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The Athenian, April, 1996, vol. XXI, no. 270, pp. 14-15


INTENETworking the Diaspora

by Diane Carvisiglia

A group of young energetic Greeks have created an Institute which, among other things, is connecting Greek aroung the globe through the Internet.

There is an expanding number of yound Greeks who are highly qualified, most possessing a Master's Degree, and many working toward a Ph.D. or having recently received one. The problem is, they are not in Greece

Having studied abroad, they often decide to live and work there, thus causing Greece itself to suffer from a "brain drain". But there is a group of students and young professionals in Cambridge, Massachusetts who are working hard to rectify that.

In 1993, they created the non-profit Hellenic Resources Institute (HRI), with the goal of linking Greek public policy-makers and academicians, professionals, entrepreneurs and scientists of the Greek diaspora and the international community. Based both in Cambridge, Massachusetts and in Athens, HRI's scope of operations encompasses all countries in which there is an identifiable nucleus of Hellenic Resources.

By opening the lines of communication between the Greek diaspora and Greek public policy-makers, HRI brings Greek decision-making centers into contact with experts of the international community. They hope that the exchange of information and knowledge will lead to more informed and effective policy-making in Greece.

In just a few years, HRI has produced tangible results, with an organizational structure which is as tightly defined as that of any world-class corporations. There is an Executive Body which, in collaboration with a Board of Trustees and an Advisory Assembly, identifies projects that fall within the scope of the Institute;w goals. These projects, or focus areas are carried out by bodies called Hellenic Resources Groups (HRG's). The HRG's are autonomous, project-oriented groups comprised of multi-disciplinary teams of experts who gather to address, research and make recommendations on particular projects.

THE GROUPS OF HRI

One of these project groups publishes is own magazine, Emphasis: A Journal of Hellenic Issues.

Created in February 1995, Emphasis serves as a forum in which Greek, American and other experts can express opinions on issues directly and indirectly influencing Greece. Published quarterly, the journal is distributed through subscriptions and other channels.

Another group is taking a look at the Greek stock market in order to explain how stock prices move in the Athens Stock Exchange and to determine the efficiency of the existing institutional structure. Ultimately, the HRI-Greek Stock Market Project will propose crucial innovations that could make the capital markets in Greece work more efficiently.

The HR-Paideia team was formed to examine the education system in Greece, analyzing what Greek academics and students think of the currently-proposed socio-economic models for educational reforms. This group will produce a policy paper incorporating original and pre-existing data.

Every year, under the auspises of the HR-Visits group, Greek policy-makers are invited to Cambridge for a ten-day series of meetings. The first Visits Program, in November 1994, was a resounding success. This formidable feat of organization provided visiting members of the Greek House of Parliament an opportunity to meet with members of the Greek-American academic, professional and political communities in Boston, New York and Washington, DC. The busy schedule set by the HRI group for their visitors included essentially sending the Parliament members back to school. Their guests attented lectures held at Harvard University on such topices as "The Questions of Leadership in the Conduct of Foreign Policy", "Greece and the Balkans in the 1990's", "Mass Media and Public Opinion" and "Greece and Albania in the 1990's: An Exercise in Negotiations".

GREECE AND CYBERSPACE

One of the most interesting and far-reaching of HRI's projects is its HR-Net, which takes advantage of the tremendous potential of the Internet. HR-Net was founded with the recognition that the incorporation of the Internet into decision-making processes is a priority for governments of the US and other developed countries.

HR-Net has provided access for the Greek government to the vast amount of information, vital to Greek interests, which passes through the Internet every day. Until the formation of HR-Net, Greek policy-makers had no way to access or respond to this information, which includes articles in the international press pertaining to Greece and its neighbors, important documents and resolutions of international organizations (such as the UN, NATO, OSCE, the World Bank, etc.), as well as propaganda transmitted by neighboring states like FYROM and Turkey.

This wealth of information is already available to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education, and will soon be provided to the Greek Embassy in Washington, DC, the Greek Parliament and to Greek Consulates around the world.

Using World Wide Web (WWW), the Internet's most powerful tool, individual organizations may become part of HR-Net, giving them the opportunity to promote their activities, services or products to millions of users at a minimal cost.

HRI IN ACTION

During the recent Greek-Turkish conflict in the Aegean, HR-Net became the only medium with complete information for Greeks abroad, establishing it in the US as the ultimate source of objective data. Every day during the crisi, Demetrios Paneras, one of the project's founders in Cambridge, forwarded the most recent information over the network, and during that period, found that there were 202,000 approaches to the net every day, compared with the usual 55,000.

In addition to the regular news items, the HRI teams mobilized to compile other information for the network, publishing British naval maps citing the legitimacy of the Greek claims and essays on the legal aspects of the conflict.

Keeping in line with HRI's strict non-partisan approach to information, HR-Net, an open-access service, states the Turkish viewpoint as well. Of the thousands of users logging on, a good number of them were Turks. The data was so valuable that even the embassies in Washington, DC derived most of their information from HR-Net.

A BUNCH OF LUNATIC ACADEMICS

To start an organization of HRI's scope is not an easy job for seasoned corporate veterans, let alone a group of people whose average age is 26 to 28. The group's founders had to do a lot of campaigning to win support for their idea. Haris Tzimitras, one of HRI's facilitators in Athens, explains, "We had to convince people that a young bunch of lunatic academics could accomplish anything. Now, they are convinced, becaise we've actually achieved something. We have a track record now, and we are getting positive responses not only from the Greek government, but also the Greek press."

To prove the non-partisan point, the HR-Visits program invites ministers and members of Parliament from all parties to address issues that are common to the interests of Greece, not to particular political groups.

HRI's efforts are paying off, and they are now getting some well-deserved recognition. Michael Dukakis, former Massachusetts governor and US persidential cadidate says, "I am excited by the potential contributions of this non-partisan organization to the peaceful political and economic development of Greece." Moneagle Stearns, former US Ambassador to Greece, is equal in his praise. "It (the Hellenic Resources Institute) deserves the support of all who believe, as I do, that the talents of young Greeks like these are badly needed in the disoriented world that has emerged from the Cold War."

These two notable figures believed so strongly in the potential of HRI that they now serve on tis Board of Trustees, alog with Dr. John Brademas, former member of the US Congress and President Emeritus of New York University.

VISION OF THE FUTURE

Encouraged by their successes so far, hri envisions a steady expansion of their operations. There are now bases forming in Washington, DC, New York and London, and they are currently seeking people in the Chicago area. But their approach to expansion is a logical as their organizational structure, regcognizing that a slow a and solid approach will serve them much better than a rushed, disorganized one.

Plans are already underway for the next State Visit, scheduled for this coming autumn. This time, HRI will be assisted by the Greek embassy in Washington, DC and the USIA (US Information Agency).

As is the case with all non-profit organizations, HRI is always seeking funding. It now operates solely from individual contributions, fund-raising events, and the volunteer efforts of a group of energetic young people, most of who devode a large protion of their time between taking exams and defending their post-doctoral theses.

And how can one get in touch with them? Through the computer, of course. Their E-mail address is info@hri.org, and on the Internet they are located at http://www.hri.org

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