NEW YORK – Prime Minister of Greece Alexis Tsipras was the surprise speaker at the third charitable fundraising gala of the Hellenic Initiative (THI), founded by diaspora Greeks with the triple mission of responding to the economic crisis by providing humanitarian aid, supporting entrepreneurs, and generating investment.
Tsipras’ speech outlining reforms and inviting those present to help build a new Greece was well received by the more than 650 Greeks and philhellenes who shared their thoughts with each other about how the diaspora can help as they took in spectacular views from the 54th floor of the 4 World Trade Center tower.
Guests could see the Statue of liberty and Ellis Island, prompting observations that the qualities that enabled Hellenes to succeed in America could be harnessed in the homeland too.
All the gala’s $2.5 million proceeds will go to THI’s programs in Greece, according to Mark Arey, its Executive Director, but the dinner was also an occasion t0 honor three of the community’s business leaders and philanthropists who are major donors to THI’s efforts to help Greece and its people: the late Agnes Varis, represented by George Zygos, a trustee of the Agnes Varis Trust, and her nephew Ted Leonsis, John Catsimatidis, co-founder of the Hellenic Times Scholarship Fund, and real estate magnate George Marcus, who is most proud of founding of the National Hellenic Society among his charitable endeavors.
Amb. Eleni Tsakopoulos Kounalakis gave a heartwarming introduction of Marcus, whom she thanked for her first paying job, and John Jr. and Andrea Catsimatidis touched the guests with their appreciation for their father’s rise from humble origins and his devotion to family.
Marcus is hopeful, but he delivered a strong message to Tsipras: unless things change in Greece, there will be no investment.
George Stamas, who co-chaired the event with Dennis Mehiel, welcomed the guests and Archbishop Demetrios of America offered the invocation after Greek and America national anthems were sung by Anastasia Zannia. It was a poignant moment as His Eminence called the guests to remembrance of the 3000 people who lost their lives nearby and noted the area, where the new St. Nicholas Church is rising, is now hallowed ground.
MCs Emilia Behrakis and Ryan Serhant, stars of “Million Dollar Listing” kept the program moving forward with humor and pep.
THI co-founder Muhtar Kent, CEO of Coca Cola, representing the philhellenes who are proud to be part of the endeavor, briefly noted THI’s progress and contributions, especially its support of young entrepreneurs in Greece, but emphasized “we can do better.
Gianna Angelopoulos-Daskalaki introduced Tsipras, who held the audience in rapt attention by seizing the moment prepared by Angelopoulou’s call for the establishment of “a new Greek brand of productivity and innovation,” when he outlined his reform priorities.
Beginning with a declaration that his re-election has ushered in political stability for four year that will enable him to implement his strategic vision, and after asserting that debt relief remains a target, he pledged to fight against the clientelism, corruption, and oligarchy that helped put Greece in crisis.
He promised to implement structural reforms and to go beyond the requirements of the new memorandum to create a favorable environment for international investment, including a tax overhaul and a new investment law he said will be ready in one month.
Simplicity, stability, and transparency were Tsipras’ mantras, and he added that he is “very well aware” of past obstacles to investments. The government will further develop the “one-stop-shops that eliminate red tape he said.
His commitment to public administration reform, with an emphasis on meritocracy in appointments and performance assessments in promotions was noteworthy, and Tsipras said of his vision for a new Greece, “If we believe we will change our country, we will do it.”
“I urge you not to miss this opportunity,” he said in conclusion to the business leaders who filled the room and echoing his opening declaration that “all of you love Greece. Investment is proof of this.”
“The brain power and influence in this room and their potential to do good for Greece is staggering,” one guest said, which was echoed by Andrew Liveris, THI’s chairman, when he said in his brief but inspiring closing remarks, “we bring to you a call to action…we are priviledged to have you in this room. You matter.”