It is an initiative which not only shows the willingness to provide substantial help to our fellowmen, but highlights the greater need apparent within various groups of society and the superhuman efforts that are exerted by certain institutions, foundations and organizations.
This particular initiative was launched by the mutual insurance association «American Club» and with the strong support of the Greek shipping community gathered a considerable amount distributed equally to three charities.
Dorothea Ioannou, Director of the Greek office and coordinator of this effort, speaks to Maritimes about this life experience.
How did this initiative start?
In order to appreciate the whole story we must go back to November 2011, when the Board met to decide among other things, what they would do for Posidonia of the following year.
Given the economic situation of Greece at that time, a very lively discussion took place about what would be most appropriate.
The truth is that many of the Board members indicated that it would not be right to do a huge gala dinner, as we usually do each Posidonia, but also felt it would not be right to do nothing at all. It was important to the Board and the Managers to express their thanks and appreciation to the Greek market and to our members especially, given that the last ten years they constitute a large part of the American Club. It’s important also to note that that out of the twenty-three members of the entire Board of Directors of the Club, nine are Greeks.
In light of this, great thought was put into considering what else could be done with the amounts that are usually invested into the usual large event. After much discussion it was decided to that a large part of the funds normally allocated to the Gala to be reallocated to a charitable purpose connected though to shipping, there would have to be a link.
Did the idea receive strong support?
I myself, personally, along with three members of the BOD, Mrs. Katia Restis, Mr. George Gourdomichalis and Mr. Vassilis Bakolitsas formulated certain proposals and it was eventually decided by the Board of Directors of the American Club to donate an amount of 60,000 euros and this is how we began. This ultimately served as an incentive for other members of the BOD to contribute individually and the figure started to grow as nine-ten members then pledged 10,000 euros each from their own personal funds on top of the Club funded amount of EUR 60,000.
We then we thought that given the level the initiative was reaching, why don’t we organize a campaign to motivate our partners and our members in order to participate as well. So the «American Club» combined this campaign with a toned down Posidonia reception in Athens in late May and the amount eventually reached 220,000 euros.
Which charities were chosen and why?
We had heard about the work that was being undertaken in the churches feeding the hungry and the rising number of needy people needing to be fed. We had said from the start that the biggest goal was to help this category of people in great need. But when we saw the amount we were gathering, we realized that we could also do more.
After extensive investigation we reached a decision to coordinate with the organization “Link of Life” (Krikos Zois), which was then designated as the lead charity for the implementation of the entire charity initiative of the American Club, through which food distribution is also done. The second charity chosen was 'Argo', a charity of Seafarer parents of children with special needs, as we saw that they were facing enormous financial problems and their small school here in Piraeus was threatened with closure. We eventually also chose the third charity, a foundation called 'Joy' after meeting the people there, and found that while it is a charity that began from people from the shipping community, it is open to all. It is dedicated to caring for all children with disabilities, either mental or physical who cannot be cared for by their families.
We were impressed by the many applications for entry into the foundation for help. The thing to understand is that when a child goes into the facility, the child never leaves. The child doesn’t eventually get better and leave the foundation, so the foundation eventually cannot accommodate more children. Due to this, there was a need to develop a project to expand the foundation and accommodate more children in need. It was for this project that we felt maybe we could make a difference and contribute so more children could be assisted. It is important to note that we are talking about severe situations.
Do you believe that the economic problem of the institutions is heightened by the current economic situation? Is there a need for more support?
Yes, because now the state has reduced subsidies given to facilities and foundations such as “Argo”, and in the meantime the number of children who need help has increased. An institution like this, is not like a normal school where a teacher, for example is responsible for 15 to 20 children, here we have a qualified doctor, nurse, teacher, to a maximum of two children, usually for two because the particular situations of the children do not allow for more. Some of these children are older because as in the foundation'' Joy'', these children have a permanent need for help and never leave the assistance of the institution and their parents can’t care for them on their own.
The “Link of Life'' and ''Joy'' are different and they depend 100\% by private funds. So when we are in a country that has a narrow economy and where the average person would normally donate something, now given this situation he may not be in a position to donate now as the average person’s income has significantly reduced.
