The Hellenic Initiative 6th Annual Gala Raises over $2.1 Million (Video)

The Hellenic Initiative's 6th Annual Gala at the New York Hilton was sold out. (Photo by TNH/Costas Bej)

NEW YORK – The Hellenic Initiative (THI), which leads the Greek diaspora community internationally in raising awareness and capital for Greece, hosted its 6th Annual Gala on September 21 at the New York Hilton in Midtown Manhattan, to raise funds that will be invested in entrepreneurial programs in Greece. The black tie gala also raised funds for Greek NGOs that foster economic development opportunities and provide crisis relief for underserved communities in Greece, particularly children. This year’s gala raised more than $2.1 million and and more than 750 guests attended. 

The honorees were Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever and THI’s Regeneration program partner, and Corinne Mentzelopoulos, philanthropist, owner, and CEO of Château Margaux. THI’s ReGeneration program was launched in 2014 to train, mentor, and place highly qualified millennials in internships at top Greek and multinational companies. More than 320 internships have been created at more than 100 companies. Recognized as the top internship program in Greece, more than 80 percent of participants secure a contract extension or hire. 

Among those present were Greek-American and Greek economy and investment experts and entrepreneurs: John Koudounis, CEO, Calamos Investments; THI Chairman Andrew N. Liveris, former chairman and CEO of The Dow Chemical Company; and Hellenic Entrepreneurship Award winner Evangelos Pappas, Founder/Inventor, RT Safe medical technology company. 

Greek-Canadian actor Chris Diamantopoulos of HBO’s Silicon Valley, Amazon’s The Dangerous Book for Boys, and Disney’s voice of Mickey Mouse, served as emcee for the event. 

“It is important not only to feed the poor but also to create the conditions to boost entrepreneurship,” THI Chairman Andrew N. Liveris told The National Herald.

He said of the honorees, “Paul Polman is one of the best CEO’s in the world of one of the greatest companies in the world… a humanitarian, a leader, he takes stands for things that matter in the world, like the environment and climate change, and Corinne [Mentzelopoulos] her love of Greece and her passion producing products we all love but what she stands for is amazing. She’s a successful businesswoman, her father created what she is now managing, and I am so proud that she’s accepting out honor tonight.” 

THI Executive Committee Chairman George P. Stamas gave the welcoming remarks, noting the fact that he must say “New York Gala” since THI galas are “now held all over the world,” including Sydney, Montreal, Toronto, London, and Athens. 

From THI’s start in New York 6 years ago, he said, “we are power-walking in pursuit of our goal to improve the welfare of the Greek people. How do we do it? Through crisis relief, and don’t kid yourself, the crisis is not over, look at the fires in Athens, the unemployment rate among youth, we have just begun to tackle this problem, and we do it through job creation and economic development, we have helped many, many people, because of you, the diaspora, which has answered the call.” 

“We have a common sense of purpose, a common sense of our heritage, it’s our DNA whether you’re Greek or a philhellene, because as the great British poet Shelley said ‘we are all Greeks’ at least tonight,” Stamas said.

Also present, Fr. Alexander Karloutsos, who gave the opening prayer along with His Eminence Metropolitan Nathanael of Chicago, said, “The Hellenic Initiative is one of the great organizations in the Greek world because it brings in the eagles, the outstanding Greeks wherever they are, Australia, England, France, Germany, Canada, the United States, South America, this reflects the best of our heritage, and you’re looking at the most talented, wonderful people gathered together to celebrate excellence.”

Honoree Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever and THI’s Regeneration program partner, and THI Chairman Andrew N. Liveris. Photo by TNH/Costas Bej

The Hellenic Leadership Awards were presented by Mr. Liveris to Mr. Polman and by Mr. Stamas to Ms. Mentzelopoulos. Liveris noted Polman’s dedication to “values-based business” and that “you can do well by doing good and you can do good by doing well… He is a true humanitarian and a true philhellene.”

George Stamos and honoree Corinne Mentzelopoulos, philanthropist, owner, and CEO of Château Margaux. Photo by TNH/Costas Bej

Stamas pointed out that the event was planned earlier this year so Mentzelopoulos, a THI founding board member, could attend before the grape harvest. He said, “This fusion between the best of Greece and the best of France, is not just represented by the wines of this fabled estate [Chateau Margaux], Corinne you are the true column of integrity, you’re a pillar of excellence, you’re the best of France and the best of Greece.”

Following the acceptance speeches, Peter Poulos was announced as THI’s new Executive Director. Outgoing Executive Director Mark Arey spoke about his time at the organization, noting that although he is not Greek, he is a great philhellene which he said in Greek.

Liveris gave the closing remarks, pointing out the long history of Greece through the millennia, highlighting the enduring nature of Hellenism worldwide and the theme of the event, Oloi Mazi, (All Together).

The event began with cocktails and a silent auction followed by dinner and the awards presentation. The Jimmy Vali Band performed and the evening continued with dancing well into the night.

Among those present, Consul of Greece in New York Spyridoula-Ioanna Zochiou, Georgios Michailidis- Head of Economic & Commercial Affairs at the Consulate, Nikolaos Koumettis- Coca Cola Hellas President of the Central and Eastern Europe business unit, Michael Psaros- Co-Founder and Managing Partner of KPS Capital Partners, LP, and his wife, Robin, Nancy Papaioannou- Atlantic Bank President, Olga Bornozi- Capital Link Managing Director, and Chairman and CEO of the Gristedes Foods food chain and Red Apple Group John Catsimatidis, his wife, Margo, and son, John, Jr.

Eleni Kounalakis, former U.S. Ambassador to Hungary, and Democratic candidate for Lt. Governor of California, spoke to the media at the event, noting that she and her husband Marcos Kounalakis- journalist, author and scholar, have been involved with THI since it was founded. She told TNH that her husband was present at the meeting in Greece with “President Bill Clinton [THI Executive Committee Honorary Chairman] who spoke about the important role of Greece in international relations and the relationship between the U.S. and Greece which is founded on shared values and also shared history. It’s very important to remember that the United States and Greece in all the great conflicts of the 20th century were on the same side. When Greece went into this deep and broad financial crisis, it made so much sense for Greeks around the world and especially in the United States to step forward and organize to help the country, our patrida.”

Marcos Kounalakis also pointed out the shared values of Greece and the United States, highlighting the ancient ideas of democracy that inspired the founding of the U.S. 

The event began with cocktails and a silent auction followed by dinner and the awards presentation. The Jimmy Vali Band performed and the evening continued with dancing well into the night.

The silent and live auction featured donations of wines and gourmet food from award-winning companies such as Boutari Wines, Navarino Icons, Hellenic Farms, and many restaurants and luxury destinations. Greek artists from around the world including Aristides Logothetis, George Taxidis, George Stephen Antonakas, Aristodimos Kaldis, George Negroponte, Cris Gianakos, Lilia Ziamou, Zoe Keramea, Pavlos Samios, and Peter D. Gerakaris donated artwork and Greek jewelry and fashion designers, including Lalaounis, Nikos Koulis, Alexandra Koumba, Diane Kordas, Minas, Vanessa Geroulanos, Danelian, Ancient Greek Sandals, Zeus + Dione, GK Furs, Callista Crafts, and Patricia Field, also donated items for the auction.