Benefaction in Modern Greece -Theory and History

The communities of the Hellenic diaspora have been the cradle of Modern Greek benefaction. Eminent entrepreneurs acting as benefactors undertake works of common interest, substituting for the official state, collectivities and institutions. The benefactor realises a personal epopee in the service of the common good. Benefaction for him represents a defining passion determining his/her personal and collective functioning.

Benefaction as historical phenomenon continues today, mainly in the form of institutional benefaction.

History, ideology, personal and social mechanisms underlying the practice of benefaction are thoroughly analysed in the frame of the theory that benefactors represent organic intellectuals of the bourgeoisie during the age of its historical ascendency as well as in the present era. of its world hegemony.

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The new image of benefaction in the 21st century*


The English edition of Professor Matoula Tomara-Sideris’ book on the history of benefaction in Modern Greece is coming out soon

The phenomenon of Greek communities abroad in the 18th, 19th and 20th century constitutes an exemplary cradle of benefaction and highlights its significance in the formation of modern Hellenism. Benefaction flourished in the communities through the action of outstanding entrepreneurs of the diaspora, who lived and served the community structure and community life. It is ascertained indeed, that their function shares common characteristics regardless of specific conditions such as place, time, means and purpose. In the present, historic reality generates conditions which render benefaction deeds a necessity. Nevertheless, the way benefaction function is materialized in the 21st century society bears unique historical and operational features. In the past, the benefactor used to personally undertake the accomplishment of a social work, substituting collectivities, in a period that the point at issue was the establishment of sovereignty and socio-cultural project of the rising bourgeoisie. Benefaction in the era of globalization In the 21st century, in the era of globalization, which tends to the elimination of national borders, and the bourgeoisie is firmly dominant, in conditions of decline of social cohesion, deep crisis of the welfare state has emerged. Moreover, in modern times, the scales of both social needs and benefaction practice have changed. Foundations have been established, which modify the modus operandi of benefaction, while in parallel they impart an additional role to it, which focuses on the investment and production of new social capital. These shifts in the historical field mainly resulted to the emergence of the ideology and practice of foundational benefaction, which fast developed into a large, planet scale benefaction. This new form and scale of benefaction is operationally implemented through the action of Foundations. For instance, the work of Foundations established by Bill Gates, Warren Buff ett, Pierre Omidyar, Jeff Skoll, Larry Page, Sergey Brin in the U.S.A., and by many others all over the continents, such as the Indians Anji Reddy and J. R. D. Tata and recently the Taiwanese Chang Yung-Fα, constitutes a planet scale and range benefaction. Thus, benefaction function today is mainly mediated and carried on by collective bodies (Foundations). This form of benefaction function, which on a global level started in the early 20th century, today is characterized by the scale and dimensions of the granting capacity. Thus, there is a distinction between Foundations and Mega-Foundations, in which Foundations with a property over one billion dollars are categorized. For instance, in 2015 Bill Gates Foundation exceeded 37 billion dollars in available funds. Both forms of Foundations adopt as their declared aim to intervene in society for its welfare. In this sense, they do not constitute a negation, but a historical evolution of the essence of benefaction. Harmonized with their times, contemporary prosperous Greeks continue an active presence as benefactors, regardless of the change in the way their beneficent function is realized – that is, the fact that beneficent function is not mainly accomplished through personal initiative, but through the work of the Foundations they have established as a prominent tool. Foundations bearing names such as Onassis, Niarchos, Bodossakis, Latsis, Vardinoyannis, Goulandris, Leventis, Laskaridis, Costopoulos etc. materialize the ideology of benefaction, functioning as sui generis collective money-bearing subjects, which contribute to the development and social cohesion, while in parallel they secure their founder’s posthumous reputation. Eloquent illustrations of the modus operandi of foundational benefaction are the following: The Onassis Foundation was established in 1975. It supports Greek studies in universities, research centers, elementary and high schools in various countries abroad (e.g. U.S.A., Australia, France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Great Britain, Egypt, Turkey, etc.). It provides scholarships to Greek postgraduate students and candidate Ph. doctors, as well as