At the age of 20, the Zimbabwean activist is the vice president of an international consultancy.

Tereza at Bocconi’s Annual Christmas Gala

By Boryana Antimova, Trud Daily, Sofia

Ever since I was a child, I wanted to help others,” explains Tereza. “Too often people complain about their circumstances without actively doing anything about them. When it comes to problems faced and challenges ahead, I strive to give ready-made solutions. I possess a lot of energy that I want to channel into causes close to my heart.” She is not compared to Greta Thunberg, as she is radically different from her. Radiant, well-meaning and friendly, with eyes wide open to the world, the problems that Tereza Boynova deals with have a much wider scope – economic, international, political, cultural, and humane. On the other hand, she is often compared to a lady she greatly admires – Amal Alamuddin – Clooney, one of the world’s most successful human rights lawyers, the wife of George Clooney.

“When I moved to Milan for my studies, I would introduce myself as a “Bulgarian from Zimbabwe,” laughs Tereza. In fact, she was only born in Sofia, as when she was a 3-month-old baby, her mother brought her to Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, which became her home for the next 19 years. Tereza received a top-notch education, first at a Jewish primary school and then at a Greek high school in Harare, following the Cambridge system, achieving excellent results all-round. She has been involved in ballet, music, singing for over 14 years, and played various sports throughout her school years, including water polo and soccer.

In Zimbabwe Tereza has been practicing ballet for over 14 years

“When people hear about Zimbabwe, a lot of the time they imagine that I have been living amongst elephants and giraffes,” laughs Tereza. “Our home is very far from the savannah, in the capital, but on a safari or trip outside of the city, we have faced all sorts of wildlife encounters.”

Studying for exams in the backdrop of the beautiful Zimbabwean landscape

The problems facing people have been a central focus of Tereza’s ever since she was a child. When she was 9 years old, Zimbabwe experienced unprecedented hyperinflation and many people were left without a livelihood. She began to think about the underlying causes of this massive issue and how to help those struggling. “It’s true, the country is underdeveloped and there are serious problems, but the people are some of the most warm and friendly nationalities I’ve met. They strongly appreciate the value of a good education and personal development”, Tereza defends her second homeland. There is no extreme weather in Zimbabwe, with temperatures ranging from 17-28 degrees year-round, and the natural landscape is very beautiful, as if in technicolour, the young lady says.

Tereza and her friends admiring the Zimbabwean scenery

For her 19th birthday, Tereza travelled back to Bulgaria, where she chose a very unconventional birthday present – to be taken around her hometown of Sofia to get to know the city she was born in. She was enthralled by the capital and waits for travel restrictions to fall in order to show Sofia to her international friends.

Her first great success as a social activist was in high school. That was when she led a team of classmates to the National Debate Competition, her first time participating at such an event. The topic was on the question of child labour. “We were not sufficiently prepared for this motion and I don’t know where I got so much energy from, but we seemed to have been convincing enough in the final rounds and won a silver medal,” said Tereza.

At the age of 17, she drafted and defended a resolution at the UN World Forum in The Hague in the Netherlands. Model United Nations is an initiative for high school students from around the world to discuss serious global issues and craft solutions following UN procedure and decorum, in front of a committee of hundreds of delegates. “Previously, I organized a national MUN conference in Harare with all the biggest schools and invited the US ambassador to Zimbabwe Harry K. Thomas to be Guest of Honour. In the Hague, it was very exciting and inspiring to be able to speak at the actual World Forum Theatre, in front of hundreds of people,” said Tereza. Along with her allied countries, she was able to pass one of the only resolutions, by overwhelming majority, which would then be put forward to the real UN for reviewal and further lobbying.

Tereza (second from the left) and her MUN Committee with the US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Harry K. Thomas (middle), invited as guest speaker to their National Conference

“We were about 5,000 delegates from all over the world in the largest forum. I chose to focus on the question of Art Restitution following the Holocaust,” says Tereza. Since then, she has taken a serious interest in international relations, economics and law. Tereza speaks English, French, Italian, and Shona, the local language of Zimbabwe. She was awarded by Cambridge for the best French results in the country.

In 2018, Tereza returned to Europe and, at the age of 19, touched snow for the first time. She was admitted to Bocconi University in Milan, Italy, which is one of the top 10 business schools in the world. She studies International Economics and Management. She has not yet decided where her master’s degree will be – in France, England, the US or elsewhere, but she says that recently the scales are increasingly leaning towards international law and human rights.

