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

Enass Abo-Hamed
Enass Abo-Hamed

Co-Founder and CEO of H2GO Power and 2022 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Enass is the Co-Founder and CEO of H2GO Power, an award-winning British company that develops hydrogen energy storage technologies. Her designs for a new energy storage system can guarantee stable supply of renewable energy for areas in developing countries with limited or no access to the electrical grid. With over a decade of both research and business experience in renewables and energy storage, Enass champions climate entrepreneurship and clean energy technology. She is currently a Member of the Advisory Board of General Atlantic’s BeyondNetZero $4bn equity growth climate fund, a Royal Academy of Engineering Enterprise Fellow and a technology consultant for the European Research Executive Agency. Enass has received several awards in recognition of her work, including the MIT Technology Review Innovators Under 35 Europe Visionary of the Year award and the Best Energy Start-up award at the Global Hello Tomorrow Summit.

Photo of Loubna Bouarfa
Loubna Bouarfa

Founder and CEO of OKRA.AI and 2022 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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A Dutch machine learning scientist turned entrepreneur, Loubna Bouarfa is the Founder and CEO of OKRA Technologies, a leading artificial intelligence analytics company in the life sciences sector. The start-up aims to revolutionise traditional healthcare systems by abandoning the one-size-fits-all model and building a future of personalised medicine. OKRA uses explainable AI to empower healthcare professionals to make decisions that will support the delivery of the right drug to the right patient at speed. In recognition of Bouarfa’s leadership, OKRA received the StartUp Europe Award for Best Female-Led Startup. The same year, Bouarfa also accepted the CEO of the Year Award at the Cambridge Independent Science and Technology Awards. As a former member of the European Union High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence, she supported the implementation of the Union’s strategy on AI within the digital single market.

Nicolas Brien
Nicolas Brien

Chairman of the European Startup Network and 2022 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Nicolas Brien is the Chairman of the Management Board of EuraTechnologies, Europe’s largest and oldest incubator, and President of the European Startup Network, an industry group which represents start-ups in Brussels. An avid supporter of Europe’s digital sovereignty and named among the most influential people in the digital sector in Europe, Brien promotes greater investment in local start-ups across Europe. He sits on the board of a number of other companies and foundations, including Tilder and France Alzheimer, and regularly contributes to the global conversation on tech policies through op-eds in global media. He is the former chief executive officer of the largest start-up organisation in Europe, France Digitale. Prior to entering the tech sector, Brien was the research director at Kantar-TNS Sofres and a senior advisor to the French government’s spokesperson.

Mihai Danila
Mihai Danila

Senior Investment Manager at the Abu Dhabi Growth Fund and 2022 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Mihai is a value-oriented investor from the United Kingdom with extensive experience in the financial sector. He is the current Senior Investment Manager at Abu Dhabi Growth Fund. Previously, as Vice-President at BlackRock, the largest asset manager in the world, his work focused on event-driven and special situation investments in both public and private markets throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Mihai is a former executive director in the Investment Banking Division at Goldman Sachs, covering multi-billion transactions across Europe and the Middle East, prior to which he worked in mergers and acquisitions at Morgan Stanley. Mihai is also a national contests laureate in piano, maths and business ethics.

Liza Gashi
Liza Gashi

Kosovar Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, and 2022 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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A Kosovar innovator and entrepreneur, Liza is shaping public discourse around diaspora and civic engagement. As Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Diaspora, she advocates for the advancement of Kosovo’s policies, legislation and institutional approaches regarding diaspora engagement. She founded the Kosovar committee for the United World Colleges (UWC), a global movement that promotes education as a force to unite people, nationals and cultures, where she served as chairwoman for over a decade. Liza is well known as the Founder and former executive director of GERMIN, an NGO that uses technology and virtual channels to connect and engage with the diaspora community to advance the socio-economic development and democratisation of the Western Balkan region. Additionally, Liza is also the Co-Founder and former managing director of KosovoDiaspora.org, a crowdsourcing digital engagement and diplomacy platform that connects Kosovars to the world and vice versa to promote Kosovo’s statehood internationally.

