A Macedonian woman’s odyssey as a UN advocate of social change

From the former Yugoslavia to the world.

At 6’4” tall, Snezana Stalpers (née Zivcevska) was considered as one of the most promising young basketball players in Macedonia, which at that time was part of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia | © Jassir de Windt.

In 2013, Empower Women, a platform that was co-established by the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, initiated the six-month programme: UN Women EmpowermentWomen. This manifesto enables “ordinary-extraordinary” men and women from around the globe to become advocates for women’s economic empowerment. Currently in its fourth year, the programme comprises 250 participants in over 60 countries. Who are some of these noble individuals? In this article, the floor is given to Macedonian-born, Snezana Zivcevska-Stalpers, presently based in the Netherlands.

In 1991, the same year Macedonia – at that time part of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – gained its independence, Snezana started pursuing a degree in computer science, IT and automation. She was prompted to do so, following a life-changing event.

“At 6’4” tall, I was always very passionate about basketball and considered as one of the most promising young players in Macedonia. As my twin sister – who was also a fervent basketball player – and I had already been approached to join the Yugoslavian national basketball team, my ultimate goal was to eventually join the WNBA”.

Yet, in 1990 Snezana suffered a sport-related accident which was unknowingly the beginning of a new chapter in her life. Not willing to give up, she travelled to Belgrade in Serbia, at that point the capital of the former Yugoslavia, for a complex operation. “While lying in a hospital in Serbia, independence was proclaimed in Macedonia. Back then the atmosphere in Belgrade was that of nationalism: people were very displeased that another republic was leaving the crumbling constellation of Yugoslavia. I personally experienced all this with mixed feelings”. On the one hand, Snezana truly wanted independence to crystallise as this way Macedonian people would finally be free and at the same time, living in an independent Macedonia meant playing in a not very strong league, leading to a plausible end of her basketball career. When the latter happened to be the case, she was devastated: a lifelong dream had fallen to pieces. “I was, honestly said, also driven by disappointment. I blamed myself for having been born in a wrong era. As sports couldn’t give me a doorway to what I once defined as a life of fulfilment, I was additionally deeply saddened to discern how the children of higher ranked people in Macedonia were given preferential treatments in all aspects”.

It is then that she decided to pursue an IT-related degree, giving her utmost to complete her studies with distinction. “In the year 2000, I relocated to the Netherlands as a highly skilled migrant where I have been employed by IBM since 2016. In these rather eventful 17 years, I’ve met my Dutch husband and have also become the proud mom of a son and a daughter”.

UN Women’s Champion for Change

Some years after Snezana’s arrival in the Netherlands an old feeling surfaced: disappointment. Although she was now based in a country with many opportunities, she had also become aware that this did not apply to everyone. “Particularly as a woman it was very difficult to pursue a career while dealing with the everyday challenges as a mother. Then I asked myself the following questions: is this the world I want my children to live in? Do I want my daughter to go through the same when she grows up? What can I do to give my contribution and to make the world a better place”?

In this light, Snezana indicates that the births of her kids, Andrea and Matej, have taught her a valuable lesson: solutions to social issues and active participation of civilians go hand in hand. “No matter how corny it may sound for some, the answer lies in altruistic service plus the ability to unite forces. We are with 7.6 billion people on this planet and every individual can make a difference. The enigma lies in acknowledging, no matter how difficult this may be, that inclusion implies that every individual has the right to exist.

If technology is deployed for what it was initially intended, that is helping people, there is nothing to worry about”.

Meanwhile a successful professional at IBM Netherlands, Snezana’s legs started to get restless again. “At a given time, I asked myself: is this the definition of happiness? And more importantly: what legacy was I leaving behind”? As such, she decided to tackle an issue very close to her heart. “Although women form about 50% of the world population, IT is mainly a man’s world. On a global level, only about 15% of people working in IT are women. In the Netherlands, this amounts to even less, around 10%. Given technology’s crucial role in defining the future of the world and its further sustainable development, the question is: what can we all do to attract more girls and women to this field”?

Accordingly, Snezana became committed to making a difference in order to achieve the United Nations 2030 Goals for Sustainable Development, in which gender equality is a fundamental element. Selected as a UN Woman EmpowerWomen Champion for Change in December 2016, she’s active, in a voluntary capacity, in organising various innovative projects, initiatives and campaigns. “I have actively participated in campaigns like #Iam(wo)man, #BreakTheGlass and #HerStory. In addition, I’m a mentor, initiator of the online campaign #CelebratingWomenInTech, speaker and also active in various local initiatives with the purpose to empower women professionally”.

© Michael Jacobsen, HuffPost.

Technology and innovation by 2030

“Technology has already brought humanity many benefits”, Snezana says. “From the remarkable innovations made by using brain implants in restoring the freedom of movement, to the fact that we’re able to digitally connect with someone at the other side of the planet in a blink of an eye”. In the years to come, she believes that the emergence of humanoid robots will be the cause of many debates, but if technology is deployed for what it was initially intended, that is helping people, she’s convinced there is nothing to worry about.

Nevertheless, Snezana thinks that the many social movements that have arisen throughout the world in the last decades, testify that humanity is first and foremost yearning for social change: a world where opportunities are not defined by one’s social status, gender, religion, sexual preference or cultural background. “Technology can certainly play a major role in mobilising this all, but it is up to us humans to work on our level of emotional intelligence. Through my social engagement, I hope to play a small part in forging this global paradigm shift”.

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

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