New York.- By Apostolos Zoupaniotis
Photos: Dimitrios Panagos
Over 750 Greek Americans and philhellenes gather on Friday at the New York Hilton for the 6th Annual Gala of the Hellenic Initiative (THI), and organization which leads the Greek Diaspora community internationally in raising awareness and capital for Greece. THI supports Greek NGOs that foster economic development opportunities and provide crisis relief for under-served communities in Greece, particularly children.
Through the tickets, the sponsorships and the auction of art works and jewelry, the organization was expecting to raise over two million dollars, that will be invested in entrepreneurial programs in Greece.
As it was announced, THI’s executive director for the past 5 years resigned and he will be replaced by Development director Peter Poulos. THI thanked Mark Arey for his invaluable work.
Founded in 2012, THI is a global, nonprofit, secular institution mobilizing the Greek Diaspora and Philhellene community to support sustainable economic recovery and renewal for the Greek people. THI’s programs address crisis relief through strong nonprofit organizations. THI also builds entrepreneurial skills in a new generation of business leaders.
“It’s time once again for the Hellenic Initiative’s New York Gala. I call it “New York” because now we have galas and fundraisers like this all over the world; in Sidney, Montreal, Toronto, London and Athens. All started six years ago in this city, when we were crawling, when we were just starting. And it grew and grew and grew”, said George Stamas, President of the Hellenic Initiative
Stamas told the audience that although we may not being galloping yet, we are power walking in pursuit of our goal; to improve the welfare of the Greek people.
“The crisis is not yet over. Look at the fires in Athens; look at the unemployment rate among youth. We have just begun to tackle this problem. We do it for job creation and economic development. We have helped many people; because of you, because of the Diaspora” , Stamas told the audience that included some of the most wealthy members of the Greek American Community.
The President of THI said we have a common sense of purpose and a common sense of our heritage.
“It’s our DNA. Whether you are Greek or whether – as many of you today – you are a Philhellene. Because as the great British poet Shelley said, we are all Greeks, at least for a night, at least for a party.”
This year’s honorees were Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever and THI’s Regeneration Program Partner and Philanthropist Corinne Mentzelopoulos, Owner of the famous winery Château Margaux.
Paul Polman is the CEO of Unilever and THI’s Regeneration Program partner. THI’s ReGeneration program was launched in 2014 to train, mentor, and place highly qualified millennials in internships at top Greek and multinational companies. More than 320 internships have been created at more than 100 companies. Recognized as the top internship program in Greece, more than 80 percent of participants secure a contract extension or hire.
Corinne Mentzelopoulos is a philanthropist, owner, and CEO of Château Margaux.
THI’s Chairman Andrew Liveris, introducing honoree Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, he praised his values.
“Since he has been CEO, Paul has driven the notion that if you do business, you do it for purpose and values; and if you make o profit, you have to have a purpose; that you could do well by doing good and you do good by doing well. Values based business is a rarity in this world of ours. CEOs who take a stand to look at humanity and to look at society with the prudence to make sure that everyone is looked after and cared for, is unique. Paul is a true humanitarian and a true philhellene.”
Liveris spoke about the intense philanthropic activity of Unilever in Greece, with organizations like “Food Bank” and “Apostoli”, in providing recently over half a million euros for the poor, the farmers and for the food chain; for allowing people to find employment in those food chains.
“Paul Polman believes in humanity. He is the definition of what we wish to honor tonight”, Liveris said, calling him a role model who really deserves THI’s award.
In a speech that was a hymn for Greece, the Greek values and the charismas and courage of the Greek people, Paul Polman spoke about Unilever’s philanthropic activities in Greece that touch over 500,000 people and the company’s commitment to continue investing in Greece.
“Unilever is continuing to grow its investments to Greece; to offer sustainable employment to thousands of people and hopefully continue to drive a thriving business. We have no doubt that Greece can grow its way out of these difficult times, and Unilever can play a great part in debt recovery. It’s never been a more important time for all of us to step up. We are the fortunate few in the room and we are in a position to help the others.”
Paul Polman thanked THI for the award and the inspiration it provides.
“You don’t need to be Greek to know how much this country has given to the world, from Democracy to Philosophy, from law to medicine, from the Olympics to theatre. In fact, it’s hard to think of any aspect of modern that can’t be traced to its Ancients Greek origins.”
Speaking about his company, he argued that being around for two centuries, he is proud it has been contributed a few things to modern civilization.
“Amongst the ninety countries we are operating, we are fortunate enough to have a very prosperous business in Greece, for over half a century”, he said, calling himself lucky enough to have visited the country many times during his ten year-tenure as CEO. During these visits he had witnessed the struggles of the country, that in addition to the economic crisis it suffers from the migration crisis and the climate change, as it was seen last summer with the catastrophic wildfires in Attica.
“As always, it seems that the poorest and the most vulnerable are hit the hardest”, he said, praising the Greek people for their determination and unique sense of optimism (kefi). He also praised the ethics of the Greek employees of Unilever.
“We are deeply committed to improving the lives of the Greek people, improving their health and well being”, Polman stressed.
He added that just during the past three years Unilever helped hundreds of thousands of people through its partnership with Apostoli and the Hellenic Food Bank.
“We have also improved health and hygiene through our dental clinics in remote parts of the country, reaching over 300,000 children that have benefited from that. Or offering the opportunity to underprivileged families to wash and dry their laundry for free. And last but not least, we work with NGOs to address the growing needs of refugees arriving in Greece”.
Polman said that all these initiatives together have reached over five hundred thousand people in Greece. Looking ahead, he promised an increase of Unilever’s financial commitments to the ongoing successful initiatives, by extending laundry programs in Thessaloniki and many other parts of Greece and by building partnerships with the Home Project, to support even more refugees.
“Together we renovate shelters for young refugees; to access services and create jobs for the rest of the refugee community.”
Presenting Corrine Mentzelopoulos, George Stamas praiSed her for continuing the vision of her father Andreas who created Chateau Margaux, turning it to an extraordinary legacy.
“You are the true column of integrity and a pillar of excellence, you are the best of France and the best of Greece”, he said.
In her short remarks, Corinne Mentzelopoulos expressed her pride of her Greek roots and she thanked THI for helping her to make a combination of the two countries she prefers in the World, Greece and the United States.
“I am proud of the amazing job THI does to help Greece” she added.