The United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) is proud to announce the 2016 Macedonian Diaspora’s 40 Under 40 List.
UMD is recognizing forty Macedonian role models to reinforce our community’s heritage and cultural values. Built through a process of nominations, the final honorees are selected by a selection committee.
The UMD Macedonian Diaspora 40 Under 40 program was launched in 2014 and this year has a new structure. To improve engagement and provide a more intimate look at the people being recognized, UMD will be rolling out the honorees ten at a time. UMD hopes the list will recognize the winners for their accomplishments in their respective careers and encourage them to keep moving the community forward and making a positive impact on society-at-large.
The Second Ten of Forty Honorees
- Anastasia Bogdanovski, roots from Veles and Skopje, Macedonia
- Michael Cklamovski, roots from Bitola, Macedonia
- Damjan Daskaloski, roots from Prilep, Macedonia
- Zani Imetovski, roots from Skopje, Macedonia
- Ashley Nestorovska, roots from Tetovo, Macedonia
- Alexander Ordanis, roots from Banitsa, Aegan Macedonia
- Dimitar Popov, roots from Veles, Macedonia
- Aleesia Stamkos, roots from Armensko and Banitsa, Aegean Macedonia
- Zlata Unerkova, roots from Skopje, Macedonia
- Alex Volkanovski, roots from Beranci, Macedonia
Learn more about this group of Honorees
Anastasia Bogdanovski, 23
Veles and Skopje, Macedonia
Anastasia Bogdanovski is a Macedonian-American swimmer currently studying to be a doctor at New Jersey Medical School in Newark, NJ. She has competed for Macedonia at the international level numerous times, and was the flag holder at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. She has also competed at four World Championships, one European Championships, and one Mediterranean Games. She currently holds eleven national records: 50, 100, and 200 LCM and SCM freestyle; 50 and 100 LCM and SCM backstroke; and 100 SCM Individual Medley. She swam for Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland where she holds seven school records, was the NCAA Female Swimmer of the Year in 2014, and was awarded NCAA Today’s Top Ten award in 2015. She one day hopes to become an orthopedic surgeon to help athletes overcome their injuries and reach their fullest potential.
My Macedonian heritage has had a huge impact on my life and profession. Though I was born in America, I was raised Macedonian. I am fluent in the language, participate in cultural customs, and travel to Macedonia yearly. My parents made sure to instill a sense of pride in my brother and me. We were raised to Macedonian standards, and it has taught me to always strive to be at the highest level in whatever I am doing. This has allowed me to reach the point I am at today.
I am so proud of the Macedonian culture because we are a group of unique people with a rich history and heritage. I love our folk songs, traditional outfits, and most of all the people. We come from a long line of proud, friendly, ambitious, resilient people that have taught me the invaluable lesson of hard work, confidence, and compassion. From Alexander the Great to Goce Delcev, we have a lot to be proud of.
I am proud to be Macedonian because it makes me different. It makes me feel empowered to be from such an amazing nation, and every time I see the flag, I swell with pride. I love having a unique culture and I love being able to educate people on our heritage. I always strive to be the best I can be at school and in the pool so I can raise Macedonia to the highest level possible. I try to teach more and more people about us, our culture, our beautiful country, and our way of life. I wear my country’s name with pride at every meet, excited to represent such a wonderful place.
I would like to encourage all young Macedonians to never give up. I was not always as successful at swimming as I am now, but I stuck with it because I had passion for the sport. If you do what you love for the people you love, you will surprise yourself with what you can accomplish. Never settle for less than your best, and you will go far in life.
Michael Cklamovski, 29
Michael Cklamovski is a Vice President and Private Client Associate at U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management. In this role, he is responsible for connecting high net worth individuals and institutions to solutions that accomplish their financial goals. His client-centered approach guides investors through a broad range of investment, wealth structuring, and specialized credit and banking services – delivering a boutique experience within a world-class suite. Michael is a Director of the Heroh Foundation which provides resources to underprivileged youth in the Chicago area by facilitating leadership development, mentorship, academic tutoring and athletic training.
