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In a corner building in East Village, New York City, the entire uppermost floor has been turned into a photography studio. It is the studio of the renowned Albanian-American photographer, Mr. Fadil Berisha. Surrounded by windows and an abundance of natural light, there’s a certain positive energy that you feel the moment you step foot inside. The walls are covered in giant photographs of Halle Berry, Tyra Banks, Emina Cunmulaj, etc., and countless awards, autographed photos, and souvenirs from people that have worked with Fadil over the years.

When I arrived at Fadil’s studio on a sunny Saturday afternoon, he was adding some final touches to one of his recent photoshoots. Once he finished editing, he suggested going to a pizza place around the corner where we could talk more about his life, and I gladly obliged. Over delicious Italian food, Fadil began his engaging storytelling about his early life and career.

Born in Kosovo to Albanian parents, Fadil Berisha moved to New York City with his family at the age of nine. His upbringing was similar to that of any average immigrant family. Every major decision, he recalls, revolved around personal finances. So, when he chose to major in men’s fashion design, his family was not particularly thrilled. He graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology, but the degree did very little to quench his thirst for art. Put simply, Fadil didn’t feel like he was in the right career path, yet.

Driven by the desire to be exposed to different forms of art, Fadil, along with his friend, Donna DeMari, a photographer he had met in New York, traveled to Italy. Fadil would spend hours styling and observing her photoshoots, secretly wishing he was the one taking the photos, until one day he finally asked her if he could borrow her camera for a session, and she agreed. “I set up the camera and the moment I heard the click, I found my power. The next day, I packed my bags and moved back to America,” says Fadil with enthusiasm and sheer joy in his face.

“As a kid, I loved faces, all faces, and I was genuinely curious about them.”

—Fadil tells me.

Being the first person in the family to pursue art, he struggled to convince his family members that it was the right thing to do. Fadil is kind, polite, and understanding when he talks about them. It’s almost a non-verbal acknowledgment of their struggles. Most beginnings are often hard and his was no different. He soon found himself at a dead end. Evicted from his apartment shortly after becoming a father, he was forced to return home to his parents where he drowned himself in work. At one point, Fadil was working three jobs that brought some financial stability and very little joy. He could have chosen to lead a more comfortable life, but that was not in his plans. Within six months, Fadil got himself a big studio and has not looked back ever since. “The best advice I ever got was that you can never run away from yourself.” And for Fadil, not attempting to run away from his true self did pay off.

Today, we all know Fadil Berisha as the Albanian-American photographer whose work has graced the pages of some the most prestigious magazines such as Vogue, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle, Nylon, etc. He’s photographed the likes of Roger Federer, Kendall Jenner, Placido Domingo, Carmen Dell’Orefice, Sharon Stone, Nick Jonas, Zendaya, Michael Bublé, Kris Jenner, etc. for clients including Rolex, Estée Lauder, Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, Lexus, Peugeot, Bulgari, Miss Universe, Sherri Hill. His work has been featured on the major networks, such as MTV, NBC, CBS, CNN, E!, etc.

Among the sea of celebrities whose beauty Fadil has greatly captured, there are many Albanian stars. Bebe Rexha, Era Istrefi, Inva Mula, Xherdan Shaqiri, Robin Krasniqi, and Heidi Lushtaku, Ermonela Jaho, Eliza Dushku, Saimir Pirgu, Blerim Destani, Rame Lahaj, and Nik Xhelilaj are just some of them.

When you hear Fadil’s stories, you wouldn’t know that there was ever a time when Albanians were not part of his life, but such was the reality. At the beginning of his career, Fadil tried to distance himself from his fellow Albanians, in fear of being ridiculed for his career choices. However, that was a short-lived attempt. With a noticeable change in his tone, he recalls the day a couple of young students, refugees from Kosovo, showed up to his studio, unannounced. He refers to that day as the day that changed his life completely.

It was around 1997, Fadil does not remember the exact year, and the early signs of war in Kosovo had already started to show. These kids had heard about him and were seeking his help in raising awareness for the dire situation back home. They even brought along photos documenting the massacres that were happening back in Kosovo. Given that his work revolved solely around fashion and beauty, Fadil couldn’t fathom how he could possibly help them. “That night, I went home and told my Mom what had happened. We had a long chat where she shared emotional stories about her upbringing and she spoke to me about the importance of helping these kids out,” recalls Fadil. The next day, he got back to his studio and picked up the phone. “You have ruined my life,” Fadil told them. “I cannot eat, I cannot sleep, I had nightmares. I know I have to help you, but I don’t know how,” he continued. Despite the hopelessness, he vowed to help in any way he could.  

