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Croatian-American professionals conference attracts over 400 attendees, 50+ speakers from around the world

4th annual ACAP conference (Photo: Darko Zagar Photography)

Keynote speakers focused on opportunities facing the Croatian diaspora and how to expand influence in meaningful ways

CLEVELAND, SEPTEMBER 27, 2019 – The Association of Croatian American Professionals (ACAP) hosted their fourth annual conference in Cleveland. The four-day event brought together more than 400 professionals, academics, students, and community organizers from across the United States, Canada, Germany, Australia and Croatia. The gathering included featured speakers, multiple panel discussions and task force breakout sessions aimed to inspire engagement and action amongst Croatian communities within the diaspora and helping bridge the gap between Croatia and those abroad.

“A diverse array of innovative professionals with Croatian roots came together once again, to share strategies, knowledge and business contacts,” says Steven Pavletic, MD, Vice President, ACAP. “This gathering is meant to fuel networking opportunities, while creating meaningful impact and establishing long-lasting relationships with Croatians and friends of Croatia.”

Cleveland was chosen as the host city this year because of its large Croatian-American community in the Midwest. This year’s theme was Rocking Croatian Excellence — a play on Cleveland being the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and ACAP’s social media hashtag #CroatianExcellence.

The conference kicked off with a welcome event on Thursday, Sept. 19 at the American-Croatian Lodge in Eastlake, Ohio, the heart of the local Cleveland Croatian community since 1984. Tomislav Mihaljevic, MD, CEO and President, Cleveland Clinic, was the keynote speaker. In an hour-long interview, the Zagreb native, spoke to guests about healthcare, innovation and his love for Croatia. 

Tomislav Mihaljevic, MD (center), Don Markusic, president, ACAP Zagreb (left), Steven Pavletic, MD, vice president, ACAP (right), along with other ACAP members. (Photo: Darko Zagar Photography)

Attendees were greeted by ACAP executive board members and the Cleveland chapter hosts along with prominent dignitaries from Croatia and the United States including Zdravka Busic, State Secretary for the Republic of Croatia; Nikica Kopacevic, Consul General of New York for the Republic of Croatia; Sanja Lakovic, Consul General of Chicago for the Republic of Croatia; Dennis Morley, Mayor, City of Eastlake, Ohio; and various leaders from the Croatian community in the U.S. Guests were entertained by Mystral Guitar Duo, an acoustic jazz group, featuring Cleveland Croatian-American, Pete Maric, and a Croatian-American band with various members from Cleveland.

On Friday, the day-long conference kicked off at 8:00 a.m. with a special welcome from Cleveland’s Mayor Frank Jackson and Pjer Simunovic, Ambassador of the Republic of Croatia to the United States in Washington D.C. Maria Sentic, Treasurer, ACAP, announced the establishment of the ACAP Foundation to advance ACAP’s student scholarships and mentorship programs, task force initiatives, and other educational and scientific programs.

Throughout the day, more than 50 experts participated in 10 panel discussions that explored ways to positively impact opportunities in education for youth in the Croatian-American communities, continued dialogue in how to leverage medical tourism, research, IT and manufacturing opportunities between the two countries and of course various legal challenges that exist with double taxation and investment projects. 

Zdravka Busic (Photo: Darko Zagar Photography)

Members of the Croatian government and leading experts engaged with the attendees to spark insightful debate and calls to action.

“Having lived in Cleveland for many years, it is refreshing to see young professionals gather together with a common Croatian bond and forward-thinking attitudes,” said Zdravka Busic, State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs for the Republic of Croatia. “It’s inspiring to witness the networking and energy in the room amongst such a diverse field of industries. I’m extremely optimistic about what ACAP can do to make our connection to the U.S. bold and impactful.”

Cleveland native Elvis Grbac, former NFL quarterback, professional public speaker and current director of Athletics and Head Football Coach at Villa Angela-St. Joseph High School in Cleveland was a #ACAP2019 featured speaker. “It is our duty to uphold this tradition, to teach our kids about what it means to be Croatian-American. We have an unbelievable tradition. Who else could do the incredible things that each of us in this room does, but a Croatian-American?” said Grbac.

