About

This year’s EYL40 Class of 2023 includes award-winning investigative journalists, a mega-star of modern-day football, politicians from all levels of government and speakers of national parliaments, a male supermodel and philanthropist, renowned scholars, innovators leading the green digital transition, as well as creative tech-based healthcare professionals.


In 2012, motivated by the urgent need to tackle the increasing disconnect between citizens and policymakers, and to rebuild the trust that is vital to democracies, Friends of Europe crafted a leadership programme unlike any other: the European Young Leaders (EYL40) programme. To celebrate the programme’s 10th anniversary, we travelled through the past ten years to share ten inspiring stories.

Our anniversary celebration features volleyball player Valentina Diouf; Rokhaya Diallo, a journalist, filmmaker and human rights activist; Christel Heydemann, CEO of Orange; renowned chef Eneko Atxa; serial entrepreneur Ivan Stefunko; bionic pop artist and futurist, Viktoria Modesta; Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas; Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke, CEO and Founder of Women’s WorldWide Web (W4); Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist, Bastian Obermayer; and Qëndron Kastrati, former mayor of Kamenica, Kosovo. Click here to learn more about our selection amongst 350+ wonderful profiles.


Bold leadership, ground-breaking ideas, unparalleled passion …

We’ve learned time and again that the challenges of the 21st century and of our ever complex world cannot be addressed using the rulebooks of the past. The world is screaming for a new type of leadership and a Renewed Social Contract in which the private sector, local and multilateral institutions, and citizens can collaborate and drive change.

Today’s leaders may look back in time for inspiration, but they must lead with innovation.

The European Young Leaders represent an alternative infrastructure of leadership – a new generation of leaders able to inspire action and generate change. Together, their passion, diversity of backgrounds and opinions, and innovative thinking create the right formula for generating fresh ideas to build a more forward-thinking Europe.

Our European leaders are scientists, artists, journalists, entrepreneurs and astronomers. They are citizens and their thinking is not bound by local and multilateral institutions, traditional political frameworks or bureaucracy. They provide alternative perspectives to EU decision-makers and challenge the status quo.

They help take Europe out of Brussels. In their own countries, cities and communities, the European Young Leaders also play an essential role in reconnecting people with and rebuilding trust in politics by engaging a wider community around key EU policy issues that need a whole-of-economy, whole-of-society approach to progress more quickly. They are facilitating citizens’ participation in the creation of a more equal, innovative and inclusive Europe and helping build a European identity.

The programme in the next years will take a new localism lens, bringing together these thinkers and leaders to act on some of the key issues affecting Europe’s future: supporting the green and digital transformation, strengthening our democracy, improving relations with our neighbours, increasing power sharing and building a more diverse Europe.

Succeeding in these policies and getting more citizens engaged in European elections will be our litmus test.


Tune in to the EYL40s on Friends of Europe’s podcasts

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Meet the EYL40

Riccardo Maraga
Riccardo Maraga

Lawyer, Head of Industrial relations of Federturismo Confindustria, Ughi e Nunziante and 2012 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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A highly regarded Italian lawyer, Riccardo currently shares his time between Federturismo Confindustria and Ughi e Nunziante, where he’s an expert on employment law as well as privacy and data protection. Riccardo was previously Mayor of the city of Amelia in the Umbria region. At the time one of the youngest politicians in Italy, He was a member of the Democratic Party focussing on sustainable development and global governance. As an elected official, he took pride being in direct contact with citizens. He has published several articles on European social and labour regulations in labour law magazines and reviews.

