Concordia: from Student dorms to a Global Leaders event
September is the time of year when New York becomes the center of attention of the word. All the foreign dignitaries are there, attending the UN General Assembly. Since 2011 they have a new home, a very fresh and forward thinking one, it is called the Concordia Summit. This year Impakter magazine and myself were invited to join in. A great opportunity to catch an insider glimpse into a world of big ideas and the moves as well as movers and shakers behind them. So I caught up with one of the two founders of this very coveted event, Nicholas Logothetis, the Board Chairmen of Concordia.
Nicholas Logothetis, prior to becoming an Executive Board Member of the Libra Group and co-founding Concordia, spent several years working in the media industry where he gained experience at the News Corporation, British Sky Broadcasting, Fox News Channel, Bryan Cave LLP and Husch Blackwell Sanders. Today he is still a member of the Royal Institute of International Affairs London, the National Press Club Washington DC and the Overseas Press Club. A very impressive backdrop to the build up of Concordia Summit.
Logothetis showed his entrepreneurial inclination and philanthropic interests early in life: While still in high school, he started with his friend Matthew Swift an after-school snack business that grew to earn them $350,000 in revenues within two years, the profits of which were donated to charities.
In 2011, Matthew and Nicholas took this entrepreneurial, high-school friendship to a higher level when they co-founded Concordia with the goal of creating a more prosperous and sustainable future. The key idea is to facilitate collaboration between the private, public and non-profit sectors to enable them to better address the challenges our world. Concordia, according to its mission statement, is “dedicated to actively fostering, elevating, and sustaining cross sector partnerships for social impact.” In just eight years, the Concordia Summit acquired the well-deserved status of a top, indispensable global hub for partnerships. That is fast.
In hope of learning more about Concordia’s history, I sat down with Nick and asked him the story of this remarkable success.
Q: You launched Concordia in 2011 and by 2017 more than 3000 people attended your annual summit, including hundreds of leaders and dignitaries from the world of politics, culture, and philanthropy. But you were entering a field dominated by the World Economic Forum and the “Davos Elite”. Can you share with us your experience of how you got there in just eight short years?
NL: We founded Concordia in 2011 and it has slowly built up on itself. Each year we grow. We started with a summit with 100 people on September 20, 2011, and as we sit here now in New York eight years later, we have a little over 3700 people. We don’t view ourselves as being a competitor to anyone; what we try to do is bring together a group of people who are both high-level CEOs and key political leaders. This year alone we have 16 sitting heads of state or government, something that we’re very proud of, as it’s the most we’ve ever had. We have many different CEOs of multinational businesses, cabinet secretaries from around the world, and so on. But we also want people who strive to become leaders but are not there yet to feel free to come to Concordia. So we make it a very open organization, a very open forum that is as inclusive as possible. That’s something that we pay close attention to.
Much like the World Economic Forum?
NL: Yes, and for us it’s obviously important to have those people, but we also want young and up-and-coming people.
What Concordia event stands out in your memory? Which one was a turning point?
NL: I think the turning point for us in terms of the New York summit, when it transitioned from an afterthought during UN General Assembly week to a big player, was in 2015 when the sitting vice president Joe Biden came. It was lucky for us that it took place at the end of September 2015, right in the middle of his deciding whether or not to run for president. That really lifted the profile of the organization. But it’s been a steady growth. We’re proud of that. It’s not just having a bout of tremendous growth and then flattening out, we also have the ability to grow slow and steady. And we’ve done events outside New York and the United States, the first one in Miami in 2016, followed up by an event in Colombia and then in Athens, Greece, in June 2017. Then we had this most recent one in Colombia again, in July 2018, where we had pretty much all of the Colombian political system, the president, the president elect at that time and the business community. I like those smaller summits with about a thousand people, where we can really dive into regional issues.
In the Photo: Vice President Joe Biden at the 2015 Concordia Summit in New York, NY, October 1st, 2015. Photo Credit: CWA.Events
Do you know what the attendance is today?
NL: Our final numbers are roughly 3650, and the maximum amount of people in the building at one time is usually anywhere between 2000 and 2500.
That’s very impressive. What were the most interesting interventions? You’ve had some remarkable people speak at your events: heads of state, US administration officials, UN managers, Fortune 500 CEOs and non-profit leaders from Bill Clinton to George Soros. Which ones stood out to you?