to foreign university professors and researchers. At the same time, it supports the cultural and academic activities of the Onassis Foundation branch in New York. In the health sector, it fully covers the needs of the Onassis Cardiac Surgery Center of Athens. In 2010, the Onassis Cultural Center was inaugurated in Athens. It is a cultural center which hosts and supports numerous activities and artists. The Stavros Niarchos Foundation was established in 1996. It supports education, health, sports, arts and culture, as well as social welfare. In 2016, the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Centre has been inaugurated. It includes the National Library, the National Opera, while it hosts artistic, educational and entertaining activities. The Bodossakis Foundation was established in 1972. It supports the promotion of education, and of health care for the financially deprived classes, and the protection of the natural environment. It provides scholarships for postgraduate studies in various fields, in Greek or foreign universities. The “Fondation Latsis Internationale”, established in Geneva in 1975, awards since 1983 the Latsis Prize to four academics, one Greek and one European researcher for their contribution to European science and technology. The “Fondation Latsis Internationale” is associated to the Ioannis S. Latsis Foundation, which was founded in Athens in 2005. It finances projects supporting education (eg. Latseio School, Psychico College), health (e.g. a wing in the Thriassio Hospital of Eleusis), social welfare, environment, culture. For the promotion of the naval and business history of Greece, in 2007 it created the floating museum “Neraida”. The Marianna V. Vardinoyannis Foundation was established in 1997. It supports education and provides scholarships to Greek students for studies abroad, as well as to foreign students for continuing their studies in Greek Universities. It supports health and cultural heritage. In collaboration with UNESCO it undertakes initiatives on a national and European level, implementing the “We care” project. In addition, Marianna Vardinoyanni herself is the soul of the Association of Friends of Children with Cancer “Elpida” (Hope) which has created hospitalization and care units for these children. The Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation was established in 1979. Its main aim is to support arts. In 1979, it founded the Museum of Modern Art in the island of Andros. It also provides scholarships for artistic studies. Besides, it created the model home for the aged “Athens Home” and contributed to the advancement of “Athens Old People’s Home”. The A.G. Leventis Foundation was founded in 1979. It supports educational, cultural and charity aims in Cyprus,Greece and worldwide. It also supports care for the environment, scientific and medical research, preservation of the archaeological monuments and the exhibition of Cypriot antiquities collections in Museums all over the world. The Aikaterini Laskarides Foundation was founded in 2007. It aims to the promotion of the Greek letters, the Greek culture and the Historic and Naval research on a Greek and global level (e.g. China, Holland etc.). The Ioannis F. Costopoulos Foundation was established in 1979. It supports cultural events, education programmes and research projects for the promotion of the Greek culture, the letters and arts within and beyond the Greek territory. In particular, in the modern era of globalization, Foundations embody benefaction ideology functioning as “collective organic intellectuals”, not only in the scale of Greece, but in the scale of humanity. Through their Foundations, the Greek contemporary benefactors (them also) support health, education, research, social care, innovation, natural environment, cultivation of knowledge and art. That is, they function as organizers of culture and society in a national and ecumenical scale. For instance, besides its contribution in Greek initiatives and enterprises, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation has also supported international organizations and initiatives (for children, education, MoMA of New York and numerous other cultural and educational organizations, the Alexandria Patriarchate, the Orthodox Autocephalous Church of Albania etc.). From this point of view, foundational benefaction is a significant subject of the future. And this, from two sides at least: as a subject of the future of culture, since financing, framing and orientation of knowledge and art are determined in a large degree by the choices and acts or omissions of these Foundations. Also, as a subject of the future of the social bond, which is under great stress and redefined in the environment of globalization, and especially in the conditions of the present Greek crisis raging since 2009. Actually, present foundational benefaction represents an historical derivative and today’s dominant form of collective, organizational or institutional benefaction. Its actors are collective entities supported by powerful financial structures – banks, industries, corporations… The beneficent act reaches then a higher level regarding the scale and the tools supporting its materialization.

