The United Macedonian Diaspora (UMD) is excited to release this year’s list of Macedonian Diaspora 40 Under 40 Award Recipients. UMD’s initiative 40 under 40 is a celebration of accomplished young Macedonians globally who impact their respective communities and professions.
The Award spotlights professionals in various fields and business sectors, including technology, business, real estate, medicine, finance, teaching, arts, law, and government. With this year’s list, UMD has recognized 240 individuals around the world to date.
“For over a century, Macedonians have been leaving our homeland for a better life. Our people are hard-working and are leaving a mark on society. It is only appropriate that UMD recognize our own as role models in their respective communities as well as for future generations of Macedonians,” said Argie Bellio, UMD Board Member and 40 Under 40 Coordinator.
“On behalf of the UMD Board, I congratulate all of our 40 recipients this year and look forward to engaging them in the future to benefit the Macedonian community-at-large,” concluded Bellio.
As in previous years, UMD released the Macedonian Diaspora 40 Under 40 List in groups of 10 weekly. For media interviews with any of the recipients, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Submit your nominations for next year’s list HERE.
Please join the UMD community in congratulating our fourth and final ten UMD Macedonian Diaspora 40 Under 40 Award Winners!
THE FOURTH TEN OF FORTY HONOREES
LEARN MORE ABOUT THIS GROUP OF HONOREES:
Paulina Grnarova, 30
Roots from Skopje, Macedonia
Paulina Grnarova was born and raised in Skopje, Macedonia, and completed her undergraduate studies at the Ss. Cyril and Methodius University, where she focused on Electrical Engineering and Information Technologies. The President of Macedonia awarded her the prestigious Engineering Ring award for her achievements. Grnarova continued her education at EPF Lausanne, where she graduated with a master’s degree in Computer Science, followed by a Ph.D. in Artificial Intelligence at ETH Zurich, Switzerland. During her Ph.D. studies, she published at top conferences and worked as a teaching assistant at the university with a focus on deep learning and generative models. Grnarova was also a part of Google AI Language and Google Brain as a research consultant specializing in natural language understanding.
Grnarova is now a co-founder and CEO of DeepJudge, the first ETH spin-off supported by the ETH AI Center. At the heart of the technology behind DeepJudge is a multilingual AI that can discern the content of the structured and unstructured legal text and thus quickly point to important information, surface relevant insights, and proof check for inconsistencies. DeepJudge is supported by prominent angel investors and has been awarded multiple prizes and awards. Grnarova was also named one of the Digital Shapers of Switzerland for 2021.
The foundation of my education was set in Macedonia, which opened a lot of possibilities for me to build upon. Despite living abroad for a decade, I still maintain a tight connection to my home country and visit frequently. I am proud of my culture for the values it has instilled in me and for teaching me the worth of friendships and the importance of family.
My advice for the next generation of young Macedonians is to take risks and do things that are out of your comfort zone and even scare you. That is the best way to grow.
Michael Kekovski, 35
Roots from Bitola, Macedonia
Michael Kekovski was born and raised in Newcastle, NSW, Australia. His Mother, Elica, was born in Krstoar, the daughter of Alexander and Fanija Gorevski. Kekovski’s Father, Mitko, was born in Mogila, the son of Boris and Trajana Kekovski, both villages located close to Bitola. Both parents’ families migrated to Australia, later meeting in Newcastle and further marrying. Kekovski has an older sister Belinda and is married to his wife Ali, and they have a baby daughter, Adriana.
He is an entrepreneur, company director, and machine operator who has a passion for developing and growing companies. Sixteen years ago, Kekovski founded The Excavation Specialists and has remained the business operator for the earthmoving and haulage business. He sought a niche market of servicing and repairing government utilities and has proudly grown his business to become one of the largest suppliers on the east coast of Australia.
Kekovski also has business interests in investing in renewable resources recovery. His business provides renewable materials back into the construction industry within their local economy.
As a keen investor, Kekovski is also the CEO of Mihail Investments, which provides funding and construction to develop mixed-use urban property developments for the affordable-urban style of development that blends residential, commercial, cultural, institutional, and entertainment uses into one space.
Kekovski holds the honor of participating as a board member for the Hunter Young Professionals. He prides himself on being a strong, involved leader for his community.
