On December 6, 2019, at the Palace of the National Military Circle, Aspen Institute Romania hosted the 9th edition of the ASPEN LEADERSHIP AWARDS AND GALA DINNER, our most special annual event, marking 13 years of existence of the Institute and of our common quest for a “Good Society”. (photo & video gallery)

Already a treasured tradition, the Aspen Institute Romania Leadership Awards and Gala Dinner represent the opportunity for the thriving and growing Aspen community to reunite and revisit its shared values and interests. A pleasant night among friends, a celebration of values-based leadership, innovation and excellence, the event aims to allow all of our guests a moment of reflection on what is the added value of our community. The AIR founders and team were tenacious enough to establish, build and carefully support through the years the embodiment of the Aspen Idea in Romania.

The Aspen Gala offers to the Aspen Young Leaders, Aspen Fellows and Alumni the opportunity to present their accomplishments from the past year and to reaffirm their ambition of producing a significant impact on societies across Central and Eastern Europe. At the same time, through the Aspen Leadership Awards we acknowledge specific efforts and personal commitment to values-based, creative and transformative leadership of people that have had a significant contribution to the over-all advancement of society.

The Aspen Gala is a fundraising event for which we invite each year our community, partners and friends to join us as sponsors, in support of our Leadership Initiatives. With the help of the generous contributions of our sponsors, we are able to offer each year scholarships for public sector and NGO representatives to attend the Aspen Seminar for Leaders, to organize the Aspen Junior Seminar (program attended by students and young professionals aged 20 to 24) and also the newly launched Aspen Public Service Leadership Program, a fellowship based program dedicated to the promising representatives from various authorities, who can become promoters of change and improvement in the public sector. Moreover, the continued commitment of our partners to our activities enables us to provide recognition to a social project developed by a fellow or an alumnus/ alumna, to be chosen by the vote of the Aspen Community and presented at the Gala.

The Gala is a Black tie, table seating event, open only to members of the Aspen community.

Aspen Leadership Awards 2019:

  • The Mihnea Constantinescu” Values-Based Leadership Award: Ambassador George Ciamba; Ambassador Iulia Raluca Matei; Ambassador Luminița Odobescu

The Mihnea Constantinescu” Values Based Leadership Award is presented to a public leader or national organization that has excelled in his field of activity, by constantly supporting and promoting national and universal values.

Ambassador George Ciamba

Ambassador George Ciamba is a career diplomat who has joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Romania in December 1990. In 2004, he was granted, by Presidential Decree and according to the law, the diplomatic rank of Ambassador, in recognition for his contribution to NATO accession and EU accession negotiations.

From November 2018 until November 2019, ambassador Ciamba was Minister for European Affairs, running the Ministry of Foreign Affairs team responsible with Romania’s first presidency of the EU Council, from 1st of January until 30th of June 2019. During this period, he was the Chair of the EU General Affairs Council/ GAC.

As Minister for European Affairs and Chair of the EU GAC, ambassador Ciamba coordinated internally, together with line ministries of the Romanian Government and with the crucial support of the Permanent Representation of Romania to the EU, and externally, in close cooperation with the EU Member States and the European institutions, the common effort of negotiations that led to the successful conclusion of 90 legislative files.

Besides this coordination effort, Minister Ciamba was regularly invited to present the EU Council’s position at the plenary sessions of the European Parliament (in Strasbourg and Brussels), and signed, on behalf of the EU Council, all legislative acts adopted under ordinary legislative procedure together with the president of the European Parliament. In the six months of the Presidency, ambassador Ciamba was an active promoter of cohesion and convergence within the EU member states and a supporter of the enlargement process. As chair of the EU General Affairs Council, he worked on the adoption of Gas Directive, advanced negotiation on the adoption of Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027 and kept an active dialogue on Brexit.

Ambassador Iulia Raluca Matei

Iulia Raluca Matei was appointed Secretary of State for European Affairs on November 8th, 2019. She has been a career diplomat since 2003 and has gone through all the professional stages up to the current diplomatic rank of Ambassador.

Throughout her diplomatic career, she has mainly worked on EU affairs, both in Bucharest and in Brussels. Prior to her appointment as Secretary of State, she held, since April 2013, the position of Deputy General Director and subsequently, from 2016, General Director for EU Affairs within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In this capacity, she was responsible for managing all EU related aspects, both from the perspective of the role of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as coordinator of the national system of European affairs, as well as of the bilateral diplomatic dialogue with EU Member States.