Around that time, along with Avni Mustafaj, Tracey Aron, Gary Kokalari, and Donika Bardha, Fadil co-founded the Kosovo Relief Fund, an organization that aimed to help families who had lost loved ones in the war. He recalls nightly meetings; frequent post- Broadway show visits from the famous Hollywood star, Vanessa Redgrave, who had expressed desire to help; and the way Albanians had come together for a greater cause. In his voice, I almost sense a little bit of nostalgia as he recounts countless interesting stories.  

Fadil goes on to explain how, together with other volunteers, he had planned to use the photos he had received and created an awareness campaign. They solicited help from Stan Dragoti, the Hollywood film director of Albanian origin. Having previously been deemed too graphic, they worked their magic and turned the massacre photos into a campaign. However, despite raising hundreds of thousands of dollars, they couldn’t quite cover the fees to run the campaign on a major newspaper. However, one of those days, a peaceful protest was organized in front of the White House in an attempt to draw attention to the Kosovo cause. It wasn’t much different from other protests, or so they thought. Nevertheless, the following day, Fadil woke up to see the photo on the New York Times. A man was holding the sign they had created and a reporter happened to take a photo of it. The photo ended up in the print version of the newspaper. Fadil believes it was the sign and the push they needed to continue the fight for a free Kosovo.

“I haven’t thought about this story in such a long time, I just got goosebumps talking about it,” said Fadil as we got up to leave the restaurant.

Back in his studio, I asked Fadil if he has any pictures or videos from the events he used to organize in his studio. They must be somewhere, he tells me, but who knows where they ended up when he moved studios. “I like to recall these moments without dwelling too much in the past. I don’t like focusing on the past because you can get stuck. Remember the past and look to the future,” he says to me.

His phone rings. A famous Albanian couple, friends of his, were stopping by. The number of Albanian artists, sportsmen, political figures, and ordinary people that come to his studio, even just for a chat, is astonishing. I have heard people refer to his studio as the unofficial Albanian Embassy. “It became a duty to me,” says Fadil about his willingness to help others. “I asked myself, ‘Why don’t I help my people?’ To give is gratifying!” Whereas, for Albanians, he has one important advice: “Albanians are great to other people, but not always kind to one another. We need to change that.”

Fadil Berisha has been the official photographer for Miss Universe since 2002. With his help and guidance, both Albania and Kosovo became successful Miss Universe participants. Then he points at the picture of Marigona Dragusha, the 2nd Runner Up in Miss Universe 2009. With a big smile on his face, he explains how everyone loved her, the same way they loved Zana Krasniqi the year before. “When Gona walked out on that stage, tears starting flooding. I was so happy but also so scared of her. People loved her and they compared her to Audry Hepburn. But I was afraid of a possible backlash from other countries who may have thought that I favored her. So, I had to keep a distance.”

Fadil began working with talent in Kosovo as soon as the war ended. He took it upon himself to showcase the Albanian beauty to the world. “I always asked myself, ‘How can I get a girl that will never otherwise get a chance?’” says Fadil. And those photos around his studio are proof that he gave the opportunity to those who indeed would not have another opportunity.

So, what draws Fadil to people? “Smile, eyes, a good heart, and soul,” the answer rolls off his tongue.

Fadil talks about his career and his beliefs with a passion you don’t often encounter. He believes that arts and sports are of crucial importance as they have the power to change people’s hearts and minds. He leads me around the studio as he points at different photographs hung on his walls, telling a story about each of them. When I asked him if he could single out a person who has made a significant impact in his life, he grabbed a framed picture of him with a gentleman and says, “Without a doubt, this guy. He’s the former owner of Rolex. In 2005, he gave me a lifetime contract and was a close friend till the day he died. That opened so many doors for me.”

From sitting at his desk to running to get a bowl of seeds from the kitchen for the birds on the fire escape, Fadil Berisha never stops moving and never stops talking.

