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A lesson of democracy from Lesvos, Greece: The Social Cooperative Enterprise Modousa

A short story about how to build sustainable and socially responsible social enterprises through democratic cooperation, social capital activation and respect for the land.
Tekst w polskiej wersji językowej już wkrótce, w nowym numerze SOC!


Lesvos (also found as “Lesbos”) is one of 165 inhabited Greek islands and the third largest island of the country, located in the northeast of the Aegean Sea, off the coast of Turkey. This is the homeland of the ancient poet Sappho and many other famous poets and musicians, such as Terpander, Arion and Alcaeos. This is the birthplace of Theophrastos (father of botany), where his teacher Aristotle settled and where he created the systematics of flora and fauna that underpins modern biological sciences. The island is after all the homeland of the Nobel Prize winner in literature (1979) Odysseas Elytis. The rest cultural assets of Lesvos include tangible ones such as archaeological sites, medieval castles, picturesque villages, towers and neoclassical style ‘archontika”, Byzantine Monasteries with folklore museums and libraries, local artisans, rural (terraces, footpaths, stone farmhouses, bridges, etc) and industrial architecture (tanneries, soap factories, olive-oil presses, etc), but also intangible ones such as myths and legends (Orpheus tomb, king Makares, “Orietta di Lesbo” inspired the opera of Verdi, etc), agro-tourism festivals and celebrations, environmental educational activities and so on.

Lesvos is full of natural treasures; more than 200 bird species, 550 species of bees, 45 different species of dragonflies, 100 species of orchids, wide variety of wildflowers, mushrooms, aromatic and medical herbs, ancient quarres-mines, caves and karstic structures,  waterfalls, thermal springs, etc, and the 1/3 of all Aegean wetlands. It is an UNESCO Global Geopark, an international destination of birdwatchers and wildlife tourists, and in general ecotourists and geotourists.

Lesvos has a good cooperative tradition. There are many Agrotouristic Women Cooperatives operating on the island, along with other types of cooperatives. But, most of all, Lesvos is the world famous home of two emblematic products: ouzo and olive oil. Of course, the island is primarily the home of olive trees.



The multiform terrain, the geological background, the tectonic character of the island, the variety of biotopes, the rich and distinct natural environment with many species of flora and fauna and the continuous human impact on the environment since prehistoric times shape a rich variety of landscapes, as a result of the particular physical and human geography of the island.

Olive groves constitute the most characteristic Lesvos ecosystem and basic element of the local landscape. Due to their terrain and geographical location, olive oil landscape of Lesvos are treated with an above average (for olive trees) dose of sun and sea climate. Lesvos is covered with plants consisting of a mixture of olives  “kolovi” which is characteristic on Lesvos Island. The combination of features donated by nature and shaped by agriculture makes this product significant in terms of productivity, quality, nutrition and cosmetic value.

[photo, description: Olive trees from Lesbos.]

Social capital


Lesvos has a rich agricultural tradition. It can be properly said that it is mostly made of products of the land. Rural families share their knowledge about the tradition and culture of olive tree cultivation that passes from one generation to another. Among the hosts there are also "farmers of choice" (hobby farmers) who decided to settle on the island and begin to cultivate the land. The difficult economic situation of Greece and the fragile island economy of Lesvos which is inlfuenced negativelly by the world market pressures point at the need for olive oil producers to cooperate in order to survive. This means that the century old and environmentally-friendly methods and special techniques and practices, as parts of collective heritage, culture and identity, could be transfered to modernity and become products and services. So, a social enteprise was born and the name of this enterprise is the symbol of this attitude; the name is “Modousa”. Modousa means an abundantly productive olive tree that bears many ‘modia’ (plural) and ‘modi’ is a former measure of the weight of olives.

On the island, not far from the cooperative, there is The Museum of Industrial Olive-Oil Production of Lesvos. The museum is characterized by full respect for tradition and olive culture, but it also illustrates the transformation of production methods and generally the changes in ways of thinking about olive oil.

[photo, description: The Museum of Industrial Olive-Oil Production of Lesvos,]

There is one person employed in the enterprise under employment contract who works in the greengrocery store of local and cooperative products. The production processing and the bottling/packaging/trading of Modousa oil is carried out by volunteer-members. Ultimately, it is planned to increase employment, including, among others, the transfer of unpaid work for the common good of the cooperative to regular paid work.

The olive oil factory with its laboratory is modernly equipped. Parallel to the production activity, laboratory tests are carried out to certify the extraordinary properties of the Lesvos oil. The new self-financed bottling plant is already authorized and is about to be certified to ISO and HACCP.

Social business

The Social Cooperative Enterprise "Modousa" formally exists since 2014. A year earlier, an informal initiative group was established - a fellowship of farmers who decided that together they could create a local product that would restore recognition to olive agriculture - at present, most of the oil produced in Lesbos is exported (e.g. in Italy) in bulk form (resulting in the loss of its social, cultural and economic value). The idea of creating a local brand was also associated with health and culture, promoting a diet based on organic products (Medditeranean Diet, included in the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO). Modousa was also established to be an active animator of social life and increase the chances of creating new job opportunities on Lesvos.


The cooperative's activities are guided by the following objectives characteristic for the cooperative movement:

  • sustainable management of 'common goods',
  • promoting solidarity and social cooperation,
  • job creation,
  • community-led local development,
  • economic recovery of the island of Lesbos.


Modousa currently has 77 members who jointly and democratically manage the local landscape resources and decide on co-operatives’ development. The enterprise attempts to promote and advance olive oil as a socio-cultural product and to link it with other products and services of the olive grove, to promote and advance the olive grove as an ecosystem and as a landscape and the culture of the ‘commons’, as basic characteristics of the multidimensional value of place.

[photo, description: Modouza Cooperatives against the background of the oil production, packaging and storage process.]


Business model

"Modousa" combines the old and new model of social entrepreneurship. On the one hand, it is a producers cooperative because it brings together locally-based farmers. They give some of their crops to cooperative purposes considering the postponed profit. On the other hand, it is a social enterprise - a social cooperative, which aims at social revitalization through the creation of new jobs, but also the the promotion of social cohesion and sense of community/place through the island's olive traditions transferred to the present day.

Cooperation potential

The Social Cooperative Enterprise "Modousa" is open to cooperation in foreign markets related to gastronomy. One of the company's business ambitions is to establish cooperation within cooperative supply chains. The cooperative's flagship product is olive oil. Specifically, the main products of the cooperative enterprise are virgin, extra virgin and organic olive oil, organic table olives and olive paste, mainly of the ‘kolovi’ local variety, as well as some synergy fig products (dried figs and walnuts and fig must pudding). They are all available by mail order and in the shop operating at the enterprise.

[store photo, description: Interior of the store and offered products, Epar.Od. Therma Kolpou Geras-Plomariou, Pappados 811 06, Lesbos, Grecja]

Films depicting the "life" of Modousa:



Evangelos Pavlis - Human Geographer, Post-Doctoral Researcher, cooperative and Modousa’s manager,

Anna Waligóra – sociologist and economist, social entrepreneurship researcher who had the opportunity to look at democracy at Modousa's,


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