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Nikos Giannis is a man of civil society, as he says. From Athens to Brussels and from there to Zagori, he has been engaged with science, politics, entrepreneurship, communication and more. There is nothing that Nikos Giannis hasn’t dealt with with dedication and success, but also with the desire to move forward to a world which will be a little better; because he still believes that the world can get better.
By Mia Kollia
Translated by Alexandros Theodoropoulos
#business #tourism #entrepreneurship
- What studies have you done?
I started with the thinking to study Medicine, because my parents wanted it very much. I eventually switched to paramedical professions, but I turned everything around, as my mother had the foresight to understand that I wasn’t meant to be a doctor, so I took exams again and went to the law school. I studied in Athens and then I did postgraduate studies in France on political law. Then came the PhD in European Studies, but I stayed in what is called European Constitutional Law.
- So your first professional experience was in law?
I worked as a lawyer in the Scientific Service of the Parliament, in the European Affairs, Institutions and Transparency Committee, as well as in the European Parliament and in the Council of Europe. In 2000, after a competition, I took on the position of Communications Manager at the European Commission's Directorate General for Development.
I stayed there for about four years and then, upon my return, I became president and CEO of the Piraeus Port Authority. It was a valuable experience for me, but I only stayed in this position for a year, because it was a huge responsibility for decisions that were ultimately made by others. Then I returned to the Parliament for a short period of time, in the Institutions and Transparency Committee and in the elections I ran as a candidate and I did quite well. Then came the financial crisis and I left the country. I went to Belgium where I’ve lived permanently since then.
- Can you summarise your philosophy towards work and the world in general?
In this journey of 30 years to date, it is now clear that I am a man of civil society. What always excites me is the possibility of making a direct contribution to benefit the whole.
We, as humans, should have a goal in order to be happy. My own goal has always been to seek what is good for everyone and not just for myself. For many reasons, politics is not the pursuit of the good for all people. For me, the heart of the goal is to do something yourself - even if that something is small - and have the opportunity to achieve it, but not with other people's money. Because political ideologies sometimes may be about the good of the people, but always it’s about the people's money.
In volunteering, in civil society and in corporate social responsibility, no one forces you to take action; you want to go the extra mile for others. There are also many small clubs that take such action, with a huge direct offer to the community. I find all this charity-centered way of doing things very charming especially when the money comes from the market. To go out of your way to raise money and serve such a cause is a sacred act.
Do you think people with vision can make a difference today and inspire others to join them?
It is well-documented that the further south and east you go in Europe, the more self-oriented the political culture becomes. In other words, we are individualists and we don't like to be held accountable. Do not forget that until recently we were an agricultural society and farmers don’t follow the production lines of the industry, where everything is orderly and defined.
Greek society has a critical look towards non-governmental organisations and many times for insignificant reasons, a huge explosion follows from many people. We don’t have the maturity to accept that some people have decided to volunteer. So if it seems inconceivable to you that someone is not motivated by profit, then there is definitely a problem in our country and it's a shame. We don’t have a strong sense of organised civic participation outside of politics and this is to our detriment.
There is, of course, a widespread mood for voluntary commitment, with various occasions such as the Olympic Games or natural disasters, but that's about it. The Marxist concept, on the one hand, and the neoliberal one, on the other, have contributed to this. A basic analysis of these two theories, which coincide at this point, is that there is no voluntary motivation. That is, man is driven by his material interest.
- Does all this work differently in Europe and America?
In many countries abroad, people welcome and embrace the action of civil society organizations more easily, i.e. NGOs. The reason is that it has been measured that the ratio of performance in the public sector to the third sector is one to eight. That is, if you want to go to an African country and do a favor, you have to give eight times more money, if you want to do it through the public sector. If you give an eighth of that to an organization, it will have exactly the same effect. No matter how much mishandling is done, no matter how much self-interest we assume may arise, in the overall picture, the passion of people who choose to work in rescuing migrants, for example, overflows to such an extent that it creates this ratio of one to eight. And that is the most important thing.
- Tell us about the vision of Epekeina Hora (the land beyond) in Zagori.
I started Epekeina hora in 2010, in Zagori, as a contribution of mine, which is not aimed at any political or profit-making gain. I changed many things then myself - I started walking, running, taking care of my body. I also lost my father at that time and I renovated the house in the village, along with some areas around it and before the work was finished, we started the activities, which aim to develop communities of interests and practices.
Today, the infrastructure is complete, we have expanded in other directions and we are currently preparing other infrastructures. We also built a theater on the site of a 200-year-old threshing floor, which can host cultural events. We have built a library and there are also many beautiful spaces with amazing views of nature and four hostels. So now there is all the equipment and tools needed to make the best out of it.
- Do you feel any satisfaction regarding the anticipation you had for your dream?
Our original goal has been achieved: when you come, you feel that you are leaving the rest of the world and you are somewhere over there, somewhere beyond that. It’s like opening a window, getting out of your everyday life and going somewhere where you are in a mood to see everything positively, where you smile and they smile at you, you have expectations to let go, learn and change. In the end, this led to three key words, which I call pillars, and these are freedom, volunteerism, that is to share and thirdly, "one world", which means that we are all together in this world and we should move on and have fun.
We also have some values, which are: knowledge, nature and culture. The value of knowledge is great, because knowledge is the greatest joy one can feel. Our second value is nature, because I cannot, in any way, see man detached from nature. Living in big cities means that we have lost enough of nature but man is part of nature. The third is culture. What separates us from the animal and plant kingdoms in the context of nature? The fact that we have a brain, which is driven by creations that we accept as civilization - either technical civilization, i.e. cars, satellites, etc. or in the arts such as theater, music, dance etc.
- Who is the Epekeina Hora for?
First of all, let me say that I derive enormous mental satisfaction from the psychology of our guests when they leave. They thank us for giving them the opportunity to look at their lives and decide to change their course. As part of climate change activities, people from all over the world have come to Epekeina hora. We are addressing everyone and we need to work more on the part of communication, so that everything we have created becomes more widely known.
- What are your other occupations?
I have my job at the Commission, where for the last two years I have been dealing with the legal issues of Digital Transformation as a biopolitical subject. Mainly, we are trying to "sell" European legislation to the developing countries of Africa. In other words, issues concerning human rights, the protection of personal data, etc. I also have a family with four children, which is quite demanding. My third job is the Next Country as I said above, which requires both money and time from me. Volunteering, and outside of Ekeina, has always been and always will be in my life, in whatever I can offer.