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TFAS Alumni Convene in Athens to Explore Visions of Liberty


Twelve outstanding TFAS alumni from across Europe and the Middle East convened in Athens, Greece, for a weekend of spirited debate and academic discussions. From April 5-7, “Liberty from Locke To Hayek” participants continued their TFAS Journeys by connecting with peers to discuss great thinkers of the past and how their philosophies apply to modern world problems.

TFAS alumni, faculty and staff participants hailed from 11 countries.

TFAS alumna and conference participant Andrijana Vojnovic ’06, a project officer at Catholic Relief Services in Serbia, said the conference gathered the brightest, most diverse group of young and influential people she had met in her lifetime.

“Hearing about their experiences during the sessions and at lunch or dinner was extremely insightful,” she said. “One would have to spend weeks in these countries to learn about the complexities all of our societies face. Learning from peers who are on the frontlines witnessing the daily politics firsthand is one of the reason why TFAS conferences are so important.”

Learning from peers who are on the frontlines witnessing the daily politics firsthand is one of the reason why TFAS conferences are so important.” – Andrijana Vojnovic ’06

Prior to the weekend, participants were assigned readings to guide their discussions – from John Locke, Frédéric Bastiat, John Stuart Mill, Friedrich Hayek and more. The alumni, representing 11 countries, explored key concepts related to economic and individual liberty espoused by these classic authors. Participants were challenged to go beyond basic economic principles of supply and demand and consider the broader social, political, cultural and moral implications of different visions of human liberty.

Valentina Gevorgyan ’11, ’12; TFAS Vice President of Alumni and International Programs Michelle Le ’95, ’96; and Antonia Colibasanu ’03, ’07 reconnect in front of the Athenian Acropolis.

The academic discussion sessions were led by esteemed faculty, Dr. Karen Horn of the German Institute for Economic Research and Dr. Catherine Marshall of the University of Cergy-Pontoise. TFAS Director of International and Continuing Education Programs Brenda Hafera, who helped facilitate the conference, said both Horn and Marshall served as excellent discussion leaders and complemented one another well.

“Dr. Marshall provided helpful background information on the readings but also tied an author’s arguments to modern events, allowing participants to connect personally with the text,” Hafera said. “Dr. Marshall was very knowledgeable and posed interesting questions that provoked the discussions in new directions.”

Hafera said these conferences allow participants to discuss some of the world’s most fundamental political principles and explore solutions to current world problems.

“The conference in Athens is unique because it brings together young professionals from within and outside of academia and public policy,” Hafera said. “For those working in the policy space, it challenges them to consider such principles when advocating for political decisions. For those outside of public policy, it affords them the opportunity to reengage with ideas and grapple with the most human questions.”

Vojnovic, who has attended several conferences organized by TFAS–including her first in 2006 as a student in our former program in Crete, Greece–said each TFAS event has been an inspiring and intellectually stimulating experience, but this weekend was exceptional.

“What was extraordinary about this one was the fact that a relatively small group of individuals with different political philosophies was gathered in a safe and open platform able to speak openly and give their own original interpretation of the readings as well as their opinion on the implications of the readings for modern times and the challenges we face in this generation,” she said.

TFAS alumni continue their discussions on liberty and freedom over dinner at the conference.

In addition to “intellectually refreshing” discussions at TFAS events, Vojnovic said the alumni connections are especially important to her. She said the friends she made through her work as TFAS Serbian alumni chapter president represent the strongest personal and professional network she has made in her life.

“We are connected by our TFAS experience and most of all by the same set of values and sense of morality that brought us to TFAS in the first place. For this, I remain forever grateful to The Fund for American Studies,” Vojnovic said.

Many alumni in attendance said the weekend allowed them a unique experience to pause and reflect on important ideas and connect with peers.Anthony Haddad ’05, ’06, a two-time TFAS alumnus and senior manager at Amazon, said the weekend served as “a rare moment as an adult to pause the rat race of life and think.”

Ayman Elsherbiny ’09, a European Union press officer and alumnus of the 2009 TFAS European Journalism Institute (EJI), said the weekend was a “real rehabilitation of mind” and “a great opportunity for networking.”

This annual event in Athens is part of the TFAS Curriculum of Liberty Seminars, a continuing education program for TFAS alumni held in partnership with the Liberty Fund, Inc., a private educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideals of a society of free and responsible individuals. To learn more about the TFAS Curriculum of Liberty Seminars, please visit TFAS.org/LibSem.

Meet the 2019 Liberty From Locke To Hayek Scholars:

Matiss Brunavs ’10, ’11 has a bachelor’s in economics and business administration from the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga, Latvia, a master’s in finance from the European Business School and an MBA from the Sasin Business School. While an undergraduate, Matiss participated in two TFAS programs – the Public Policy + Economics program in Washington, D.C., in 2010 and the American Institute on Political and Economic Systems (AIPES) in Prague, Czech Republic, in 2011.

