NEW YORK – Andreas Dracopoulos, Co-President of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) was celebrated as the Person of the Year of the of the Hellenic American Chamber of Commerce (HACC) at its 67th annual dinner dance that was held at Manhattan’s Pierre Hotel on October 16.
The friends of the honoree helped make the event the venerable organization’s most successful to date according to its Chairman, Clay Maitland, who served as the event’s Emcee, but the large turnout also reflected the Greek-American Community’s appreciation for SNF’s massive donations in support of the people of Greece during the economic crisis and their admiration for Dracopoulos’s philanthropic leadership.
Nancy Papaioannou, president of HACC and of Atlantic Bank, also welcomed the guests and congratulated Dracopoulos and SNF. She noted that the night before the event in the ballroom of the Pierre HACC hosted a screening of the documentary “OUT HERE (Edo Exo)” depicting the Foundation’s contributions to the cause of Greek recovery on multiple levels.
The text of Dracopoulos’ speech appears below.
HACC’s Young Professionals Annual Gala that was held in the nearby Pierre Rotunda also broke records. Co-Director George Zapantis told TNH it’s sold out event drew more than 250 to a buffet party and entertainment by the Magges band.
The guests in the ballroom danced to the music of Grigoris Maninakis and an expanded Mikrokosmos Ensemble.
Address of Andreas Dracopoulos, SNF Co-President:
Distinguished guests, It is with great honor and appreciation that I am here this evening, accepting the Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce’s Man of the Year award. I do so on behalf of my great-uncle, the late Stavros Niarchos, whose business successes throughout his life made it possible for us to do what we have been doing for the last 20 years, contributing towards building a better society, hopefully, for all of us. I do so, also, on behalf of all of my colleagues at our Foundation whose hard work and passion has enabled us to try and fulfill our mission since our inception back in 1996.
Just a few words about who we are. We are lucky. Lucky because our founder, Stavros Niarchos, upon his passing away, endowed our Foundation with a significant endowment, giving us the opportunity and the financial means to try to do good things around the world. But, with this good luck comes responsibility, of course, for all of us to do the best we can to actually do good!
We have been engaged in global grant-making activities for close to 20 years now. We are coming of age, but we are still young and kind of restless! We have provided grants to over 3,000 organizations in 111 countries, 1.8 billion USD in total. We have been active in the areas of education, arts and culture, health and sports, and social welfare. For obvious reasons, and also due to the current on-going multi-year serious socioeconomic crisis in Greece, we do focus a lot on Greece, but at the same time we remain truly global in our day to day grant-making efforts.
We try to keep our ‘in-house’ guidelines simple. Our mission is to help, and in order to do so to the best of our abilities, we assess whether a grant proposal, any incoming proposal, adds value to society at large, and whether the persons involved in implementing it are decent, professional, ethical, capable, and efficient. If the answer to these two basic questions is ‘yes’ then our job is to challenge ourselves to ‘prove’ why we would ever decline such a proposal. This may sound a bit strange, at first, but I do believe that it keeps us committed to our mission, which is purely philanthropic.
This philosophy, at the same time, should hopefully help us avoid becoming arrogant or patronizing in any way. We do not get involved in policy making, we do not try to ‘replace’ anyone or anything, we just try to complement private and public efforts and to strengthen projects that can help our fellow human beings and improve society at large. We try to remain flexible and adjust as times and needs arounds us evolve.
Unfortunately, we cannot say ‘yes’ to all the proposals we receive, but I can tell you, that within our means we do try our best. In the last decade, it has been made clear in many places around the world that the social welfare state is facing existential challenges. Help could be found within the notion of a social welfare society where all healthy forces join together; that should become our goal. Furthermore, I would argue that it is not a matter of choice but rather a matter of necessity, necessity for a more just and efficient society, if not for survival itself.
Free markets, capitalism itself, I do believe work fine but they have to adjust to take into account the social well-being of people at large. The issues and challenges we are all facing are simply too many, too complicated, too big for any state to solve on its own, or certainly for the private sector to do so on its own, and obviously too big for philanthropy to deal with them on its own as well. All members from all sectors, including public, private, not-for-profits, supranational organizations and humanitarian institutions, have to contribute towards creating a healthy society, which is able to provide for its citizens the basic needs of life, to allow for decency, dignity, and civility, to provide an opportunity to dream, to help make dreams become reality, to hope for a better tomorrow, and to contribute in helping towards creating a fairer and healthier society, strong enough to defend itself against extremes of all kinds.
All positive forces have to collaborate towards this end. And this takes me to Greece. At the front lines of dealing with a severe socioeconomic crisis, a crisis which is now in real danger of becoming the ‘norm’, destroying dreams and real livelihoods, not only for one, but for many generations to come. The issues that Greece is dealing with are well known to all of us, given the wide media coverage in the last few years, and especially during this latest rather surreal chapter that took place in the summer, when it all came very close for Greece to exit the Euro, Europe, etc.