Elvis Grbac (Photo: Darko Zagar Photography)

Maja Odak, Terra Adriatica, presented her company’s innovative technology solution to help Croatians around the world realize their land rights. While Dinka Kalinic, IBM executive and IT entrepreneur, discussed how the IT sector can benefit Croatia’s economic development. Additional notable conference speakers included: Josip Novakovic, award-winning author; Mladen Golubic, MD, PhD, Medical Director, Center for Lifestyle Medicine, Cleveland Clinic and community leader and attorney Tomislav Kuzmanovic. 

The conference ended with a special keynote by social media influencer Kristina Kuzmic who flew in from California to participate as a keynote speaker and hosted a more informal Q&A session on Saturday. Kuzmic, originally from Osijek, Croatia, but has been living in the U.S for 26 years said, “Helping others was instilled in me way back as I was growing up in Osijek. The idea of thinking of others stayed with me. Life will surprise us in the worst possible ways.  Don’t wait for things to happen, be proactive.”

Kristina Kuzmic (Photo: Darko Zagar Photography)

Biljana Lovrinovic, President, ACAP Cleveland, kicked off Friday evening with the third annual ACAP gala at the Marriott hotel in downtown Cleveland. “Our annual gathering allows us to showcase our local Croatian communities and our fantastic host city along with a network of high caliber dignitaries, business leaders and influencers in Croatian excellence,” said Lovrinovic.

On her first-ever presidential visit to Cleveland, Her Excellency Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic, President of the Republic of Croatia, gave the keynote address for the gala dinner. Grabar-Kitarovic is in the United States to attend the U.N. General Assembly in New York this week.  

“ACAP has continued to create significant contributions in advancing bi-lateral relations between Croatia and the United States,” said Grabar-Kitarovic, “My hope is that this grassroots momentum will continue to grow and foster stronger ties between professionals who have a passion and affinity to advance opportunities in Croatia.”

HE Grabar Kitarovic (Photo: Darko Zagar Photography)

The gala also provides a special milestone for ACAP to publicly recognize influential professionals who have demonstrated excellence in their field and leadership in the Croatian community.

“These awards give us an opportunity to highlight influencers who are making a difference in their professions and in our communities. Our hope is that they serve as role models and continue to give back as mentors to our members,” said Maria Dugandzic-Pasic, ACAP 2019 Award chair.

ACAP awarded the following individuals for their achievements: 

Marija Maracic, ACAP Rising Star
Luka Matic ACAP Rising Star
Boris Vilic, ACAP Achievement
Josie Tomljenovic, ACAP Achievement
Igor Boras, ACAP Professional Excellence
Dinka Kalinic, ACAP Professional Excellence
Slavko Katic, ACAP Honorary Achievement
Eugen Halar, M.D, ACAP Honorary Achievement
Biljana Lovrinovic, ACAP Innovation Award
Danijel Velicki, ACAP Innovation Award

HE Grabar Kitarovic and ACAP (Photo: Darko Zagar Photography)

Gala guests were entertained by Trubaduri from Pittsburgh and international music was provided by Cleveland-based DJ, Fabrice Dongo. For select speeches and highlights of our 2019 ACAP conference, please visit the ACAP Facebook page @croampro.

A third day of networking kicked off on Saturday, with a B2B meeting event hosted in collaboration with the Croatian Chamber of Economy. Special workshops focused on expanding discussion and strategy on key initiatives of ACAP task forces such as education, medical tourism, real estate, double taxation, issues related to the Domovina Birth Right program and I.T. strategies. These workshops are unique opportunities for long-form discussion on advancing the needs of Croatian-American constituents.

The ACAP 2020 conference will be held next fall in New York City. For inquiries on how to be involved next year or to suggest a topic for discussion in 2020, visit www.croampro.com.

Association of Croatian American Professionals (ACAP)

The Association of Croatian American Professionals is a non-profit organization bringing together professionals, business leaders, academics, students and community organizers. Our mission is to foster leadership, collaboration and to promote the advancement of issues relevant to the Croatian-American community. Since 2014, ACAP has hosted four annual conferences, launched 14 regional chapters in the United States and Croatia and has reached over 1,500 members. To join, visit croampro.com for more information.

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