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Who are the empathetic SEE tech founders to join The Obama Foundation Leaders Europe program

The Obama Foundation Leaders Europe
Image credit: Top to bottom, left to right: Lubomila Jordanova, Tudor Bradatan, Vojkan Arsic, Iva Markovic, Zafer Elcik.
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There are many ways in which we define a leader. It might be a person that has what it needs to influence a team and even a community to do good or someone that has a good idea that can serve others but needs a network of innovative and ethical changemakers to move it along. Here is where The Obama Foundation Leaders Europe 2022 program comes into play.

“I’m asking you to believe. Not in my ability to create change—but in yours.” – President Barack Obama.

The Obama Foundation Leaders Europe is a program launched in 2020 by The Obama Foundation, a US-based NGO founded by President Barack Obama and the First Lady Michelle Obama in 2014 to connect people that can make the world a better place to live in. Their main goal is to bring people together to tackle challenges creatively. The Leaders program was first launched in 2018 in Africa and expanded in 2019 in the Asia Pacific, then Europe. 

During six months, through virtual development, the third cohort of the Leaders of Europe will join forces to inspire and empower. They will take part in workshops to develop their leadership skills to build even bigger communities, and join digital events to stir their creative thoughts.

Amongst the leaders working in government, civil society, and the private sectors, we have found five tech founders from the SEE region. They have been chosen because of their commitment to shift things positively and be in service of the world. 

They are:

  1. BulgariaLubomila Jordanova, co-founder and CEO of Plan A, a sustainability tech startup developing a SaaS platform for automated carbon monitoring, decarbonization, ESG management, and reporting.
  2. RomaniaTudor Bradatan, Executive Director at Declic, an NGO building the first Romanian community for online non-partisan campaigning. 
  3. SerbiaVojkan Arsic, Executive Director at Center E8 and ZOOMER, an organization and a platform with the goal of engaging young men with gender equality issues.
  4. SerbiaIva Markovic, co-founder of The Right to Water Initiative and other projects, like Women for Nature and Environment. 
  5. TurkeyZafer Elcik, co-founder and CEO, Otsimo, an EdTech app targeting children with special needs. 
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The Recursive talked to the participants of The Obama Foundation’s 2022 program to discuss their vision and plans for this year. 

The Obama Foundation Leaders Europe

Lubomila Jordanova is the co-founder and CEO of Berlin-based Plan A, a software used by over 400 companies to reduce emissions by 8% on average per year. She is also the co-founder of the Greentech Alliance, a community of over 1K startups who aim to reshape the future and fight climate change.

“Being part of the Obama Foundation Europe Leader program allows us to engage with emerging world leaders that have a proven track record of working for the common good. I truly believe that the learnings we draw from the program will amplify the impact of Plan A in supporting businesses to lead the transition to a sustainable economy.”

THE RECURSIVE: What inspired the launch of your project?

Lubomila: Tackling climate change has always been our goal. We focused on a solution that would be data-driven, scalable, and that can maximize the impact of transformation. We founded Plan A on the belief that every company has the power to pave the way to a more sustainable future. That is why we see private companies as the most important vehicle when it comes to driving the transformation process decisively towards sustainably. 

What are your 2022 goals?

We will further deepen our platform’s corporate carbon accounting and decarbonization capabilities, as well as expand our ESG tool for measuring, analyzing, and reporting to address all existing and upcoming regulations.

We’ll also see accelerated growth in terms of teams, clients, and revenue. Our goal is to drive our international expansion with new office openings to become a fully global company in the next 3 years. 

Moreover, our local teams in Berlin, Munich, and Paris are continuing to grow exponentially, currently looking for scientists, data engineers, country managers, developers, sales and marketing experts, and people managers.

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What kind of leadership qualities do you want to develop to solve the complex problems of today?

I think it is important to encourage others to take ownership. This also means allowing others to make mistakes, learn from them, and continuously improve. I believe it is essential to set the stage for open exchange. Meeting it on time requires consolidated efforts from the public, corporate, and private sectors. There must be no silo thinking. It is the order of the day that we share knowledge and expertise to be able to effectively continue to live our lives.

The Obama Foundation Leaders Europe

Zafer Elcik is the co-founder and CEO of Ankara-founded Otsimo. He wants to democratize access to education through mobile apps that have reached over 500K kids with speech challenges like apraxia. 

As an entrepreneur and a leader, it is essential to have substantial support to get you through hardship that is possible to overcome. I believe the Obama Foundation will just do that. Being a part of a community of like-minded individuals will boost my skill-building. I am forever inspired by people striving towards a goal that will impact millions of people. Also, having a huge network is always good for impact scaling.

THE RECURSIVE: What inspired the launch of your project?

Zafer: Everything I accomplished to this day started when my little brother Alper was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. I was looking for resources that would help my brother’s special education, as the resources offered at the time were limited. I couldn’t find any that would suit his needs and sensitivities, so I made one. I have been working on democratizing special education ever since. 

What role does technology play in the success of your project?

Technology is the core of what we do. We merged traditionally working, well-researched, and well-proven special education methods with what technology has to offer us, which is to make education accessible to the masses.

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One-to-one special education solutions are great, but they require a lot of human resources many countries or regions don’t have. Since special education is a life-long journey, this also brings a tremendous financial burden to the families. 

What are your 2022 goals?

In 2022, we will be launching a new product that will be offered to more diverse communities, further increasing our impact. The end goal is to give quality educational materials that are accessible and suitable to any developmental level to all kids of the world.

What kind of leadership qualities do you want to develop to solve the complex problems of today?

Empathy is at the heart of what we do, and it is such a significant and difficult thing to master. Through it, we can resolve many problems humanity faces daily. I know I can always get better at it. 

Also, interdisciplinary work is another limb for us in today’s work. I would very much like to get better at that. Complex issues require hard work to do good for the entire globe. I would like to combine all of my skill sets to do good.

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Elena is an Innovation Reporter at The Recursive with 10+ years of experience as a freelance writer based in Bucharest, Romania. Her mission is to report internationally on the amazing progress of the local startup ecosystem while bringing into focus topics such as diversity in business cultures and women in tech; mental health, work-life balance, and the future. Of what? Everything! As a former solopreneur and a full-time mom, she strives to learn something new every day to share with the world. #nevernotlearning