From personal to institutional benefaction

Thus, contemporary benefactors through their Foundations, which operate as collective organic intellectuals, utilize the tool and power of the organization, so as to accomplish what the individual benefactor used to materialize in the past. It is a historical development of the previous stage, serving similar purposes, by new means, though. Indeed, Foundations represent an impersonal mechanism which is programmed to materialize the will of the one (even absent) “personal other”. Any specific will of the Foundation does not refer to the general aim, but to the managerial choices in reference to the particular work at the time. Foundations reinforce civil society which functions as an intermediate space between the state and the citizen, supporting the willing participation of the individual in society and cultural reality. For instance, reinforcement of civil society has become a part of the strategic goals of the Bodossakis Foundation. In this perspective, in cooperation with Athens Municipality, it materializes the programme “Social Dynamo” for strengthening of organizations and groups of the civil society, with learning, support and networking as a linchpin. In parallel, through the “Giving for Greece” initiative, the Bodossakis Foundation intends to the creation of a wider network of social contribution for securing of a better future for Greece. In the same spirit, since 2013 it operates as an administrator of the programme “We are all citizens”. Through this programme, an amount of 7.3 million euros is given for the materialization of seventy-six works all over Greece, of which 100.000 people are benefited, who belong both in the general population and in socially vulnerable groups. Foundations cover collective needs exceeding the state potential. For example, in the pretext of the economic crisis and the influx of refugees in Greece (situations which had not been predicted), the Stavros Niarchos Foundation materialized the “Initiative against the Greek Crisis” programme, in two phases to the tune of 100.000.000 each (Phase A: 2012-2015 and Phase B: 2015-2016). These resources are distributed as such: Social care 66%, Health and Athletics 24%, Education 8%, Arts and Culture 2%. In a similar direction, in the period of crisis, from 2009 and then, the Bodossakis Foundation has supported more than 300 organizations who deal with distribution of messes, medicare of non-insured social groups and dealing with poverty. In parallel, Foundations undertake a complementary role to that of the state in reference to social economy. That is, through contemporary Foundations, preconditions for the development of social entrepreneurship are boosted. It is an alternative form of entrepreneurship, based on social economy through the re-investment of the largest part of earnings and the creation of new job positions for the citizens. The idea of social entrepreneurship on a global level expanded very fast as a successful practice of a social economy of solidarity.

*Source: The BusinessFile (June-July-August 2017, N.111) – Download PDF

The cotton roads of the Egyptian Greeks – Business File

Vanessa Alexakis

With no family or other obvious ties to the subject, Matoula Tomara-Sideri chose to study and research the Greeks of Egypt – a vibrant, prosperous and philanthropic community, which numbered in the hundreds of thousands until Nasser’s Egyptian Revolution – out of a special spiritual kinship, she tells Business File.

Her fascination and admiration for the Egyptiot Greeks has led her to research them extensively through hard to come by primary and secondary sources. This has led to a series of articles published in international and Greek historical journals, as well as authoritative books, which also include the study of Diaspora women and other topics. The Academy of Athens awarded her for her book Alexandrian Families – Choremis, Benakis and Salvagos, which showcases some of the better known families from the Greek community of Alexandria.

Tomara-Sideri is also busy at protecting the works of others as president of the Hellenic Diaspora Research Group, while also leading the research facility at the Historical Archive of the Greek Community of Cairo, and that of the Egyptiot Hellenism’s Research Club. She is also part of the editorial board of the Journal of the Hellenic Diaspora.

Tomara-Sideri can also be found teaching historical demography and related subjects, such as “Community Hellenism and Benefaction” regularly at Panteion University in Athens, where she earned her bachelor’s degree before pursuing a postgrad in historical demography – in addition to history and sociology – at the Sorbonne and at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris.