As General Director for EU Affairs, she was also heavily involved both in the preparations and in the exercise of the first Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, in the first semester of 2019. The results and achievements of the Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union contributed significantly to confirming and consolidating Romania’s standing as a responsible member of the European Union, as well as to promoting the European project.

Ambassador Luminița Odobescu

Career diplomat, Ambassador Luminița Odobescu is the Permanent Representative of Romania to the European Union, since 2015. She led the Permanent Representation in Brussels during the first Romanian Presidency of the Council of the European Union, held between January and June 2019. For her outstanding role in this successful mandate, she has been awarded by the President of Romania with the National Order “Steaua României” with the rank of Knight, in November 2019.

Her Brussels experience in European affairs started in 2002. For five years, she directly managed a series of chapters in the negotiations for Romania’s EU accession, as diplomat in the Mission of our country in Brussels. After the signing of the Accession Treaty, she was in charge with the coordination and the preparation of COREPER I meetings, as Mertens counselor. In 2007, she was awarded the “Diplomatic Merit” Order with rank of Officer, for her contribution to Romania’s accession to the European Union.

In December 2014, she received the diplomatic rank of Ambassador. Also, in 2015, she was decorated with the National Order of the Legion of Honor of France, with rank of Knight.

Between 2008 and 2012, she was Director General of the European Union Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and, between February and November 2012, State Secretary for European Affairs. Between November 2012 and August 2015, she was State Councilor for European Affairs and Foreign Policy at the Chancellery of the Prime Minister.

  • The Service with Dignity Leadership Award: First Lieutenant Alexandra Vîrlan

The Service with Dignity Leadership Award is presented to a Romanian public servant that has proven constant effort to exemplary fulfill work duties and go beyond those, as a role model for the community. By their impeccable professional and ethical standards those nominated for this award are seen as guardians of the Good Society, leaders among their peers, and as a source of pride and inspiration.

First Lieutenant Alexandra Vîrlan started her military career in 2007, when she was accepted to “Michael the Brave” Military Highschool, in Alba Iulia. In 2011, she began her studies at “Henri Coandă” Air Force Military Academy, in Brașov. She graduated in 2014 as distinguished honour graduate for a promotion of 87 young officers. For being head of the promotion, she received Emblem of Merit “Military Science”.

As a young second lieutenant, she was a platoon commander at an air defense artillery battery. She achieved master’s degree in the field of studies “Military science”, study program “Management of combat systems in Air Force”, 2017.

In august 2017, she was promoted to battery commander, in the same unit, right after she got the next rank and she became first lieutenant. Meanwhile, she participated to several career or specialization courses like: Basic Officers Course, 2015, Romania; Joint Fire Observer Course, 2015, Germany; HAWK PIP III R – operation course for ADA system, 2016, Romania; Course on Integrated Air and Missile Defense, 2017, Germany; Air Defense Artillery Captains Career Course, 2018, United States of America; Allied PATRIOT Air Defense Officer Course, 2019, United States of America.

She graduated distinguished honour graduate, head of promotion, for JFO Course in Germany and both courses in United States of America, at the Fires Center of Excellence, Air Defense Artillery School.

At the moment, Lieutenant Alexandra Vîrlan is working at the Air Force Staff, Headquarters of the Romanian Air Force – RoAF, in transition to the PATRIOT Regiment, an elite Romanian unit.

The 2019 Service with Dignity Leadership Award is presented by Ms. Cătălina Iuga and Mr. Vasile Iuga.

  • The Sports and Society Leadership Award: Mr. Mihai Covaliu, President of the Romanian Olympic and Sports Committee

The Sports and Society Leadership Award is presented to an individual or a group who has transformed sports into more than a physical activity. The nominees for this award stand as a model of commitment, dedication and professionalism.

Mihai Covaliu is the President of the Romanian Olympic and Sports Committee since 2016 and the first Romanian Olympic champion in individual men’s sabre, at the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.

In his childhood, Mihai Covaliu played football, but at the age of nine he started practicing fencing at the “Tractorul Brașov” Sports Club. When he reached the age of 21, he was licenced at the “Dinamo București” Sports Club. Mihai Covaliu is multiple national champion and winner of several World Cup stages in fencing.

His first major success came in 2000, when at 23-years-old, he won the individual sabre title at the Sydney Olympic Games, thus becoming an Olympic Champion for Romania.

The series of exceptional results continued as he became World champion in Leipzig (Germany), in 2005 and European champion in 2006 in Izmir (Turkey). In 2008, at the Olympic Games in Beijing, he won the bronze medal at individual sabre.

