OCC started as a volunteer-led initiative and over the last years has grown into a relatively large organisation, still mainly powered by volunteers and a community-led approach where we not only work for migrant and refugee people, but also closely together.
Open Cultural Center (OCC) was established in 2016 at the height of the refugee crisis in Europe. Refugees and international volunteers at Idomeni refugee camp worked together to give classes and create a safe environment for children and adults, to learn and take part in cultural activities. OCC quickly became an important resource in the camp and organised events such as music and art workshops, open mic nights, performances and more.
Registration as nonprofit
Following the closure of Idomeni, OCC relocated to refugee camps in Cherso and Sounio, bringing experience and resources to continue offering classes, workshops and activities led by refugees themselves. OCC formally registered with the Greek Ministry of Migration and Asylum as a non-governmental organisation in June 2016 and moved to Polykastro, near Nea Kavala refugee camp in Northern Greece, in February 2017. Operations shifted away from reception and emergency support in camps, towards inclusion and integration.
Development of our book
In an effort to raise awareness through youth education, while also gathering funding to grew OCC as an organisation, the book Amigo Mio was developed with stories and drawings from refugee children. The book has been a great success and until today is used in schools to make people at a young age aware of the situation of refugees in Greece and in Europe.
Extension to Catalonia, Spain
As its founders were Catalan, OCC also opened an office in Barcelona. While at the start it was mainly an administrative office, it slowly turned into a cultural center comparable to the work we do in Greece, offering educational and cultural activities to both locals as well as to newcomers.
Start of a tech academy in Barcelona
As part of a European collaboration between various international NGOs, OCC Spain started with a small code course to support refugees and migrants with upskilling and finding a job in the tech sector. This course grew in a full tech academy called MigraCode Barcelona, and today is having regular batches of students, with many jobs found for our graduates.
First corporate funding and development of our CSR programs
Together with the start of our first MigraCode coding course, we started collaborating with companies to fund parts of our work. Through so called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs, we managed to work with great partners from the technology sector such as Lenovo and Adaptive to fund MigraCode courses, and we have been working with them until today to further extend and improve our CSR programmes.
Our response to the global pandemic
As for all organisations worldwide, Covid-19 forced us to change the way we work, especially during local lockdowns in Polykastro and Barcelona. We shifted many activities online, our teams started working remotely most part of the week (and completely during the lockdowns), and we had to teach many of the people we work with to use online tools to be able to continue benefiting from the resources and activities we offer. Until today, we offer many online activities and our team continue to keep working remotely when necessary.
Rebranding and professionalisation
With a brand-new communications team and renewed efforts to further professionalize our organisation, we streamlined our branding to be consistent and more recognizable, while internally using new tools such as Slack, Airtable and Trello to create a larger social impact in the most (cost-)effective way possible.
New international projects
Both in Greece and in Spain, OCC kept working to support migrant and refugee communities through our activities and additional support. Since 2021, we have implemented many new projects at the European level, as well as a new project in the north of Catalonia. In this way, we continue to increase our social impact from the local to the international level.
Further upscaling of OCC
2023 and onwards
After overcoming the global pandemic, OCC is now focused on a new period where our aim is to stabilize and grow our base projects, diversify our funding, and strengthen our communications, monitoring & evaluation, and (corporate) fundraising departments.