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 Chairman.
“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 final ten UMD Macedonian Diaspora 40 Under 40 Award Winners!
THE FINAL TEN OF FORTY HONOREES
Nikola Nick Carovski
Biographies of Our Recipients:
As a 3rd Generation Macedonian, my life has been positively impacted, by my heritage, as far back as I can remember. As a young child, it was like being born into an exclusive club. Everything from small family get-togethers to weddings, our heritage was the foundation for each event. Small tidbits like the pepper plants in our garden, to the dancing and my favorite, the stories from Dedo Pando, about the old country – it was unique to our family and that made it very special. Although only a quarter Macedonian by blood, my heart was fully committed at a young age. I vividly remember, proudly stating, “I’m Macedonian!,” whenever asked about my background. It was not simply my heritage, it was a lifestyle, which I warmly embraced at birth. As I’ve aged, the impact on my professional career has been nothing short of substantial. I’ve been able to network, collaborate and execute business with Macedonian contacts, made throughout my lifetime.
I am most proud to be Macedonian because of my late Dedo Pando. Simply put, my late Dedo Pando and his relentless, gritty determination to make a better life for his family, are incredible. He departed Macedonia as a teenager ( c. 1917) for America, only to be turned away at Ellis Island, NY. Completely alone and with very little money, he was sent back to Europe but arrived hundreds of miles from home in another country. All said, his return trip took nearly a year’s time, to make it back to his village in Macedonia before he could save up enough money for his (successful) voyage in the early 1920s. From my perspective, Dedo Pando’s grit was a very positive and direct representation of Macedonia. We may not always get it right the first time, but giving up is not an option. For me, the highlight of our culture is 100% the peppers. My advice for the next generation of Macedonians is all you can do is you. Make time to absorb yourself in your personal family heritage and understand the journey your ancestors undertook. Do not allow the stories, the struggles, or your family’s legacy to end with you. You may only be a fraction Macedonian, by blood, but your heart and spirit can 100% fully commit.
Andriana Zarovska-Topalovic was raised in Detroit, Michigan. Her parents are from the Prespa region in Macedonia. Andriana is an educator and an entrepreneur. She has been teaching for eight years, with most of her experience working with Kindergarten and first-grade-age students. Andriana started her online business as a fun side hobby when she began posting in-action videos of herself teaching on Instagram. Teachers began seeking her advice when it came to managing the behaviors in their classrooms and supporting their students in the best way possible. Andriana created a product site of online courses for educators and she also currently runs an online membership community for elementary teachers, too! Her Macedonian heritage has contributed to her life and profession in a big way. It has allowed her to engage with students of all ethnicities and backgrounds with an open mind and heart. Andriana often brings home children’s books from Macedonia and other countries she has visited to share with her students. Andriana is proud of her Macedonian heritage and culture. She visits Macedonia frequently and shares pictures with her students and families. This encourages her students to share their own stories and why they are proud to be who they are. As far as advice for the future generation, it’s to hold what makes you special close and don’t be afraid to share your story with the world. There are people who want to learn from you, people who want to listen to your story!
My Macedonian heritage is part of everything I do at work. My Dedo was a very successful businessman and he taught us all hard work and commitment, he would call it “the Macedonian way” and I think of that all the time, especially in difficult situations. To me, being Macedonian is all about having a close family with special foods, unique culture, and traditions. When I have been to Skopje and other parts of Macedonia I look around and am proud to be a part of a country that has such a long-standing heritage and traditions. The highlight of our culture is without question our food. It is the best in the world. I love all kinds of foods, being in the business, but there is nothing as flavorful and authentic as our Macedonian cuisine. My Baba makes the best Shopska salad. My advice to the next generation is to stay close to your roots. As the world becomes a melting pot it is important to keep things in perspective, or what I would call values and my Macedonian roots, family and foundation are very important as you go through life.
Blair Bitove opened the first Dave’s Hot Chicken location outside of California in Toronto, Canada. Soon after the success of the first location in Parkdale another two were opened in the city. She plans to have another 5 openings in 2023 expanding the brand to the west coast in Vancouver and Calgary with a total of 30 locations across Canada. She also will be opening 7 Dave’s Hot Chicken locations in Palm Beach County, Florida. Prior to Dave’s Hot Chicken, she was an experienced manager with a background in asset management, business development, and legal affairs. She studied Communication at the University of Southern California and earned her JD from Loyola University Chicago.
My Macedonian heritage is part of everything I do at work. My Dedo was a very successful businessman and he taught us all hard work and commitment, he would call it “the Macedonian way” and I think of that all the time, especially in difficult situations.