Iva Gumnishka
Iva Gumnishka

Founder and CEO of Humans in the Loop and 2022 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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A Bulgarian social entrepreneur, Iva is the Founder and CEO of Humans in the Loop, which provides remote online employment to conflict-affected and displaced people, such as refugees, in the field of dataset annotation and model validation for computer vision and artificial intelligence. The award-winning social enterprise has provided work and training opportunities for over 500 people in Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Yemen, and maintains a dedicated programme to promote the economic inclusion of women. Humans in the Loop is part of MIT SOLVE’s ‘Good Jobs and Inclusive Entrepreneurship’ cohort of social enterprises and has also been awarded by the Global Innovators programme of the Dubai 2020 World Expo. Iva is passionate about promoting the role of humans in AI pipelines and the mitigation of bias in AI systems through diverse and representative data. She is also part of Forbes 30 under 30 in her country.

Audrey Hanard
Audrey Hanard

Chair of the Board of Directors at bpost and 2022 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Audrey is a Belgian businesswoman with a wealth of experience in advising corporate, government and philanthropic clients on a range of development and social impact topics. As an Associate Partner at Dalberg Advisors, she works with clients to improve education, employment and health outcomes worldwide through the development, implementation and impact evaluation of inclusive development strategies. Audrey currently serves as the Chair of the Board of Directors at bpost, leading the Belgian postal operator’s transition from a mail to parcel network. She is the Chair of the Board at Be education, an organisation that supports the improvement of education in Belgium. Audrey is also the Co-Founder and former operational director of Spectralys Biotech, a start-up that provides a unique protein analysis technology for the biopharmaceutical industry. She was previously the president of Groupe Vendredi, a think tank focused on societal issues in Belgium, and head of philanthropy at Telos Impact, a venture philanthropy firm.

Justas Janauskas
Justas Janauskas

Serial entrepreneur, Co-Founder of Vinted and 2022 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Justas is a Lithuanian entrepreneur and the Co-Founder of Lithuania’s first unicorn start-up, Vinted. The mobile shopping platform for second-hand fashion is Europe’s largest online customer-to-customer (C2C) marketplace. Operational in 15 countries with over 45mn users, the platform has continued to experience tremendous growth, as consumption patterns continue to shift against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. Justas served as Vinted’s CEO for nearly a decade. A serial angel investor who offers his expertise and financial support to young entrepreneurs, Justas has backed a wide range of projects, including Memby, an after-school online learning platform, the sustainable Local Ocean shrimp farm, as well as Dogo, a mobile app for dog training that has been named Apple’s App of the Day in countries across North America, Europe and Australia.

Toms Jurjevs
Toms Jurjevs

Founder and CEO of Sun Finance Group and 2022 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Toms is a Latvian entrepreneur in the fintech industry. He is the Founder and CEO of Sun Finance Group, a fintech company that operates a user-friendly online and mobile lending platform. One of the fastest growing companies in Europe, Sun Finance has expanded its operations beyond Latvia to Denmark, Poland, Kazakhstan, Mexico, Vietnam and Sweden and secured over €1.2bn in loans to clients who have been typically unable to access funding. He has also launched two additional successful businesses, supporting their growth in the start-up stage and development as international multi-million companies. Toms is also the Founder and Chairman of the Council at the Alternative Financial Services Association of Latvia, which connects fintech and other companies in order to promote responsible practices and cooperation in the sector.

Soheil Mirpour
Soheil Mirpour

Member of the Management Board of Rocket Internet SE, Partner at Global Founders Capital and 2022 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Soheil Mirpour is a Member of the Management Board of Rocket Internet, Europe’s largest incubator for technology companies. He is also a Partner at the company’s investment arm, Global Founders Capital, which is among of largest venture capital firms in Europe. Prior to his current roles, Mirpour gained experience in private equity and investment banking at two leading global investment firms, KKR and Morgan Stanley. He started his career at Rocket Internet as a co-founder and managing director of marketplaces in the Middle East. Devoted to social causes that benefit youths from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, Mirpour currently works as a mentor in the Deutschlandstiftung mentorship programme and serves on the Board of InteGREATer.

