I read a book years ago called “Benefaction and Rewards in the Ancient Greek City: The Origins of Euergetism.” It’s a scholarly book and much of what I was reading was way above my pay grade. But it was part of my own personal research to get to the core of what drives people to give, selflessly, freely, expecting nothing in return.
Philanthropy and charity has always been core to my DNA and from a young age, my own parents– two illiterate, destitute immigrants from Crete– always taught me– and insisted– that I give. Not only my money, when I could, but also of my time and my talents.
Ever since founding my own foundation, the Greek America Foundation, I’ve been intrigued and fascinated by these ideals and have often tried to go back– thousands of years to the Ancient Greeks– to understand why this is such an important part of our human existence– and particularly amongst many Greeks.
In Ancient Greek, the “evergetis” or benefactor, was a wealthy citizen who offered a voluntary service or donation to the city-state. Benefactors built great temples, libraries and civic centers for the benefit of the entire city and its residents.
Over time and centuries, the notion of giving morphed into Christian ideals of helping those less fortunate and numerous saints of the church equated philanthropy to one of the staples of Christianity.
Over the course of Greek history, there have been numerous great “evergetes” who have shaped the course of cities– and the entire nation and as Greeks dispersed to various points throughout the world, their benefaction traveled with them to Alexandria, to Odessa, to Vienna– and to the United States.
Yesterday, I had lunch with a businessman from New York City who had occasionally popped up on my radar and wanted to meet. To be honest, it was his humble steel town roots in Weirton, West Virginia, that attracted me to him. Another steel town guy, not far from Pittsburgh where I grew up, now both living in the Big Apple.
I wanted to meet Michael Psaros to share my stories of going to visit my Cretan relatives in Weirton and sharing stories of growing up in the Ohio River Valley.
To be fair, I knew Michael was involved in our community and deeply dedicated to the Greek Orthodox Church. Anyone following church matters has seen his name on press releases and newspaper stories, especially pertaining to the financial crisis that nearly bankrupted the Archdiocese several years ago and almost brought construction to a halt at St. Nicholas at Ground Zero.
What I learned, however, was that in my midst, sitting across the table from me, was a true, living “evergetis” in the Ancient Greek sense of the word– an individual investing his hard-earned money into civic institutions– NOT for any personal gain, but for the advancement of society and for this nation, not to mention the entire world.
Without much fanfare or self-grandiose, Michael shared his commitment to this nation’s future. Michael and the Psaros family aren’t building a building. They’re not putting their name on a concrete block which will disintegrate over time and turn to dust, as so many great structures have over time.
No, Michael and his family are donating $11 million to create The Psaros Center for Financial Markets and Policy at Georgetown University, which will be a free resource for journalists, policymakers, students, businesspeople or anyone seeking unbiased, non-partisan information about complex issues that impact everyone in this nation from Main Street to Wall Street.
Some of the most challenging issues faced by society today can only be solved by having leaders in the private sector, the global capital markets, legislators and regulators work together for the common good.
The intersection of business, finance, legislation, and regulation is policy. Financial policy impacts and often transforms not only the financial sector, business and global capital markets, but more broadly our society.
Michael’s alma mater, Georgetown University, is the undisputed intellectual center in the most powerful city in the world and because of its standing and credibility in Washington DC, Georgetown is in a unique position to provide unbiased, non-partisan, objective expertise to guide policy and practice which will ultimately impact every single American.
I spent several hours after my lunch with Michael online reading about this. To say that I touched only the tip of the iceberg of what impact such a center will have would be an understatement. Farming and manufacturing, our corner bodegas and grocery store mega-chains, our pharmaceuticals– even the entertainment industry– EVERYONE is impacted by how our financial markets function and react.
And this new center, and I reiterate the name PROUDLY because it’s a Greek name, the The Psaros Center for Financial Markets and Policy, will become the nexus of thought leadership that directly impacts financial policy now and in the future for every single American.
More than 2,000 years ago, Pericles said “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”
I can’t think of a better living correlation to this profound statement by the great Ancient Greek statesman than the evergetis, Michael Psaros.
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