He retreated from competition activity after the Beijing OG and became the main fencing coach at the Dinamo SC for the men sabre Olympic team. In this capacity, the first important result came at the Olympic Games London 2012, where his boys won the silver medal for Romania.

Going further on his upper trend, in 2013 he was elected president of the Romanian Fencing Federation and was also included in the Hall of Fame by the International Fencing Federation (FIE).

He is one of the recipients of the Sports Merit Master title as well as other national distinctions: the order “For Merit” as Commander, the “Sports Merit” order 3rd class with two strips and the national order “Faithful Service” in Officer degree.

Among others, he was assigned “Honorary Citizen” of Brașov, his home city. 

On November 15, 2016 he was elected President of the Romanian Olympic and Sports Committee, where he continues his career as sports manager with the same determination and, hopefully, the same success in the future, starting with the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

The 2019 Sports and Society Leadership Award is presented by Raiffeisen Bank.

  • The Innovation and Technology Leadership Award: Aurachain

The Innovation and Technology Leadership Award is presented to a leader or an organization which brought significant contribution in the field of innovation and research, or the entrepreneurial environment. Innovation stands a cornerstone to social and economic progress.

Originally founded in Bucharest, Romania, Aurachain now has its head office in Zurich, Switzerland. It is the only low-code development platform on the market for the rapid creation and deployment of both digital process applications and smart contract applications on Blockchain networks.

The company has successfully implemented client solutions in 15 countries and delivered significant financial and operational value to some of the world’s largest organizations in the financial services and energy sectors.

The enterprise platform enables the visual creation of digital process applications, without the need for writing code. The applications can be either blockchain-enabled, self-executing smart contracts or digital apps.

Build and tested by an exceptional team of engineers and functional analysts with an obsessive attention to detail, the Aurachain platform drives fast-implementation cycles, rapid cloud deployment and business-driven application configuration.

By doing this, Aurachain aims to be the bridge between current enterprise platforms and the multi-sided business ecosystems of the future.

The 2019 Innovation and Technology Leadership Award is presented by ExxonMobil Romania.

  • The Arts and Society Leadership Award: Mr. Corneliu Porumboiu, scriptwriter and director

The Arts and Society Leadership Award is presented to an individual or organization who has significantly contributed to the enrichment of Romanian culture, promoted Romania abroad and supported the overall development of the country’s cultural patrimony.

Corneliu Porumboiu, born in 1975, Vaslui, Romania, became known in 2006 for his first feature, 12:08 East of Bucharest, which won the Caméra d’Or Award at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was shown in Directors’ Fortnight.

Corneliu Porumboiu studied Film Directing at the National University of Drama and Film, Bucharest between 1999 – 2003. In 2005 he writes and directs his first feature – 12:08 East of Bucharest – selected in the Quinzaine des Realisateurs and winning the Camera d’Or for debut and the Label Europe, the film distributors’ award. The film received more than 20 awards in festivals all over the world and was distributed in more than 30 countries.

Police, Adjective is the second film written and directed by Corneliu Porumboiu, released in 2009. The film won the FIPRESCI Prize and the Jury Prize at Cannes Film Festival, in Un Certain Regard section.

In 2013 Corneliu Porumboiu released his third feature When Evening Falls On Bucharest Or Metabolism that had its premiere at Locarno Film Festival. It followed a sports documentary – The Second Game that was presented in Berlinale Forum in 2014.

His next fiction feature film is The Treasure, awarded with Un Certain Talent in the Un Certain Regard Section of the 2015 Cannes Film Festival edition.

In 2018 Corneliu is back with a sports documentary – Infinite Football – that premiered at Berlinale Forum section.

In 2019 he completes his fifth fiction feature film – La Gomera/ The Whistlers that had its world premiere in the official competition of the 72 edition of Cannes Film Festival.

The 2019 Arts and Society Leadership Award Leadership Award is presented by UniCredit Bank.

  • Special Leadership Award: Romanian Armed Forces

In an increasingly complicated geopolitical context, the Ministry of National Defense continued to act, aiming to consolidate the relevant strategic partner profile of Romania, within the international initiatives and organizations, that is a member of.

The Ministry of National Defense contributed significantly to Romania’s successful Presidency of the Council of the European Union, in the first half of 2019.