A couple of hours had passed and I did not once sense any regrets in his voice, which got me curious. So, I decided to ask him: Does Fadil Berisha have any regrets? He is human, after all. “Not taking pictures of Mother Teresa. I will always regret that” he says pensively. “You know, she was in New York City in 1997 with Princess Diana, and I could have taken pictures of her then, but my plan was to go to India and capture her and the environment in which she worked, so I put it off. She died before I got the chance to do it and it will always be something that I wish I had done,” says Fadil. I could easily sense the disappointment and sadness in his voice as he finished saying those words. It almost made me regret asking the question in the first place.

In recent years, Fadil Berisha has been doing a lot of self-reflection. Nowadays, he enjoys a day off, long walks, and meaningful chats over coffee with friends and family. Whether it’s about his siblings, his mother’s flowers, or his grandson, there’s an overwhelming sense of adoration in the way in which he talks about his family. Spiritually, he does believe in higher powers, in God. But there is one thing he has no doubt about: “We are all energy. Our souls never die, only our bodies do,” he tells me. The energy of New York City is what he claims has kept him there for so long. The crystals scattered around his studio are a testament to this.

And although there are plenty of reasons to be discouraged by people, it doesn’t seem like he’s going to let that happen anytime soon. “Whenever I’m ready to give up, whenever people disappoint me, there’s always someone that comes along that shows genuine appreciation and makes everything worth it.”

The doorbell rings. His guests are here and he greets them with the same smile and hugs that he greets everyone, ready to dive into another deep but lively conversation.

Germin is hosting its first international conference, Diaspora Flet, in Kosovo. The four-day event will bring together lawmakers, government officials and a diverse group of Diaspora members — professionals, scholars, community leaders, business representatives, and other interest groups – to address the advancement of the role of Diaspora in the economic, social, and political developments of their country of origin.

Register for the Conference HERE | Download the Program HERE | Check the website HERE

After her family escaped the simmering turmoil in Kosovo to England, Gentiana started to pursue her passion for hair-styling at an early age. Working as a hairdressing assistant at the age of 16, she slowly worked her way and built the confidence to open her own salon. She now owns and runs Rush Cambridge, the Cambridge branch of the famous British brand Rush Hair. Gentiana manages a team of nine employees and works as a stylist for six days a week.

2Gentiana explains how she had initially contacted Rush Hair to open a salon in Cambridge and presented her ideas to senior management. The process happened swiftly as Rush Hair helped her to open a new location for the hairstyling brand. She believes that the right attitude is crucial to achieving one’s goals.

Gentiana hopes to open another salon in the near future.  She says that Kosovars living abroad can help improve Kosovo’s image by excelling in their professions and jobs.

Born in Bulqize, Albania, Mira Kaloshi is a young Albanian singer who moved to Belgium together with her family at the age of five. She learned of her ability to sing at a young age and often performed at school and local events. At the age of 14 she started writing her own music and at the age of 16 she decided to learn to play the guitar. These activities provided her with the opportunity to network with a number of people in the music business who helped her become a better singer songwriter. “Those couple of chords that I learned on the guitar helped me to write the music I have today,” stated Mira. After many recorded demos, Nightgames was officially released on her birthday, the 25th of October, 2016. Nightgames was, produced, recorded, and filmed in Antwerp.

Mira Kaloshi: Creating connections through musicMira’s music is inspired by her life experiences as well as a diverse set of music genres. Her music is not limited to any particular genre but is a is a mix of styles such as indie pop, alternative RnB’ and acoustic pop. Another single released, titled Far Away, is written by her and music producer, Wekho. Right now, she is working with different people, trying to put together an EP that will define her style. She anticipates that her EP will be out soon as she has finished working on it. She envisions an EP that is both artistic as well as visually appealing, having a movie feel to it. She notes, “like making people feel like they are watching a movie-trailer instead of just a video clip. That’s what I intended to do with Nightgames in the first place.”

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But beside the musical career she is committed and engaged in the diaspora community.  She has been a part of the student committee Vlera, that was created by Albanian-Kosovar students in Belgium a couple of years ago. Vlera is an organization that aims to help Albanian speaking students, such as helping them find internships, or by organizing events to communicate with each other. Currently, Mira is also focused on finishing her studies in Communication. She believes that Albania and Kosovo have some of the most talented people in the world. She considers the art scene in the region to be very vivid, changing and evolving everyday. She hopes that in the near future more art schools will open and more events or festivals will be organized in order to provide a space for many talented artists.

