Board members

Amy Cohen Varela

Amy Cohen Varela is Chairperson of the Mind & Life Europe Board and involved with Mind and Life since its inception. She is also a clinical psychologist specialized in psychodynamic therapy and philosophy. Amy studied comparative literature at Brown and Columbia Universities before moving to Paris in the early ‘80’s, where she received her degree in clinical psychology at the University of Paris 3, with a specialty in psychodynamic theory and practice, and in parallel, completed psychoanalytic training. 

Charles-Antoine Janssen

Charles-Antoine Janssen is Managing Partner of KOIS INVEST, as well as a Board Member of UCB s.a. and Tubize s.a. He worked in several senior management positions with UCB in Brussels, Austria, India and emerging markets, inter alia as Head of Global Business Development. Charles-Antoine also worked with Merril Lynch in London, where he served as Vice President for European Equities Research and Strategic Solutions Group. Additionally, he has co-founded Toolbox and Toolbox India, a non-profit organisation that provides management services to NGOs. Charles-Antoine teaches social entrepreneurship at Brussels University (ULB). He holds a bachelor degree in Law from ULB and an AMP from Harvard Business School.

Astrid Lunkes

Astrid Lunkes has a scientific background in neurobiology. She is currently Director of Scientific Portfolio Management and Strategy at the Helmholtz Zentrum Munich. She is responsible for the strategic development of epigenetics and its research impact in society. During her PhD in Germany and a postdoc time in France, Astrid researched the causes of neurodegenerative diseases. She has held key positions in science management, strategy development and science policy. During her time as Director of Scientific Affairs at IGBMC, she was a member of the scientific advisory board and the pedagogic board of the Life Sciences Doctoral School, University of Strasbourg. Astrid has always fostered the dialogue between the life sciences and social sciences & humanities.

Erick Rinner

Erick, a Luxembourger based in Lausanne, has a 29-year experience in private equity and corporate governance. He is the managing partner of his own investment firm, Milestone Investisseurs, and he is a board member and a senior trainer with Potential Project, the global training company in corporate-based mindfulness programs. Erick's core skills include initiating change at board level, negotiation, advising management teams on value creation and leadership. He sits on the board of private companies and trusts in Luxembourg, London, Denmark and Switzerland. Erick has had a daily mindfulness practice for 13 years and is regularly in silent retreat. He received his MBA from Columbia Business School in New York (Award for Excellence) and is an executive coach. He teaches at University of Strasbourg in the Medicine, Meditation and Neurosciences program and is also a registered mindfulness teacher (MBSR). Erick gives all his mindfulness training fees to Karuna-Shechen and Global Nomads in Tibet.

Andreas Roepstorff

Andreas Roepstorff is a professor in cognition, communication and culture at the department of Culture and Society and the department of Clinical Medicine at Aarhus University, Denmark. He works at the interface between anthropology, cognitive science and neuroscience, ans is equally interested in the workings of the mind and brain, and in how cognitive science and brain imaging, as fields of knowledge production, relate to other scientific and public fields. He has formal training in social anthropology and in neurobiology and has published both within these disciplines as well as in various collaborations across other fields. He is the director of the Interacting Minds Centre at Aarhus University and is involved in a number of transdisciplinary collaborations, focusing on aspects of human interaction. He has a long-standing research interest in cognitive aspects of contemplative practices.

Wolf Singer

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Wolf Singer studied Medicine in Munich and Paris, obtained his MD from the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich, and his PhD from the Technical University in Munich.

He is Director emeritus at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt and Founding Director both of the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies (FIAS) and of the Ernst Strüngmann Institute (ESI) for Neuroscience in cooperation with Max Planck Society. His research focuses on the neuronal substrate of higher cognitive functions, in particular on the question of how the distributed sub-processes in the brain are coordinated and bound together in order to give rise to coherent perception and action.

Christian Thalhammer

Christian is chairman of the Supervisory Board and partner in AKRON Group, a European wide Real Estate company, which he founded and managed for almost 20 years. Since he retired as CEO he is occasionally giving leadership classes in the context of mindfulness for managers of multinational companies and organizations (Kalapa Academy, Cologne). After his studies at the Technical University in Vienna (MBA in chemical engineering, research on environmental issues) Christian worked in several management positions in the government, politics and multinational companies. Christian has long term experience in various forms of meditation and has been active as meditation teacher since 1984.