Being brought up with the strong, hard-working nature we Macedonians have, has shaped me into the ambitious person I am today. My father Mitko has instilled in me the passion, persistence, and drive to succeed. My mother, Elica, gave me the confidence and support that if we put our minds to it, we can achieve anything; on top of this, with their strong Macedonian values to love, respect, and help others, never give up. As Macedonian descendants, we can all relate to these qualities; as shown in history, there is not a challenge we can’t overcome.
The Macedonian culture strongly emphasizes family, being together, growing together, helping each other, and helping our communities is so strong for me. Across the world, we manage to find our people, get to know each other, help each other, and never forget that we are descendants from Macedonia, and for this, I am very proud. This is what I will pass on to my beautiful daughter Adriana – the values that come from my heritage and our people.
My advice to the next generation is to learn the language, embrace the traditions, preserve our culture, don’t fear failure as that is learning, and always remember that there is only one Macedonia, and we carry that in our blood. Pursue your dreams; with hard work, you are capable of whatever you set your mind to.
Marko Micov, 29
Roots from Skopje, Macedonia
Marko Micov was born in Skopje, Macedonia. He began his ballet education under the direction of Sonja Zdravkova-Dzeparovska, Ph.D., at the state ballet school in Skopje.
He was awarded the Special Prize in 2010 at the international ballet competition, Mia Corak Slavenski, and a full scholarship for the summer program of Accademia teatro Alla Scala in Vis, Croatia.
In 2011, Micov danced as a guest artist with Croatia Ballet in a co-production with the Madrid Ballet, on an international tour in South America with Pascal Touzeau’s The Nutcracker.
In 2012, the legendary Gelsey Kirkland invited him to join her company, where his performances were noticed by major publications including The New York Times, Huffington Post, Ballet Focus, and more. This made him the first Macedonian dancer to start a professional career in the USA.
In 2016, Micov joined Ballet San Antonio and was promoted to Soloist in 2018. He was featured in a variety of principal roles with the Company, including in Frederik Franklin’s Tribute, Bruce Wells’ Beauty and the Beast, Yosvanis Cortellan Carmen, as well as Willy Shives’ The Nutcracker, Don Quixote, and The Sleeping Beauty. He performed as the Principal Male in Ballet San Antonio’s premiere of George Balanchine’s Rubies Staged by Nilas Martin. Other repertoire includes Gerald Arpino’s Round of Angels.
In 2018, he wrote the Macedonian message for the international dance day organized by ITI-UNESCO(international theatre institute), and in 2019 he received the national award, Menada, for young artist of the year.
Micov joined Milwaukee Ballet Company for the 2019/20 Season. He was featured as Fritz in Michael Pink’s The Nutcracker, performed in Garrett Glassman’s “I Do, Don’t I?” Mauro De Candia’s Purple Fools in Connect.
I am quite thankful to have roots from a piece of land like Macedonia! I was raised in an amazing family, surrounded by amazing friends, disciplined, cultured, and educated by an extraordinary professor, Sonja – Zdravkova Djeparoska, Ph.D. This all contributes to who I am today.
I’m most proud of my extraordinary friends back home who always rise to the occasion with all the difficulties they face. I am proud of the Macedonian friends that I have met over the years far away from home who never forget where they come from because these people give me hope for a better future and inspire me to work hard.
Respect and honor your family and the people who help you. Strive to become your best. Never forget the past, but always look and think about the future because this is our time.
Kalina and Nevena Neskoska
Roots from Ohrid (Mesheishta; Godivje) and Valandovo (Furka), Macedonia
Kalina and Nev Neskoski are a power sister duo originally from Ohrid, Macedonia. While the Neskoski family relocated to Chicago in 2000, the sisters moved to Boston a few years ago, where Nev finished her Berklee diploma, and Kalina propelled her career in digital marketing. Nev and Kalina write Macedonian pop and folk music and have launched music videos that have promoted Macedonia, the Macedonian Football team, and the handball team, Vardar.
They write, manage, record, and promote all the content for their Macedonian language learning show called “Darko Biberko.” The animated show consists of 3-minute-long episodes that showcase catchy songs featuring a young boy (Darko) doing activities all kids do. This includes eating Macedonian foods, playing games, learning the alphabet, participating in Macedonian customs, and celebrating Orthodox holidays like Christmas and Easter. Darko Biberko has over 8 million channel views and close to 16K subscribers. The sisters’ main goal is to reach as many children in the diaspora as possible.