So, you reached the point where you've seen the problem, you’ve discussed with the institutions and have an amount in your hands of great importance. On the other hand, you realize that the amount does not appear as large when considering the level of need.How did you decide to manage and distribute this amount?
As I said at the beginning we wanted to give the 60,000 only for feeding the needy. Then when we saw that we would have more than this amount, we thought about expanding. However, the decisions were always taken by the Board of Directors of the Club.
The most logical solution was that whatever would be collected, to divide into three equal amounts, as we did. Eventually we felt pressure to collect as much as possible since, especially on the issue of feeding the needy the more money that we could collect would mean the more people we would be able to help. The original goal was 100 families and we have reached 150 that are fed by “Krikos Zois” “Link of Life” with the support of the American Club.
With respect to the foundation 'Joy', we asked what their budget was for the expansion project and what could be done with the amount we could give? We understood that this amount basically covers a small percentage of needs, but for now this is what we will do. The project is still open; we have not closed it and maybe something else will be done in the future.
Was the procedure to help and to give money to charities easy? Did you face any difficulties, bureaucracy, etc?
Initially we thought about creating our own charitable organization based in Greece, but it would have been difficult for us to do and so we came up with this idea-solution through Krikos Zois.
A mutual association is not a charitable association. So we had to find a safe way to divide the amounts, fairly and easily.
The “Link of Life” is an organization that has a broader purpose. The advantage of this organization is that their article of association provide the ability for them to participate in any activity with a charitable base or cause, thereby avoiding difficulties of distribution.
Does charity have a corporate form?
I think that it is a decision for each individual entrepreneur. This is what I have seen through this experience. I've seen some people put it as a priority; some others say if I have a surplus amount then I will a percentage of it. I have also been told '' I love what you do and I appreciate it, but I cannot contribute because I personally donate elsewhere and the reason is personal and private to me why I give there.''
I believe that the issue of charity is very personal to everyone and not just on a business level but also on an individual level.
Charity is a very private decision on how much to give, where, how, and I respect that. For us it was an act to express our thanks to Greece.
What is the overall philanthropic activity of American Club?
This was the first big in scale, philanthropic program of American Club.
Generally we donate some funds through our managers and the Club offices around the world, in New York, London, Piraeus and Shanghai.
We were asked if it is something that will continue. It might continue, but as you understand it should be decided and voted by the Board of Directors, as it is not something we decide here. It is the money of the Club. Maybe they will decide in the future to choose another country, because The American Club has members from around the world.
In Greece through this office here, when we receive various donation proposals from time to time, we try to give. We don’t have a greater general organized program, but when we are asked and if we believe that it coincides with our general purpose, we contribute.
Tell us about the office in Greece and the relationship of the Club with Greek shipping?
The percentage of Greek-owned ship in the club is about 40\%. The office in Greece, Piraeus opened in 2005. It was established by a Greek-American, Mr. George Tsimis, who is now the head of claims globally.
The office began with 4 people, with the thought to assist the members here, but also to increase the share in the Greek market. Of course, the office serves not only Greece, but also the region of Europe, Africa and parts of the Mideast. It has mainly to do with the location of the claim, where the ship is and not necessarily the location of the owner.
Yes, it is an office for marketing as any office would be, but for it’s specific purpose in claims provides a wider range of services.
Personally I took over in 2009 and currently there are 8 people working in the office, with high-level training, most of who have more than ten years of experience each in similar positions in Greece and abroad.
When vessels are working with a small margin and in many cases lower than that, then the slightest conflict or dispute has a great impact on the profitability of the voyage.
What we see is that there is more pressure on a claim, or when a member’s vessel is arrested, to release it is an absolute priority.
We try to be proactive, and assist in advising on proposed charter party clauses because now the owners are under great pressure and/or forced to accept terms that they would normally not accept. These terms can affect the profitability of a vessel, apart from low fares and in these instances we provide advice and guidance, to avoid these traps for our members.
The nature of our work has not changed but simply we see more disputes (disputes) for small amounts, but large claims certainly have become even bigger.