Honorary Board

Roshi Joan Halifax

Roshi Joan Halifax, PhD, is a Buddhist teacher, anthropologist and author. She is co-founder of the Mind & Life Institute, founded the Ojai Foundation, the Prajna Mountain Buddhist Order, is Abbot and Head Teacher of Upaya Zen Center, and co-founder of the Zen Peacemaker Order. She is a pioneer in the end-of-life care field, and is well known internationally for her work in engaged Buddhism. She was an Honorary Research Fellow at Harvard University and a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at the Library of Congress.

Matthieu Ricard

Matthieu Ricard is a Buddhist monk at Shechen Monastery in Nepal. He received a PhD in Cellular Genetics at the Institut Pasteur in France under Nobel Laureate Francois Jacob. He has lived in the Himalayas since 1972, studying with Kangyur Rinpoche and Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, two respected Tibetan spiritual masters. Since 1989, he has served as French interpreter for His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He is the author of The Monk and the Philosopher, The Quantum and the Lotus, Happiness, A guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill and Altruism: The Power of Compassion to Change Yourself and the World. He has translated several books from Tibetan, including The Life of Shabkar and The Heart of Compassion. He donates all the proceeds from his books and much of his time to 140 humanitarian projects in Tibet, Nepal and India, through his charitable association Karuna-Shechen.

Tania Singer

Tania Singer is the Scientific Head of the Social Neuroscience Lab at Max Planck Society in Berlin. After receiving her PhD in Psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, she became a Post-doctoral Fellow at the same institution. In 2006, she became an Assistant Professor at the University of Zurich and later became Inaugural Chair of Social Neuroscience and Neuroeconomics and Co-Director of the Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems Research. Her research focuses on the foundations of human social behavior and on the neuronal, developmental, and hormonal mechanisms underlying social cognition and emotions. She investigates the psychological and neuroscientific effects of compassion and mental training on the brain, the mind, health, and cooperation, in longitudinal studies (The ReSource Project). 


Cornelius Pietzner - Managing Director

Cornelius Pietzner has served Mind and Life Europe on the Board of Directors for many years and formerly also as Co Director. He has served as Chief Executive Officer of Alterra Impact Finance GmbH, an impact investment firm in Switzerland. He is President of the Alterra Foundation, a Swiss charitable foundation that supports transformation initiatives related to a human-centered economy. He was Chief Financial Officer on the Executive Board at the Goetheanum, General Anthroposophical Society, Switzerland with affiliates in 90 countries. He has had leading roles in social impact enterprises, financial management, philanthropy and investments. Cornelius Pietzner serves as Trustee/Advisory Board on a number of organisations and foundations in the USA and Europe. He received his degree in Political Science from Williams College, Mass. and was awarded a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship.

Ute Brandes - Executive Assistant

Ute Brandes’ focus lies on organizational and management endeavors. Her approach is pragmatic and solution-oriented with a keen eye for detail and a good sense of humor. At the base of her profession lies the vocational training as an office clerk, followed by a vocational diploma in economics. Through her work for international companies and not-for-profit organizations in Germany and the Netherlands, she has broad experience in event management, reaching from large scale exhibitions to conferences and retreats. Due to her deep interest in alternative approaches and her desire to help people, she is a trained Ayurveda massage therapist. Having experienced contemplative practices for about 15 years, Buddhist teachings and its philosophy resonate strongest with her. That’s why she is truly committed to continue deepening this contemplative aspect of life on a personal level and integrating it into her professional life.

Nina Bürklin - Communications Manager

Dr. Nina Bürklin devotes her time to creating sustainable products and solutions that spark passion and excitement at other people. Consumer responsibility and sustainability were not only the focus of her Ph.D. at the Institute for Marketing at Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich. With degrees in business administration (LMU Munich) and fashion design (Esmod), she furthermore has broad experience in communications and marketing for different companies and not-for-profit organizations. The topics of social entrepreneurship and stakeholder management, amongst others, constitute her involvement academic research in teaching. Moreover, substantial trainings in Social Innovation and Logotherapy & Existential Analysis let her drive the practical implementation of societal responsibility and open up spaces for purpose-driven interactions.