REF Board Swiss Foundation
Chair of REF Board
Costel Bercus is a Romanian Roma, graduated in International Relations and European Studies from the Spiru Haret University in Bucharest. Since 1997, he has been working as a human rights activist with Romani CRISS (Roma Center for Social Interventions and Studies), which is a well-known human rights organization in Romania. In 2000, he was appointed Executive Director of Romani CRISS, which made him exposed to extensive international activities and ultimately led to his appointment in 2005 as Board Member of the Roma Education Fund (REF). The same year, he was asked to take the Chairmanship of the REF Board which he is carrying on still today. Between 2006 and 2008, he was leading the Roma Civic Alliance of Romania, a network organization linking over twenty Roma NGOs in Romania. He has also worked as an international consultant providing technical assistance in policy development on Roma inclusion for several countries in the Western Balkans and Romania, commissioned by different international development agencies.
Since 2008, Robert Kushen has been the Managing Director of the European Roma Rights Centre, a public interest legal advocacy organization dedicated to challenging discrimination and promoting equality of Roma throughout Europe. From 1996-99 and 2003-07, he served in a number of positions at the Open Society Institute, including Director of International Operations from 2004-07. From 1999 to 2002 he served as Executive Director of Doctors of the World (“DOW”), a non-governmental organization committed to addressing health care problems caused by human rights abuses in the U.S. and around the world. From 1991-1996, he served in the Office of the Legal Adviser of the U.S. Department of State, where he worked as counsel to the bureau on counterterrorism, liaison to the International Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and negotiated a number of international agreements in the areas of scientific and environmental cooperation.
Rob’s experience on Roma issues includes the establishment while at DOW of health education and service delivery programs addressing tuberculosis and maternal child health care for Roma, Ashkalia and Egyptian people in Kosovo. He has served as a member of OSI’s Roma Advisory Board since 2004, which is responsible for oversight of all of OSI’s Roma programming, and is presently the Chair of that Board.
Pierre Gassmann is a Swiss National. Holds an MBA (INSEAD) and an MA of the Graduate Institute for International Relations in Geneva. He worked for ten years in the private sector, and then, for 25 years in senior management positions at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), namely as Head of Operations for Eastern Europe. He has served as program advisor and lecturer at the Program for Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research (HPCR) at Harvard University and at the Geneva Centre for Security Policy (GCSP). He has been a consultant to the International Labour Office (ILO), the Swiss MFA, the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC) and the United Nations Works and Reconstruction Agency (UNWRA). He is an associate of the WolfGroup Consultants.
Mr Alexander Wittwer, who originates from Schangnau/BE, was born in Langenthal near the capital city of Berne in 1956. He studied at the University of Berne and is a lawyer. He joined the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs in 1987 starting his career as a trainee diplomat in Geneva and Washington D.C.. In 1989, he was assigned as Diplomatic Collaborator to the Integration Office of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Berne for the European Economic Area (EEA)- Negotiations between the EU and Switzerland. In 1992, he was transferred to Budapest/Hungary as First Secretary of the Swiss Embassy and in 1996 he was promoted to Counsellor of the Swiss Embassy in Harare/Zimbabwe. In 2000, he became Deputy Head of the Diplomatic Inspection Team at the State Secretariat in Berne. Since 2004, he has been occupying the post of Deputy Head of Mission in Washington D.C., with the title of a Minister-Counsellor. In November 2008, the Swiss Federal Council assigned Mr. Wittwer as Ambassador of Switzerland in the Republics of Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia, with Residence in Harare. Since December 2012, Mr. Wittwer is the Ambassador of Switzerland to the Republic of Albania. Mr Wittwer is married and has two adult daughters.
