Sanela Diana Jenkins has turned a life of hardship into triumph, transforming a war-torn adolescence into a successful career as an entrepreneur, business woman, philanthropist, and human rights activist.
Born in Sarajevo, Sanela Diana Jenkins (née Sanela Ćatić) was the eldest of two children growing up in an average Bosnian family. Her mother was an accountant and her father was an economist. Jenkins lived in the concrete-block apartments that characterized communist-era Yugoslavia.
Irnis Ćatić, Diana’s younger brother, studied economics before the Bosnian war engulfed their homeland. Just a few days before the Dayton Accord ended the war, Irnis was murdered by Serb forces in a village in western Bosnia. He was just 21.
Jenkins was an honors student studying economics at the University of Sarajevo and a promising young competitive swimmer. The Siege of Sarajevo in 1992 forced her to flee her home and spend more than a year in Croatia as a refugee. She escaped Croatia and managed to make her way to London, where she reported to the immigration authorities. Jenkins was granted the right to live, work, and study in the United Kingdom.
After two years in London, she learned enough English to re-start her college education in a new country and a new language. She chose math since it was easier for her: “English is not a barrier to the language of mathematics.” Jenkins got the top scores on her college entrance exams thanks to the rigorous foundation in math and science that she received back in Bosnia. Jenkins worked to put herself through the prestigious City University London, studying computer science and economics, graduating with a BSc (Hons.) degree.
Jenkins worked multiple jobs to support her studies as well as her parents back in war-torn Bosnia. She once told the Telegraph newspaper that she “survived on a diet of Toblerone.” After four years in London, she was granted citizenship. “Other Yugoslavian refugees were sent back home, but I was a model citizen—I never took a penny from the government and I was a good student. I was one of the few who were allowed to stay.”
After taking a job as a clerk in Covent Garden, Sanela Diana Jenkins saved enough to open a retail jewelry stand—the first of several and the beginning of her entrepreneurial activities.
Partnering with the eponymous model and designer, Jenkins launched the Melissa Odabash swimwear company. The fashionable swimwear became the “it” choice, embraced by A-list celebrities such as Kate Moss, Cindy Crawford, Elle Macpherson, Rhianna, Lady Gaga, Katherine Jenkins, Hayden Panettiere, Cheryl Cole, Heidi Klum, and Beyoncé. Melissa Odabash is now a leading global brand.
Jenkins is the founder and creator of the international health drink company Neuro Drinks, based in the U.S. and the U.K. She invented a line of functional beverages that are healthy alternatives to soda, coffee, and water. Each beverage in the line was designed for the changing needs of people throughout their day. Her invention has won numerous industry awards and enjoys a broad-base of consumer support. She currently serves as the Chairman and CEO of Neuro Drinks.
In addition to a successful entrepreneurial business career, Sanela Diana Jenkins is also a philanthropist who has raised and donated many millions of dollars for a variety of causes including Haiti, Darfur, Bosnia, and AIDS research.
Jenkins establishing The Sanela Diana Jenkins Foundation for Bosnia and Herzegovina in Memory of Irnis Ćatić. The Foundation, which is closely associated with the funding of the medical school at the University of Sarajevo, aims to provide financial support toward establishing Bosnian schools and orphanages. Additionally, it is instrumental in building homes for the country’s poor, supplying emergency aid & relief, and cleaning the country’s lakes and polluted areas. The Foundation is the largest privately funded Bosnian organization of its kind.
Together with actor George Clooney, Jenkins raised €10,000,000 for Darfur and the “Not on Our Watch” organization.
When the giant earthquake leveled Haiti in 2010, Jenkins was on the ground, helping thousands of people get food, water, and shelter. The Jenkins/Penn Haitian Relief Organization (J/P HRO) is an on-going concern, providing on-the-ground aid in the aftermath. She also helped raise more than a million dollars for the William J. Clinton Foundation’s Haiti Fund.