Tereza (right) at the opening of the new campus at Bocconi, inaugurated by the President of the Republic of Italy

At the age of 20, Tereza Boynova became one of the youngest instructors at Yale, one of the most prestigious universities in the legendary Ivy League. She applied for this position after participating in the academic program “Yale Young Global Scholars Program” as a student. It is a tradition that the university invites excellent students from around the world who have achieved something unique and notable to participate in this program.

At the academic program of Yale in Africa – Yale Young African Scholars

Encouraged by her success, she applied for a teaching instructor position at the summer academy in between her first and second year at university. She instructed in two sessions: International Relations and Globalization, and Literature Philosophy and Culture; with a focus on African development, Quantum Computing, Modernization Theory and Women in Global Politics. She was one of the youngest instructors at the summer academy.

Tereza (first on the left) with the Zimbabwean flag at Yale
Tereza (left) with her fellow instructors at Yale

“There weren’t that many instructors close to my age, my colleagues were 10 years older than me,” Tereza said. Students with a master’s degree or a doctorate are hired for this position, but they made an exception. “At first, I was a little apprehensive about the small age gap between myself and the students, but after returning to Milan following the program’s end, I received my feedback evaluation from the students and was brought to tears by the results – 99.8% of them were overwhelmingly positive.

This spring, Tereza spent a 3-month quarantine in Milan, completely alone in the empty dormitories of the university, at the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic. Instead of panicking, Tereza committed herself to her projects. Together with two colleagues, she filmed and compiled a video of the empty halls of their modern and desolate university building, and in the background the voices of her fellow students play. In 12 different languages, they tell what they will do when they return to Milan. The video ends with a call for students to return to university when everything is over. “It was a very moving and impactful video,” said Tereza.

Tereza representing Bocconi University

There was a lot of panic amongst the people in Milan. At some point, I asked myself how people in Zimbabwe would react. They have faced extreme adversity and yet are some of the strongest, bravest and most pragmatic people I know. I told myself that I had to be strong and persistent like them. I committed myself to many projects during this time, one of them dealing directly with the university, and students’ wellbeing,” says Tereza.

At Bocconi University, she represents the interests of 1,500 students, re-elected for the second year in a row as Course Representative of her degree, the largest Bachelor program in English at Bocconi. “A lot of exams were cancelled, and I took to heart the cause of fighting for the rights of all students – Internationals and Italians” says Tereza. “I insisted that more attention be paid to not only their academic success, but also their mental health.”

At the age of 20, Tereza Boynova became Vice President and Client Director of 180 Degrees Consulting for Milan. It is the largest university-based consultancy in the world, with offices in 30+ countries and over 100 universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, major American colleges. As student consultants, they work with NGOs and social enterprises with the main focus of generating social impact. “I worked on many volunteering projects before in Zimbabwe. 180 Degrees inspired me because I saw a way to help these organisations on a much greater scale – in terms of strategy, expansion, funding, strategic partnerships and new market entry. I really enjoy the consulting work, because we realize in practice what we study in theory in the lecture room,” the young lady commented.

Tereza made intensive use of the lockdown due to the coronavirus. She devoted herself to an international project called “Forte”, for which she is a project leader. It specifically targets the devastating economic and social consequences of the Covid-19 crisis. It was modelled on Dr Nat Ware’s doctoral thesis at Oxford University to fund mass training for people who have lost their jobs because of the crisis. The project is at a very high level because it involves working directly with governments, investors, individuals and training centres. So far, Tereza and her team are working on the implementation of the model in Italy, and she, as a Bulgarian, has put Bulgaria on the map of the project.

At the Teatro all Scala in Milan

It takes a lot of courage to grow up in Zimbabwe and get that far in just 21 years. “My parents gave me a lot, they brought in European and Bulgarian culture to our home in Harare and shared my successes, but also gave me the freedom to make my own decisions in life,” said the young lady.

Due to her impressive CV, the young activist Tereza Boynova has already been courted as a desired intern by several committees in the European Parliament. The internship has been postponed due to the pandemic, but new proposals are coming to it with each passing day.

“I would like to do something with a cause, something that fosters change, and on a mass scale – a super organization at a global level, one such as the European Union,” said the Bulgarian.

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