Raffaele Mauro
Raffaele Mauro

Managing Director, Endeavor Italy and 2012 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Raffaele is Investment Manager at Annapurna Ventures, a venture capital firm focused on early stage investments in web services, mobile applications and digital technology. He holds a PhD in Economic History from Bocconi University and is Adjunct Professor at the Collegio di Milano, where he teaches courses on entrepreneurship, network economics and the social science of the Internet. He also advises the American Chamber of Commerce in Italy and is Co-founder of www.lospaziodellapolitica.com. He previously worked as an editor for Harvard Business Review’s Italian Edition and in various branches of Confindustria developing projects and conducting research related to emerging markets, entrepreneurship and corporate finance. He is also quite active in the public debate as a political blogger. He has received many awards and accolades including being accepted into the McKinsey EuroAcademy in 2008, and was chosen by the Italian government as one of the top 200 ‘national talents’ in 2010.

Souad Mekhennet
Souad Mekhennet

National Security Reporter at The Washington Post and 2012 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Souad is a German journalist of Turkish and Moroccan descent who works for prestigious international magazines, newspapers and TV channels, such as The New York Times, ZDF and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. She specialises in stories relating to terrorist organisations and Islam, and she recently covered the Egyptian demonstrations at the height of the Arab Spring. She is also Co-author of two German language books that deal with the issues of political Islam and jihad, The Children of Jihad and Islam. In 2009 the independent jury of the magazine medium named her one of the Top 3 reporters in German speaking countries. Souad is also the author of the book ‘I Was Told to Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad’, published in 2017.

João Wengorovius Meneses
João Wengorovius Meneses

Secretary General, BSCD Portugal and 2012 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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João is the Secretary General of the Business Council for Sustainable Development in Portugal (BCSD Portugal), a member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) Global Network. Prior to assuming his current role, João held several roles in the public, private and non profit sectors. He served as Secretary of State for Youth and Sports in the Portuguese Government, had several roles in the Portuguese startup ecosystem (as head of Startup Discoveries, a venture capital fund, head of the REACTOR – Innovation Hub, and head of the Mouraria Creative Hub). He also served as director of GABIP Mouraria, a mission unit reporting to the mayor of Lisbon that led the rehabilitation of Mouraria – in the past a deprived area in the center of Lisbon, but also its most traditional and multicultural quarter. Finally, he’s the founder of HUB 2050, a consulting firm acting in the field of innovation for sustainability, and author of two books about management and innovation.»

Lindsey-Nefesh-Clarke_EYL40
Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke

Founder & Managing Director of Women's Worldwide Web (W4), Senior Fellow for Women, Peace and Security at Friends of Europe and 2012 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Lindsey Nefesh-Clarke is Founder & CEO of W4.org, a social enterprise dedicated to protecting girls’ and women’s human rights and promoting their empowerment around the world, with a focus on Sustainable Development Goal 5b: harnessing technologies. Nefesh-Clarke worked in human rights and development in Africa and Asia at Human Rights Watch, UNICEF, Enfants d’Asie, before founding W4. Named a “Women in IT Role Model” by the European Commission and one of the “Inspiring Fifty” women leaders in Europe’s technology sector, Nefesh-Clarke is a board member of the Women’s Economic Imperative (WEI), which aims to advance the work of the UN Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment. She is also a Senior Fellow for Friends of Europe’s Connect Europe initiative, and a member of the advisory board of UN Women France.

Sofi Oksanen
Sofi Oksanen

Author, Novelist and Theatrical Writer and 2012 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Sofi is a Finnish-Estonian contemporary novelist and theatrical writer who was catapulted into the elite of Finnish literary authors with her first novel, Stalin’s Cows (2003). It created a heated public debate and led to her being nominated for the Runeberg Award, one of Finland’s most prestigious literary prizes. Her first original play, Purge (2008), became a novel ranking number 1 on Finland’s bestseller list. She received numerous awards for Purge, such as the Prix Femina Etranger en France, the European Book Prize and the Nordic Council Literature Prize. She appears regularly in the media and is also known for her opinions in favour of women’s rights and the promotion of equality. For these efforts she has received an award from the University of Helsinki—the University from which she also holds a degree in Literature.