Mira Kaloshi: Creating connections through musicEven though Mira speaks Albanian very well, her songs are in English. She is often faced with the challenge of explaining why she chooses to sing in English. Having grown up in Belgium, she learned English from a very young age and listened to English artists. Therefore, English has become her her native language. She notes, “As much as I love listening to Albanian music, it’s hard for me to make it, because mentally I’m somewhere in the middle between Albania and Belgium right now.” Despite being in English, however, her single Nightgames was released by Albanian radio stations, and TV-stations. Another challenge for Mira is making connections in a country that isn’t her homeland. The specific art scene set in Belgium makes it a difficult place for Mira to develop her career as she envisions it. As a foreigner she finds it hard to be appreciated and recognized for her work.

On a simple dark stage underneath a single spotlight, the Albanian music artist known as Stanaj stands tall and confident ready to perform for his fans at the 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. He grabs the microphone and immediately the room becomes electrified by his powerful and smooth voice and his infectious presence.s4Stanaj, 22, has been performing for large audiences like this for quite some time now. Yet, he evokes such a level of pure joy and excitement when he sings that it feels like this could be his first big performance. It is with love, gratitude, and a huge smile adorning his face that Stanaj gives life to his beautiful songs and sends everyone home with a piece of his heart and a little bit of his charm. There is something truly admirable about the genuineness with which he performs.

Stanaj, born in New York to Albanian immigrant parents, has taken the music industry by storm and is quickly rising as a pop-star sensation. Within five months he successfully released two EPs, “The Preview” in 2016 and “From A Distance” in 2017. Aside from being featured on Spotify’s “Pop Rising” and Tidal Rising, he is selling out shows in every city alongside singer Jojo.

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The world was officially introduced to Stanaj in October of 2016 through his first official television debut on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. By his own admission, that debut to him was a dream come true. But, to many people, Stanaj was already someone to watch out for due to his large social media following. After performing in bars and small gigs, Stanaj began to steadily gain popularity on Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter. In a matter of a couple of years, he managed to go from a social media sensation to a respected recording artist. Stanaj has come a long way but he still thinks there is a lot of work ahead of him. “I am nowhere near where I want to be. However, I’ve been lucky enough to be recognized by so many people as a true artist,” he adds.

When he’s not on the road, Stanaj splits his time between New York and LA writing –he has written with some of the best writers and producers–and recording songs. But that burden is made easier by the tremendous support and the constant presence of his family—“my champions”, as he refers to them— to whom he dedicates his entire success to. In fact, his manager Mark is his brother. But the sacrifices his family has made along the way are finally paying off. Being a first-generation American and seeing the struggles that his parents have had to overcome inspires Stanaj to pursue his dreams and stay humble. His parents are Albanian from Malesia, Montenegro. “Having older siblings and parents who are so deeply involved in the Albanian culture helps me stay true to who I am, and my roots,” he says.

Growing up, Stanaj sang mostly Albanian songs, which he admits he still loves dearly. He often shares videos and images of his younger self joyfully performing in small Albanian weddings and gatherings. From a young age, his family has shared his passion for music. He says he developed a desire for singing from playing instruments with his brothers. “I am not sure that I would have had the same success without having my family guiding and supporting me every step of the way.”

When it comes to the styles of his music, Stanaj does not think he sounds like anyone in particular, but people have compared him to a mix between Sam Smith, Justin Timberlake, and Alicia Keys. Yet, he is unique in his own way. You have never heard anyone quite like him. You can listen to a song and immediately know it is his. This is a sign of a true artist and he plans to keep it that way. In a world full of mass-produced music, Stanaj thinks that being unique will prevail. As far as we are concerned, Stanaj’s dream built on hard work, determination, and team effort has already prevailed.

Switzerland is home to hundreds of thousands of Albanians from Kosovo who fled the country during the 90s. Many of them left at an early age, and they have grown up to become vital members of the Swiss society. Such is the story of Besar Rexhepaj from Mrasor, Rahovec. Besar, left Kosovo at the age of seven and today, at the age of 27, has already made a name for himself within the business realm. Besar is proof that hard work and commitment to community service are imperative to the creative process and economic growth.

Besar, who has a natural affinity for business, graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from the University of Applied Sciences in Thun. He spent his initial years as a young professional working for a Swiss education company. Later, he founded innobus GmbH, a business consultancy. As part of this company, Besar advises small and medium enterprises on founding and management, putting his education to good use. However, innobus GmbH is not the only thing that keeps Besar busy.

