Greece fell into an economic abyss ten years ago. In response to the dire situation, The Hellenic Initiative (THI) was established, and it celebrated ten years of Diaspora in Action last Monday at the ANZ hub in Melbourne.

THI funnels money and expertise from the global Greek Diaspora into Greek projects and charities.

Greece is now the fastest-growing economy in Europe, with a GDP growth rate of 1.2%. Its growth in the real value of the stock market rose by 43.8% from 2022 to 2023.

Kathy Karabatsas, a THI Melbourne board director emceed the dinner and first introduced the Australian president Nick Pappas.

Pappas said the initiative will now “look forward to what THI will do in the future.”

The Sydney solicitor and chair of the Rabbitohs NRL club thanked the THI board.

THI is a vehicle through which the Diaspora’s “support and passion for Greece and Hellenism can be expressed and channelled.”

“Like Jews and Lebanese, we Greeks are a Diaspora – dispersal and dislocation wrought by war and social upheaval; the transition to this new land for many of our forebears was as much a product of good fortune and circumstance as it was the result of planning or design.”

Pappas recalled the launch of THI when president Clinton said, ‘Greece has given us so much, isn’t it time we gave something back.’

President of THI Australia Nicholas Pappas addressing the dinner event. Photo: Peter Kakalias

He said THI provides relief and fosters sustainable development, “aligning with Greece’s journey towards economic renewal and social empowerment.”

He praised the Greek government for facing the “mammoth task” of saving an economy “riddled with a bureaucracy languishing in outdated practises and infrastructures.”

Pappas said the government has gone a long way in addressing youth unemployment and the brain drain.

Impact and Achievements of THI

Pappas introduced the prime minister of Greece, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who delivered a pre-recorded video message.

The Greek prime minister said, “Australian Greeks are an integral part of Hellenism.”

“I know that your contribution to the growth of prosperity and success of Australia is recognised, acknowledged, and greatly appreciated by Australian business, government, and civil society,” Mitsotakis said.

He said that ten years on, “Greece is in a very different place now.”

“I urge you to explore new avenues of cooperation with an emphasis on vocational training and youth job creation,” said Mitsotakis.

He then praised “advances in digitisation technology” and his government’s “enhancement of relations with our compatriots abroad.”

The Greek government he said had removed obstacles for the electoral participation of Diaspora Greek voters. And talked about the postal vote ahead of the European elections in June.

THI 10th Anniversary event. Photo: Peter Kakalias

In praise of Australian Greeks

Nick Pappas then introduced Andrew Liveris, the founder of THI. The head of the Brisbane 2032 Olympics and former CEO of Dow Chemicals.

In a recorded video message Liveris praised Australian Greeks.

He said action from the Diaspora was one of his “goals in those early months and years.”

“I went to Australia first, being Australian myself and was so proud to see the response that came to help Greece in her time of need.

Greece still has needs, but “it has really changed in these last years”.

He said THI Australia was “a part of Greece’s economic renaissance.” Greece was now a nation of relevance in the EU and the Eastern Mediterranean Liveris said.

Kindness and generosity

A highlight of the night was the panel discussion moderated by Helen Mantzis from the Hellenic Museum.

On the panel were former AFL CEO Andrew Demetriou, SBS chair George Savvides and Terry Paule, Co-Founder and CEO of Botanical Water Technologies.

Matzis asked the panellists questions about their lives, Hellenism, and social responsibility.

Savvides talked about his mother now in her 90s and how she still wants to work in her shop.

“My parents arrived from Cyprus in 1951 on a honeymoon and “bought a return ticket 20 years late for their first trip home.”

The ANZ centre was packed to the brim for THI. Photo: Peter Kakalias

His parents’ “generosity and kindness” formed his values as the former Chair of World Vision.

He recalled when he was on an island in Indonesia to provide a maternity care programme as chair of World Vision.

They walked for four hours to get to a remote village to see how a maternity programme worked.

There, a woman gave him something wrapped in fabric. His colleague told him it was a pheasant egg and her most prized possession.

“She gifted me the most she owned, which was nothing compared to a future for her children that she now had,” said Savvides.

Demetriou talked about growing up “behind fish ‘n chips shop” and how his parents “raised four boys in a two-bedroom house.”

“They left Cyprus hardly 19 or 20 years without a dollar to their name and not one word of English and made a life for themselves.

“They lost their fathers young, and like others, they never got to see their mothers again.”

For him the death of his wife in 1999 due to breast cancer was the most challenging.

“It puts everything else into perspective. Journos would ring and ask, ‘Why aren’t you angry with me?’ over something they wrote, and I’d say, ‘Because I don’t care, you’re not that important in my life,'” said Demetriou.

Paule discussed his support for an Australian innovation “enabling the harvesting of water naturally occurring in plants.”

“This breakthrough presents a new, sustainable water source, potentially yielding three trillion litres—equivalent to 1.2 million Olympic-size swimming pools.”

He aims to provide water “to those in need, offering a vital resource to the world’s most vulnerable communities.”

India was an example and said it has “18 per cent of the world’s population and only four per cent of the world’s water.”

The panellists said they were committed to giving back to Greece and the world in small and large ways.

Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis addressing THI 10th anniversary. Photo: Peter Kakalias

Programs and impact

Karabatsas spoke about THI Australia’s partner, Paediatric Trauma Care which she said has delivered equipment to deal with paediatric trauma injuries across Greece.

“Since 2010, Pedtrauma has supported 117 hospitals and health centres in Greece and has purchased 1,651 pieces of medical equipment.”

After the formal proceedings, Karabatsas told Neos Kosmos that homelessness and food insecurity were essential issues for her.

After 20 years running homeless shelters in Australia with her husband, she has seen the toll “of not being able to put food on the table or a roof over their heads.”

Matzis, told Neos Kosmos that THI is a “fantastic organisation.” For her the “story was around connection and mentorship of young people” was a key project.

“Opportunity around education and training THI is something I’m passionate about.”

Demetriou told Neos Kosmos that THI as a way “to give back to where we came from, especially if you believe in humanity.”

Savvides told Neos Kosmos, “We are blessed with being Greek, we’ve received much, and it is a form of appreciation by giving back to those we have received from.”

Paule’s goal was “to positively impact 100 million of the world’s most vulnerable people by 2025”.

When asked about the priorities for THI president Nick Pappas said “focusing on economic development and job creation programmes.”

The other focus is on culture and the arts.

“The arts and culture sector has been hit hard by the crisis and arts and culture fundamentals of Hellenism,” said Pappas.