Martin Ott
Martin Ott

Entrepreneur, Investor, Board Member of AfriKids and 2012 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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With 20 years of leadership experience in the digital industry, Martin advises companies from start-ups to leading global brands on their growth opportunities in the digital world. Martin currently serves a Board Member of AfriKids, an NGO which supports sustainable development projects in Ghana. He is the former president and managing director of Europe, the Middle East and Africa at WeWork, in which role he led the restructuring of the company in the EMEA region and was responsible for the cross-functionality of the real estate, finance, product, operations, sales and marketing teams. Martin has also held several leadership roles at Facebook, including managing director of Central Europe, regional director of Africa, the Middle East, Israel and Turkey, as well as managing director of Northern Europe. Prior to joining Facebook, Martin was co-CEO of Skrill, one of Europe’s fastest growing fintech unicorns, and COO of Jamba, a global mobile content provider.

Dominik Risse
Dominik Risse

Vice President Rubber Additives Business at Lanxess and 2012 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Dominik has held various management roles at Lanxess, a leading global specialty chemicals group, throughout his career. Prior to his current role in rubber additives, Dominik has worked in mergers and acquisitions, colorants and rubber chemicals, which included a four-year assignment in Southeast Asia. His political record includes activities at both the regional and national levels for the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), as well as for the Young Union of Germany and the Economic Council of the CDU.

Sara García Ruiz
Sara García Ruiz

Engineer, S.A. de Electronica Submarina (SAES) and 2012 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Sara is an engineer at S.A. de Electronica Submarina (SAES), a company specialised in submarine electronics and acoustics. Prior to this, she was a Member of the Murcian regional Parliament where she served as First Secretary of the Defense Committee as well as a Member of the Science and Innovation and Equality Committees. She has been a Member of the Spanish Socialist Worker’s Party since she was 16. She studied communications engineering and has worked in the defence policy sector. She stands for male-female parity in Spain’s politics and for the presence of members of parliament of all ages.

Aziz Senni
Aziz Senni

Founder and President, Alliance Transport et Accompagnement and 2012 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Aziz is a young French entrepreneur, Founder and President of Alliance Transport et Accompagnement, a ‘collective taxi’ company for the region of Paris, and Founder and President of Business Angel des Cités, a social investment fund for the development of Parisian suburban areas. Aziz has published two books in France, the first on the ‘social glass ceiling’ entitled L’ascenseur social est en panne… j’ai pris l’escalier (The social elevator is broken, I took the stairs), and the second, Monte ton BIZ (Create your own business: 10 commandments of the entrepreneur coming from suburbs) on how to become a successful entrepreneur when coming from a under-privileged neighbourhood. He has received several awards from the French government including the Médaille de l’Assemblée nationale (the National Assembly Medal).

Photo of Jens Spahn
Jens Spahn

Member of the Bundestag, Deputy Chairman on the CDU/CSU Parliamentary Group and 2012 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Jens is the Deputy Chairman of the CDU/CSU parliamentary group. He was formally the Federal Minister of Health in the Cabinet of Angela Merkel. He has been a member of the Bundestag since 2002, with responsibility for health policies, and a Member of the CDU/CSU Youth Group. He has gathered his experience in government during his time as the Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister of Finance, a post he has held since July 2015. He holds a degree in Banking and Political Science from the University of Hagen, and previously worked as a banker in his hometown of Munster. Jens is a founding member of the ‘Young Member of Parliament’ cross-party group that promotes integration and equality in politics and society.