Michael is also an associate board member at World Sport Chicago, whose mission is to support community leadership toward equitable access to play and sport in Chicago. Michael is also a Leader’s Club Member at Macedonia 2025, an international “think and do” tank whose mission is to contribute to the economic and democratic development of Macedonia. Michael was admitted to the Illinois State Bar in 2013 and is a member of the Chicago Bar Association, the Chicago Illini Club, and the American Bar Association. Michael graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with dual degrees in Political Science and communication and cum laude from the Northern Illinois University College of Law.
My Macedonian heritage is imprinted into the fabric of my life. I grew up in a unique household with my grandparents, parents, and two younger siblings. Daycare and babysitters didn’t exist for us and high School parties at my house were impossible. My American friends got to know Baba and Dedo well – it was a wholesome and nurturing childhood. We learned why being respectful mattered. We were witness to a simple life that rewarded sacrifice, perseverance, and loyalty. I’m most proud of my grandparent’s journey from Bitola to Chicago – with a brief stop as migrant workers in Australia – two young children in tow. They had such elegance and grace in the way they went through life. They risked everything they knew to give us a shot at life in this country. Dedo didn’t have a credit card or a checking account – I’m not sure he even knew what they were. But he taught me about emotional intelligence and self-awareness – and he filled me with a lifetime supply of hope and curiosity. I’m so grateful for that. My advice to the next generation of Macedonians is that you control your own life and are capable of great achievement if you can pair your daily habits to your vision/dreams. Find good mentors – be persistent with them. Understand you must be open to continuously learning and make everything you do about finding and living your passion.
Damjan Daskaloski, 32
I was born in Prilep Macedonia on June 11th 1984. My family came to the United States in 1999 and I studied at Clifton High School. When I graduated I applied and was accepted to Saint Peter’s College where I stayed one year studying Material Physics and played soccer. Starting my sophomore year, I went to study Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Rutgers University in New Brunswick NJ.
While in college, I opened two businesses and worked 40 hour weeks. The first business was in my junior year and was called United Metals of America (UMA Trading) which was a scrap metal trading business. We traded scrap abroad from the US to India and China, as well as domestically within the US. Unfortunately after market crash we had to close business. The second business I opened during college included my younger brother Daniel. We started a hosting business called TMZ Hosting which today, is still in business and doing well.
After College I worked for Cardinal Health which then was sold to the Blackstone Group and it is now called Catalent Pharma Solutions. I was a process validation engineer at that time. I then moved over to Stryker Orthopedics where I worked as design and quality engineer.
A Macedonian friend of Mine Goce Blazeski who owns a very successful construction firm (APS Contractors Inc.) here in New Jersey invited me to work for him in construction in 2010. This is where I learned the construction business in a very hands on manner. In 2012, Daskal LLC was formed andgrew from $250,000 in revenue in 2012 to over $8 Million in 2016, and it’s still going strong.
Over the years I realized, no matter the differences we have as Macedonians, in time of need, we are always there for each other to give the necessary support. Two businesses and a few jobs in between for large corporations, I came back to Garfield NJ where there is a large Macedonian community to start my own business. I firmly believe I would not be where I am now without the support of my Macedonian friends, family and business owners that constantly strive to not only better themselves, but more so to help others achieve all they can as well.
We as Macedonians are traditionally a hard working nation. So far, I have not found a Macedonian that does not work hard. You can go anywhere in the world and meet a person on a work-study program or in a business situation who knows of a company that is owned or managed by a Macedonian.
As a kid, growing up in Macedonia I had to get straight A’s to be able to use my father’s truck so I could spend my pocket money. I would also clean the car if I wanted to drive it. Having to do this as a young kid created a physical and mental work stamina that has gotten me through various ups and downs in life. Bringing this Macedonian work ethic and cleverness with me, helped me accelerate to success in the US.