In his professional life, Matiss is an entrepreneur; he’s the founder and CEO of Squad Robotics, one of Latvia’s top startups. Squad Robotics helps manufacturers of moving industrial equipment (floor cleaners, warehouse carts, etc.) introduce autonomous products. Currently, the company is preparing to raise a 1 million euro large funding expansion of their operations. As one of the startup ecosystem members, Matiss cares about sharing experiences and life lessons that could be of help to someone else. Therefore, he spends some time mentoring younger company founders, as well as students from his alma mater, Stockholm School of Economics in Riga.

In his free time, Matiss enjoys playing basketball and cooking and is interested in politics and history.


Antonia Colibasanu ’03, ’07 is a senior geopolitical analyst, focusing on strategic competitive intelligence analysis. She is chief operations officer and senior analyst at Geopolitical Futures, where she joined in 2016 after working for more than 10 years with global analysis firm Stratfor in various positions, including as a partner for Europe and vice president for international marketing. Since 2016 she has also been leading the Active Compete+ (AC+) group of Ferinvest Technik + Service SRL, a company based in Romania, and actively trading and advising international businesses in Europe for the last 25 years. Her team offers advisory services on geopolitics and international development strategy. She works closely with bestselling authors George Friedman and Robert D. Kaplan and served as an honorary adviser to Romania’s minister of energy.

Prior to her work with Stratfor in 2006, Antonia held a variety of roles with the World Trade Center Association in Bucharest. Among other academic credentials, she holds a doctorate in international business and economics from Bucharest’s Academy of Economic Studies, where her thesis focused on country risk analysis and investment decision-making processes within transnational companies. She also holds a master’s degree in international project management.

She is a trainer on geopolitics for the European Affairs Program at the Romanian European Institute and an associate professor at the Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies. She frequently speaks on international economics and security topics at conferences and events in Europe.


Mark El-Khoury ’03, ’04 is a general manager at Nestlé Purina PetCare with more than 15 years’ experience in the nongovernmental organization, oil and gas and Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) industries. He has worked in various countries including Nigeria, Ukraine, Dubai, Lebanon and Spain. Mark holds an executive MBA from the London Business School and a Bachelor of Arts in marketing and political science from the Lebanese American University. He speaks Arabic, English, Spanish and French and enjoys football, reading and hiking.


Ayman Elsherbiny ’09  holds a master’s degree, summa cum laude, in public policy with a focus on media policy from the American University in Cairo (AUC). He also holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in mass communication with specialization in journalism from the Faculty of Mass Communication at Cairo University. During his studies at the AUC, Ayman attended one semester at the prestigious Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po University, as an exchange student.

Ayman works as press officer and spokesperson for the European Union (EU) Delegation to Egypt. Before assuming this position, he worked at the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Egypt as a public diplomacy officer and political assistant. Prior to the Dutch Embassy, Ayman worked at the Library of Alexandria (Bibliotheca Alexandrina) as an editor. Within two years, he received an exceptional promotion to become the youngest junior manager among more than 2,200 employees.

Ayman was enrolled as an intern in several media organizations in Egypt and abroad. Moreover, he participated in a number of training programs, workshops and conferences in Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco and the UAE. In 2007, he received the Ibda’a International Media Award in Journalism from the Dubai Media City and the International Advertising Association.


Valentina Gevorgyan ’11, ’12 is a researcher of social and political issues concerning Armenia. Her academic interests focus on state and society relations, the role of civil society in the development of a public policy agenda and the promotion of human rights in hybrid regimes. Valentina was an instructor and a senior researcher of academic studies at the American University of Armenia, including a four-year project (2012-2016) on Armenian civil society, supported by Academic Swiss Caucasus Net. She has also served as a national expert of studies supported by the EU Commission. She was a fellow with the EU Civil Society Dialogue for Progress Initiative, has published on civil society, activism and volunteering and has presented at a number of conferences in the regions of South Caucasus and Europe. Currently, she coordinates the Policy Fellowship Research Initiative at Open Society Foundations Armenia and is a doctoral student in political science at the University of Fribourg in Switzerland.


Anthony Haddad ’05, ’06 is a senior manager for international expansion initiatives at Amazon. Based in Dubai, UAE, Anthony oversees cross-border selection offerings and strategic initiatives for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. He helped to lead Amazon’s acquisition and integration of Souq.com, the region’s incumbent e-commerce retailer. Before this, Anthony worked in strategy management consulting, advising clients in government, telco and education in MENA.

Anthony’s academic career includes a Bachelor of Arts from the American University of Beirut; a Master of Arts in foreign relations and economic development at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) and a Masters of Business Administration from the Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania.

Anthony is a political news junkie and is passionate about emerging markets, cross-cultural exchanges, stand-up comedy and dim sum.