The tense security environment in the Black Sea region, which generates complex risks and threats, has determined our country to pay more attention to the allocation of financial resources, needed to carry out endowment programs to equip all categories of forces with state-of-the-art equipment and technology. Therefore, in the last three years, the Romanian Government has increased its defence investments by allocating two percent of the Gross Domestic Product to the Ministry of National Defense.

Thus, our country is part of a select club of NATO Allies that fulfil their commitments to equitable division of responsibilities, the “3 Cs” – cash, capabilities and contributions, in accordance with their commitment to allocate two percent of GDP for defence. Also, over 35 percent of the defence budget are allocated to the procurement of modern military technique and technology.

The main missions of the Romanian Armed Forces are the following:

– defend the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Romania;

– contribute to NATO and EU Allies’ and Partners’ defense;

– promote regional and global stability, to include defence diplomacy;

– contribute to national security during peacetime;

– provide support to national and local authorities in case of emergency, as well as assist the population in case of disaster and large-scale accidents, in accordance with the legal provisions.

  • Aspen Social Action Prize 2019: Fă Bine!, initiated by Maria Duduman, Aspen Fellow 2013

Aspen Members, Aspen Fellows and the former participants in the Aspen Seminar for Leaders (Alumni) are the ones to determine, through their vote, the winning project.

Many of the projects developed by Aspen Fellows and Alumni address the need for balancing disparities in vulnerable communities and in critical areas of social development.

In recognition of their venture and vision, the Aspen Institute Romania would like to continue the tradition of the Aspen Social Action Prize, a grant that will allow us to showcase and introduce to the wider Aspen Romania family those initiatives that have the potential of turning the life of people that are falling between the cracks to the better.

Fă Bine! dreams of a world where everybody contributes to the wellbeing of all the others, where each citizen and company is involved in solving their own communities’ problems, where each person is compassionate and helps alleviate the suffering of those next door. Because when we all care, each of us will be happier! And they didn’t only dream about it, they developed efficient and user friendly engagement instruments for individuals and companies to collaborate with and support NGOs like: an online shop where NGOs can sell their products, a wide variety of volunteering opportunities, CSR and employee engagement programs for companies. In only a few months of existence they organized fairs for NGOs to sell their products, they intermediated the donation of hundreds of office objects to schools, hospitals, elderly care centers, NGOs, they delivered training on social innovation. They made doing good deeds easy.

The top 3 nominees invited to present their projects during the Aspen Gala:

  1. Code Kids – Children are coding in public libraries: Initiated by Camelia Crișan, Aspen Alumna 2016 and Claudia Serbănuță, Aspen Fellow 2015
  2. Fă Bine!: Initiated by Maria Duduman, Aspen Fellow 2013
  3. SEVA: Initiated by Sebastian Cochinescu, Aspen Alumnus 2018
  • Aspen Fellows Network Grant 2019: StartAGRO – The New Generation of Romanian Farmers

By the end of the Young Leaders Program, participants are encouraged to initiate or endorse an original community service project that they will further develop, individually or in groups. This type of involvement illustrates their creativity and their talent for teamwork, planning, persuasion, delivery and overall leadership. Participants should aim to develop a project which can deliver a real benefit to society and which will continue after their direct involvement ceases, so it should be sustainable.

The project proposals initiated by the young leaders are sent by the AIR team to the representatives of the Aspen Fellows Network (the network representing the graduates of AIR leadership programs), who vote and decide the winner of the AFN Grant (1000 EUR). The projects are also presented in front of our guests from the AIR community, who are ready to offer their advice.

The projects design and presentation in front of the Aspen community is the final step before the end of the Young Leaders Program and also before the official welcome into our community of the new Aspen Fellows.

StartAGRO is initiated by the following participants to the YLP 2019: Alexandru Dancu, Ștefan Lungu, Mădălin Margan, Sebastian Mîndroiu, Anda Narita, Sabuhi Rzayev, Alexandra Simionescu

The project’s idea is to use local resources to build an all year greenhouse, for young farmers.

  • StartAGRO will find and develop small communities, teaching youngsters about the farming business.
  • StartAGRO will develop and build a growing environment, suited for each site, fully automated and controlled, able to sustain life for the whole year.
  • The Farmer Starter Pack contains a greenhouse, selected plants and seeds, know-how and physical tools.

The project impact will be felt especially in the rural communities, on several layers. StartAGRO will develop a new generation of farmers, with modern tools and adapted know-how. The farmers’ lives will improve, due to new streams of revenue, a sense of belonging in their communities, a newly acquired sense of responsibility and better food for their families.