Becoming a leader

Published in CorD Magazine


  After taking over the presidency of the dynamic alumni organisation known as the Chevening Society, Jelena Zeki? immediately set about marking a number of key anniversaries: 200 years of higher education in Serbia, 170 years of British-Serbian relations, the 25th anniversary of the global Chevening Fund and 10 years of the establishment of the Chevening Society in Serbia. Proudly celebrated, these jubilees inspired Zeki? and her Chevening fellows to set their sights even higher by organising the first national and the first regional Chevening conferences, thus demonstrating genuine academic leadership.

What does the Chevening Society do?

The Society is an apolitical, non-governmental, non-profit organisation that gathers British Government academics; Chevening scholars. The Society promotes the Chevening programme of studying in the UK, but also contributes to the development of science and the promotion of co-operation between educational institutions, research centres and companies in Serbia and the UK. Our vision is that of a prosperous and respected Serbia.  

Who are the members of the Chevening Society?

Our members are proud recipients of the Chevening Scholarship and fellowships granted by the UK government solely to individuals with exceptional academic excellence and/or potential for leadership. Members of our Society have proved themselves in their chosen fields of interest and among them are officials who hold high-ranking positions in public life, as well as prominent historians, scientists, corporate directors, media specialists and others. The most prominent of our members include Milica Delevi?, Director of the Serbian European integration office; Ana Draškovi?, Citibank Serbia representative; Dražen Maravi?, Head of the government’s visa liberalisation team; Dušan Spasojevi?, State Secretary of Defence; Miloš Milovanovi?, Assistant Agriculture Minister; Slobodan G. Makovi?, Member of the Managing Board of Politika daily; Vlatko Sekulovi?, former State Secretary for Foreign Economic Relations and many others.
At the Chevening Society, we are extremely proud of our members’ high degree of personal and professional achievements. Clearly the members of the Society represent our most important assets.

How do your most prominent members contribute to the work of the Society and how do you communicate?

The most prominent of our members meet in the framework of the High Chevening Society Council, which we inaugurated at the beginning of this year. His Excellency Ambassador Stephen Wordsworth is our honorary member, while other renowned members include Professor Snježana Milivojevi? of the Faculty of Political Sciences, Professor Goran Piti?, President of the Societe Generale Bank Managing Board in Serbia and former Minister for international economic relations, Professor Petar Bošnjakovi?, Director of the Radiology Institute in Niš, and Professor Milan Parivodi?, Partner of law firm Wolf Theiss, former international economic relations minister and member of the Royal Council.
We would like their strategic advice to guide our work, while we also want them to demonstrate that each successful person has an obligation towards society as a whole; one cannot stop half way.

How would you assess the overriding impressions from your first national Chevening conference?

The most difficult part of running an alumni organisation is motivating members. The conference was successful in precisely that area, as it helped us animate the membership and strengthen our network. Furthermore, we initiated some joint activities as a result of our conference discussions. One such action is the outreach programme with universities in Novi Sad, Kragujevac and Niš, through which we promote the importance of transferring knowledge between Serbia and the UK, illustrated by the high academic degrees that all our members have.
What is your own education background?

I obtained my masters degree on the economics of the European Union from the University of Exeter in 1999. In the period from 2001 to 2005, I conducted my part-time doctoral studies at the University of Greenwich, while my doctoral thesis dealt with institutional independence of central banks, which I quantified for the first time in the case of the National Bank of Serbia.

What prompted you to initiate the regional conference and what was its outcome?

  Our regional conference was a great success. It attracted nine Chevening alumni associations from the region, five of which have concluded a protocol on co-operation – thereby launching a new era in our regional activities.
The Chevening Society in Serbia was recognised as the regional leader, which motivated other organisations to consolidate further. Equally important is that the conference resulted in the preparation of our joint briefing paper for Her Majesty's Government. We used that opportunity to write to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown on behalf of all regional Chevening organisations and inform our highest state officials of that letter.
Last, but not least, the conference theme “European Integration as a Vehicle for Reforms” was very much explored in the presence of eminent speakers, Professor Mihajlo Crnobrnja, Mr. Ivan Vejvoda, H.E. Ambassador Wordsworth, Mr. Alberto Cammarata from the Delegation of the European Commission and representatives of foreign investors in Serbia.

Who are your partners in the country?

I have already mentioned universities, but we also co-operate with the recently established British-Serbian Chamber of Commerce. In addition, we are hoping to soon be granted collective membership in the European Movement in Serbia and to initiate some joint actions with them. Some female members of our Society are also active within the Ladies' Government – a non-governmental organisation promoting professional excellence of women in Serbia. We are also in contact with the Serbian City Club of young professionals from London, the Ministry of Science and some other state organisations. Naturally, however, our most important partners are the British Embassy and the British Council. We are very grateful for the continuous support they have given our Society over the past decade.

What are your plans for the future?

We would like to continue to demonstrate a high degree of social responsibility and we hope to motivate and inspire other local alumni associations by organising the first alumni summit in Serbia. This Summit should serve as a platform for the young, most prosperous and highly educated people of Serbia, enabling them to gather around some common projects. If I may quote the famous spiritual leader of India, Mahatma Gandhi, “We must become the change we want to see”.