To me, being Macedonian is all about having a close family with special foods, unique culture, and traditions. When I have been to Skopje and other parts of Macedonia I look around and am proud to be a part of a country that has such a long-standing heritage and traditions.
Without question our food is the best in the world, I love all kinds of foods, being in the business, but there is nothing as flavorful and authentic as our Macedonian cuisine. My Baba makes the best Shopska salad.
Gorgi Popstefanov, 35, was born to Ljubomir and Marina in Skopje, Macedonia. Two years later, they moved to Garfield, NJ where Gorgi grew up along with his younger sisters, Diana and Alexandra. Every summer consisted of trips to Macedonia where Gorgi stayed with his grandparents and experienced his heritage firsthand. Gorgi attended The George Washington University in Washington, DC where he also became UMD’s first Fellow in 2008. He continued his education at Seton Hall Law School in NJ and is a lawyer, working for Harvard University. In addition to his education and career, Gorgi represented Macedonia in cycling several times, including at the UCI World Championships.
My Macedonian heritage has impacted my life and profession in two notable ways. First, growing up in a Macedonian household in NJ, I recognized that my parents brought me here so that I had the opportunities they never had in Macedonia and that I owed it to them and to myself to reach my highest potential. Second, going back to Macedonia in the summer made me appreciate a more relaxed lifestyle. I learned that there is a balance to life and that community is something we all need and benefit from. I’m most proud to be Macedonian because of the many other Macedonians that continue to work hard and succeed in their own lives and professions. I’m particularly impressed by our national sports teams which continue to upset more established nations at international tournaments. Their victories embody the Macedonian spirit. My advice for the next generation of young Macedonians is to listen to and respect the cumulative experience of the older generation but to also trust their own instinct and do what their inner drive is pulling them to do. In the end, they need to be at peace with their life, career, and decisions.
Nicki Britten was raised in Battle Creek, MI, and has been a third-generation member of St. Elias Orthodox Church. She currently lives in St. Joseph, MI with her husband and three children. Nicki currently serves as the Director of Population Health at Spectrum Health Lakeland in Benton Harbor, MI. She has been a public health professional for 13 years after earning her Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences at Western Michigan University and her Master of Public Health from Yale University. Before starting her current role in the fall of 2021, Nicki spent 12 years at the Berrien County Health Department in Benton Harbor, MI, the last five of which were spent as the appointed Health Officer/Director. She led her county through the first 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to numerous other public health issues. Her specific areas of expertise include infectious disease epidemiology, health equity, and improving food environments.
Nicki was named an Emerging Leader in Public Health by the Kresge Foundation in 2018 and was a Health Equity Awakened Fellow with the Human Impact Partners in 2017. She serves her community through a gubernatorial appointment to the Michigan Advisory Council on Environmental Justice (MAC-EJ) and as a board member for both the New Heights Christian Community Development Association and the United Way of Southwest Michigan.
From a young age, I was shaped by generations of strong Macedonian women, particularly my mother and my baba. They demonstrated how to persevere, focus on things that truly matter, believe in myself and others, and when to just leave it in God’s hands. Seeing these Macedonian examples of resilience, grit, and authentic relationships profoundly influenced my choice to pursue a public health career.
Pieces of Macedonian culture permeated my American childhood and continue to impact me as an adult. The food prepared by my baba is most memorable; full of flavor and full of love. It was an invitation to a table where everyone would be nourished and leave a better version of themselves. Macedonian dancing, a rare treat in small American towns, is also a highlight. It reminds me no one needs to be left out and the group can collectively carry forward even if a few can’t seem to find the beat.
I strive to keep these lessons at the forefront of my heart as I toil towards better health and thriving lives for my community and creating more connections in this increasingly disconnected world.
To the next generation of young Macedonians, I implore you to find ways to stay connected to our culture. For those of us living in parts of the world where there aren’t many Macedonians, it can be difficult but do what you can to find the recipes, remember the language, and stay in touch with your people.
Nikola was the first generation in his family to be born in the United States. His parents and grandparents grew up in a village called Kukurecani just outside of Bitola in Macedonia. He grew up in Los Angeles, California. You could imagine how difficult it could be to relate to your family when your backgrounds are so vastly different. But as different as they were, his childhood was always influenced by Macedonia. To be more specific, the food and music.
In college Nikola received two degrees; the first was in Dental Laboratory Technology and the second was in Sociology. His career is as a Dental Laboratory Technician. It’s a unique profession because it’s a merging of art and science. The science of understanding the anatomy and function of teeth, with the artistic flare of being able to replicate them. His specialty is Veneers. While some people think of it as restoring teeth, he has always seen the job as restoring smiles.