This past year Besar co-founded Lority, a leading network that specializes on ethnic entrepreneurship in the German-speaking areas of Europe. Lority is his baby. He has big plans for the company and what we see now, is just the beginning. Lority’s marketing efforts focus on developing and strengthening business communities from culturally diverse backgrounds. They offer customized marketing and communication services for for-profit organizations. Lority believes in diversity of ethnicity, lifestyles and mentalities, and in collective support. Their goal is to help individual organizations. They do so by encouraging and fostering business relationships across communities by combining their forces together towards a greater good: both individual and collective economic advantage.

Group of friends at the park holding hands and rise up to the sky.Besar is an ambitious businessman. Nevertheless, his determination to support ethnic communities is also personal and is inspired by his own background. With Lority, he plans to pursue multiple projects, a few of which will be focused on supporting Albanian entrepreneurs abroad and in Kosovo, Albania, Montenegro, and Macedonia. Moreover, they aim to bring together successful Albanian professionals from different sectors in order to improve economic cooperation through networking. In his own words, Besar thinks that, “There is a great potential in Kosovo. This has to be exploited much more. The talented young people must be encouraged. It is a task of the environment that the young talented people in Kosovo be more encouraged.”

The fourth Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) Kosovo 2016, organized by Innovation Center Kosovo (ICK), was held from 14 to 20 November. Germin organized a Google Hangout within the GEW with Indira Kartallozi and Ruzhdi Morina moderated by Liza Gashi, programme director of Germin.These Google Hangouts to generate dialogue and promote reflection on important issues among the diaspora community.

Based in Cambridge, UK, Kartallozi is the founder and director of Chrysalis Family Futures – a social enterprise that stands for protection and empowerment of human and socio-economic rights of vulnerable and marginalised families and children. She is also the founder of the Migrant Entrepreneurs Network, an organization that connects migrant entrepreneurs and promotes their role in global economic and social development. Kartallozi states that she finds support in people who are visionaries, as they are people with good intentions who aim to enhance development, by not being part of any initiative that would impair the state.

Ruzhdi Morina, a graduate student of Business Administration in Austria, is currently working on his thesis “A business model based in democratic principles”. The purpose of his research is not just focused on stable enterprises, but it also aims to show that opening a business is not easy. The most developed states invest in enterprises and start-up businesses, because they are a strong feature for economic development and generate new working places.

Kartallozi’s advice to the young enthusiasts wanting to start a business is to be patient. Initially, it requires lots of energy and time and the results are seen later. As for starting a successful enterprise in Kosovo, she states that the key is good teamwork. Above all, Kartallozi believes that it is crucial to think about what that start-up will bring to the society. On the other hand, Morina points out to the importance of collectivity and individuality, transparency, free ideas, invitation, collaboration, the right of free choice, and love and spirituality. According to him, they help build a solid enterprise that will develop and be a space where each member feels like a part of the team and, thus, is motivated to work.

The first-ever Albanian Diaspora Summit, under the moto ‘’Wholehearted for Albania’’ (Të pandarë për Shqipërin) presented Golden Eagles Awards for influence individuals, institutions and organizations in Diaspora which are aimed at boosting the image of Albanians around the world. Among 15 of them, Germin won the Golden Eagle Award for its contribution to the Albanian in the world.

The government of Albania and Kosovo awarded Germin, during the gala, for its work on creating an Albanian Diaspora Network. on gala Summit of Diaspora by presenting 15 Golden Eagle awards.

On behalf of the Germin, Liza Gashi, the director of programs, accepted the award from the Minister of Diaspora in Kosovo, Valon Murati.

“I am pleased to give this prize to a non-governmental organization, which is working intensively for diaspora network – and this organization is Germin’’ said Minister Murati.

While Liza Gashi added, “Our work is made possible by all those who live in 14 countries of the world. We are grateful.”

Prize winners of the Golden Eagle Awards included, Germin (Kosovo), Albinfo.ch (Switzerland), Keti Biçoku (Italy), Gasmen Toska (Albania), Mark Gjonaj (New York), NGO Motrat Qiriazi (New York), NGO Shpresa (United Kingdom), Batalioni Atlantiku (New York), Ruki Kondaj (Canada), Family Rusi (New York), Albanian Global Diaspora Businees (Austria), Auerla Konduri (Greece), Mario Brunettin (Italy) Institute Alb Shkenca and Bruno Selimaj.