The Hellenic Initiative, Endeavor and Capital Link held their annual events in New York to celebrate Hellenism, bring together Greeks from all around the world, raise money for charity and attract investments for the country. When I first came to the United States, over a decade ago, we had few opportunities to come together – mostly around Greek food – with Easter being the biggest one. During the crisis however, the diaspora came together to support Greece. They continue to organize a plethora of events that go beyond culture, focusing on charity, entrepreneurship, and investments. Now, as Greece is entering an era of growth the role of the diaspora is more important than ever. They can support in shaping the institutional foundations that will help propel the country into the 21st century.
Greece went from being the black sheep of Europe to the rising star.
In the years of the crisis when you said to foreigners you were from Greece you received glances of pity, disappointment and sometimes even anger. Now the first reaction you get is: “oh I love Mykonos / Santorini,” testament to Greece’s tourism success in the American market. Beyond that though, this response highlights the country’s transformed image. In all Greek events you hear about how the country is one of the fastest growing economies in Europe, the influx of foreign direct investment, and the booming entrepreneurship ecosystem. The diaspora has contributed to that success. Now as we look to the future there is still work to be done. We can use the bonds that the diaspora has created with the motherland to continue working together. Diaspora Greeks have more to offer in addition to their network and money: they have experience and knowledge.
Greeks abroad flourish.
We have all heard this narrative. And it is true. You witness it during all these events. Organizers, honorees and attendees are all extremely accomplished in their fields leading massive companies, driving investments, catalyzing innovation and creating change not only in the US but around the world. Paths to success vary but usually share two ingredients: the importance of a solid degree and the courage to take risks. You listen in awe while people share their stories: immigrants who came to the US with almost nothing and became the pride and joy of their Greek villages, or first-generation Greek-Americans of working class parents who built empires. During the crisis, the diaspora in America changed: it became younger and more educated. Many left Greece in search of a better future, and ended up studying and teaching at the best universities, working in the biggest companies, and contributing to the fastest growing startups. They are exceptionally talented and hardworking. And while for many the focus is on how to repatriate them, there is another opportunity: let them flourish abroad and use their expertise and energy to change the country.
The diaspora wants to find more ways to get involved.
During these events everyone is ecstatic. The organizers have proved that they can be incredibly effective in bringing together high caliber participants and highlighting the successes of the country. People want more. Greeks want to hear and talk more about their country. And not only about the successes. But also the challenges. When we celebrate Greece we tend to focus on the positives, but the negatives are still there. In the diaspora many want to contribute and help change that. Creating opportunities to discuss the challenges our country is facing and debate solutions can be productive in the same way existing events have been.
Congratulations to all the organizers and honorees for an incredible series of events in New York. Thank you for bringing so many Greeks together so effectively. Let’s all work together to make sure that the Hellenic diaspora is an effective agent of change for the country.
* Afroditi Xydi is the co-founder of Desmos Policy Institute. Previously she was a management consultant with Strategy& in the Middle East. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Johns Hopkins University, a Masters from MIT, and an MBA from Harvard Business School.