Growing up so close to Hollywood, Nikola always had an interest in filmmaking. In fact, in high school, he would make several short films with some friends. It was always fun and a passion of his. He later learned a little bit about film editing. With those skills, Nikola was able to later focus on a YouTube channel called The Better Balkan. He had thought for years that there was very little Macedonian representation on YouTube. The original idea was just to create a Macedonian cooking channel that also featured Macedonian music. It was a simple idea but quickly caught on, and the channel also evolved as it grew. Not only is there Macedonian cooking, but also explorations into the Makedonski Narodni Prikazni, a moment in Macedonian folklore, the Top 10 Macedonian songs of the 90s, and how to make a Macedonian shamifche. The channel has expanded into all things Macedonian.
He is so grateful that the channel has been as well received as it has. He never dreamed that it would expand the way that it has. He regards it as his contribution to Macedonian heritage. If the channel inspires a new generation of young Macedonian content creators that share his love of the culture, he would consider The Better Balkan a smashing success.
There are very few areas of my life that aren’t impacted by being Macedonian. Growing up in Los Angeles there wasn’t a large population of Macedonians, so when someone found out you’re Macedonian they are naturally curious. In school, we would usually at some point be encouraged to share something about our heritage. In first grade, we were asked to dress in the traditional clothes of our ancestors. I wore my dancing costume complete with a skirt. Looking back I should have left the skirt at home. In high school, I would joke with my friends that if they ever met another Macedonian person, I knew them or at the very least was having dinner at their house later. My American best friend and his entire family still call me “Nikolce” after all these years. In my professional life being Macedonian has become a huge asset. Growing up in an immigrant family has helped me connect with people from all sorts of different backgrounds. In Los Angeles, everyone is from everywhere. I have found that regardless of where people come from, all cultures have the same loves; Family, Food, and Music.
I’ve wondered now and then why it is that I am Macedonian. It’s a very unique trait to have. But as I have gotten older I’ve come to cherish it more and more. I believe the big three that I will keep hitting on are Family, Food, and Music. When I say Family, I’m not just implying my immediate family. Although they are a huge part too. But I am talking about the Macedonian community that I grew up in. The church community or I would see them as my extended Macedonian family. Those Macedonians built the church and hall that we still use to this day. They did it knowing very little English and with no outside help. Those people built the community that I was lucky enough to be a part of. It’s in that Church and Hall that everyone shared their recipes, stories, and of course music. Macedonian music has always been the soundtrack to my life. My father has a massive collection of Macedonian LPs, cassette tapes, and CDs. He would listen to them often and always had them playing in the car. I love Macedonian music, it is by far the most listened-to music in my life. When I created the YouTube channel, I knew from the start that Macedonian music was going to be the heartbeat of the channel.
Influence the CULTURE. Influence the culture of being Macedonian. Never be cynical about it, and take pride in it. Because of the YouTube channel, people ask me how to inspire young Macedonians to keep their heritage alive, or how to pass it on to the next generation. I always say the same, we have to influence the culture. You are never going to influence anyone by giving them a lecture on the importance of being Macedonian. You need to go to them. You need to present being Macedonian as being special. Why is it special? You need to show them, not tell them. That’s what inspired me to make the Better Balkan channel. I would watch countless YouTube cooking shows from all over the world of people making food from their home countries and how they had kids eager to be a part of the process. That was the spark that led to the Better Balkan. I wanted it to be fun, funny, informative, musical, easily accessible, and something young Macedonian people would WANT to watch instead of something they should watch. Hopefully inspiring them to make their own Macedonian content. My only rule is to stick to our 3 biggest strengths; Family, Food, and Music.
Nikola Stefoski is 24 years old and was born in Crown Point, Indiana on April 10, 1998. His family came from the village of Lozani near Struga, Macedonia in 1968. He attended Lowell Senior High School from 2012-2016. After high school, he attended Indiana State University from 2016-2019 to pursue his dream of becoming an airline pilot. He graduated with a double major in professional aviation flight and aviation management. He was then hired by American Airlines in January 2020, as one of the youngest pilots to be hired by the airline at the age of 21. Nikola emphasizes that none of his success would have been possible without the sacrifices, love, and support he always received from his family. He enjoys spending time with friends and family and visiting Macedonia annually.
My Macedonian heritage is full of traditions and a rich culture that showed me the importance of respect and appreciation of family is the key to success in life and every profession.
I am most proud of being Macedonian because we are known for having a culture full of family traditions and are very hard-working. Macedonians are known throughout the world for beginning with very little and being successful wherever they are in the world. Many of our grandparents are known for starting with a backpack and the shirt on their back and succeeding in everything they’ve tried due to strong work ethics and determination.
Macedonian music is a large part of being Macedonian because it brings everyone together (family and friends) with very festive and uplifting energy. Weddings are a prime example of Macedonian culture and traditions in a very festive and energetic atmosphere where everyone is celebrating a special occasion in Macedonian.