Jenkins has been a substantial contributor and fund raiser for the Elton John Aids Foundation. She is a recent recipient of the Enduring Vision award from that organization.
As a human rights activist, Sanela Diana Jenkins has been closely involved at the intersection between human rights and international law. In 2008, she founded the Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project at the UCLA School of Law. It was the first endowed program on international justice and human rights at any law school in the western United States.
The Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project created and runs the innovative ICC Forum, a cooperative undertaking with the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Forum, run by a clinic at the UCLA School of Law, allows members of the legal community, governments, academics, and others to debate complex issues of international criminal law faced by the Office of the Prosecutor in the course of its work at the ICC. The Forum is open to public debate at ICCforum.com.
The Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project works with UCLA faculty and students to advance the cause of human rights and international justice around the world. The Project engages in a range of activities, continuously identifying and pursuing the most promising opportunities for addressing human rights issues around the globe, while at the same time advancing understanding about human rights through interdisciplinary studies.
The Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project has been working in the Eastern Congo with villages that have been ravaged by conflict. Three important scholarly studies emerged from this work and have been shared with the International Criminal Court. Calling rape victims to the stand in a criminal case in the Hague is problematic. “Anthropological Evidence of Mass Rape” is about proving that the rapes occurred through anthropological evidence without the need for the direct testimony of victims. “Explaining Demobilization” tries to uncover which factors cause militia forces to disband. “Reparations Preferences” undertook interviews in four villages with 121 different subjects to determine the preferred form of ICC-mandated reparations. Prior to this study, only the preferences of the land-owning male leaders had been voiced; the preferences of the actual victims were quite different.
This year, the Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project has launched the Restore the Villages Project. The Project takes a novel multi-faceted approach to diminishing the negative consequences of mass rape in the Eastern Congo. It will facilitate healing through five forms of intervention: medical, therapeutic, economic, judicial, and spiritual. The Restore the Villages Project will act as an umbrella organization to provide financial assistance and support to several partner organizations in executing these interventions.
The Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project is committed to organizing major conferences that take advantage of important historical moments and opportunities to advance human rights. In 2010 and 2011, the Project co-sponsored The American Society of International Law’s Second Annual Midyear Meeting and Research Forum; and co-organized and co-sponsored the “Assessing the Legacy of the ICTY” conference with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the Government of the Netherlands.
The Sanela Diana Jenkins Human Rights Project organizes and sponsors lectures at both UCLA and Stanford University that are free to the faculty, students, and public. The Project invites human rights activists from all over the world to advance understanding and debate the human condition in conflict zones, war and health, and sexual violence.
Jenkins has been widely recognized for her humanitarian works as well as her defense of human rights around the world.
In 2009, Jenkins received the prestigious Mostar Peace Connection Prize for her international humanitarian efforts. The prize was created to encourage the endeavors of all those who promote the ideas of peace, democracy and preservation of human rights by their attitude and public engagement.
In 2012, Elton John AIDS Foundation Founder Sir Elton John and Chairman David Furnish presented an Enduring Vision Award to Jenkins. Jenkins continues her work in helping the Elton John AIDS Foundation raise money and awareness.
In 2012, Jenkins was awarded a prize for one of the “World’s Top Three Justice Innovations” by The Hague Institute for the Internationalisation of Law (HiiL). Her project, the Human Rights & International Criminal Law Online Forum (ICCforum.com), was praised as a way to facilitate communication between the legal community, the world community, and the International Criminal Court (ICC).
In 2013, Jenkins was honored as Computerworld Laureate in the “World-Good” category for her ICC Forum project.
In 2013, the Isa-beg Ishaković Award for Patriotism was presented to Jenkins: “We honor the global humanitarian Sanela Diana Jenkins with the award in the field of Patriotism—a person whose love of Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina state deserves more than awards and whose humanism knows no bounds.”
Sanela Diana Jenkins writes for the Huffington Post on topics of human rights and international justice. Her articles include:
For more on Sanela Diana Jenkins, visit her personal site.