NEW YORK – The Hellenic Initiative’s (THI) Executive Director Tina Courpas spoke with The National Herald ahead of THI’s 10th Anniversary Gala in New York on Saturday, December 3. She shared the rewarding and challenging aspects of her position as well as her vision for THI’s next 10 years investing in the future of Greece through direct philanthropy and economic revitalization and empowering people to provide crisis relief, encourage entrepreneurs, and create jobs.
TNH: What is the most rewarding aspect of your new position at THI?
Tina Courpas: The people. The talent and enthusiasm of our people and the opportunity to work with this community are rewarding on a daily basis. It starts with THI’s Board. These are some of the most successful people in our Diaspora community: Andrew Liveris, our Board Chairman, George Stamas, THI’s Board President, our other founders including Father Alex Karloutsos, our current Board – the list goes on… they bring that intensity, vision and desire to make a difference to their work on THI’s Board.
The same rewards come from the THI family at large. I am impressed on a regular basis by what our people have accomplished in their fields: Their intelligence and drive are impressive. They are also uniquely insightful, articulate, and warm – genuinely Greek characteristics. I am so proud of our Community, who we are and how we are carrying the banner of our heritage.
TNH: What are some of the challenges you have faced so far?
TC: Prioritization is a challenge. It’s the flipside of the vitality of our community and the THI organization. There is so much we can do. We receive calls and emails every week from members of our community with great ideas about how THI can grow, where we should expand, programs we should fund, etc. So, my job involves the challenge of what to prioritize today and, with the Board’s guidance, what tomorrow’s priorities should be.
THI has tremendous opportunity at this stage of its development. The Board is currently setting the strategy for how we scale an enormously successful start-up organization with a strong brand into a larger enterprise with even greater impact. This too is a challenge, but it is a function of our success.
TNH: How has your professional experience and background shaped your work at THI?
TC: As with many Diaspora Greeks, my parents had a profound influence on me. They were both Greeks born in Alexandria, Egypt, both doctors, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1959 to complete their training. They embodied optimism and emphasized the value of education and hard work. They were not afraid to move forward boldly in life and believed that good would always come.
Professionally, I am a lawyer by training and practiced corporate and M&A law in New York for four years. I then went into investment banking for the subsequent 16 years. After taking six years off to raise my children, I returned to the work force to run a bipartisan political non-profit in Connecticut. The position of THI Executive Director draws on each of these career phases.
TNH: What is your vision for THI in its next ten years?
TC: The Board’s vision is to scale THI – our organization and our impact – in the next ten years.
We have a database of 30,000 Greeks of the Diaspora – the largest of any organization, so, enlarging our THI community both in the U.S. first and globally is the first part of the vision.
And then, the outcome of that support is to increase our impact in Greece – which is what we are here to do. We will contemplate more corporate partnerships in Greece, like the partnership we will announce shortly with Microsoft Greece to support start-ups through our Venture Impact Award. There is more we can do in public-private partnership, and more we can do with the city of Athens.
TNH: What are some THI projects that you are most proud of?
TC: I am very proud of our Plant a Tree in Greece program. We raised significant funds after the Greek wildfires of 2021, to reforest the land and restore livelihoods lost that summer. With these funds, we launched Plant a Tree. For $25, anyone can plant a tree in Greece and pay for its care for the first two years. We launched in May 2022 and by August, had already exceeded our 2022 target. I am proud of this program because anyone can participate, it directly addresses a real crisis, and it is tangible. Whether it is in memory of a loved one, to celebrate a marriage, name day, or birth of a child – planting a tree is a positive expression of life and the continuity of our country and people.
In our economic development work, I am proud that we have contributed meaningfully to Greece’s start-up ecosystem. THI now has a continuum of programs that support a Greek startup from the idea stage through to a viable company.
At the start-up stage, there is our Venture Impact Award. Through a competitive award process, we have awarded more than $500,000 to 30+ companies that were at this stage.
Venture Garden is a program THI founded with the Alba Business School in Athens and the American College of Thessaloniki. Entrepreneurs with business plans can apply and through a competitive process, be selected to take a semester of classes, for free, on a range of topics including budgeting, marketing, management, and other skills. There is no program like it in Greece, and over 1,000 entrepreneurs have benefitted from it.
When companies get a little larger and more stable, they can participate in THI’s Venture Fair, which is Greece’s only U.S.-style pitching event, for companies seeking capital of $2-$5 million. This summer, we assembled 275 investors from around the globe to hear from 10 companies, selected in a competitive process.
If THI didn’t exist, these programs would not exist, and I do not know if these companies would exist. I am proud that THI’s programs have provided these opportunities in Greece to our people.
More information about THI and the 10th Anniversary Gala is available online: https://www.thehellenicinitiative.org/.