Portraits of the past: Professor Matoula Tomara-Sideri has done extensive research on the once flourishing Greek community of Egypt

Can you tell us about your involvement with the study of Diaspora Greeks in Egypt; what triggered it?

The Hellenic Diaspora represents a prominent chapter of modern Greek History that was always of interest to me. My references to the Egyptiot Diaspora cover a period of almost two centuries – the 19th to the 20th centuries. It is a time when the eastern Mediterranean receives the western world’s expansion and influences, and takes part in the process of the contemporary world’s reshaping through national and liberation movements.

This journey from the Greek mainland to the Middle East’s communities and the large centres of Europe, and their return to Greece always keeps my interest alive. There are times that spiritual bonds are stronger than family ones. This is what happened to me, since I am studying for over a decade now Egyptiot Hellenism, respecting the memory of historical past and properly pointing out its importance, without a family connection or descent.

You’ve written extensively on the subject. How difficult has it been to gather information from primary sources for your work on the Greeks of Egypt?

A great part of my writing on Egyptiot Hellenism is about economic, social and political history. It is also about human history, that is, collective entities and eminent people of the time. As it always happens with the methodical work of historians when systemically inquiring forgotten testimonies, I was also led to dusty archives in Greece as well as in Egypt. I had to travel time and again to Alexandria and Cairo where the tracing of the Egyptiot Hellenism’s demographic development first became possible through the registries of the Alexandria Patriarchate and the Commissioner’s House in Cairo. Then I had to collect data from Greek Consulates, the Greek communities, the Alexandria and Cairo Chambers of Commerce. I also had to use personal and family archives as well as oral testimonies by descendants of the families I refer to.

Can you tell us about the flourishing community and how it changed over time, as well as of the prominent role Greeks played in Egypt’s famous cotton industry?

The Greeks’ settlement in modern Egypt took place at the beginning of the 19th century, during the Muhammad Ali period. The Greek community’s formation and course, its economic function mostly based on commerce, banking and exchange activities, river navigation, industry, as well as its privileged dealing with cotton reflect the era of its great flourishing in Egypt.

The Greeks were pioneers in cotton production, whether by introducing new methods of processing -Theodoros Rallis’ steam machines for instance, or by expanding production, such as Ioannis Zerbinis, who was the first to produce cotton oil and then soap, fertilizer and forage, or by creating new varieties of cotton, like N. Paracheimonas “Pelion”, Voltos Brothers’ “Voltos”, I. Sakellaridis’ “Sakel”, and others.

Greeks were also distinguished in commerce. It is worth noting that when, at the beginning of the 20th century, cotton represented 80 per cent of the total Egypt export, a quarter of this export was accomplished by five Greeks – Choremis, Benakis, Kazoulis, Salvagos, and Rodokanakis, along with their staff.

The total of Egyptiot Hellenism’s economic function and the powerful weapon of its continuous, tenacious, productive endeavour to invent new means, cotton varieties and innovations undoubtedly secured the high economic prosperity of the community as well as of the whole country. Thus epopeia [epopee] and eupeia [beautiful speech] are precisely the two emblematic signifiers summarising the historical trace of the Greek presence in the country of Nile in the context of Egyptiot Hellenism’s formation, growth and flourishing.

Professor Matoula Tomara-Sideri’s trilogy on the subject of Hellenism in Egypt is published by Kerkyra Publications- Economia Publishing house. Her first book, currently in its 4th edition is titled Alexandrian Families: Choremis, Benakis and Salvagos – and was winner of the Academy of Athens’ Kordela prize. Her second book, in its 2nd edition, it titled Greeks Of Cairo. Her latest book which was recently published is Egyptiot Hellenism: on the cotton roads.

Egypt was ablaze with Greeks before they were forced to leave during Nasser. What is the most interesting part of the history of Greeks in Egypt for you?

There were two features of Egyptiot Greeks up to Nasser’s nationalistic revolution which forced them to leave Egypt, many of them returning to the national centre and becoming a part of the Greek state’s development and modernisation processes; Others either returned to Cyprus or continued their Diaspora journey to central and south Africa, Australia, Canada.

