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Learning never stops

diaspora panos a panay
Panos A Panay

In a creative and entrepreneurial force of nature PAUL LAMBIS meets a man keen to see the world plug into the power of music, and Cyprus

Cyprus-born Panos A Panay has always strived to bring about change through innovation as seen in his establishment of one of the first online music platforms for musicians to connect with music promoters, harnessing the power of the then-nascent internet to enable music to find an audience.

Panay has come a long way since then, and is now the President of The Recording Academy and presenter of the Grammy Awards. He credits this success to his roots. “I would not be who I am if were not Cypriot. The way I see the world, the way I relate to the world, my desire and drive to change, to progress, to innovate – all come down to this very elemental thing: my birthplace.”

Diaspora communities, according to Panay, can create multi-directional, multi-dimensional networks linking their homelands and those, like him, who have moved abroad.

“The contemporary Greek Cypriot diaspora has a global presence and an international influence that can play a pivotal role in encouraging foreign investment on the island,” he said.

diaspora his bookPanay started out with Sonicbids, a platform for emerging artists to connect with music promoters, resulting in over one million gigs booked in over 80 countries around the world. “We radically changed the way the industry connects, created new opportunities for hundreds of thousands of artists that once were available to a select few, and helped change attitudes towards independent music.”

He then oversaw the opening of Berklee’s campus in Abu Dhabi and their expansion to China and the K-12 sector, incorporating new technologies across the institution.

“I have always been motivated by empowering creatives,” he told the Cyprus Mail. “All of this has undoubtedly caused me to develop since, to accomplish many of the things I have – work for a software firm, teach in a classroom, or work in the media sector – one must learn how to learn.”

In 2021, Panayi co-authored Two Beats Ahead: What Musical Minds Teach Us About Innovation, selected as business book of the month by The Financial Times in April 2021.

“The book featured interviews with business leaders and top musicians such as Justin Timberlake, Pharrell Williams, T Bone Burnett, Gloria Estefan, Imogen Heap, and many more about how they approach innovation differently,” he said.

“A window into these brilliant mindsets, the book equips any entrepreneur or innovative thinker with tools they can put into practice to thrive in an evolving world.

Two Beats Ahead is all about the skills and mindsets that my Berklee education cultivated in me, and which served me throughout my own career in ways I never expected,” Panay recalled. “Listening, experimenting, connecting, demoing, reinventing – they all played a critical role in my life as an entrepreneur, executive, and educator. Our aspiration for this book is to elevate the conversation about the critical value of a creative education in today’s world.”

diaspora2 the grammy awards
The Grammy awards

Panay is now leading the effort to expand the mission of the Grammy Awards to a global community of creators, reflecting his vision of the world as more globalised and multicultural, “where creativity and creative content is produced, not just in places such as the United States of America and the United Kingdom, but also in cultures and regions around the world, incorporating K-pop from Korea, Reggaeton from Latin America, Afrobeats from Africa that are very different from 20 or 30 years ago.

“Media consumption follows youth population growth and that is happening outside the western countries and in regions such as the Middle East, Africa and China. So, like good footballers, we must go where the ball will go, not where it is now,” he explained.

But among the awards and changing roles, his attention has remained on his island home. “We must all educate ourselves about the amazing and diverse talent that exists on the island, work with local authorities to better understand, and frame vision, needs, competitive differentiators, and capabilities, and then be the loudest possible ambassadors out there,” Panay said.

“But investment cannot be manufactured or forced. Ultimately commercial investment does not care about passport or nationality; it cares about backing innovative ideas and world changing visions. And that must be cultivated from within the island by creating the right platforms and ecosystem that fosters these outcomes. It is a bi-directional process with much of that responsibility also being placed on locals as well as the diaspora.”

But success, according to Panay, comes down to good teams, not individuals, “and the humility to know that learning never stops.”

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