Katarina Mathernova, Slovak national, was appointed as Senior Adviser for Europe and Central Asia Region, and Roma Issues at the World Bank in 2010. Prior to that, between 2007 and 2010, she served as Deputy Director General for Policy Development, Communication and Coordination in Directorate General for Regional Policy in the European Commission, overseeing all policy issues related to the Structural Funds, the largest economic development programme of the European Union. In this position, Katarina spearheaded Roma related initiatives, such as the EP Pilot on Roma inclusion and the amendment of Article 7 of ERDF regulation, allowing the use of Structural Funds for housing for marginalized communities. From 2005 to 2007, as a Director in the same Directorate General, Katarina was responsible for regional policy programming and implementation in eight EU countries. Ms Mathernova holds a Juris Doctor degree from Comenius University and a Master of Law degree from the University of Michigan. She is a member of the New York Bar; she speaks six languages. She started out her career in private law practice in New York and Washington, DC. Thereafter she joined the World Bank in Washington in 1993. Katarina took time off from the Bank to return to her native Slovakia to join the first reform Dzurinda government, between 1999 and 2002, to work on economic policy and institutional reforms and preparation for EU membership, as Special Adviser to Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affair. The Slovak English language weekly, The Slovak Spectator, in 2000, named her the Slovak Woman Of the Year.
Henna Huttu is a Finnish Roma Activist, President of the Fintiko Romano Forum (Finnish National Roma Forum) and NGO Roma of the Northern Finland. She has studied on the International Master of Education programme at the University of Oulu and specialized on intercultural education and special education. She has worked at the Finnish national Board of Education Roma Education Unit in 2000-2002 and from 2006 onwards as a permanent Roma specialist at the Advisory Board of Roma Matters in the Provincial State Office of Northern Finland. She has published articles on variety of matters concerning Education of the Roma, including teaching materials for Romani.
Livia Jaroka is a social anthropologist and elected Member of the European Parliament since 2004 in the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats). Járóka was the first Roma woman to be elected as a Member of the European Parliament. On behalf of the European People's Party (EPP), she drafted the resolution on "The Situation of Roma in the EU" and the resolution "A European strategy on the Roma". She also served as rapporteur for the European Parliament's resolution on "The Situation of Roma Women in the EU" and initiated the EPP report "Educational and Employment Situation of the Roma in the European Union". In 2011 she was the rapporteur for the EP's report on the "EU strategy on Roma inclusion" which served as a basis for the "EU Framework on National Roma Inclusion Strategies" adopted during the Hungarian Presidency of the EU in June 2011.
Lisa Jordan is Executive Director of the Bernard van Leer Foundation. In this position she oversees programs and operations that impact over a million disadvantaged young children every year. Ms. Jordan is a well-known speaker, author and applied specialist in the fields of democracy, civil society, good governance, NGO accountability, and globalization. She is co-editor of the recently published book ‘NGO Accountability: Politics, Principles and Innovations`. Ms Jordan has worked on strengthening democracy and civil society through positions with NGOs, governments and private philanthropic foundations for twenty years. Ms Jordan previously served for nine years with the Ford Foundation as Acting Director and Deputy Director of the Governance and Civil Society Unit. In this position she was responsible for overseeing $120 million in grants. Other positions included directing the U.S. component of the Global Legislators Organization for a Balanced Environment (GLOBE), an environmental exchange program for parliamentarians from Russia, Europe, Asia and the United States; acting as a legislative assistant to Congressman Jim Scheuer (8th NY); directing the multilateral development bank program of BothEnds, a non-profit in the Netherlands; and directing the Bank Information Center, a non-profit in Washington D.C. She has acted as a consultant for numerous foundations in the fields of development and environment and has published peer reviewed articles in Dutch, English and Spanish on changes in the field of development, globalization, NGO accountability, and on the multilateral development banks. Ms. Jordan graduated cum laude in 1992 with a Master’s Degree in Development Studies from the Institute of Social Studies in The Hague, Netherlands. A U.S. national, she is married with two children.
Nadir Redzepi is Macedonian Roma and NGO activist since 1998. With his 12 years of experience, working on the Roma issues at local, national and international level, he contributes to Roma integration and institutional set-up of Roma issues. During this period he held various positions in managing and coordinating Roma related actions. He has been member of the number of policy and decision making bodies related to the Decade of Roma Inclusion in Macedonia and an active international actor on Roma issues. At present, he holds the position of project manager at Local Government Initiatives.