SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos. (Photo via snf.org)
ATHENS – Andreas Dracopoulos, Co-President of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, captivates you with the clarity of his thinking and his eloquence. It is rare to impossible to meet an interlocutor of such breadth, of such energy and pragmatic idealism and such a great willingness to support people, education, culture, arts, and science. His determination to act ethically and responsibly has led him to see the present correctly and not through colored glasses of ideologies.
That there are some who disagree is an encouraging sign, because it confirms what he wants to be: a defender of freedom from despotism, a man with a sense of responsibility with respect to humanity and the truth.
By consensus, Andreas Dracopoulos is a model of the kind of man who moves unconventionally within conventional social forms, with rare virtue and ethics, with good will, altruism, and a deep need to not remain silent in the face of lies and hypocrisy.
His life and his work make headlines in newspapers and magazines, and more or less most of you know about them. His contribution to Education is enormous and his efforts to upgrade certain Greek schools in New York include a noble patience with the members of the cliques that run the Community there.
Even after a recent international health initiative fully supported by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation, with a budget exceeding $750 million and the ultimate goal of enhancing the quality of health services for all, Andreas Dracopoulos is still willing to give an opportunity to those who are blocking the development of the Greek-American community. His willingness to give them a chance to reconsider their attitude is described to us “with the flame of his heart that tries to open paths in the chaos and to help the spirit to march” (From Askitiki by Nikos Kazantzakis, p. 81).
The National Herald: Mr. Dracopoulos, you always act on the basis of fundamental principles. Which are the ones you consider most useful and which reflect the purpose you serve at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation?
Andreas DracopouIos: I would say that there should be open access and quality in Health and Education. These are two very basic goods, they are self-evident, I would say, and one should not struggle to gain them. Everyone should have them. I believe in free markets, but on the other hand, all of us should have a social face, that cares about society. As you know, now with the Foundation we have undertaken a big initiative regarding health, which is global but which of course places Greece first. With this in mind, we will strive to provide access to public health for all. Education, an issue of equal importance, is something even more difficult to approach because it is an area where politics, philosophies, and ideologies are involved and in the end one forgets what the point is.
TNH: Let’s come to the Greek-American community. What are your own assessments of the way we should deal with Greek education and schools?
AD: I think it’s an open secret in the Community, what we “couldn’t” do in Agios Dimitrios in Astoria. For me it was a huge disappointment, on so many levels. The way some people addressed this endeavor unfortunately had no connection to what must be done for the progress and education of our children, as a result of which they undermined the only school that had the conditions to highlight what could be done. The group that led Agios Dimitrios, with the exception of the Director, Mr. Koularmanis, did not even understand what an endowment means and why it is needed, in order to lay a solid foundation for the school. We brought to the board people from Columbia, and from NYU, and we proposed a tremendous upgrade, not only financially, but also qualitatively, to spark a new beginning so that the school could be strengthened and not only survive, but help the children, who deserve it, to reach very high. It’s hard to believe, but we’ve been to 136 countries and the most problems we’ve faced came up in the Greek-American community. But life today is hard and moves quickly. When opportunities are presented, some grab them and move forward, others remain mired in the old ways and get left behind.
TNH: Why did they refuse your sponsorship?
AD: We had then proposed to create an independent board at Agios Dimitrios, as defined by law for 501 (c)(3) non-profit organizations. The respective Head Priest and Mr. Andriotis would be members of the board. Katherine Fleming, who was then provost at NYU, had already accepted, Professor Mark Mazower from Columbia, the great philhellene, had also accepted. The idea was to make a proper contract with an appropriate strategy for the future, with an endowment of $25 million, and to lay new foundations, to move Education forward. This was destroyed from ‘within’, by those who at that time were in the leadership of the school. What we did was not only to offer financial aid, but the right facilities, to open and connect the school with a superior educational environment, but they ‘devoured’ the plan from within. This is the only truth. Under such conditions, even if someone is found tomorrow to give $100 million, it would not go anywhere without the right people, the right philosophy, the strategy and the long-term vision, not only to build the right facilities, but to create children in them with a Greek soul. If this not done, our language will be lost and this will be the end of Greek education in New York, as we knew it.
TNH: In order to improve the situation in our schools, is it necessary to change attitudes and leaders?
AD: Of course. I would start with the right leadership, the right strategy, cooperation between the schools, which do not exist. We have many schools, which have been planted and are growing, but the individual schools are not willing collaborate with other schools. Some years ago we had invited them all and proposed that they agree to accept donation from us as a foundation, to establish a umbrella organization for all the schools, to provide books, technology, teachers – and in the end no one showed interest, because they seem not to understand that without the Greek language, there is no Greek education. I believe this absolutely! When there is no Greek language, the Greek soul is lost. If our language is lost, we will be ‘devoured’. It is ironic to see other countries trying to imitate Greek education and we who have it being indifferent, living for today and serving local interests, with complete ignorance of what our culture means.
TNH: Your description of your experiences reveal bitterness, and your hopes reflect a sad landscape for the future of Hellenism.
AD: But all my experience are not the same. At the Cathedral, we initially helped with a very respectable amount for an endowment, because if you don’t have something to support you in difficult circumstances, you can’t continue, or make plans for the future.
So this donation was used to pay staff overtime. I also had my children in the afternoon school at the time and there were many people who tried, and still try, to do something good, but they were ‘eaten by the system.
My testimony here, as a ‘citizen’ and not as a foundation official, is indeed sad and disappointing. Those people are not interested in Education… and this is a much more serious problem than the lack of financial resources. Giving $25 million to a school and some not knowing what an endowment means, and others telling us “since I won’t get it in my pocket now, why should I accept it?” (we have heard these words too), this means that there is a lack of professional conscience, not to mention a lack of ethics. These are my thoughts that I have both as a citizen, but also as the president of a foundation, which tries to offer the best to the Homeland and the Community.
TNH: Why do you love Greece so much?
AD: I consider myself and all Greeks very lucky, that we were born within the Greek soul. I fight for what I lived in Greece, the way I grew up, how I became a man. I want our children to have exactly the same experience. I don’t want our language to be lost. It is an integral part of this whole experience. The Greek soul is unique and we must awaken it from its slumber, shake it up, not let it simply exist, like a shrine or images in the picture frames of our heroic ancestors.
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