NL: It’s difficult for me because often I don’t get to hear the speeches because I’m doing things like this interview or out running logistics. There have been a number of memorable speeches. I think the speeches and the strategic dialogue style that we had in Athens was very impactful on a lot of people. We talked about the refugee crisis, we had a number of refugees there, we had the president and the prime minister of Greece. It was a very momentous occasion for a lot of people. I happen to think that the president elect, now President of Colombia, Iván Duque gave an amazing speech in Spanish at our summit in Bogotá a few weeks ago that really struck me as very impressive.
In the Photo: Iván Duque Márquez, president-elect of the republic of Colombia, at the Concordia summit in Bogota, July 2018. Photo Credit: Concordia
You started in New York, timing your annual summit with the UN General Assembly that always meets in September, which no doubt helped to secure the presence of a number of political leaders with everyone in the same place at the same time. Were there any scheduling difficulties with this timing? Were you afraid of losing people to competition such as UN meetings?
NL: I would say it’s 80 percent positive and 20 percent negative to do an event during this time in New York. The positive factor is that it’s not just heads of state who viewed this week as a gathering place in New York. You’ve also got CEOs, you’ve got nonprofit leaders—everyone was there, making it obviously much easier to secure their attendance. The biggest downside is the expense, as everything is 50 percent more expensive. But we started this in 2011, and every year since then we’ve held it during this week, so I think people expect it from us and we will continue to do it.
In the Photo: The 2012 Concordia Summit on Sept. 27., 2012 in New York, NY. Photo Credit: Concordia
Aside from timing and geography, are you planning more summit events outside of the US or different events?
NL: As part of the natural growth of an organization like Concordia, there’s only a limited depth that you can go into at a summit like this because there are just so many people, so much chaos, so little time. We do about 40 events a year, some are very small, some are not public—we hosted a dinner for the secretary general of the UN about a month ago in DC with about 20 people. The head of the IMF was there, the US ambassador to the UN and the secretary of state. Then we decided to do regional events in places where we felt we could have an impact. If you said let’s do an event in Australia, I would say that we don’t know enough people there so we wouldn’t be able to be successful. In Colombia and in Athens that’s different, so that’s why we focus on those areas.
The P3 Impact Awards fit neatly into your overall strategy, both to make Concordia better known and to draw attention to pressing issues like the recent award that went to sanitation efforts in Bangladesh. Can you tell me more about how Concordia sets up partnerships? This is very demanding work. For example, the partnership with Postmates Americares, or now most recently with the UNHCR and the Global Blockchain Business Council. What is the secret? How do you manage the give-and-take all of this requires?
NL: Luckily I don’t but our fantastic team does and one of the main reasons why Concordia was set up was to act as an external “pushing-together” mechanism of groups. There’s so much going on in the world. There are a lot of people who are annoyed at a lot of things and who don’t get things done just because they don’t. So Concordia hires very emotionally intelligent people who are very able to handle managing three-way or four-way relationships between different groups. It is very difficult, but that’s why we do it, that’s why we exist. So there’s no secret to it. It’s to not be annoyed, it’s to have certain red lines; we don’t tolerate people who are rude, we don’t tolerate people who are inappropriate with our staff. But generally within certain boundaries it all comes together somehow and it’s up to our staff.
The Concordia Partnership Index, launched in 2013 is an impressive endeavor. Can you share with us plans and innovations that Concordia is working on or planning to launch?
NL: The Index is actually not in existence anymore. We tried and it didn’t really work out. It was actually my idea, so I’m kind of sad about that. It requires a lot of manpower and a lot of independent data that we just don’t have the ability to synthesize in the correct way and whatever we did, Chile kept coming out on top. We couldn’t get buy-in from countries. If Chile won, Chile should send the president of Chile to accept it, but it didn’t work out. What we’re trying to do and the most interesting and exciting part of the next phase of Concordia is really creating hubs of partnership facilitators. We want to think of ourselves as a cross between E-Harmony and a marriage counselor: bringing together groups who want to work together, fostering their partnership and helping them along. So the focus now is essentially brokering public private partnerships.
In the Photo: The 2015 Concordia Summit on October 2nd, 2015 in New York, NY. Photo Credit: Concordia
Your vision statement is inspiring: “Concordia aims to create a global community where challenges are solved collaboratively and inclusively.” How do you see Concordia’s future ten years from now?
NL: I hope that in ten years Concordia will be self-sustaining, but Matt and I are involved in a non-executive level that has a fully independent board. It makes the decisions and steers the organization in its own way so that it continues to grow, continues to be inclusive, continues to do what it’s doing, but on a bigger scale and with more direct on-the-ground impact.