NEW YORK – For nine months, Diana Doukas has been one of President Barack Obama’s principal bridges between the White House and the private sector.
“The White House Business Council (WHBC) serves as the key convening mechanism for the Obama Administration’s engagement with top business leaders, entrepreneurs and innovators, small business owners, and private-sector subject matter experts,” according to Doukas’ official White House biography.
She has also served as the White House Liaison at the U.S. Small Business Administration. Before joining the administration, Diana was Director of Development for Business Forward.
During a conversation with The National Herald, Doukas shined a spotlight on the economic progress of the past seven years.
She pointed out that “we were losing thousands and thousands of jobs a day when he took office and now we’re gaining jobs at a record rate, so we are incredibly proud of the work the president has done from day one,” she said.
Doukas is pleased to be able to share the story of the president’s private sector initiatives. She marvels at the Greek-American achievement, noting “Greeks in general are entrepreneurial in spirit.”
In terms of working with the greater private sector, Doukas and her colleagues have found it to be an incredible experience. She is thrilled be able “to have an effect and make impactful change, whether it’s workforce development issues, international trade policy, criminal justice reform, climate change, or bringing about an American resurgence in the manufacturing sector.
“There are incredible partnerships where we have been able to work with the private sector and my role here is to help facilitate that with the amazing colleagues I have here to better effect change with the resources in both the Federal Government and the private sector.”
The private sector writ large has been a priority of the Obama administration, she said, but so is “focusing on small businesses. The President has cut taxes 18 times, and we have focused heavily on making sure we are listening to the private sector in a very constructive way.”
She said “the creation of the WHBC and our office of Private Sector Engagement… does exactly that, and it is an illustration and demonstration of the commitment this president has to making sure that we are working with the private sector.”
Doukas noted that while there will not be agreement on everything – “no one agrees on every issue” she noted, “but creating a true partnership between the private sector and the government is something that our office works very hard to promote and make sure we are getting that message out.”
Obama often meets with small business owners, Doukas said, “to support and promote a particular initiative and that we drive home the need to support that economic backbone of America.”
She said that “Often the President will put himself out there, day after day, making sure he is delivering that message. There are some that would potentially say otherwise, but that’s part of a healthy public debate…and it’s our job to continue that dialogue and to make sure that every day the American people know that the president is working for them.”
Information about the initiatives and how to contact the administration can be found on the pages of the Office of Public Engagement at whitehouse.gov.
“I have also been incredibly lucky to work on the president’s trade agenda,” Doukas said of her White House experience.
“I started my time here working on trade promotion authority and as we move to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which we hope to get through Congress, that will be a main focus for me and the administration.”
She is also working on climate change and workforce development issues, making sure women have equal and full access to the job market.
PRIVATE SERVES PUBLIC
Greek-Americans have achieved the American dream both due to their entrepreneurial spirit – which can be broadly defined as the ability to see and make the most of one’s opportunities – and the commitment of the immigrant generation to education.
Doukas’ parents, Peter and Lynn (nee Bourney) Doukas, are in fact educators. “My father is a college professor and my mother is a sixth grade English teacher, and so we were in the public service mainframe.”
Both her grandfathers came from Greece when they were 13 and 14. One, Timothy Doukas came from Laconia and ended up becoming an engineer. The name was shortened from Dukakis, but to her knowledge she is not related to Governor Michael Dukakis.
“My pappou, George Bourney” originally Bournias, from Karystos, “had arrived and had planned to live with an uncle while he pursued an education. However, when my pappou arrived, his uncle strongly pressured him to work and delay school. My pappou, having his mindset on his education, left the safe haven of family, was befriended by someone in the Greek community, and worked in a floral shop as his school-schedule allowed, while he was attending school during the day,” Doukas told TNH.
Bourney put himself through law school, but his law practice “also embodied the public service and human decency ethos that Greeks have,” said Doukas.
He often took on clients who could not afford to pay him his regular he in cash. “They would often pay in chickens – once even a dilapidated sailboat – anything to thank him for his services,” she said, adding, “Coming from a family with kind of ethos and philotimo is exactly what was instilled in me and moved me to go into public service.”
Doukas’ pride in her Greek heritage also prompts her to give back.
“We were fortunate to have the Vice President address a meeting with Greek-Americans back in August to talk about the financial crisis sand what the relationship between the U.S. and Greece means to us. We want to make sure we are keeping the community up to date on the resources that we have available, and what the community can tells us with their ears on the ground is incredibly important so we can help get it right.”
Doukas helped coordinate the meeting and expects that the administration will continue to build upon its relationship with the Greek-American community.
“This administration is incredibly dedicated to the friendship and partnership with Greece and has shown support for the Greek-American community, and the community has shown its support for the administration,” she said.