directors of Kairos Europe. If you are curious about what Kairos means, what we do, and what we are planning for the future, keep on reading!
Pro tip: Read until the end, there is a little surprise about a new exciting idea that will start soon!
It’s a gloomy March day in London, so we sat together with a cup of tea to talk about different topics, but most of all the past, present and future of the organisation.
Samuel: Thank you Amelia and Daniele for taking the time to share your experience with us! Let’s start from the beginning, how was Kairos Europe born?
Amelia: Kairos was born in 2011 because Daniele and I had the desire to have a bigger impact on society. We had a good job and we enjoyed it a lot, but still there was something missing. We had a chat and we realised that both of us wanted to work more on the social side and do something we were really passionate about, and the EU’s various Educational Programmes were giving us a great opportunity for our dreams to come true. So, we said ok let’s try! We started and, in a few years, I mean even in the first years, we were very successful.
Daniele: Yes, we started it as a side project as we were both employed by another organisation but after the first few years, and as we started to get more projects, we decided it was the right time to be on our own and dedicate our entire time to Kairos Europe.
S: Where did the idea for the name come from?
D: We were travelling for one of our projects at the time and we already had the idea to start our organisation. Amelia was reading a magazine and she saw the name Kairos and liked the word. After checking its meaning, she liked it even more. Kairos is an ancient Greek concept that means time, not in a chronological sense, but time in the sense of opportunity. The right time to do something. We decided that it was a good name for our organisation. We wanted to call ourselves Kairos but at the time the name was taken so we decided to add Europe to it.
A: Which really made sense since we wanted to work with at the European level.
S: Do you remember where you were?
A: I think we were at the airport. I was looking outside the window and I had this magazine that was talking about the time of God as opposed to the time of men and I loved it. If I remember correctly, I think we were in Poland at the time.
S: What were your long-term objectives when you started Kairos Europe? Did they change over time?
D: We didn’t set out long-term objectives, we decided to start and see how it went. We started to apply for projects and in the first year we had 2 successful applications. The second year we had the third approved project and another two the year after. These were all international partnership projects. In addition, we also started to run local activities with local groups, such as English and ICT courses for migrant parents with no formal qualifications, or parenting courses for families. Then in 2015 we started to develop an interest in migration mainly because Amelia is from Calabria and at the time the region was experiencing a lot of arrivals from African and Middle Eastern countries. There were big numbers at the time, hundreds of people arriving every day. We were looking at the situation there and comparing it with the situation in the UK. There was a case where the UK government promised to host 10.000 children over 5 years, and during the first year they could only manage to take 30 or 40. This made us realise that the situation was drastically different in the two countries, and we thought to ourselves: how can we combine the two worlds? That’s how we started thinking about developing projects to bring practitioners from the UK to Italy and experience what was happening there, where there are emergency situations. We thought that the people from the UK could benefit from learning about the situation there.
A: As Daniele said we started very differently from what any business consultant would advise, we had no plan, we didn’t set up 3- or 5-years goals, we just had lots of passion about what we wanted to do. We don’t plan much; I mean we plan but on a very short-term base, and this is due to many things and changes happening (e.g. Brexit) but I think this is not too bad because it also gives us flexibility. We have the chance to meet great people, great professionals and not having a strict long-term plan gives us the flexibility to adapt to the needs of other people and other realities. We are living in such a changing world that I think that it’s not a bad thing to be flexible.
S: What are the biggest challenges that you face as Directors of Kairos Europe?
D: We rely on public funding, so the finances every year are subject to chance. That’s the biggest challenge, one year you can have 10 projects approved and the year after you can have 1 or 2. I think that over the years we have been quite regular and we never had to rely on loans or things like that so we’ve been lucky on that side.
A: One of the hardest ones is connected to the fact that we deal with a lot of people and we depend on partnerships. You always have to keep on smiling even if sometimes the situation is not what you wanted. The other one is the one that Daniele mentioned, we rely a lot on public funding and we are also very affected by the political situation. Decisions that are out of our control affect us more than people think. Also, as we work a lot with migration, it is a challenge to have to look at newspapers and the way social media addresses the topic every day. We want to promote a very different view of migration, we think that migration can be a great asset and that migrants can bring a lot of benefits to society, but sometimes it seems to be a lost battle, but we keep on fighting and try to be positive.
S: What part of your job do you like the most?
A: I like travelling so that is one of the things I enjoy the most. It’s a bit difficult with 2 children but we try to manage. The other thing is that the Erasmus programme is so great because you can have a project addressing whatever you like from the environment, to migration, social inclusion, arts… and I really love this creative side.
D: I also like travelling. I also enjoy establishing partnerships with like-minded people and organisations. Over the years we got in touch with amazing and very talented people and organisations doing great work and we have been blessed with that. It has been a great achievement for our organisation.
S: What part of the job do you like the least?
A: When you have to take tough decisions in terms of people you want to work with and budget. Sometimes you would like to do great things, but the budget is what it is for some projects and you have to stick to it.
D: I would say the same.
S: What do you look for when selecting participants for trainings and mobilities?
D: We look at their background, experience, what they would like to achieve in the future, but the most important thing is their motivation. We love to have people that are enthusiastic and that would like to do lots of things, and that is more important than their CV.
A: I agree. We also ask people how this experience can change their future, what benefits it can bring them. We see that for some people it is a life changing opportunity and we want to bring positive change to people’s lives. We also try to be as inclusive as possible, so if we can, we try to reach people that are not confident and that think they might not be selected. We try to encourage these people to apply because these are the people that can really benefit, and the project can have a great impact on them. When we have these people on our trainings, we realise that they are the ones that give back the most. They feel like the experience was really life changing and are willing to give back, making it rewarding for them and for us too.
S: What’s your favourite training location in Europe?
A: I would say Spain, Italy, and Greece.
D: I would say Italy too for obvious reasons.
A: Also, we would really love to start working outside of Europe with organisations in African and Latin American countries. We think that they can teach us a lot.
S: Do you have any special memories of projects that you have worked on?
A: My special memory, which always makes me emotional when I think of it, is our first Key Action 1 project: Southern European Migrant Dilemmas. It was a small project, but it gave us so much. We had the chance to meet Domenico Lucano who hosted us in Riace where he explained how the experience in Riace started. It was just a 1 or 2 years before all the mess started and before he had to face all the accusations, so we were very lucky to meet him. Also, the project received so many prizes from everywhere: the Erasmus+ National Agency, from the local communities, and it gave us the chance to start the projects we are working on now such as ARISE, Re-thinking Migration, and Migration in Europe. Thanks to this project we also started cooperating with the King’s College London.
D: I would say the same, it was the turning point from what we were before and how we developed afterwards.
S: What are your hopes and plans for the future of Kairos Europe?
D: We just hope we can continue doing what we are doing. There is a big question mark over what will happen with Brexit and the new programme of the European Commission. We hope that we will still be able to write our projects on migration, social inclusion, and also develop into new areas such as climate change, rural development, cultural heritage and social justice. A: The other big plan for the future is to open a Research Group! We want to start this group because we met great people coming on our trainings, both here in the UK and abroad. There is a very wide range of people from academics to practitioners, managers, volunteers, and refugees who now work to help other refugees. All these people are very willing to keep working on migration and they share our vision and values, so we said: why don’t we start something that can build a community and a network to share resources and ideas? We hope to also expand it outside of the UK and to have an international research group, but this is going to be planned later. I also want to mention that our hope is given every day by our great staff: Samuel, Jessica, and Felix. They really changed our lives when they came on board, they brought light in our lives and we want to give a big thank you to them!