Farid Tabarki
Farid Tabarki

Founder and Director of Studio Zeitgeist and 2012 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Farid is a researcher, writer, presenter and entrepreneur. At Studio Zeitgeist, Farid coordinates research and develops projects at the local, national and European levels on topics such as radical decentralisation, racial transparency and the liquid society. Fabrid is also a weekly columnist for Het Financieele Dagblad, a Dutch daily newspaper focusing on finance and economy, and the author of “The End of the Middle – What society of extremes means to people, businesses and government”. He is the former editor in chief and presenter at Coolpolitics, an organisation which encourages younger generations to share their roles as citizens. He has presented the parliamentary election edition of MTV Coolpolitics and the television program Dare to Think, from Socrates to Sartre. Farid is a member of the supervisory board of Stadgenoot, Prince Bernhard Culture Fund and International Theatre Amsterdam. He is also a member of the Netherlands Architect Institute and the Foundation for Democracy and Media.

Vessela Tcherneva
Vessela Tcherneva

Deputy Director, European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) and 2012 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Vessela is Spokesperson and Member of Cabinet for the Bulgarian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Previously, she was Director of the Bulgarian office of the European Foreign Policy Council and Programme Director of the Centre for Liberal Strategies. Between 2004 and 2006 she was Secretary of the International Commission on the Balkans, chaired by Giuliano Amato. She is Observing Editor of Foreign Policy – Bulgaria magazine, a position she has held since its launch in 2005.

Mathieu Vedrenne
Mathieu Vedrenne

Chief Executive Officer at Société Générale Private Banking France and 2012 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Mathieu is Chief Executive Officer of Société Générale Private Banking France, prior to which he was Deputy CEO at the company’s Swiss branch. Before taking on these positions, he was Chief of Staff to the CEO of Société Générale, one of the major banking services companies in Europe. He joined the company in 2001, after having worked for PricewaterhouseCoopers for 3 years, and quickly climbed the professional ladder within the company. He was selected for the company’s Executive Programme for the top performing employees. He is a sponsor of the 2010-2012 HEC Entrepreneur Diversity Programme and is a Member of the Executive Committee of the Fondation Croissance Responsable (Responsible Growth Foundation).

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Selection process

THE CALL FOR APPLICATIONS/NOMINATIONS FOR THE EYL40 CLASS OF 2024 IS NOW OFFICIALLY CLOSED

The European Young Leaders programme is a unique, inventive and multi-stakeholder programme that aims to promote a European identity by engaging the continent’s most promising talents in initiatives that will shape Europe’s future.

The European Young Leaders represent a new generation of European leaders from all over the continent and various backgrounds, including politics, business, civil society, academia, arts, science and the media.

The programme acts as a forum for those who have already established themselves at the forefront of their professions to meet, discuss and collaborate with their counterparts from other fields of expertise. Previous candidates include government ministers, CEOs, Michelin-starred chefs, international film directors and high-profile journalists.

Since the launch of the programme, we have gradually taken steps to ensure the diversity and exceptional quality of its selection process. We have made sure that its comprehensive and competitive nature ensures the identification and selection of remarkable individuals.

We aim to select 40+ European Young Leaders of diverse backgrounds to enable a broad exchange of ideas, creating the basis for a new generation of engaged European leaders.

SELECTION CRITERIA

  • Candidates must be between 30 and 40 years of age (born on or after 1 January 1984).
  • Candidates must be a national of an EU member state, the United Kingdom, Ukraine or of one of the 6 Balkan states currently on the path towards EU integration (Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia).
  • Candidates should have established themselves at the highest levels of their chosen profession or be on track to do so.
  • Candidates must be committed to serve society at large through noteworthy contributions and have demonstrated a record of significant achievements and outstanding professional experience.
  • Candidates are also evaluated based on their ability to contribute to the enrichment of the programme as a whole.
  • Candidates are required to be fluent in English as it is the working language of the programme.
  • Candidates must commit to participating in at least one of the two EYL40 seminars during the programme year, usually scheduled for March and September.

Please click HERE for the 2024 selection guidelines, which will give you an idea of the process and provide you with link to the nomination/application form.

Please note that the deadline for the nominations/applications is 28 April 2023.

Should you have any questions or need any additional information, please do not hesitate to contact us at eyl40@friendsofeurope.org.

We look forward to receiving your applications and nominations.

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