The Obama Foundation Leaders Europe program is a six-month, virtual leadership development and civic engagement program that seeks to inspire, empower, and connect emerging leaders from across Europe.
ABOUT THE PROGRAM
The Leaders: Europe program identifies emerging leaders working in government, civil society, and the private sector who have demonstrated a commitment to advancing the common good. It aims to build a growing network of innovative and ethical changemakers who seek to drive change in their communities while developing and supporting one another. Through a core set of shared values and leadership skills, the program seeks to lift up a new generation of civically active, positive role models who are prepared to create tangible solutions to the challenges in their communities, countries, Europe, and the world. Program offerings include:
Over six months, Leaders come together for virtual meetings to discuss some of the most challenging issues confronting Europe with the community leaders at the forefront of them.
Tailored workshops support Leaders in building their leadership toolkit, from mastering storytelling and mobilizing people to action, to building powerful movements and coalitions.
A community of support
The program includes opportunities for Leaders to meet virtually in small groups and for one-on-one conversations to build deep, lasting relationships that will carry them through their leadership journey.
Inspirational cultural events
An exciting series of virtual cultural events like live performances and stimulating conversations with artists and creative thinkers fosters a strong spirit of hope and community.
MEET THE LEADERS
Obama Leaders are emerging leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to advancing the common good. Our Leaders tackle a diversity of issues, but they have a lot in common—they have all driven positive change for their communities, are guided by core values, and share the Obama’s Foundation’s vision of leadership rooted in service to others.
Founder and Executive Director, #aufstehn
Maria Mayrhofer is the founder and executive director of #aufstehn (stand up), Austria’s largest and only non-partisan advocacy organization. Their mission is to promote and strengthen civil society participation in Austria, focusing on the issues of social justice and economic fairness, ecological sustainability, human rights protection, and deepening democracy. Maria co-founded #aufstehn in 2015, and since that time, the organization has run dozens of successful non-partisan campaigns, and used its collective power to shape the public discourse. She believes that the coming years are crucial and wants her community to feel strong, powerful, and connected as they stand up to battle the world’s most pressing problems.
Co-founder and CEO, Plan A
Lubomila Jurieva Jordanova is the co-founder and CEO of Plan A. The Berlin-based startup has developed an end-to-end platform that enables companies to measure, monitor, and reduce their environmental footprint and improve their environmental, social, and governance performance using machine learning and science. Plan A’s carbon accounting software, which assists businesses in reducing their emissions, has been used by over 400 companies since its launch and has reduced clients’ emissions by 8 percent on average this year. Lubomila is also the co-founder of the Greentech Alliance, a community of over 1,000 startups connected to over 500 advisors from venture capital, media, and business backgrounds. She is passionate about addressing climate change and believes there is nothing more powerful than collaboration and true commitment to impact.
STEVEN W. STAVROU
Co-founder and Director, CyprusInno
Steven William Stavrou is the co-founder and director at CyprusInno, an inter-communal social venture working towards building an island-wide entrepreneurial ecosystem on the divided island of Cyprus via a hybrid platform of digital tools, live events, and a physical space —all while utilizing a novel method of entrepreneurship as a mechanism for peacebuilding. In this role, Steven operates the organization’s innovation center, The Base, a military container that has been transformed into a peaceful, engaging, and thought-provoking space to increase dialogue and cooperation between separated communities. It is the world’s first innovation space located in a demilitarized zone. Over the past three years, CyprusInno has grown to over 3,000 members and organized 30 events with expert speakers and trainers. Steven is passionate about using different technologies and innovative methodologies to solve large, complex, global challenges.
Co-founder and CEO, CanopyLAB
Sahra-Josephine Hjorth is the co-founder and CEO at CanopyLAB, a Danish EdTech company founded in Copenhagen in 2015. CanopyLAB’s goal is to radically improve how people learn online. Today, the LAB connects nearly one million youth with more than 120 NGOs to provide thought-provoking content and skills-based training—focusing on sexual and reproductive rights, climate action, health, democracy, entrepreneurship, sustainability, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Sahra-Josephine believes that technology is a powerful tool for social change.
Executive Officer and Co-Founder, Diversidays
Anthony Babkine is the executive officer and co-founder of Diversidays, an organization that supports diversity within the tech industry. Through its programming, Diversidays helps underrepresented talent of any age, gender, ability, social or ethnic background, to enter the ranks of digital professions and businesses. Since 2017, the nonprofit’s work has supported over 2,200 people. Anthony is passionate about making change through collective action and achievement.
Legal Advocacy Director, Yazda
Natia Navrouzov leads the legal advocacy efforts of Yazda, an organization founded in 2014 to support victims of the Yazidi genocide. Since its inception, Yazda has provided Yazidi survivors of ISIS with humanitarian, accountability, and advocacy services in their post-genocide recovery. Natia is the organization’s first legal advocacy director, and she ensures that evidence is gathered in a survivor-centered way. Under Natia’s direction, survivors’ testimonies and crime sites have been documented for submission to to national and international justice mechanisms, including the International Criminal Court (ICC), and have led to the first genocide conviction of an ISIS member for crimes against Yazidi victims. She believes that survivors must be informed and empowered to make their own decisions about how to seek justice and has supported the establishment of the The Yazidi Survivors Network (YSN).
Founder, Union of Exiled Students
Rudi Osman is the founder of the Union of Exiled Students (UEE), a nonprofit organization that provides information, advocacy, training, and individual support to young refugees seeking higher education. With the help of his organization, 700 students were admitted to French institutions and given additional benefits, such as language classes and access to mental health services. Rudi is proud that his work gives exiled students in France a voice to demand better living and academic conditions.
Member, European Parliament, Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats
Delara Burkhardt is a member of the Social Democratic Party of Germany and the youngest German member of the European Parliament. As a member of the European Parliament’s Environment Committee, she works primarily on climate and biodiversity protection and the circular economy. She also works on the issue of migration in the European Parliament’s Home Affairs Committee. During her time in office, Delara has especially focused on the Green Deal and efforts to reduce EU-driven deforestation, ecosystem destruction and human rights violations with a focus on high-risk products like cocoa, leather, and coffee. Delara ran for office to bring the youth movement to the center of decision-making.
Co-Founder and General Partner, Planet A Ventures
Fridtjof Detzner is a co-founder and general partner of Planet A Ventures, an impact investment firm that provides early-stage financing and mentoring to highly scalable green technology startups, while tracking and projecting their positive environmental impact. Their strategy equips entrepreneurs with the knowledge to objectively define, visualize, and forecast the ecological effects of their product or service, allowing them to make long-term decisions at every stage of the process. In 2017, Fridtjof traveled the world to film a TV series documenting the world’s progress toward achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The harsh reality of the climate crisis and human-caused environmental deterioration that he witnessed compelled him to devote his time and energy to sustainability.
CEO, The 2X Collaborative
Jessica Espinoza Trujano is the CEO of the 2X Collaborative, a leading industry body for gender-lens investing, a form of impact-investing that aims to earn financial returns while also addressing gender disparities. The 2X Collective serves investors making their first gender-focused investment, as well as those at the frontier of the field. She is also the chair of the 2X Challenge, a global initiative that has mobilized over $15 billion of gender-lens investments since its launch at the G7 Summit in 2018. Jessica is determined to move the needle on investments in women’s economic empowerment and bring this kind of investing into the financial mainstream in Europe and beyond.
Project Manager, Jamba Hungary Foundation
Zóra Molnár is a project manager at Jamba Hungary Foundation, an international social enterprise that provides training and career development opportunities for people with disabilities, as well as inclusive services, counseling, and training for employers to create inclusive and accessible workplaces for people with diverse abilities. Zóra has also worked as a community organizer, focusing on suitable housing and accessible public transit for people with physical disabilities. In 2018, she led a successful movement to make all stops on one of Budapest’s major metro lines accessible to wheelchair users. Zóra believes that people with disabilities have the right to fulfill their potential in an open and inclusive labor market, and that appropriate educational opportunities should be accessible to them to reach their career goals.
President, Power of Humanity Foundation
András Nyirati is the president of the Power of Humanity Foundation (Emberség Erejével Alapítvány, EEA), an organization with the mission to build a society where human rights and equality are respected, and democracy prevails. EEA works to strengthen democracy in Hungary by fostering the growth of strong, local civil society organizations throughout the country. They provide grant financing and capacity-building opportunities to 60 non-governmental organizations each year. András oversees the general operations, capacity building program, and civic education projects. He is motivated to act for a fairer society.
Member, European Parliament, Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats
Brando Benifei is a member of the Italian Democratic Party and leader of the party’s delegation in the European Parliament. He is currently in his second five-year term. Brando focuses on a variety of issues in his role, including youth policies related to jobs, welfare, and education; disabled people’s rights; human rights in the Mediterranean and the Middle East; democratic empowerment of Europe’s marginalized communities; federal reform of the European Union; labor rights of online platform workers; combating child poverty; and AI regulation. While in office, he has led efforts to ban unpaid internships in most European institutions and negotiated and obtained the creation of a new Child Guarantee program, financed with EU money to fight child poverty and social exclusion. He is deeply committed to decreasing inequality, expanding freedom, and establishing a truly united and democratic European Federation.
FERNANDO VASCO CHIRONDA
Co-Founder and Executive Secretary General, October Third Committee
Fernando Vasco Chironda is the executive secretary general of the October Third Committee (Comitato Tre Ottobre), a nonprofit organization he co-founded to remember and support migrants following the tragedy on October 3, 2013, in which 368 migrants died in a shipwreck off the coast of Lampedusa. Fernando led the movement to mark October 3rd as a day of remembrance and welcome for all victims of migration. In 2016, the Italian Parliament officially recognized the day. Since then, Fernando and his team have continued to bring survivors, their families, students, and policymakers together to raise awareness and develop new solutions to improve the EU’s existing migration policies. Originally from Mozambique, Fernando began his activism as a teenager when he formed the Federation of Youth Associations of Mozambique to address systemic inequities and human rights violations, especially related to discrimination against women.
CEO, Teach for Kosova
Egzon Gashi is the CEO at Teach for Kosova, a teaching and leadership development fellowship inspired by the global Teach For All organization. Its mission is to recruit Kosovo’s most promising youth and develop them as teachers and leaders, with the goal of providing a quality education to all of Kosovo’s children. Egzon believes that every child has the right to a quality and holistic education, regardless of ethnicity or social class, and is passionate about building a fair and inclusive education system in Kosovo.
Co-founder, We Belong
Jana Degrott is a co-founder of We Belong, an initiative to inspire next-generation leadership for young European women of color to create a future pool of role models. We Belong brings women of color together in healing spaces, free of hatred and discrimination, to share and reflect on their experiences, examine their histories and identities, and construct their own life narratives. Jana’s work has led to a popular podcast that focuses on building a more inclusive and tolerant Europe. As a believer in the importance of youth voices in government, Jana is also a local councilor in her hometown of Steinsel and one of the youngest elected officials in Luxembourg.
National Program Manager, The Dutch Research Council
Rowinda Appelman is the national program manager for the City Deal on Education at the Dutch Research Council. In this role, she is responsible for building the first nationwide education innovation network for the Dutch government, uniting all Dutch universities, universities of applied sciences, and vocational educators in the country’s 20 biggest cities. Together with universities, city councils, and partner organizations in each city, Rowinda is developing a new curriculum model to ensure that all Dutch university students are embedded in the city where they study and engaged in tackling a significant social issue for their local community as part of their studies. This new movement for civic education and local engagement brings together students, teachers, and researchers with the goal of solving local problems by fostering more civically minded citizens. Rowinda is passionate about education innovation, social impact, and learning communities.
National Grassroots Organizer, Romano Avazi
Selvije Mustafi is a national grassroots organizer at Romano Avazi. The organization’s goal is to foster an empowered Roma community that participates in the decision-making processes on local, regional, and national levels. Selvije is also a member of a transnational support team of the international Avaja movement, where she serves as a trainer, helping other Roma movements and grassroots organizations across Europe develop advocacy strategies. Selvije is especially passionate about empowering other young people in the Roma community.
Co-Founder and Director, The Khalifa Ihler Institute
Bjørn Magnus Jacobson Ihler is the co-founder and executive director of the Khalifa Ihler Institute. He works to counter and prevent radicalization and violent extremism by designing healthier communities on and offline. Bjørn is also a member of the group Extremely Together, an initiative of the Kofi Annan Foundation that empowers young people to challenge violent extremism in their local communities and work against radicalization around the globe. He serves as the inaugural chair of the Independent Advisory Committee of the Global Internet Forum to Counter-Terrorism. Bjørn believes that violent extremism is the violent denial of diversity. In response, he promotes democracy and rights-based approaches that strengthen diversity, equality, and human dignity.
Member of Parliament, Lower Chamber of Polish Parliament
Magdalena Agnieszka Biejat is an elected member of the Razem (Together) Party in the Polish Parliament, which is rooted in social democratic values and believes in equal opportunities for all. She serves on the Committee of Work, Family, and Social Policy and is the vice-chair of the Left Coalition. Magdalena advocates for trade unions and workers’ organizations, as well as women’s reproductive rights. She has led efforts to repeal Poland’s abortion ban, and has been recognized for her LGBTQ+ advocacy activities. Magdalena is passionate about social justice and believes it is central to solving today’s most significant challenges.
Poland Lead, ClientEarth
Ilona Jedrasik is the fossil fuel infrastructure lead at ClientEarth Poland, a nonprofit dedicated to environmental law. She oversees a team of lawyers conducting strategic litigation against new and major coal power stations and mines in Poland. Her team also represents Polish citizens in court to demand ambitious climate policies from Polish authorities. Additionally, she leads advocacy efforts for more sustainable policies. Some of her recent accomplishments include halting the construction of a new, large coal-fired power plant and leading efforts to hold one of the world’s largest coal power plants and lignite mines responsible for its long-term climate impact.
Chairwoman, Volunteers of Equality Foundation
Julia Helena Maciocha is chairwoman of the Volunteers of Equality Foundation. The foundation organizes the largest pro-equality event in Poland, the Equality Parade, and supports the marches’ organizers in other cities. The event has expanded from 15,000 to 80,000 people and has become Poland’s largest peaceful demonstration that includes all socially marginalized groups. Julia’s work is focused on LGBTQ+ activism. She is especially committed to building solidarity across movements and training new activists to join the pro-equality movement. She also teaches university courses on animal welfare and zoo psychology and is working toward a Ph.D. in this discipline. Intersectionality is central to all of her work, and she believes that change can only be achieved by working together.
Executive Director, Declic
Tudor Iulian Bradatan is the executive director of Declic, Romania’s leading digital non-partisan campaigning organization. He collaborates with sociologists, copywriters, and campaigners to develop narratives that raise voter participation and inspire young people to vote. In 2019, voter turnout in Romanian elections for the European Parliament climbed by 19 percent due to his efforts, and 1.8 million young people voted in local elections. Tudor also serves on the Executive Council of OPEN, a network of progressive digital campaigning organizations. Previously, Tudor was a member of the coordinating team for the 2002 Save Rosia Montana movement(SRM), which sought to prevent opening a hazardous open-pit cyanide gold mine. His work is rooted in the belief that power in a democracy must always be accountable to the people.
Member of the Council, Moscow Helsinki Group
Dmitri Makarov is a member of the council of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia’s longest functioning human rights organization. Dmitri has initiated citizen-driven movements and grassroots human rights initiatives throughout his career, promoted citizen oversight over police, courts, and mass assemblies, and helped launch observation missions in reaction to mass human rights violations. Dmitri regularly leads human rights trainings and conducts workshops on public campaigning and international solidarity. He is a lawyer by trade and assisted in forming the first Russian human rights endowment, providing long-term support for human rights work from within Russia. He believes that the promise of human rights should inspire and drive people to action.
Executive Director, Center E8
Vojislav Arsić is the executive director of Center E8, a Belgrade-based youth organization founded in 2004. Center E8 educates and engages young men about gender equality, violence prevention, particularly gender-based violence, and the promotion of healthy lives. He is also a co-founder of the Be a Man program, which helps young men to create a new image of the “Balkan man” through the promotion of gender equality and nonviolence. More recently, Vojkan established Spotlight Theater, an independent theater centered on community problem-solving, and developed the internet platform ZOOMER to engage young people in civic action. He is passionate about using creativity and the arts for social change.
Co-Founder, The Right to Water Initiative
Iva Marković is a co-founder of The Right to Water Initiative and the program director at Polekol, a nonprofit organization dedicated to political ecology. In her work, Iva focuses on water as a common good and develops alternative policies for the sustainable governance of natural wealth. She is particularly interested in the commons, natural resources management, the social impact of climate change, degrowth, just energy transition, and ecofeminism. An active voice in the environmental movement in Serbia, Iva has founded three different alliances and networks: Women for Nature and Environment (100 women), Environmental Uprising (60+ organizations and 20,000 protestors), and Defenders of the Balkan Rivers (22 regional movements). She also facilitated the first transparent and participative process of collaborative writing of demands for the largest environmental protest in the history of Serbia.
Founder and Director, Needlab
Sameera Chukkapalli is the founder and director of Needlab, a nonprofit organization that works to solve habitat and urban resilience problems in cities and rural areas. Needlab works with communities worldwide to develop human and environmental-centered architectural design solutions. They have completed 46 projects on four continents, directly affecting over 5,000 individuals. Currently, Sameera is working with migrants, refugees, and locals on one of the first participatory designs for a new, sustainably-built housing project in Barcelona. The project aims to help improve the integration of migrants and refugees through participatory collaboration. Sameera is the youngest architect ever to participate in Barcelona Design Week, and she is passionate about making sustainable design solutions accessible to all.
ALEJANDRA ACOSTA JIMÉNEZ
Co-Founder and President, Break the Silence
Alejandra Acosta Jimenez is the founder and social impact coordinator of Break the Silence, an NGO whose mission is to raise awareness about human trafficking and propose solutions to eradicate slavery in conjunction with civil society, public, and private sector partners. Alejandra’s work as an activist has helped educate 80,000 young people about human trafficking. In addition, she has formed alliances with major corporations to combat the practice online, and has actively participated in the recovery of more than 30 victims of trafficking. Alejandra is a seasoned public speaker and believes in the power of storytelling to engage stakeholders in meaningful work.
Member of Parliament, Sámi Parliament in Sweden
Josefina Skerk is a member of Sweden’s Sámi Parliament. She is also the general manager of Sijti Jarnge, a Sámi language and culture center. Her work focuses on human and Indigenous rights, and she works to restore the South Sámi language, pass on traditional knowledge, and establish respect and equitable conditions for the Sámi People. As a current member and former vice president of the Sámi Parliament, she has focused her efforts on Sweden’s duty to consult the Sami indigineous community, and helped to establish a Truth Commission examining Sweden’s treatment of the Sámi. Josefina believes that politics is an effective pathway to right the wrongs in today’s society.
Founder, Information Forum for Eritrea
Veronica Almedom is the founder of the Information Forum for Eritrea (IFE). This Geneva-based organization aims to humanize the tragedies and human rights violations that Eritrean refugees are subject to in Africa, Europe, and the Mediterranean. In 2016, Veronica was appointed as one of the youngest members to serve on the Swiss Federal Commission of Migration. Now in her second term, she continues to advise the Swiss government on migration policy and to represent the Eritrean community’s interests. She coordinated a historic demonstration in Geneva in 2016 that drew over 16,000 individuals from all around the world to support the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in Eritrea. Veronica is passionate about the process, design, and delivery of effective public policies.