Although smaller donations in the diaspora have funded their show, they seek sponsorships from Macedonian-run businesses passionate about their heritage. They are truly one of the most prominent champions for the Macedonian identity in the diaspora. They are often recognized as “tetkite na Darko” (Darko’s aunts) by little Darko Biberko fans. To this day, Nev and Kalina take the most pride in their children’s show as they are directly impacting the future Macedonian generations.
To learn more about Darko Biberko, click HERE.
From day one in the states, we understood that we were different from a lot of our peers. Our knee-jerk reaction was to steer as far away as possible from our heritage just to fit in. As time went on, we realized just how special our bond to all things Macedonian was. And as we grew accustomed to life in the US, we learned that our otherness was a thing to be embraced. We made sure to participate in our school’s world fests- representing Macedonia and speaking freely about our motherland to anyone who’d listen. Our bibliography projects were focused on Macedonian figures. We brought ajvar, kifli, or bombici to potlucks to give those around us a little taste of Macedonia.
Growing up in diverse cities like Chicago and Boston has given us the courage to be ourselves and to proudly share our culture with fellow Americans. We’ve been given a talent, and we use it to the fullest extent. We will continue to use our voices and the power of music to promote Macedonia and preserve our culture and language for future generations.
Whether you’re young or young at heart, there are many ways you can partake in promoting Macedonia. Taking part in a non-profit organization like UMD, joining a folklore group, or organizing a Macedonian event in your city are just a few things you can do to stay involved. We all need to be advocates for our motherland. The moment we stop speaking about Macedonia is the moment the world forgets us. Be loud and be proud to be Macedonian.
Ellen Perez, 26
Roots from Velusina and Zabeni, Macedonia
Ellen Perez is 26 years old and was born and raised in Shellharbour, NSW, Australia. Her mother, Milica (Mitz), was born in Australia to Macedonian parents. Her Baba Cveta was born in Grunista and raised in Velusina, and her Dedo Andrea (Endro) was born and raised in Zabeni. Both Velusina and Zabeni are towns close to Bitola. Perez’s father, John (Juan), was also born in Australia, and both his parents were born in the south of Spain (the Costa Del Sol region).
Perez started playing tennis when she was seven years of age. Her first significant achievement as a junior was winning the U/14’s Australian Nationals. When Perez was 16 years old, she moved to Melbourne, where she trained full-time with the National Academy. She studied for her Higher School Certificate by distance, which allowed her to train and focus on tennis full time in the crucial development years. At 18, Perez moved to the USA and went to the University of Georgia Athens on a full tennis scholarship. She began studying Sports Management and is in the final stages of completing her degree.
Perez played college tennis for three years and achieved a ranking of #2 in singles and doubles, as well as being an All-American 5 times. She eventually turned pro in 2017. Since playing on the pro circuit, Perez has accomplished a career-high of 162 in singles and 40 in doubles. She has played in the main draw at all four grand slams and recently represented Australia at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Perez came 5th in the doubles alongside Samantha Stosur in the most recent Olympic games. She will be making her debut for Australia by competing in Prague’s Billie Jean King Cup finals this November.
Having a Macedonian heritage has given me a sense of pride and joy when I compete. I love all the festivities and celebrations we enjoyed as a family, with extended family and friends when I was younger, but due to being on tour for most of the year, I miss out on these days. I know there’s a larger Macedonian community out there who follow and support my tennis, and to be able to make them proud and represent my heritage is a great privilege and honor. There’s not a lot of Macedonian tennis players on the circuit, so it gives me a lot of motivation to do well in the sport and try to encourage others to get involved.
I’m most proud to be Macedonian because it’s a very tight-knit community with shared values, pride, and patriotism, who are very family-focused, passionate, and supportive. I love everything about the culture but most importantly the food because I have always loved my food. My Baba Cveta always makes my favorites when I come back home after a long trip, and these include Sarma, Ajvar, Muznik, Pituilici with feta cheese, and Slatki.
My advice would be to dream big and never stop chasing or believing in achieving those dreams. Always work hard as nothing ever comes easy and give it your best. Lastly, enjoy the process and journey!
Alan Radevski, 34
Roots from Grncari and Podmocani, Macedonia
Alan Radevski’s grandparents from the paternal side emigrated twice in their lifetime. First, they left Macedonia to start a family in Buenos Aires, where they lived for many years and were part of the Macedonian community. Second, his grandfather Naum traveled to the United States in the early ’80s and stayed with many relatives along the way until he settled on bringing the family to Chicago. His grandfather was able to reconnect with many of his childhood friends here from the old country, and together they helped build and grow the Macedonian community in Chicago.
Radevski was born in July 1987 in Chicago and is very grateful to his dedo for settling down in Chicago. He graduated from Northern Illinois University in 2010 and double majored in Communications and Journalism. NIU was where Radevski found his passion for leadership as he held various leadership roles within his fraternity. In 2012 Radevski had the opportunity of a lifetime and was hired by CDW, the world’s leading technology solution provider. After almost ten years at CDW, Radevski remains focused on growing and getting better each day. He was recently promoted in 2020 and is currently a Sales Manager for the organization.
Outside of work, Radevski is married to Ashley, and they have a 2-year-old son, Landon Naum Radevski, a daughter that is due in January 2022, and their dog, Snickers, who always keeps them busy. He’s an avid supporter of the Chicago Bears, Bulls, White Sox, and US Men’s Soccer. In his spare time, he enjoys collecting sneakers.
I’m lucky to come from a family of multiple backgrounds and not just one. My father was born and raised in Argentina, and my mother was born and raised in Mexico. My grandparents raised me while my parents worked during the day. Being this close to my baba and dede brought me even closer to my Macedonian heritage. Macedonian and Spanish were the first two languages that I learned growing up. We were not an English-speaking family at home. When I was sent off to school, I had not yet learned English, so I was behind already. It took me many years to realize this, but my dede’s journey is one of resiliency. I didn’t know it back when I was five, but I worked hard to catch up and learn English.
I am most proud of having grandparents that connected me to the community and kept me as involved as they could.
My advice to the next generation of young Macedonian’s is to look to your grandparents or great grandparents. Listen to their journey and what it means to them to be Macedonian. Take a trip to the country and see where you came from.
Melissa Stamkos, 36
Roots from Macedonia
Melissa Stamkos is 36 years old, was born in Toronto, and grew up in the City of Markham. Before her legal studies, she graduated with an Honours degree in Business Administration from York University. After that, she attended the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law in Detroit, Michigan, obtaining her Juris Doctor with Honours in 2010.
Stamkos is licensed to practice law in both the State of New York and in the Province of Ontario. She has spent her career at Garfin Zeidenberg LLP, located in Toronto, Ontario, where she has a multidisciplinary practice focusing on estate planning/administration, estate litigation, and family law. With the diversity of her practice and the breadth of experience she has developed, Stamkos brings value to her clients as an advocate who understands the interplay between corporate, estate, and family issues. Stamkos has successfully represented and advocated on behalf of clients before the Ontario Court of Justice and Superior Court of Justice.
My Macedonian heritage has played an influential role in both my personal and professional life. I grew up in a traditional Canadian/Macedonian household where my parents emphasized the importance of culture, tradition, and family from a young age. I have two young children, Isla, age 4, and Jaxon, age 2, and it is extremely important for me to uphold the same traditions and culture that were instilled in me, in them as well.
I am thankful that my parents taught me to speak the Macedonian language at a young age. I use it routinely with my Macedonian clients who are more comfortable speaking in their native tongue rather than in English. I am the first in my extended Macedonian family to attend graduate school and become a lawyer, and I attribute my success thus far to the hard work and grit that came before me. I think it is extremely important that Macedonian’s support one another, which is why I became a member of the Canadian Macedonian Lawyers Association, which consists of a network of talented, reputable, and approachable mentors and friends.
I am most proud to be Macedonian because of the warm, loving community I grew up in. Some of my best memories were made at dances and weekend conventions I attended with friends and family. If I had to choose one part of our culture that I absolutely love, it would have to be our Macedonian dancing. I feel an inexplicable joy whenever I hear the music to our family’s dance “Eleno Mome” play!
My advice for the next generation of young Macedonians is to be proud of your heritage. Believe in yourself. Find something that you love, and success will follow. Our culture represents resiliency and hard work, so never forget that all of your ambitions can be realized through focus, passion, and perseverance.
Jovancho Tankoski, 35
Roots from Ohrid, Macedonia
Jovancho Tankoski was born and raised in Ohrid, Macedonia. His grandparents and parents, on both sides, come from nearby villages of Ohrid, Livoista, and Goorno Lakocrej. After graduating from Ohrid High school, Tankoski went on to further his education at the Faculty of Tourism and Organizational Sciences. While in Macedonia, Tankoski started his career in the hospitality industry. In 2008 to advance his career, Tankoski received a work visa to the United States. Tankoski moved to Ohio and worked at Kelley’s Island Wine Co, on Kelley’s Island in Lake Eerie. Attending Kent State University, Tankoski furthered his education by studying business management.
Tankoski met his wife and relocated to the Cleveland area, where he remains with his wife and two children. Tankoski started his work in Real Estate in 2018, working with Keller Williams Chervenic Realty, and works today with his local Coldwell Banker.
My grandparents worked worldwide, mainly in Australia, the U.S., and Iran, so I’ve always wanted to travel. That’s one of the reasons I chose to visit America and ended up staying. When I was in Macedonia, I worked in the hospitality industry (hotels, bars), so I continued that here in the States.
I’m proud to be Macedonian because it’s one of the most beautiful countries in the world, and the roots of my family are entirely Macedonian, going back generations, to now be passed on to our two small children. I think Macedonian folklore, food, and hospitality are the highlights of our culture.
Live for your dream(s), work towards those accomplishments, and don’t give up on the first setback. The reward is guaranteed to come your way when you make it past the hardest part. Never forget that the longest road begins with a single step forward.
Simona Zivkovska, 27
Roots from Skopje, Macedonia
Simona Zivkovska is a UK-based Macedonian actress. She is of 2 heritages: Macedonian, & Caribbean, St Marteen (SXM). Simona was born in Skopje, Republic of Macedonia. She grew up in the borough of Chair (Bitpazar), Skopje. She studied at O.U Kiril i Metodija. Simona’s mother & father, Senka Zivkovska & Zlatko Zivkovski are both born and raised in Skopje. Her biological father is from St Martin. Simona’s grandfather Simeon Velkov was born and raised in Skopje, and her grandmother Mitra Velkova was born in Aegean Macedonia. Simona & her younger brother Boris Zivkovski spent most of their summers in Selo Brazda, where they would climb cherry trees and help their grandmother with her crops. Simona, Boris, and Senka moved to the UK during Simona’s early childhood years in 2001.
My Macedonian heritage has had a huge impact on my life and profession. One of the main reasons is my mother. Since moving to the UK, she has always made sure we keep the tradition alive at home. Coming from Macedonia to the UK at a young age, I was taught to appreciate life, go for what I want, and not miss out on any opportunities that may come my way. In regards to my profession, it has opened several doors for me and has allowed me to be versatile when it comes to castings. Being able to incorporate my language and heritage into my work has been a dream come true.
I love our culture. From the food to the people to the amazing untouched architecture we have in our country. But most of all, I love our traditional music. Our music gives me goosebumps; it empowers me. There is no feeling better than having all of your family around a table at a Meana listening to live music and everyone singing and dancing together. It’s exhilarating.
It doesn’t matter how big or far away the end goal may be. We may seem like we are small compared to the rest of the world, but we are powerful as a community. There is so much valuable talent in our country, and it is time to showcase ourselves to the world. I encourage every single person reading this to fight against the stereotypes and overcome the limiting beliefs and social constructs that can sometimes hold us back. The world is changing. Grab an opportunity with your bare hands and run with it! What’s the worst that can happen?
Become a UMD Member Today!
Your commitment to becoming a member today is necessary for UMD to make an impact globally while continuing the Macedonian struggle for justice and preservation of our name, heritage, identity, and language.
Your annual membership gift will go a long way towards our charitable programs in Macedonia and around the world, including funds for orphans, the needy, and furthering the education of our future leaders by providing annual scholarships.
UMD can continue to accomplish its valuable work only with the help of dedicated Macedonians and friends of Macedonia like you.