The younger generation should always be proud of their Macedonian heritage and never be afraid nor ashamed to display and share their Macedonian culture, history, and identity with everyone in their life including friends and coworkers. Always work hard and stay true to your roots.
Paul Kostoff is a Canadian and US citizen born in London, Ontario to two Macedonian parents, Steven and Deborah Kostoff. Steven’s family emigrated to Detroit from Bouf and Deborah’s family emigrated to Detroit from Armensko. Paul grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio where his parents and older sisters, Sophia and Anastasia, moved in 1990.
Paul enjoyed participating in sports throughout his high school and college years, specializing in track. Paul has a bachelor’s degree from Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, and a master’s degree in math from Georgetown University in Washington D.C.
Paul is based in Cincinnati and currently works as the chief technology officer of a San Francisco-based start-up that specializes in artificial intelligence.
Paul is proud of his Macedonian heritage and has attended MPO conventions since childhood.
We were raised to take pride in our Macedonian heritage. It was definitely an impactful part of my childhood. My family has regularly attended the MPO conventions since I was born. Professionally, my Macedonian grandparents were entrepreneurs, working hard to build a life in the US after emigrating to Detroit.
Having Macedonian heritage is unique. We have a beautiful country and of course, the food and dancing are two special components.
For the next generation, work hard and make a name for yourself. Make sure that Macedonians are known as intelligent and hard-working whether in Macedonian or as part of the diaspora.
Simona was born and raised in a small town in Macedonia, Resen. Her passion for handball was born when she was in primary school. Following in the footsteps of her handball idol, Indira Kastratovik, she started her first training sessions with the Prespa handball team in the city of Resen.
After finishing primary school, she started her sports journey with the support of her family. It first began in Macedonia, then later on in Europe, and finally in Turkey.
Simona already started her handball career. First in the junior team Kometal Gjorce Petrov – Skopje, and then in many other clubs. The key to achieving her title of Top Scorer was a combination of her dedication, hard work, and passion for Handball. She didn’t just earn this title once, but four different times! During her long career, she played many times for the Macedonian national team. The former representative, with the position of right back and right wing, played in many teams and won many victories.
Macedonian international Simona Grozdanovska now lives in Switzerland and shows good performances in the Swiss championship.
I am so proud of our fighting spirit, warmth, and kindness, and the fact that no matter how many times we fall, we always get back up! My favorite thing about our culture is the bond and support of family. FAMILY COMES FIRST and the connection we have with our loved ones from childhood lasts forever.
My message to future generations is to follow their dreams and know that we Macedonians can overcome any obstacle.
Stephanie Gusching grew up in Battle Creek, Michigan, and is the granddaughter of Macedonian immigrants. She is currently in her third and final year of studies as a 2023 J.D. Candidate at Columbia Law School, after which she intends to pursue a career in international human rights law and cross-border dispute resolution. Before law school, Stephanie was a Fulbright scholar as a Bulgaria English Teaching Assistant. In 2018, she graduated from the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy where she focused on International Relations and Human Rights and minored in Spanish. An avid runner and hiker, Stephanie enjoys spending time in nature, cooking Balkan foods, and playing with her dog, Cleo.
As the granddaughter of Macedonian immigrants, my heritage influenced nearly every facet of my childhood, including the food I ate, the holidays I celebrated, and my bilingual household. From a young age, I recognized that many of my family traditions were unfamiliar to my friends. This awareness sparked my desire to learn about people in other parts of the world and examine how their customs differed from my own just as mine did from my peers. As an undergraduate, I explored my interest in cultural diversity by studying in Spain and Costa Rica and working in El Salvador. After graduation, I pursued a Fulbright Fellowship in Bulgaria to learn more about my own Eastern European heritage. Now in law school, I am strengthening my cultural awareness further by pursuing studies in international law that will be essential to my future work as a globally-minded litigator and human rights advocate.
I am most proud of my Macedonian heritage because of the robust sense of identity and resiliency it has provided for me. I come from a strong, hardworking Macedonian family who with courage immigrated to the United States over 50 years ago. Their tenacity and grit are something I identify to be uniquely Macedonian. This determination is something that I have aimed to mirror in all of my professional and personal pursuits, and I hope to one day be able to pass it down to the next generation.
My biggest advice for young Macedonians is to emulate the values you have gained from your cultural heritage and remain connected to this grounding as you pursue your own goals. My family and Macedonian heritage have instilled in me the importance of hard work, respect, and family. No matter how far from home I may go or what difficult task may lie before me, I have always sought to honor these values, as they have allowed me to stay true to myself and achieve my dreams for the future.