Maria Pierzchala-Lesniak ’03, ’04 is a graduate of the Jagiellonian University, Diplomatic Academy of Vienna and University of Vienna, holding degrees and certificates in journalism, political science, international studies and business management. She is also a proud TFAS alumna, having participated in the TFAS American Institute on Political and Economic Systems (AIPES) in 2003 and the European Journalism Institute (EJI) in 2004. Previously, she worked as an academic lecturer at the National Louis University in Poland and Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations in Switzerland. She has gained professional experience as a trainee at the United Nations in New York City, the European Parliament in Brussels and the consulting company B&S Europe. In 2015 she launched her own company, INTERMANNERS, which delivers business and diplomatic training to professionals. She is an author of three books on diplomacy and etiquette. She speaks Polish, English, German and French. She loves traveling and reading books, especially biographies of outstanding leaders.

Dorka Takacsy ’18 holds a a master’s degree in international relations from Central European University and a bachelor’s in international business from the Budapest Business School and the University of Picardie Jules Verne. She studied in Brussels, in Moscow at the Pushkin State Language Institute and in Washington, D.C., at George Mason University. She is a proud alumna of the European Academy of Diplomacy, the STRATPOL Strategic Policy Institute’s Young Professionals Program and the Hungary Initiatives Foundation’s Szell Kalman Public Policy Fellowship. She is fluent in six languages: English, Russian, German, French, Italian and Hungarian.

Previously, she worked in the Italian NGO sector and in the Hungarian community of Montréal under the auspice of the State Secretary of Hungarian Communities Abroad. For some months Dorka interned for the Kremlin Watch program analyzing disinformation.

Her main focus on Russian foreign policy, she wrote her M.A. thesis on the mental background of the Russian popular opinion’s differing approaches to the Crimea’s annexation and to the idea of that of the Donbass.

Dorka took part in the TFAS Capital Semester Program in 2018 where she interned at the National Defense University’s Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy, working on various research projects.

Dorka currently works for the European Parliament’s Liaison Office in Hungary under the directorate-general for communication. In the future, she plans to work with Russian-Hungarian relations and on Russian foreign policy analysis.


Kairi Uustulnd ’05 holds a bachelor’s degree in public administration from Tallinn University of Technology. She studied in the TFAS D.C. Summer Program track on Public Policy + Economics in 2005. She received her MBA in strategic management from the University of Tartu. She has been an advisor to the minister of defense, minister of justice and minister of finance of Estonia. She has served as the chief of staff of the prime minister of Estonia two times: first with Prime Minister Andrus Ansip and later with Prime Minister Taavi Rõivas. She is currently the managing director of Rud Pedersen Public Affairs Estonia.


Christian Van der Woude ’16, 17 currently works at the Embassy of the United Kingdom in The Hague, the chief diplomatic mission of the United Kingdom in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. Christian works on international trade and entrepreneurship policies for the Dutch, U.K. and U.S. governments. He studied at Leiden University College, The Hague and SciencesPo, Paris, and participated in the TFAS D.C. Summer Program track on Public Policy + Economics in 2016 and the TFAS International Program in Hong Kong in 2017.



Gabriela Virostkova ’13 a holds a bachelor’s degree in international economic relations and a master’s degree in economic diplomacy from the University of Economics in Bratislava, Slovakia. She spent one year of her studies in Germany at the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen and participated in the 2013 TFAS D.C. Summer Program. She attended numerous courses at the European Academy of Diplomacy in Warsaw, dedicated to the EU external policies. Gabriela was appointed the international affairs delegate of the Student Council for Higher Education of the Slovak Republic. She represented Slovakia in the European Student Union and chaired the Erasmus Student Network in Bratislava. Gabriela is a member of Young Advisory Council at the U.S. Embassy and Young Professionals in Foreign Policy. Since 2014, she has worked at the European Parliament as the European People’s Party group policy advisor on the Committee on Foreign Affairs and the Subcommittee on Human Rights. She focuses mainly on democratization and election observation missions. Gabriela is passionate about politics and international relations. She also runs projects enhancing mentoring initiatives between Slovak professionals in Brussels and in Slovakia, such as “back to school / city.” Her long-term goal is to foster an inclusive society via EU foreign policy. She is fluent in English, German, Spanish and French.


Andrijana Vojnovic ’06 graduated from the University of Belgrade with a bachelor’s degree in English and earned her Master of Arts in American literature. Parallel to her studies, she worked full time as a program coordinator for the Zoran Djindjic Foundation, which was established after the assassination of the first democratically-elected Prime Minister of Serbia. She worked at the Foundation for nearly a decade from 2003 to 2012, initiating many educational programs with regional focuses. After attending the TFAS International Program in Crete in 2006, Andrijana served as the president of TFAS’s Serbia Alumni Chapter and earned the Chapter of the Year Award in 2010 for achievements during her three-year tenure.

In 2012, she was awarded the Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship by the U.S. Department of State for contributions to civil society and democratization in Serbia. She spent an academic year studying public administration, focusing on NGO management, at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in New York. Andrijana is currently working on migration issues at the Catholic Relief Services Belgrade Office, where she oversees a health component of the EU project in response to migration crisis implemented in partnership with the International Organization for Migration. Her interests include migration management, social justice, reconciliation and humanitarian response.


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