These features were the stability of their demographic development, as well as their tight community bonds that further promoted the spirit of solidarity and overall intellectual development of the community, an area where the intelligentsia, the Cairians G. Skliros and Stratis Tsirkas, as well as the uniquely idiosyncratic, charming Alexandrian Costantine. P. Cavafis, an intellectual figure of universal radiance, hold a special place.

You’ve also focused a lot on benefactors. Can you tell us about the Greek families you’ve researched in Egypt? Who were the biggest benefactors?

Besides Greek economic activity, the Greeks’ social contribution and the function of Egyptiot Euergetism [Benefaction] were indeed demonstrated. The latter significantly promoted the formation of national consciousness and identity, as well as the reconstruction of national state.

Among these Greeks, the names of Georgios Averof, Michael and Theodoros Tositsas, Nikolaos Stournaris, Pantazis Vassanis, Dimitrios and Alexandros Kassavetis, Theodoros Rallis were eminent. Indeed, some of them are among the distinguished personalities – Efstathios Glymenopoulos, Theodoros P. Kotsikas, I. D. Anastasi, Antonios Antoniadis, Nestoras Tsanaklis and others who contributed by expanding their benefaction activity to the host country and its people, to the strengthening and development of relations of wide recognition and reciprocation by the Egyptians. In fact, their names survived despite history’s turbulence and the complete turnover of the historical context through the Nasserian revolution, implying that the Egyptian society recognises the contribution of Greek benefactors to the realisation of its own historical scopes: For example, as Cozzika Station on the El Marg – Helwan railroad line, as Gianaclis Region at the 68th km of the Alexandria – Cairo Road, as Glymanopoulos Gallery in the Roman Museum of Alexandria, or as Antoniadis Garden included in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina complex, and so on, show.

The part Greek women played in Egypt covers a great part of the social contribution and the humanistic function. These exemplarily women developed remarkable activity at all levels of community life. They formed benevolent societies and charitable organisations serving the needs of the orphanages and the nursing homes in Alexandria and Cairo, thereby securing care and nursing of the community’s orphans, poor and aged persons.

Can you tell us about the role of Greek women in Egypt?

They also founded Egypt’s National Organisation of Greek Women that developed a rare social activity, among others, through international unions, such as the National Vigilance Association, the Traveller’s Aid Society, and others.

During the Balkan Wars and later, during the first and second World Wars, along with the Scientific Society “Ptolemy I”, they helped cover the needs of Greece as volunteers.

Athina Roussaki-Germanou, a teacher, talked at Port Said in 1912 about women’s compulsory education, while her colleague Kaiti Malandri proclaimed “make way for women” in April 1931 at Alexandria’s first Teacher’s Convention.

Overall, I would describe the role of women’s contribution to the community as a social intervention of enormous significance, as well as a kind of human ‘complementarity’ necessarily leading to individual functions.

What is your next research project or book going to be about?

I will keep researching the Hellenic Diaspora, studying more closely the history of Egyptiot Hellenism and extending my research to include other countries. I will once again focus on Euergetism – that is Benefaction – in the past and today.

I also teach the course “Community Hellenism and Euergetism” to the students of Panteion University, Athens, and some of their writings on the subject are published in the site of the Society for the Study of Hellenic Diaspora (E.Μ.Ε.ΔΙΑ) under my direction.


Relationships within families in the Greek Diaspora

A presentation and discussion in English with Professor Matoula Tomara-Sideri (Panteion University, Athens), Dr Nikos Sideris (psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and writer) and Alexandra Vovolini (publisher and CEO of Kerkyra Publications-Economia Group) on the occasion of the launch of A Likely Impossibility by Dimitra Philactou (pen name of Mitsi David).


Organised by the Hellenic Centre, London

Friday 5 October, 7.15pm – Friends Room,

Hellenic Centre, 16-18 Paddington Street, London W1U 5AS
For more info please visit: