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Get to know the leaders who joined President Obama for a conversation in Amsterdam

Amsterdam scenery.

President Obama met with four young leaders during the Kirchentag in Berlin in the spring of 2017 (Opens in a new tab) for a conversation on civic engagement, and today, he returned to Europe to hear from another group of 11 emerging leaders working as civil servants, organizers and more from across Europe.

President Obama Sits Down with 11 Emerging Leaders from Across Europe - 2018

Get a glimpse into the hour President Obama spent with eleven civil servants and organizers, hearing from them about the challenges young people are facing in Europe and how the Obama Foundation can help them scale their efforts.

As we look to expand Foundation programming around the world, it’s important to us—and to President Obama—that we take time to sit down with emerging leaders to better understand their needs as they carry forward the hard work of change in their respective fields. We’re also excited to explore the ways we can equip them with the tools and resources they need to ramp up their efforts.

You can learn more about each of these leaders’ work below, including their favorite success stories, their hopes for Europe, and the places in their hometowns they would take President Obama to really get a feel for their community. Take a look!

Maryan Abdulkarim, a woman with a medium deep skin tone, wears a grey colored turban and speaks at a conference.
Maryan Abdulkarim – Writer – Finland

“My work is rooted in knowledge and capacity building that aims to empower both at the individual level and at the community level. I’m always surprised by how easy it is to engage people and by the way support can sometimes come from unexpected places and people. I’m consistently inspired by history in the work I do, because it’s incredibly powerful to realize that we all have an impact on the histories we are creating today.”

A woman with a light skin tone listens attentively in a conference setting. A white and a Black man sit in the background.
Anna Ascani – Member of Parliament – Italy

“If I could take President Obama somewhere in my community, I think I would choose Norcia. It’s a very small town in Umbria, my home territory. Umbria’s cathedral was destroyed by an earthquake in 2016. The peculiarity of this place is that this church has been hit by earthquakes and rebuilt three times. Each time it looked more beautiful. And it taught me a really important lesson: it doesn’t matter how many times someone or something will destroy what you have built. It is always possible to build it again, and to rebuild it better than it was before.”

A man with a light skin tone with glasses listens attentively with his hands are folded.
Adam Bodnar – Ombudsman – Poland

“My main responsibility as the top independent civil servant in Poland is to protect rights and freedoms when they are violated by public authorities. I was inspired to do this work by Prof. Wiktor Osiatyński, who showed me that in order to understand other human beings you should have time to look into his or her eyes, enjoy good conversation, and to listen to somebody's heart. If you are a good listener, only then can understand another person. But you must be patient.”

Klen Jäärats, a man with a light skin tone with ginger colored hair in formal attire, speaks at a conference.
Klen Jäärats – Director, EU Secretariat – Estonia

“My hope for the future of Europe is that we will stay the course as a borderless community of peaceful, open and free European nations. I also hope that it will continue to celebrate diversity while being an inspiration and a place for solving problems together and a place for endless opportunities for their citizens. As for where I would take President Obama in my community if I could, I think it's a no-brainer. I would take him to the Song Festival grounds in Tallinn (where Singing Revolution happened and all Estonian Song Festivals take place).”

A woman with a light medium skin tone and curly, blonde-streaked hair, listens attentively at a table with two other men.
Flavia Kleiner – Co-founder and Co-president, Operation Libero – Switzerland

“I like to think of my team at Operation Libero as the Navy Seals defending democracy and rule of law when it counts. All the time I spent in school studying history and philosophy of law inspires me to do the work I do in my community because I can continually learn from it—it’s a source of principles and urgency that is crucial to the future I want to see. On a separate note, if I could take President Obama anywhere in my hometown, I would take him to the top of a mountain in the Swiss Alps, of course!”

Jeff Kwasi Klein, a man with a deep skin tone and glasses, speaks at a conference.
Jeff Klein – Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, Each One Teach One – Germany

“My favorite success story in my work at EOTO is how we were able to assemble a group of Black European politicians and civil society leaders to attend this year's Congressional Black Congress Annual Conference. This trip not only elevated Each One Teach One's profile, but it helped us in forging deep and meaningful relationships with American and European policymakers alike. I'm grateful to have been a part of the trip.”

A woman with a light skin tone smiles as she listens attentively at a conference.
Katerina Lambrinou – Special Advisor, Office of the Former Prime Minister of Greece, George A. Papandreou – Greece

“My work consists of empowering emerging leaders across sectors to bring about positive, transformative change in their communities and beyond. I think that our strength and unity as Europeans lies in collectively nurturing the founding values of the EU and renewing our commitment to create a shared, sustainable future of prosperity and solidarity together—and including the next generation in that commitment.”

A woman with a light skin tone speaks with President Obama with his back is facing the camera.
Guoda Lomanaite – Director, Youth International Cooperation – Lithuania

“There is one story that I keep replaying in my mind as my favorite success story in my work at Youth International Cooperation. A young man from a rural, small town in Lithuania, living with mental health issues, was telling me how he managed to go to Spain for two weeks to volunteer. He was so proud that he managed to contribute to the work of the organization and became an inspiration to his peers back home for the experiences people with mental health issues are still able to have. It was an example of a funding mechanism helping support the most vulnerable to make their voices heard and experience the best of the world.”

This picture shows a man with a light-medium skin tone and short black hair at a long table with a pen
and paper writing.
Kourosh Noshad Sharifi – Founder, Blendin App – Netherlands

“I co-founded an online platform and Foundation where refugees can meet Dutch locals in hopes of creating a more inclusive society. I also do research on cultural resistance in Africa, and this changed my entire perspective on the value of culture. I realized that humans are a homogeneous species; we have the same emotions, same hobbies, same laughter with friends and more. Cultural habits or traditions may differ, but internally, we all mourn, we all cry.”

A woman with a light medium skin tone and a man with a ligh skin tone attentively listens at a meeting. In front of them is a table with plates, glasses, and mugs.
Delphine O – Member of Parliament – France

“I wish the world better understood that Europe is not just a collection of countries with different languages, governments etc., but that before all, we share a common hope for the future. I’m truly inspired by students in the schools in my community to do the work I do because of their incredible resilience, despite the challenges they face in their lives.”

Nero Ughwujabao, a man with a medium deep skin tone attentively listens. Next to him, people around a table with plates, glasses, and mugs.
Nero Ughwujabo – Special Adviser to the Prime Minister – United Kingdom

“I’m really focused on leading our government’s response to the Race Disparity Audit right now, and I serve as a special adviser to the UK Prime Minister on Social Justice, Young People and Opportunities. I’m always surprised by the enthusiasm of young people for civic engagement and their willingness to contribute in meaningful ways. I believe deeply in the possibility of change and that community action can make a real difference in people's lives to make the world a better place.”