NEW YORK – Peter Poulos, the interim Executive Director of The Hellenic Initiative (THI), expressed his conviction that the role of the organization remains relevant and pivotal, despite Greece having emerged from the shadow of the economic crisis of previous years.
Additionally, Poulos, who returned to lead The Hellenic Initiative during the search for a permanent Executive Director following Tina Courpas’ resignation, referred to the effort to connect Greeks Abroad of later generations around the world. He also discussed entrepreneur Ted Leonsis, who will be the honoree at the December 2 fundraising gala in New York, for which tickets are sold out.
The National Herald: Mr. Poulos, what are the goals for this year’s annual event in New York?
Peter Poulos: The Hellenic Initiative is a donation-driven organization supporting causes for Greeks and Greece. Our goal for this event was to raise around $2.3 million, and we have already surpassed it, having gathered $2.5 million from the donations received. Our aim is not only to attract Greeks to the event but also philhellenes. You can see from our sponsors that there are companies that are not Greek.
TNH: What were the criteria for choosing Ted Leonsis for this year’s honorary award?
PP: Ted Leonsis embodies all the elements advocated by The Hellenic Initiative: He is philanthropic, interested in his country, and cares about his community. Furthermore, you may have noticed that he isn’t so much in the limelight, nor has he been recognized for his contributions. He is a founding member of The Hellenic Initiative, so we felt it was fitting to honor him for his achievements. Additionally, through his donation, we will organize a summer academy in Athens in July (THI Summer Youth Academy) for underprivileged youth, focusing on sports like basketball, but with a broader purpose of fostering a sense of community among participants.
TNH: What is the goal of The Hellenic Initiative for Greece in the current reformed landscape?
PP: I was once asked, since Greece is no longer the ‘sick man’ of Europe and may be the number one ‘success story’, whether The Hellenic Initiative’s mission is no longer necessary. Well, I will tell you that it is still absolutely necessary. We still have 10% unemployment and a third of the population living below the poverty line. However, we are here for education, connecting with the Diaspora, assisting in business development, and building bridges. Once, our grandparents came to the U.S. seeing it as the land of opportunity. Now Greece might be seen as that for many, and we see many wanting to connect with Greece.
TNH: Is there similar interest from Greeks Abroad to connect with Greece, as in the past?
PP: The Greek-American community has changed significantly in the last 11 years since The Hellenic Initiative was founded. Ten to fifteen years ago, family foundations were few, now, they number in the hundreds. When we run, for instance, an online campaign, we receive support from all over the world. This summer, we campaigned to raise funds for the fires and received donations from 40 different countries. So, in a way, we underestimate the size of the Greek Diaspora and its interest in connecting with Greece. We continue to meet Greeks of third, fourth, or even fifth generations who want to connect and learn about Greece in a meaningful way. It’s not an exaggeration to say that we receive emails every day from such people. Moreover, we all cherish our religion and are connected to the Church. On the other hand, there’s an entire new generation that wants to connect with Greece through different means: culture, philanthropy, volunteering, education. Moreover, there isn’t really a language barrier between Greece and the English-speaking world because everyone in Greece speaks English very well. So, it’s effortless to connect Greeks and the Diaspora. Through this, we seek ways to strengthen this relationship and grow this force to help more people in Greece.
TNH: We’d like to mention The Hellenic Initiative’s New Leaders program.
PP: The New Leaders program is for professionals aged 45 and under. Artemis Kohas, a Greek-American who has returned to Greece and spends a lot of time there, is responsible for the program. We have thousands of ‘new leaders’ worldwide, and the goal is to connect them. All of them, among other things, want to have a relationship with Greece. Needless to say, the quality of people in this program is exceptional.