Macedonia, as an old country, has a lot to offer in the department of culture. I am proud of the rich history we have. Many wars, kings, and territorial disputes have graced Macedonia which has helped to create its rich culture. I believe that this shared culture allows any one of us sit at a table anywhere and strike up a conversation. The history of Macedonia shows that there were changes. There was a time when we were exposed to the Aegean Sea and now we are not. That does not change the fact of who we really are as Macedonians. Borders and territories may change but we as a people remain one. That makes me proud to be Macedonian.
I asked someone to give me an inspirational quote once and he told me: “You will die one day!”
So my advice is for the next generations is, “TODAY try as hard as you can to make the best out of THIS day.- … do it again tomorrow… then repeat .”
Zani Imetovski, 24
Zani Imetovski, 24, is the grandson and son of Macedonian immigrants. His parents are both business owners who have been in business for 23 years in their community. Zani is a 2014 graduate of the University of New Haven where he received a degree in Political Science. During his collegiate career he was elected to serve as Student Body President and oversaw a 1.5 million dollar student activities budget. Zani is active in the community including being a member of the Seymour Lions Club, a community service organization. Zani currently is employed at the Connecticut General Assembly at the House Democratic Caucus. He is a member of the Seymour Democratic Town Committee. He is also currently serving on the Town of Seymour’s Board of Finance.
The greatest thing I learned from my heritage has been the work ethic given to me from my grandparents and parents. So much of what you want to accomplish can be done if you are disciplined and work hard. My grandparents, when they first arrived here, worked very hard in the factories to provide for their families. Then my parents took a risk and worked just as hard to start and grow their own businesses. I take that work ethic and incorporate it into both my professional and personal life.
The best advice I would give is the advice that was given to me when I was young and that is to keep moving forward no matter what happens. The day to day challenges of life can get difficult at times but as long as you start each day with a resolve to do better than the last, things always find a way of working out.
Ashley Nestorovska, 24
Ashley Nestorovska is a graduate of the University of Michigan class of 2014. She graduated with a B.A. in Anthropology and Pre-Law & Pre-business studies. During that time at school Ashley was able to establish the Macedonian-American Student Association at her University where she served as President. Through this organization she was able to organize a 5k in collaboration with the United Macedonian Diaspora which raised over $4,500. She also served as a member of the United-Macedonian-Americans of Detroit where she was awarded the title of “Honorary Rising Star” for her philanthropic efforts aimed at youths.
Ashley has worked at Quicken Loans Inc. since September of 2014. Since August of 2016 she has taken on the position of Team Captain of examinations. She has continued her path of community service after school as well. She now volunteers in downtown Detroit with local nonprofits such as Gleaners Food Bank and Focus Hope.
The traditional Macedonian values that have been passed down have been huge factors impacting my life and profession largely because it has influenced how I perceive things, make decisions, interact with others, and my overall work ethic. These are the values that will forever be ingrained in me and of which I will be able to pass on to my children. Whenever I meet anyone who is Macedonian, I feel a connection to them. It’s a feeling that’s bigger than myself. Our culture places a big emphasis on connection and in today’s world, relationships, bonds, and overall kindness are hard to come by sometimes.
Like Alexander the Great, we are fighters. Many families and the country itself have faced immense hardships, and these shared experiences help shape future generations of Macedonians. Without this value of hard work, I would have never been able to become the first person in my family to graduate college. Knowing our history and culture overall has helped build a sense of pride that is impossible to break. My advice to young Macedonians is to travel to Macedonia – not just once or twice, but often. I grew up in a tiny rural town, and then became so busy and focused on my studies and career that I now have a difficult time envisioning much else outside my comfortable American bubble. Time passes by quickly – travel back home while you can!
Alexander Ordanis, 26
Banitsa, Aegean Macedonia
After starting his career in various capacities within the service production sector of the film and television industry, Alex Ordanis is now a partner of Toronto based production company Stellar Citizens Inc. which focuses on the development and production of feature length films. Notably, the film Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah (which he served as Associate Producer and Director of Photography) was nominated during for an Oscar at the 87th Academy Awards for Best Short Subject Documentary.
My Macedonian heritage influenced my first film which I produced at 17 years old, Lupcho’s Life. The film was loosely based off stories that my family shared about Macedonian culture clashing with Canadian culture with the 1st generation members of my family. The positive response to that project motivated me to pursue a career as a filmmaker.
I am proud of the hard work ethic that has been present in the 1st wave of family members who came to Canada in the 1960s. The work that they did established several respectable and long lasting businesses here while maintaining their identity as Macedonians.
I am proud to be Macedonian because of the unique traditions, music and language we have. The collective history we share. A people who overcome. I believe we need to remember where our roots come from and the hardships and sacrifices the previous generations made so that we can be in the position we are today.
Dimitar Popov, 28
Dimitar is the founder of Reborn (www.reborn.mk) which in its first year exists predominantly as a content platform (a lifestyle webzine – the first of this kind in Macedonia) that connects local stories of design, art, music and fashion with the goal to inspire Macedonian millennials.
Led by his firm belief that digital media is the key driver in educating and influencing young generations (anywhere in the world) he dedicated his career to becoming a digital media expert. After 15 years in the US, he came back to Macedonia with an ambitious mission to fight brain-drain by creating digital-media-led projects that engage and inspire talented young Macedonians. Reborn is a product of this experiment.
Dimitar was born in Veles, Macedonia, graduated with a degree in Economics and Supply Chain at The Ohio State University and prior to Reborn worked as a management consultant in Chicago with companies including Red Bull, Nestle, and General Electric. He is also one of the founders of the Chicago chapter of UMD.
My family and I immigrated to the United States when I was 12 years old. Although I accepted the American way of life and quickly connected with US culture and the people, I never let myself forget about my Macedonian heritage. My core values and morals, I learned in Macedonia from my Macedonian parents and grandparents. Those same values have helped me find success through many journeys in life, thus, I am forever grateful for the foundation that was entrenched in my youth in Macedonia. From an early age, I made a promise that I would never forget about my heritage and that I would use the education and experience gained in the US as a catalyst for local change in Macedonia.
Macedonia has a tremendously rich and deep culture that over the years has partly been forgotten. I’m not talking about the type of culture that the neo-Macedonian “patriots” have celebrated by building monuments around Skopje. I’m talking about the more recent Macedonian influencers like the many musicians and artists that were making history in Yugoslavia and in the 90s. Leb I Sol, Kiril Dzajkovski, Arhangel, Anastasia and Milcho Manchevski are just a few of the names that define Macedonian culture for me. To call them fellow citizens and say that we share a common culture is something I am truly proud of.
Make no mistake – Macedonia is struggling. And all of you in the diaspora have the power to make a significant difference for Macedonia. At a local level, Macedonia needs support and dedication from smart, experienced and optimistic individuals (especially from outside of the country). Get educated and start getting involved and see how you can help preserve our identity and impact the future of our country.
Aleesia Stamkos, 26
Armensko and Banitsa, Aegean Macedonia
Before Aleesia could walk or talk, her family knew its extroverted youngest member was destined to be an entertainer. As the youngest of three girls growing up in the Toronto suburb of Unionville, Aleesia was the performing monkey of the family, never shying away from the spotlight.
The passion Aleesia showed at an early age propelled this dynamic singer, songwriter and dancer, now 26 years old to early success in her native Canada.
At 19 she released her first single “Bubble Gum” to radio, and since then has had consistent Top 40 charting single success, landing her invitations to perform alongside artists Bruno Mars, Sir Elton John, Adam Lambert, Shawn Desman, and Kardinal Offishall, among others. She performed her single “Life Of The Party” at City TV’s 2012 New Year’s Eve Bash at Nathan Phillips Square. With over 50,000 people in attendance, Aleesia knew it was the start of an amazing new chapter in her career. In February of 2012, she released the lead single off of her debut album Girl Talk, “Kiss It Bye Bye” featuring rapper Big Sean and earned two MMVA nominations for the video. In 2014, Aleesia captured worldwide attention with her sultry vocals featured on Martin Garrix’s title track off his EP “Gold Skies”. Within weeks of its debut, “Gold Skies” reached the #1 position on Beatport’s chart and held the spot for several weeks. With over 40 million YouTube views on the official video, the song continues to gain momentum across the globe. In September of 2015, Aleesia featured as writer and vocalist on Robin Schulz’s album “Sugar” with “Love Me Loud”, a track that has since become a fan favorite off the release.
Now with her new single “Dum”, Aleesia is exposing a raw, pixie-like side of herself to the world, promising to leave audiences stuck on ear candy melodies and dancing to the indie island-pop sound. With collaborations to come with singer/songwriter Dan Talevski and a fresh EP in the works, there is no doubt Aleesia is ready to be heard.
As a young woman in the music industry I can proudly say my heritage has helped shape the person I am today. I feel grateful to have grown up in a large, close-knit Macedonian family who taught me the true definition of support. I was always surrounded by love and my sense of wonder was never discouraged. Your family really can be your best friends as well as your most respected mentors. Music and dance are my biggest passions in life and I feel lucky to have been exposed to them from a very young age. Maybe falling asleep as a child on a bed of banquet chairs as lively, loud Macedonian bands serenaded me, subconsciously helped me out on the music side of things!
I’m proud of the values instilled in me and I love our traditions. I love how my baba never thinks I’m full, and how I still sing ‘Makedonsko Devojche’ with my other Baba like it was the day she taught me. I love how we dance in a circle, sometimes joining hands with a complete stranger and it feels like home. My message to the next generation would be this: Never let anyone dull the dreamer in you. Stay humble, work hard, know yourself and be proud of that self. Oh—and never let anybody mispronounce your name.
Zlata Unerkova, 28
Zlata Unerkova was born and raised in Skopje, Macedonia. An entrepreneurial spirit with an ‘ear’ for languages and an artistic streak, Zlata taught herself English as a young child by watching Disney movies, and later Spanish by reading the subtitles of Mexican telenovelas for her ill grandmother. She now speaks several languages, including Macedonian, English, Spanish, Serbo-Croatian, Bosnian and (some) French. Growing up in post-socialist Macedonia, in high school she used to make her own hand-made jewelry, a popular gift among her friends, which is when she first started appreciating Western ideas of entrepreneurship and free flow of ideas and creativity.
Ms. Unerkova was accepted on a full scholarship and became the second international student from Macedonia to have ever been accepted at St. Lawrence University – a small, private liberal arts college in Northern New York State, where she grew, both personally and academically, and achieved many milestones. She pioneered the position of a Teaching Assistant for Dr. Olesker’s Politics of the Middle East class at the Government Department and was awarded the Carl W. Chilson Senior Government Award. Ms. Unerkova was named Who’s Who Among Students in American Colleges and Universities in 2011, and has been a proud member of Pi Sigma Alpha (ΠΣΑ), the American National Political Science Honor Society, since 2011. During her senior year she wrote a Senior Honors Thesis in which she examined the strategic decision-making process of a minority group in a divided Middle Eastern society in order to establish the prospect for violence in that society. The thesis was later presented at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the New England Political Science Association in Hartford, CT. Not surprisingly, growing up in the 90s in the war-torn Balkans, the topic of inter-group dynamics and conflict resolution has always been of interest to her.
After graduating Summa Cum Laude with Honors in Government and working in the civil society sector in Macedonia, she took the road less traveled when she decided to emigrate and make the United States her permanent home. Ms. Unerkova’s Macedonian heritage serves as a compass for her professional life as she has decided to focus on international development, particularly the development of the countries in the Balkans and Eastern Europe. Currently, Ms. Unerkova is a Program Officer at the American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) and supports programming on the Balkans portfolio. Ms. Unerkova leverages her unparalleled understanding of the needs and challenges the region is facing to successfully implement her programs. Deeply connected to her roots, she has worked on programs that have helped increase access to justice in Macedonia and Serbia by improving the quality of legal defense, increased access to justice to Roma communities throughout the Balkans, combatted corruption, strengthened the rule of law and furthered the Euro-Atlantic integration processes of the Western Balkan countries. Prior to ABA ROLI, she worked in the non-profit sector in Washington, D.C., including as an UMD Fellow and a Congressional Liaison for the Advisory Council for Bosnia and Herzegovina, where she worked on religious freedom issues, democratization, transitional justice and combatting genocide denial, as well as she worked with the U.S. Congress on increasing the Macedonia and Bosnia Congressional Caucuses, enhancing regional stability and protection of human rights in the Balkans. Her diverse work experience also includes working in the Cabinet of the President of the Republic of Macedonia, the Cabinet of the Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs and in the civil society sector in Macedonia. Ms. Unerkova has also worked on a USAID/Booz Allen Hamilton project supporting the country’s transition to a market-based economy. There she co-wrote a case study on the “Development of the Romanian IT Market and Industry with Recommendations for the Macedonian IT Industry”, which was later published in a leading Macedonian economic and foreign policy journal.
She says she draws her strength, endurance, perseverance and motivation from both her family and her Macedonian heritage. The tight-knit and caring Macedonian community gives émigrés strength and a grounding sense. She is also proud of Macedonia’s diversity – ethnic, religious and cultural – which has enriched the country’s history, traditions and even cuisine. Ms. Unerkova has great faith in the next generation of Macedonians, especially those born and raised in independent and transitioning Macedonia, who have experienced the adversities and challenges first-hand and who now stand in front of a historic task. Her advice for young Macedonians is for them to embrace their unique circumstances and heritage, which more often than not prove to be a driving force to excellence. It matters not how straight the gate; take the risk, make the jump!
Alex Volkanovski, 32
Volkanovski under the apt moniker “The Hulk”, smashed his way through the Australian ranks, quickly earning a reputation for brutal skill and technique, backed by his integrity, Volkanovski refused to fight anyone with a losing record and accept only the strongest competition and challengers. Capturing 9 Australian titles of 3 weight divisions, Alexander knew it was only a matter of time before he would be called on to fight abroad.
This brought the attention of the international promotion Pacific Xtreme Combat who signed Alexander to compete for their show throughout Asia where he remained undefeated, capturing the promotions’ World Featherweight title.
Soon after, Volkanovski got the call he had been waiting for, the number one promotion in the world, The Ultimate Fighting Championship. Making his pro debut in front of a strong Melbourne crowd, Alexander had proven he had what it took to smash his way through the regional competition and it was time to take over the world. The debut coincided with a moniker change to represent his heritage unveiling the world conqueror, Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski on to his adoring fans.
Backed by the loving support of his wife Emma, and baby Ariana, Volkanovski won his debut and has promised to continue to forge forward and represent the Macedonian heritage on the world stage.
The Macedonian culture is a supporting one. I wouldn’t be lying if I said 80% of my supporters are Macedonian. They are very patriotic and passionate. Their support has got me to where I am today. I love seeing many of the traditions that have continued through the generations and still carry through to this day. I am proud to be Macedonian because I really admire the way our families believe how important it is to have values, morals and to be there for one another. For the future generations of Macedonians, chase your dreams. Macedonia will support you and be behind you like they have been for me!!