An exclusive interview with Theodore Anagnostopoulos, Co-Founder and General Manager SciCo
SciCo is a Non-Governmental Organization, founded in 2008. Its name comes from the words Science and Communication. As its name reveals, SciCo’s goal is to communicate scientific topics to the general public through innovative, interactive, and entertaining activities. A goal that steadily expanded in many countries all over the world through strategic partnerships and activities. SciCo family includes SciCo Cyprus and SciCo USA.
Theodore Anagnostopoulos, Co-Founder and General Manager of SciCo and relatively recently an explorer of National Geographic presents at the CEOWORLD magazine all the latest projects of the organization, explaining the difficulties bridging the gap between science and society, while he places emphasis on the fact that conscious entrepreneurship is the only way for a sustainable future.
SciCo aims to promote science to the general public through innovative ways. In its 14 years of activity, do you consider that you have achieved this goal?
Theodore Anagnostopoulos: Bridging the gap between science and society is a complex task that requires several stakeholders to work simultaneously and for many years to achieve this. We are just one of those stakeholders.
However, we have run more than 200 projects including science festivals, educational programs and training, digital and physical shows, and more which have reached more than 400.000 people, educated more than 2000 teachers, reached more than 100 remote areas in 7 countries, we have done some share of the above work. But a lot more needs to be done.
An unexpected accelerator of our work proved to be the two years of the COVID-19 pandemic which redefined the role of scientists and the impact of their work on society. The New York Times published an article in April 2020 stating that scientists are societies’ new superheroes. Everybody turned their attention to the scientific community to come up with solutions to the pandemic. Society laid upon them its hope.
In conclusion, the pandemic, climate change, water purity, and various other societal needs and problems in conjunction with the work done by several entities like us, have raised the awareness of our society to be much more willing to endorse science and use it to its benefit.
Which were the main difficulties that you faced trying to proceed with your projects in Greece?
Theodore Anagnostopoulos: The first and most elementary difficulty that we faced was the lack of understanding of the need for science communication in the late zeros and the early tens. In other words, there is no defined “market” for us. This was an international problem but in Greece especially, even as we speak, based on the latest “Eurobarometer” survey, Greeks are scoring below average in their desire to get a better understanding of scientific issues.
A second major barrier was the lack of funds. Making science simple and understandable was always a “nice to have” task but never a necessity. Hence, we were hardly ever funded for our work.
A third one was the heavily bureaucratic national educational system which would not be open to anything coming from a private donor. Therefore, even when we were funded by the social corporate responsibility of a large corporation, we would not necessarily have easy access to do our work.
Finally, the lack of local expert peers made our environment more sterile and “hard to learn” from.
When did you start to extend SciCo’s projects abroad? In which countries have you extended your projects?
Theodore Anagnostopoulos: The need for the public understanding of science has always been global. Hence, from the beginning of our foundation, we had international collaborations which over the years became more regular and impactful. At the time of writing, on top of the several international consortia where we are partners, we are running our programs in Albania, Cyprus, Germany, Spain and the UK.
You belong to the society of explorers of National Geographic. Which was the most challenging project you coped with?
Theodore Anagnostopoulos: I joined the National Geographic Society relatively recently, in 2020. The project that we are running with Nat Geo focuses on the population of the Pomaks in North Eastern Greece, in Thrace. The Pomaks have been geographically and culturally isolated for decades. The aim of our project is to bridge the Pomak youth with their surrounding city youth via a STEM program on environmental education. This program was quite challenging while setting it up, as we had to gain the trust of the local societies before they participated in it. In order to overcome this challenge, we collaborated (and hired) exclusively local people. In addition, we designed a highly inclusive program that respected diversity.
Do you believe that social entrepreneurship can have a real contribution in times of economic recessions?
Theodore Anagnostopoulos: Social entrepreneurship or at least conscious entrepreneurship is the only way to a sustainable future. Social entrepreneurship is a mindset as well as an entrepreneurial format. Social entrepreneurs aim to tackle social problems which, indeed, at times of recession do rise such as unemployment, poverty, and hunger.
What’s next in 2022 and in the coming years for SciCo?
Theodore Anagnostopoulos: Our general focus is to try and answer as many of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals with the “language” of science. From bridging inequalities via getting students to work together on STEM programs, to empowering the new generation of innovators to tackle poverty, food scarcity, clean energy, and water. More specifically, we have already focused on the technological upskilling of youth, teaching circular economy, and understanding the vaccination hesitancy which could solve several other related problems.
With regards to geographic areas, we are already focusing on the developing world where the need for scientific understanding and empowerment via STEM is even greater. We should be operating in Sub-Saharan Africa in late 2022.
Theodore Anagnostopoulos is a science engager, a social entrepreneur, and a National Geographic Explorer. He is the Co-Founder and General Manager of SciCo, an international social enterprise aiming to make science simple and promote science education. Under his leadership, SciCo has run more than 200 high-impact national and international outreach activities and programs including the “Athens Science Festival, “Mind the Lab”, “Generation Next” and “Celebrity Science” amongst others. Collectively they have reached more than 400.000 people. Moreover, he is the Founder of Theta Communications, a company specializing in corporate innovation.
Theo holds a Ph.D. in Medical Genetics from Kings College London and his Post-Doctoral Research work was in hereditary cancer. He is an Ashoka Fellow and he has received the British Council UK Alumni Social Impact Award (2017), the Newcastle University Alumni Impact Award (2019), and the Ecsite Marianno Gago Award (2019). In 2022 he was selected in the Explorer’s Club “50 people changing the world” list. Theo has traveled to 93 countries, on 6 continents.
Photo credits: Nikos Karanikolas, Panos Kafousias, and Pandora Sifnioti.
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