Report: Aspen Young Leaders Program, March 2023

The 13th annual Aspen Young Leaders Program was held on 23-26 March 2023 in Hnanice, South Moravia. The rich four-day program was attended by 35 young leaders from business, public administration, the arts, academia, science and sports.

In the beginning, each participant shared his or his personal story, and this warm-up was followed by a conversation between Uršula Kralová and Ivan Hodáč – one of the founders of Aspen Institute Central Europe, in which they summarized more than a decade of the Institute’s history and program priorities.

The second day started with an open debate on Values-Based Leadership. All the young leaders actively participated and shared the values that guided their lives. We heard terms such as integrity, freedom, respect, empathy and kindness most frequently.

We then welcomed our first distinguished guest, who accepted our invitation to participate and share her experience with young leaders, Professor Danuše Nerudová, the only female candidate in the Czech presidential elections of 2023. Danuše spoke about leadership in business and higher education and emphasized the importance of values and the recognition of the position of women in society, as well as creating equal opportunities for men and women. 

The afternoon was packed with three interesting debates from the sectors of business – science – culture, which were built on the common ground of values-based leadership. 

Pavel Řehák, founder of Direct Family and President of Aspen Institute Central Europe, presented his inspiring personal story and spoke of the challenges he faced during his career. He also motivated the participants to follow their goals and not give up, even when life puts obstacles in their way. 

The next speaker was Jan Lukačevič, a NATO 2030 Young Leader, member of Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s Advisory Board, and also a member of the Space Section Council of the Minister of Defense, who started his speech by stating that selflessness is one of the most important values he follows in his life. With his initiative “Energy for Doctors”, Jan helped medical personnel during the coronavirus pandemic and is currently making and sending “trench candles” to people in the war zone in Ukraine.

The last part of the day was dedicated to Peter Kerekes, film director, producer, and screenwriter, who presented a documentary called “Cooking History” about military cooks and their influence on history. Peter has won numerous awards for this documentary, including Best Documentary at the Viennale. Peter shared with the participants his motivation for making such a film and gave the stories of each character. He also talked about his values and how he clung to them while shooting the film and collaborating with others.

The third day of the program took off with a moderated panel discussion on human rights advocacy in Central and Eastern Europe. This time the panel discussed the activities of NGOs with representatives from Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. Katarzyna Batko-Tołuć, Program Director of Citizens Network Watchdog from Poland, Antónia Mészáros, Executive Director of UNICEF Hungary, and Andrea Najvirtová, Director of People in Need Slovakia, highlighted the pressing issues these NGOs face in their respective countries. All the representatives agreed that one of the biggest obstacles is the difficulty of raising money for their work and the constant reassurance of decision-makers that their work is indispensable. They also shared concrete examples from their practice so the participants could get a better idea of the realities of running an NGO. 

The next discussion focused on cybersecurity. On this topic, we invited Ondřej Kubovič, a cybersecurity expert and security awareness specialist from the antivirus company ESET, to introduce his field to our young leaders. During this session, participants discussed responsible behavior in virtual space, privacy, and personal data security on the Internet and social media platforms. 

We did not forget to include Empowerment Training in the program. All the participants actively engaged in challenging outdoor activities, which this time were dedicated to first aid and crises that can happen to virtually anyone during everyday life. The participants had a great time together and, most importantly, gained new experiences and tried out specific crisis scenarios.

On Sunday morning, at the end of the program, there was an interactive workshop prepared by Maria Salomonová, co-founder of Nepustit duši, focused on mental health and hygiene.

It was an intensive four-day program full of fascinating and stimulating discussions with experts. The Aspen Institute Central Europe team is delighted with how many great people they were able to bring together. 

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