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SNF Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos on the Duty to Give Back

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Stavros Niarchos Foundation Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos. (Photo by Eurokinissi/ Stelios Misinas)

ATHENS – “Those who have more should do more,” said Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) Co-President Andreas Dracopoulos who spoke with the Greek newspaper Kathimerini on June 28 about the future of Greece, the lessons that the world community can learn from the COVID-19 crisis and the notion of philanthropy at large.

Regarding COVID-19, Dracopoulos noted that the pandemic "bared all the weaknesses of the system, all the inequalities and above all, which I believe will stay with us, is the fact that the feeling of trust has been lost. Towards everyone and everything… It is also an opportunity to comply as a society. To rebuild institutions, not to allow polarization to breed, which of course existed before, but has now become a cancer. In a little while we will be able to discuss only with those who agree with us.”

“Our country is a paradise, but if we do not pay attention to it ourselves then we cannot judge those on the outside. I believe that there has been a great improvement, there are many who, either by name or anonymously, help, I would just expect those who have, as a group of people, collectively, to help much more,” said Dracopoulos regarding philanthropy.

Concerning the youth in Greece, Dracopoulos said, "Life has become difficult, very fast, very insecure. But I believe in young people and I always believe and say that they need to become more involved in the public sphere. First of all because it is their life and their future and secondly because we also need young people to come in and help, especially in a more global context where everything is changing. When we were growing up, we used to say that every generation is 10-15 years old, now every generation is 3-4 years old. Because everything changes very quickly both in the present and in the future. So what I'm going to tell them is, 'You were unlucky, keep working, give it your all, get more involved with the public sphere and we are together in this.’”

Dracopoulos said that "in general the coronavirus was an awakening, that we really need to comply as a society and rebuild a way of life. I am very afraid that this too will be quickly forgotten. As was the case with the attack on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.”

He adds, however, that in his circle in New York, where he passed the coronavirus pandemic, the Greek brand has changed on account of how Greece dealt with the virus. However, he warns that a continuous effort is needed because "what we have achieved could be lost very quickly if something bad happens, e.g. on one of the islands in the summer.”

Asked why his uncle Stavros Niarchos chose him and not another family member or one of his business executives, Dracopoulos replied that “I worked for my uncle, and we had been together for many years, we had a common perception, there was also hard work.”

When asked what part of the Foundation's funds are spent on Greece, Dracopoulos states that there is an accurate estimate. “The truth is that my uncle, who was born and raised in Greece and all of us have always said that at least half of the money in the long run should end up in Greece. Due to the Cultural Center which was and is the largest donation to date, we are talking about much more than 50%. As we do now with the COVID relief fund, we have gone to 124 countries but Greece was, is and remains the main target of donations of the Foundation for many reasons. And we continue.”

Asked if over time the way the Foundation treats the political world has changed, as was initially the case with left-wing reactions, Dracopoulos emphasized that "we have really experienced it, but we have decided not to affect these pursuits. We are not involved in politics, we are not involved in policy, on the other hand we have a vision, which I never want to see as arrogance but it is a reality. I was saying this during the construction of the Cultural Center, from the time we signed the first memorandum from the time of Kostas Karamanlis to the time we handed it over to Alexis Tsipras, I think seven governments passed. And what I was saying, not arrogantly, but practically, is that governments come and go. The works remain. And especially when the projects are for the world and society. This is our strength, that we have no business interests, nor are we looking to get anything in return, we are just giving. But of course when we give, we want to do it as best we can.”

Dracopoulos points out that bureaucracy is the biggest problem and gives the example that in the summer of 2018 they had announced 25 million euro for the Fire Department. “It simply came to our notice then. Of course, the Fire Department and the people have made a great effort, but there are still bureaucratic problems.”

He also notes that the Foundation is not an ATM. “We have specific possibilities, look,” he told Kathimerini, “we created the Cultural Center, which I think was a major project and that in itself became a new home for the National Library and the National Opera, which upgraded, I estimate, the entire Cultural Area in Athens and Greece, if not the entire world. Now we are in the middle of the Health Initiative, in addition to the initiative for COVID-19 that we have undertaken within the Health Initiative, and includes many programs, educational ones among them. It includes all three new hospitals in Komotini, the Pediatric Hospital in Thessaloniki and in Sparta, so I think it is a great help in the field of health nationwide.”

Asked if today's elite are contributing enough, Dracopoulos responded, “In 2015, I gave an interview to Time magazine and some people were upset and angry that I had said then that those who have can and should do a lot more. Because they did not pay taxes and did not do projects, and did not make philanthropic contributions. There has been a lot of improvement since then, but there are still people who can make a difference. The lines are thin, I think those who have can contribute a lot more. And not only can they, but they need to do more. The country is a paradise, but if we don't pay attention to it ourselves, then we cannot judge those on the outside.”

He went on to say, "Let's not be fooled, the private sector would have collapsed if it weren't for the public sector, if the Central Bank didn't exist. Everyone needs help, everyone has a role to play. I believe in what they call ‘flexibility within a structure.’”