Apparently this was the dream and mission of some, hopefully and apparently a small minority. At the same time, apparently it came too close to becoming a reality, a reality which in my mind would take Greece to a nightmarish scenario. Hopefully this has been averted, at least for the time being, but a lot of damage has been done already. There is a Japanese proverb that says that vision with no action is day-dreaming, whereas action with no vision is a nightmare. In the case of Greece, it seems that we are in a no vision, no action state of paralysis; in an on-going nightmarish abyss.
I do hope, and actually I want to believe that there is indeed hope. But in order for Greece to come out of this extreme crisis, its governments, together with its people must realize that the every-day mentality has to change and start rebuilding the basis for efficient collaborations across the board. Greece has to show the world that as it did in the past, the country can once again lead by example.
Greece should aim for creating a true social welfare society where all the healthy forces from all sectors of the country will be allowed to take the lead to ‘clean up’ and fix a country where the majority of its proud people are suffocating, paying the price for Greece’s exploitation by some minority groups, an exploitation that has been going on for most of the country’s modern history. There is no time for day-dreaming, certainly no time for on-going nightmares. The mission is tough, but in order to avoid the abyss all healthy forces have to stand up and demand the cleaning up of the country. In the area of Philanthropy, all I would like to say is that there is no “crowding out” effect in any way. The more the merrier!
We at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation have tried to contribute as much as we can in Greece, and we continue to do so. For the last 20 years we have been actively engaging in grant making activities that hopefully have contributed to socioeconomic improvements across the board. Our three additional initiatives, in the last 3 years, of about 370m to help alleviate the effects of the crisis, together with the imminent completion of our 815m Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, are major pieces of this effort.
The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, a unique public-private partnership endeavor, will be delivered and fully donated to the Greek people in 2016 and it includes the new homes for the National Library and the National Opera House of Greece, surrounded by a 40+acre green park. We are very proud of the end result but equally proud of the process of building this project over the last few years, a process that provided work to almost 13,000 workers, a project that is expected, according to an earlier study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which is available online at our website, to help contribute significant job opportunities and have an overall positive economic effect. Among its various conclusions the BCG study focuses on, and I quote, “The construction and operation of the SNFCC is expected to have positive impacts in the form of increased capital investments, consumption spending, job creation, attraction of complementary businesses and other enrichments to the economic, environmental and social fabric of the local communities, Athens and Greece.” End of quote; and a couple of other conclusions,
Quote “Approximately €1 billion of total economic stimulus will be derived from the upfront donation for the construction of SNFCC, with effects observed in the short- to mid-term horizon.” End of quote, and, Quote “(the) SNFCC will serve as a beacon of environmental sustainability in Greece and be the standard against which all other major infrastructure projects are measured.” End of quote. We want to believe that there are others, the known others with a lot of means, who can also step in and help, especially during this on-going severe socioeconomic crisis which is disintegrating the social fabric of the Greek society in so many ways. If not now when?
The German poet and philosopher Schiller once said: “Damned Greek, you found everything; philosophy, geometry, physics, astronomy… you left nothing for us.” The American poet and journalist William Cullen Bryant said: “We are the pupils of Greece’s great men, in all the principles of science, morals and of government.” Victor Hugo said: “it is great to descend from Greece, the land that gave the light to the world.” Voltaire, “Defend Greece because to them we owe our lights, our sciences, and all of our virtues.” For Greece and its people to be going through this now? For people around the world to feel contempt and anger towards us and at best to pity us now? We deserve better, we know better, and it all starts from our own backyard! How is it possible not to be proud carrying this heritage?
And yet it seems that we have not realized still that together with the pride that we rightly carry with us, we must also understand that we carry a huge responsibility to our ancestors, our children and to a large extent, to the whole world. The responsibility not to rest on the laurels of our ancestors, and the responsibility to work hard and in a moral way, in order to help provide our children with a better tomorrow. On this, let us not forget that the Diaspora is an extension of the motherland. In these difficult times, the burden of responsibility for Hellenism everywhere is even heavier, and I am sure that all of us are fully aware of our obligations. There is no room left for more day-dreaming, but just for quick and efficient action.
In this spirit, I would like to congratulate the Hellenic-American Chamber of Commerce for announcing that the proceeds of tonight’s event will be donated to assist the people of Greece. Thank you! In closing, a modern Greek philosopher, Emmanouil Kriaras, who passed away recently at the young age of 107, once said that true love can only be achieved by being able to constantly seek your ideals. I urge all of you to do seek your ideals, to do your best to help the ones who need you, and in doing so, to stay in love. Thank you!