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A story of digital transformation amidst the Covid-19 pandemic: A café in Greece goes online!

6 April 2020


Covid-19 is upon us. On top of its devastating effects, the virus is challenging all aspects of what we considered “everyday life” up to yesterday. From a simple run to the grocery, to a walk in the park, or even meeting our loved ones over a dinner table. But we still manage, we resist and we even fight back at times.

And this is exactly what a little backstreet café in Athens decided to do. Kimolia Art Café, closed shop due to the quarantine imposed by the Greek government, but two weeks later, they re-opened on April 1st, the online Kimolia Art Café. They just found another way. They transformed. And what was needed, to quote Margaret Mead’s words, was “a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens”, and some Moodle-Eummena “magic” in the process.

To share some “behind-the-scenes” info, we interviewed our very own Nikos Palavitsinis that leads this project together with his brother Alex. A project that allows their family business to give something back to the community.

What was the motivation behind the online Kimolia Art Café?

Rumours were spreading fast and the situation in other countries showed that we would have to close shop sooner or later. And despite the obvious financial impact for us and our employees, we were also thinking that we were being deprived of doing what we love to do. We offer a place for people to create memories in. We welcome people and we interact and empathise with them on a daily basis. We have been doing this, non-stop since 2011. And I was just trying to find ways to keep doing just that.

If I had to describe my state of mind, it would be the reverse stages of dealing with loss. I started with “acceptance” of the fact that we had to close. Then I went quickly through “depression” (not a nice place to lurk around) and started “bargaining” with alternatives. And as I was experiencing the first effects of the quarantine around me, I got “angry” and wanted to do something, anything. Enters “denial”, where I just said that we simply cannot stay closed. Kimolia had to continue operating at some mode, even “survival mode”.


How did Moodle fit in all of this?

In Eummena, day in and day out, my job is to “preach” Moodle. Not as a void and standardised “sales-pitch” but because I truly believe in what it can do for education in general. And in times of crisis, what you do is that you usually revert to what you know very well and what “works”. This was the case with Moodle for me. To begin with, I imagined “courses” as “tables” and I thought of BigBlueButton (BBB) as an alternative to meeting in person.

Then, I tried to enhance the experience through transferring some of the conventions of a real Café into an online platform. I also left a laptop running at the Café, facing a couple of tables. This laptop, logs onto the platform as “The-real-Kimolia” and joins BBB sessions so that people can look at a live feed of the Café. I also included in each “table” a set of playlists curated for us by a good friend, Steve from the UK that visited Kimolia to work.

And how does it work exactly?

Well, we have created 600 accounts which we distribute to people that book our tables online. We have a limit of 15 tables that we open up daily (same amount of tables we have in the actual Café), each table having 5 seats. So in total, 75 people get access daily. When the 24 hours expire, we suspend the accounts and assign new ones for the same tables.

Each table has a BBB room set up, ready for our guests to sit and enjoy their coffee or drink (unfortunately, they have to prepare this at home, no technology to offer this - yet). We also have a discussion forum for them to leave their comments, thoughts or interesting links for the next party that will use the table the next day or for us.

Finally, we also created a course titled “bar” where everyone has access. Our bar also has a small BBB room with a capacity of 20 people. In this way, there’s also a common space for some guests of the online Kimolia Art Café to meet at.

Why not open it up completely?

We wanted to simulate the experience of having a “table” for you and your friends, and the easiest and safest way of doing this, was by giving out ready-made accounts. We only ask for one email to send the accounts to, and we don’t collect any data. No names, nothing.

If we opened it up completely, we would get lost in moderating all of this and it’s also far from the experience you get in a Café. We want people to feel that they came in a safe place, where we take care of the establishment and they are there to have a good time with friends. And if someone feels social, they can reach out to someone at our bar.

How are people responding to this?

The receipt of our online Café is phenomenal so far. After some mentions in articles on news sites in Greece, we are fully booked starting today (5/4) until 9/4 and new reservations are coming in as we speak. We are also invited to speak on a national TV station and a radio station this week, so we expect this to become even bigger. People are coming in, connecting, leaving comments, links and words of encouragement to one another. It is a rewarding experience already. We could only dream that it could work this well.

Are there any other plans for the online Kimolia?

Well, one of my hopes when preparing this, was that people can come forward and use our Moodle for what is was originally designed. We hope that people will come to us and ask to host courses on what they know well, for other people to attend. We hope that groups will come to us and organise discussions to support other people that are staying home and need help coping. We know that students are already connecting doing projects online and writing papers, but we hope for some more informal learning through Kimolia.

Do you have any other comments or thoughts?

No comments but a big “thank you” to Eummena that offered to all of us, a Moodle Installation and a BigBlueButton server to create projects amidst the Covid-19 outbreak, that would help local communities deal with the situation. My take on this was Kimolia and I literally couldn’t have done it without the support. We have a robust Moodle Installation and a strong BigBlueButton server that can take all the rooms we create and through this we have been able to focus on the operational part of this.

This is the story of Kimolia (which in Greek, means “chalk”). A small Art Café in Athens, that proves that if there’s will, there’s a way. They’re re-imagining hospitality, keeping their community together in these times of crisis. In biology terms, evolution means gradual change over time whereas transformation means abrupt change over time. Covid-19 is here and it will undoubtedly evolve, as viruses usually do. Kimolia has shown that humans transform, which is the only way we can “out-evolve” any similar threat.


Online Kimolia Art Café: https://kimolia.eummena.org

Originally posted on Medium by Eummena

A story of digital transformation amidst the Covid-19 pandemic: A café in Greece goes online!

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