NEW YORK – Launched in 2012 with a mission to connect diaspora communities with Greece, The Hellenic Initiative (THI) is hosting its 8th gala virtually on November 12th, 6-7 PM ET. The nonprofit organization’s fundraising event has already raised over $1.3 million to address crisis relief and support entrepreneurship, THI Executive Director Peter Poulos told The National Herald.
"The Greek diaspora, even generations after so many built new and successful lives around the world, has never forgotten its roots," Poulos said. "Which is why so many Greeks, wherever they are, have a passionate commitment to supporting their homeland.”
Usually held in New York and London, THI’s virtual gala will provide pandemic crisis relief aimed at helping Greek businesses and entrepreneurs who took an economic hit when pandemic travel restrictions ravaged Greece’s economy – especially its tourism industry.
The ticketed event ($100 – $250 per attendee) “is a call-to-action that will illuminate a Greece of innovation, strength, and resiliency by telling the business success stories of THI’s many grantees,” a THI release stated.
The celebrity-filled virtual gala will feature a live appearance by Sakis Rouvas, as well as performances by Nana Mouskouri, Rita Wilson and the Greek Youth Symphony Orchestra, and remarks by His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America, actress and producer Nia Vardalos, XPRIZE Foundation founder Peter Diamantis, journalist and television host George Stephanopoulos, and celebrity chef Diane Kochilas, among others. A silent auction including both luxury and charitable items, will also take place during the event.
Since its launch in 2012, THI has committed or distributed $5.7 million in direct crisis relief and $10.1 million in economic and entrepreneurial development. Last year's gala raised more than $2.2 million, making it the most successful fundraising event in the Greek diaspora globally.
The National Herald spoke with THI Executive Director Peter Poulos about THI’s work, especially during the pandemic.
TNH: THI’s mission is to connect the Diaspora with Greece in ways which are valuable for Greece and the Diaspora. In what ways would you say THI best supports its mission?
PETER POULOS: I’m glad you’ve asked this question because the Diaspora’s relationship with Greece has always been a complicated one. By staying true to its mission, THI has acted as a bridge between Greece and the Diaspora. Our success in raising funds has run on a parallel track with building trust in the country, its people and its institutions. Our latest Mentorship Program that we are launching with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Athens, and our New Leaders Group are perfect examples of how we are working to engage our Diaspora community with Greeks in Greece. The bonds that are formed will last a lifetime and provide additional strength to the bridge we are building.
TNH: COVID-19 has been an economic and societal challenge globally, across the board. What would you say has been THI’s greatest challenge during the pandemic, and how is the team addressing this challenge?
PP: THI relies on contributions from Greeks in the Diaspora and philhellenes to fund its work on the ground in Greece. So when COVID struck we were concerned, as were all non-profits, that our fundraising efforts might be seriously curtailed. But we are a crisis-relief organization, and Greece was going to be facing an extraordinary crisis as a result of COVID. So thanks to the leadership of our Board and our dedicated staff, we made a commitment to double down on efforts to offer assistance. And I am happy to report that that commitment has resulted in an extremely successful fundraising year.
TNH: THI supports crisis relief, and entrepreneurship, among other efforts. What team efforts would you say you are the most proud of during this difficult time, facing the pandemic?
PP: Something magical happened at THI over the last 8 months. While in the past we were running from event to event, traveling, connecting in person etc., COVID gave us a chance to pause. And during that pause, THI’s staff had a chance to connect with each other and the accomplished and talented members of our Board of Directors. That opportunity allowed us, the staff, to benefit from the knowledge and experience that our board members possess. We have exciting new initiatives and programs being launched as a result of that collaboration. Stay tuned.
TNH: Regarding numbers, what is the latest in monetary support THI has sourced and donated for all of its causes and collaborations since 2012?
PP: Since our founding, THI has donated over $16 million to support charitable organizations and economic development initiatives.
TNH: While COVID-19 has stopped our communities from hosting anticipated physical get-togethers and events we were accustomed to, what benefit, if any, do you believe a virtual event can bring?
PP: This is a fascinating question and one that we have been discussing internally for some time. COVID forced us to re-think how we engage our community. A community that is inherently social. So we launched a Digital Speaker’s Series with our New Leaders Group (THI’s young professionals) and I don’t think that any of us could have predicted the massive response it would receive. Thousands of people, Greeks and non-Greeks, from around the world logging in to participate. These kinds of numbers are extremely difficult to achieve at in-person events. And so we will continue this when the pandemic is behind us.
TNH: What can we expect as highlights of this year’s THI gala?
PP: This year’s virtual gala is going to engage the audience in ways that in-person events cannot. We will be telling the story of our grantees in a unique way, one that will surely inspire all those who participate. Everyone that watches will come away with a great feeling of pride for Greece and Greeks.
For more information about the THI Gala, visit: thehellenicinitiative.org.