New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
Photos: Dimitrios Panagos
One of the main topics at the 15th Annual Conference on The Future of Hellenism, sponsored by The Hellenic Link of New Jersey and the New York Chapter of the American Hellenic Institute (AHI), in Elizabeth New Jersey November 18-19, was how the of Greek American Millennial Generation be kept/brought into Greek American community involvement. “The torch is passed to the new generation of Greek Americans,” Dr. Van Coufadakis, said at the Conference. “We, the ‘old timers’ have done a lot… Now it is up to the new generation of Greek Americans to make sure that Hellenism stays alive in the 21st century and beyond. The discussion we had all day today must continue.”
But it isn’t simple.“We are at a moment of emergency. This is a dire call to all organizations. We need to evolve or we will become irrelevant,” says Yannis Floropoulos, a Millennial, and one of the speakers in the Conference. Dwindling membership, the possibility of future non-participation by Greek American Millennials in the remarkable work of AHI and other organizations, is real. While Fotopoulos’ call is urgent, the success that can lie ahead with different methods of approach is also real: “Millennials … will change the world if you just do the right research and engagement. Remember, their time is precious, their resources limited, but they are seeking to be united.” Sweet words to a community that sacrifices so much for its perpetuation.
Floropoulos, who is Secretary of the Essex County Democratic Committee, and Adjunct Professor, City College of NY and Montclair State University, discusses ideas important to this and related topics with the GN.
GN: At the Future of Hellenism Conference you brought up the point, paraphrased here, that methods must be expanded to bring Greek American Millennials into the Greek American sphere. Do you think that Greek American Millennials feel that organizations are relevant enough to support after the present leadership is gone?
YF:There are different type of membership non-profits out there but in general, membership organizations will see their numbers decrease in the future. Specific organizations like AHEPA
or AHI will see further declines in a greater amount of time, with AHEPA probably becoming non-performing in two decades if nothing drastically changes.
With the question of AHI there are enough Greek American people to sustain AHI but we are treating “Greek Americans” as one unified membership base that has information on the issues, which is not the case. There needs to be different messaging, content and outreach AHI must work on.
The Greek American Millennial generation is in two groups (18-25, 25-35) but they both give less legitimacy to centralized institutions and permanent identity markers external to their experience. Their time, productivity and content consumption rivals the mechanisms of traditional membership organizations. Concepts like collective intelligence, crowdsourcing from your members, micro-contributions, collaborative consumption and social-structured digital relations must be adapted by organizations like AHI.
Additionally, (1) retail donating with established market norms from branded non-profits should serve as one revenue stream, (2) moralizing or effectively framing the consumption of issues through donating habits, and (3) engaging in millennial frameworks to expand participation which may include non-monies. Millennials are very issue, content, and rights specific…. They will protest, occupy, collaborate, and change the world if you just do the right research and engagement. Remember, their time is precious, their resources limited, but they are seeking to be united.
GN: What’s the best way to bring Millennials into the organizations?
YF: First you need to identify who you are targeting. Then you must figure out, are we creating a point of destination or a point oforigin with these members?Are we trying to define and create Hellenism and bring the memberships to this original point of identity construction, or are we using Hellenism as a guide to another destination? Some groups try to find a grey area and this is the area of contention. We have too many centralized institutions with their own interest diluting the Hellenic brand and values, taking what they want to engage and keep their own members.
GN: What are some methods?
YF: Educate members through media content to be able to engage others online or through social platforms with said media and reaction — have readily available material that can be consumed (videos, pictures, etc.) to help members understand the origin of the values, identities, and interests and also the destination. Then allow for there to be engagement between members peer-to-peer, using AHI as a closed marketplace or protected marketplace for these identities and their interests to develop peer-to-peer; then the greatest ideas and strategies can be applied if we use collective intelligence and crowdsourcing methods. Also, involve programs with college credit and set up surveys to identify the selection of population that will serve as what type of members. We can talk about strategies as well in the future.
GN: Would it be possible to introduce new methods? Greek American organizations are already carrying a huge load.
YF: I know many people who run Greek American organizations in D.C. but also in the New York metropolitan area. I can personally say that Nick Larigakis is working very hard along with his small staff at AHI and I am very proud of the work they have been doing and the close relationship I have had with AHI since 2010. I am a paid member and would like to see at least 30% membership participation among Millennials and even more from well-off Middle Class and Upper Middle Class Greeks that make up three-fourths of our socio-economic status.
GN: Increased membership: the key to survival?
FY: You cannot expect three people at the Hellenic House to change their membership organization’s best practices while trying to survive financially, while also trying to influence congress as rival countries and lobby groups have dozens and hundreds more personnel trying to attack AHI and its mission – AHI is literally set up in a way to both deal with perpetual unknowns and volatility while also trying to maintain its mission statement. It’s incredible what they are doing and we should applaud their achievements. AHI is doing amazing work. With more people involved, I believe AHI can keep what it is doing effectively but also bring what more needs to be done from what works with the Millennial Generation. As Hellenes, this identity or brand construction with the Millennial won’t be difficult, as many of the values and constructions are overlapping (for Greek Americans and also American Millennials who identify or will identify with the Hellenic identity).
GN: This suggests expanding the base of the participating individuals.
FY: The idea of participation has to be understood in an actual sense (in the actual space and time of an event, for example), a virtual sense (actual time but different space or location, maybe even different time, depending on scenario), and in an ideational sense (I am there in idea or the idea of the event and use my membership to participate when I want to whatever level is aesthetically pleasing to my social circle). Levels of membership should be changed to reflect low capital-rich members, capital-rich members, talent-rich members, and so on. Engagement and social media products must be created and kept up on a 24/7 or at least weekly basis.
These are just a few ways we can move on these issues.
If GN readers would like a follow-up article with Yannis Floropoulos on this important topic, please state so in the Comments section.