Co-founder and CEO, Otsimo
Zafer Elcik is the co-founder and CEO of Otsimo, a company that develops easy and accessible education solutions for children with special needs. His company has partnered with the Turkish Ministry of Education and developed two apps in the last three years: one for children with speech challenges such as speech delay or apraxia, and another app that provides gamified education content for children with special learning requirements. Their products have reached over 500,000 kids around the world. Zafer’s work is inspired by his desire to ensure that all children with special needs have access to quality, affordable education solutions.
Head, Fight for Right
Yuliia Sachuk is the head of Fight for Right, an organization that promotes and protects the human rights of people living with disabilities in Ukraine. She is also the co-founder of the Disability Research Center and was a candidate for the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Yuliia is passionate about empowering girls and women with disabilities to participate in leadership, policy, and equality movements. She is studying International Disability Law and Policy at the National University of Ireland, Galway.
Founder and Managing Director, Sex Ed Matters
Laura Coryton is the founder and managing director of Sex Ed Matters, a social enterprise that provides empowering relationships and sex education to schools in the UK. Their mission is to ensure every student feels confident about sexual education topics, including consent, sexism, menstruation, healthy relationships, and being kind. Laura is passionate about addressing period poverty in the UK and internationally. In 2014, she launched a petition to reduce the luxury tax rate applied to period products in the UK. The effort, which garnered 320,000 signatures, resulted in the repeal of the tax in January 2021. She also led efforts for the creation of the UK government’s Tampon Tax Fund, which has invested a total of £90.25 million in female-focused organizations over the last six years. Laura is the author of an activism guide for girls called “Speak Up!”
Co-founder and CEO, Lifted
Rachael Crook is the co-founder and CEO of Lifted, a company on a mission to solve the social care crisis by revolutionizing home care. Rachael and her team help people by utilizing an innovative digital platform that allows families transparency of their loved one’s care and improves participation among professional caregivers. Grounded in the belief that caregivers do the most important job in the world, Lifted also provides extensive training and support to improve working conditions for its care team. Today, the company supports 50,000 families living with dementia. Rachael is passionate about tackling domestic abuse and is an Independent Board Committee member of Refuge, the leading charity committed to ending domestic abuse in the UK.
Co-Founder and CEO, GirlDreamer
Kiran is the co-founder and CEO of GirlDreamer, a nonprofit supporting the personal and professional development of young women of color to tackle social inequality and pursue their dreams. She is passionate about young women of color having the freedom, access, and opportunity to dream and finding ways to change the social fabric of society to enable this. GirlDreamer has become one of Creative England’s “top 50 most creative, innovative and disruptive companies in England.” She also serves as chair of the board at Home Girls Unite, an organization supporting eldest daughters from immigrant families.
Payzee Mahmod is an activist working to ban child marriage in the UK and Europe. She is currently a campaigner for IKWRO, a charity that provides advice and support to Middle Eastern, North African, and Afghan women and girls living in the UK who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing all forms of “honor” based abuse, such as forced marriage, child marriage, female genital mutilation, and domestic abuse. Payzee recently led a petition in support of IKWRO’s Safeguard Futures, Ban Child Marriage campaign, which drew nearly 250,000 signatures. Payzee was named the 2021 UK Parliament Volunteer of the Year for her advocacy work, and she received special recognition at the UN Women UK Awards 2020. She is a member of Girls Not Brides, a global network of civil society organisations countries committed to ending child marriage.
EXPLORE OUR WORK IN EUROPE
From an intimate roundtable conversation in Amsterdam, to a buzzing town hall in Berlin, learn more about our work in the region.
In the fall of 2018, President Obama traveled to Amsterdam to hear from a group of 11 emerging leaders working as civil servants, organizers and more from across Europe.
President Obama joined hundreds of emerging European leaders in Germany for a town hall conversation to discuss the future of Europe and the importance of leadership in creating lasting change in the region and beyond.
The Obama Foundation Leaders Europe program is a six-month, virtual leadership development and civic engagement program that seeks to inspire, empower, and connect emerging leaders from across Europe.
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