Talitha Muusse
Talitha Muusse

Chief Impact Officer at Blikverruimers, Founder of Energieboot and 2022 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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A Dutch businesswoman and entrepreneur passionate about sustainability and innovation, Talitha is involved with a number of social initiatives. She launched Blikverruimers, a training programme and recruitment selection agency for young professionals in the Netherlands, who aspire to become business leaders. She is also the driving force behind Energieboot, a leadership programme for young professionals developing sustainable energy projects. As one of the faces of the Coalition-Y movement, a partnership of youth, trade union and climate organisations, Talitha promotes youth participation in society. She also regularly appears on talk shows and previously hosted the current affairs TV programme, Op1. She started her career at MVO Nederland, an organisation which guides companies in corporate social responsibility, where she became the youngest member to sit on a supervisory board in the Netherlands nearly a decade ago. Talitha is also Member of the Advisory Board at the research institute TNO.

Josef Průša
Josef Průša

Founder and CEO of Prusa Research and 2022 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Josef founded the Prague-based open-source 3D printing house, Prusa Research, famous for its award-winning Original Prusa i3 3D printer, which is also one of the largest in the world. The start-up prides itself on its craftsmanship, developing its own hardware and software, and its most notable feature is a large hall, nicknamed ‘The Farm’, of over 500 printers that create printer parts. Prusa Research aims to develop as many parts as possible on-site, challenging reliance on global supply chains. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Prusa Research developed protective medical shields and shared plans on how to replicate the product on social media networks, a commendable action for which Josef received the Czech Red Cross. Josef started off his career as a core developer of the RepRap project, famed for starting the open-source 3D printer revolution by creating a printer that can print its own parts, after discovering his interest in 3D printing at university.

Marko Russiver
Marko Russiver

Founder and CEO of Grantful and 2022 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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An Estonian designer and innovator, Marko is passionate about the open sharing of knowledge and its capabilities to shape the future. Having most recently founded Grantful, he helped launched a global online hackathon series, Hack the Crisis and The Global Hack, to address challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Marko delivered a TED talk on how the initiative could create solutions for the post-pandemic world. He is the Co-Founder and former CEO of Guaana, an online platform that connects scientists and researchers to break down barriers between disciplines. Marko is a Member of Accelerate Estonia’s Advisory Board, the Estonian Founders Society and the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs’ mental health think tank. He has worked closely with research organisations and government institutions, including CERN, the European Space Agency, Dubai Future Foundation and the European Commission, to empower researchers and innovators. Marko previously worked as a creative and art director at branding and service design companies.

Gundbert Scherf
Gundbert Scherf

Co-Founder, President and COO of Helsing and 2022 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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A German technology expert, Gundbert’s personal mission is to make technology work for the purpose of democratic defence and security institutions. He co-founded Helsing, a security and artificial intelligence company that specialises in real-time information processing software, with the aim of strengthening Europe’s liberal democracies by providing the clearest image possible of an operating environment. Assisting democratic governments in becoming technology makers not takers, Helsing has quickly become one of the fastest growing tech companies in Europe. A self-described ‘transatlanticist’, Gundbert is also a Member of Atlantik-Brücke, a non-profit association which aims to deepen transatlantic cooperation. Gundbert previously served as a commissioner at the German Federal Ministry of Defence, in which role he contributed to the design of the Cyber and Information Domain Command, a new military service related to the information domain.

Caroline Walerud
Caroline Walerud

Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of AirForestry and Volumental, and 2022 European Young Leader (EYL40)

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Caroline is a Swedish entrepreneur at the helm of deep tech and green tech start-ups. She co-founded AirForestry to reinvent sustainable forestry by enabling better biodiversity, gentler thinning and higher uptake of carbon dioxide through the use of electric drones. She is also the Co-Founder of Volumental, using 3D scanning and AI to shape a future free from sizes and creating a world where every body fits, and a Partner at Walerud Ventures, a pre-seed investment firm with a focus on green tech start-ups. Having advised the Swedish government on its start-up policy, she continues to promote entrepreneurship as a Member of the Sting Incubator Advisory Board, Prince Daniel’s Fellow and mentor at Creative Destruction Lab, a deep tech incubator. Caroline has been named the Swedish Supertalent of the Year and among Sweden’s top serial entrepreneurs under 40 by the country’s Business Week magazine.

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Selection process


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.


  • 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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