The Meraki People – Gareth Presch


World Health Innovation Summit – Supporting the Meraki People

Six days I’ve been in Greece – a lot can happen in six days. For me and the Meraki People it’s been an experience that has changed our lives.

When Christiana Gardikioti invited me to Greece a few weeks ago my wife rightly said who? and why? The questions were merited. I’d only been recently introduced to Christiana through a friend and I had no idea about the blue economy! At the time I guess after I’d clicked the button and booked the flights I had some doubts and even right up to me arriving in Agiannis I was sceptical. Here’s me in the hills of Greece not knowing anyone attending a conference on my own. Yep, I love an adventure….

I land in Kalmata, Greece following a busy day in London meeting potential sponsors for our summit in Cumbria next year. It’s an early flight and I’ve had little or no sleep so I’m feeling tired when I actually arrive into Agianni almost 10 hours later. The road up from Kalamata is windy and difficult to navigate and I keep looking for the beaches we’re so familiar with. The scenery is beautiful and the air is fresh.

I get to Agianni and I’m greeted by Christiana, her smile and energy is infectious and I’m immediately feeling like this is going to be a great trip. I pop into Nicko’s bar and I’m welcomed with a Greek coffee. It’s a small gesture that means a lot – after a long day traveling it’s what I needed.

Day 2 and I get out from the hills and head for Astros. After some early morning emails I head for the coast and meet some new friends – Anna Blume and Claudia Gross. We just hit it off immediately. I feel like we’ve known each other for years. Time passes quickly as we enjoy the stunning views from the restaurant along the beach. This is the Greece we’re used to.

That evening we’ve a session on local produce and it’s an opportunity for us to meet some of the local Meraki people. At first I can see we’re both sussing each other out. They’re saying why is a guy working in health attending a meeting in the hills of Greece! After some racki we soon begin to discuss the opportunities for the village and there are so many. With fresh air in abundance and trails like I’ve never seen before we’re soon discussing mountain biking and walking treks for the region. Soon it’s clear we are building trust and working as a team. Sharing ideas that can benefit the Meraki people.


Day 3 I’ve just had an amazing 10 hour sleep and a fresh locally produced breakfast so I’m feeling great, apparently it’s the mountain air! Dr Gunter Pauli arrives to a packed venue to share with us his blue economy vision. It’s an exciting programme that sets out to use mother nature as it should be used. By wasting nothing and using everything available to stimulate jobs and provide locally produced products. I’ve never met or seen Dr Pauli before and he was a key factor in me deciding to come to Greece. We begin and Dr Pauli starts by immediately engaging with the community in a way that I’ve never seen before. He asked all the attendees in the room to do a short intro before he begins. It’s fantastic as we all get to know each other and realise we have so much diversity in the room, from local Greeks to Polish and even and Irishman! We immediately start working as a team. Once that’s over Dr Pauli begins to let the knowledge flow. He shares with us how he’s changed communities in Spain and Italy. He’s a charismatic man who respects everyone in the audience. His energy flows and fills the room and I see engagement with the community like I’ve never seen before. He always gives the community the opportunity to contribute while challenging us to move forward together. It’s a packed day with an evening programme that sees singing and dancing Greek style that I even find myself immersed in.

Day 4 and the final day of the conference – we covered a lot in day one and it was Anna who asked me at the end of it what does this all mean for me? It was simple really – Dr Pauli had shared with us his stories of success in implementing the blue economy around the world and how his team have helped so many communities turn it all around but the area of health and wellbeing was missed. It was the first question I was going to ask him when the opportunity arose. However, as we began day two it all became clear and Dr Pauli made the connection I was looking for. The link between stimulating a blue economy and the welfare of the health and wellbeing of the community was made along with how the community would encourage education within the next generation. Dr Pauli was just being brilliant. We were on the same page.


As the day progressed we had an exercise given to the group – to tell a children’s story. Dr Pauli tells amazing fables and has a children’s book, and wanted us to tell a story about the village and how it impacted the life of a child. Our group decided to talk about all the great activities a child would get up to during the summer months in the hills of Agianni. Our group speaker was amazing she told of how the child played in the hills and swang from the trees while making bread from the yeast gathered from the rotten fruit in the trees. It was a moving and truly inspiring picture and a story I, and the group, will never forget. As we rounded off the gathering and Dr Pauli summarised the event and the next steps we all new we had come together to work as a community to bring life to the Meraki people.

As the conference ended we dashed from the hills to the coast to take part in a webinar with colleagues around the globe. We had the opportunity to share the weekend with interested parties via the web. Christiana gave an inspiring summary and explained how Dr Pauli had suggested the village move towards producing yeast along with a number of other strands to help grow the local economy and provide much needed jobs in the community.

We wrapped up the webinar and had an evening meal and reflected on the last few days. The smiles and laughter around the room showed how far we had come as a group.

The final day led me to reflect on what had happened along with what needed to happen in the future. We, as a community, had come together and worked in an environment that was built on trust and as a result had galvanised a community. It’s what we witnessed at Dr Hart’s community session in Sheffield the week before. Anna, Christiana and I went for a pizza as the last supper, and each of us knew that we had been part of something very special.

I’ll wrap up with a simple thank you to all the Meraki People and to say that our WHIS team will be supporting you and Dr Pauli’s blue economy through collaboration and knowledge exchange. Let’s just say that we’ll be back sooner than you think!

Gareth Presch

September 2015

*The opinions expressed are the bloggers own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the World Health Innovation Summit.
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