(DISCLAIMER: This blog is not an official Fulbright Program blog; the views expressed are my own and not those of the Fulbright Program, the U.S. Department of State or any of its partner organizations.)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Doing what you were put on this earth to do

I cannot believe my Romanian experience is coming to an end.  My project here has been a case study in social networking and in "doing what you were put on this earth to do" (personal mission -> work impact). 

Speaking at Social Enterprise conference
Example of both: In addition to teaching in the social work department, my project is to provide technical assistance to local social service agencies in strategic planning and service delivery (family therapy techniques with children and families).  My first job was to network with social service agency leaders and find out what they need in the way of consultation. On average, I met with one NGO per week for October and November.  I quickly discovered that social service leaders here are pretty overwhelmed and dispirited, from the hardships of the economic crisis (more needs, less funding), but also from 15 years of outsiders telling them what they were doing wrong (15 years of development preceeded Romania's EU accession in 2007). So here is another "helpful" outsider who want to tell them how to do things better.  My first task was to position myself as a friend, not a critic.

I was not finding many takers in my offer to provide free strategic planning.  The response  "yes, that's a great offer" never got converted into action (wouldn't return my emails and phone calls, missed appointments, no-show a class presentation, contact me about events after they occurred, etc.).  I kept offering to help, kept working on my needs assessment, and kept meeting people.  I concluded that the "outsider fatigue" meant that I needed to have my new Romanian friends do the talking for me, so I invited NGO leaders to talk in class.  I was setting up a NGO Resource workshop in which NGO leaders would tell other NGO leaders what works for them.  Building social capital like this is a stretch for many Romanian NGOs, who tend to look at one another like one dog with a bone looks at his peers.

Romanian Social Enterprise Conference
I finally got an invitation to present at a high level social entrepreneurship conference at the US Embassy in Bucharest with leading Romanian NGOs that have in the past received USAID funding.  The same week a NGO leader told me of an upcoming conference in my own town, Cluj, that involves over 200 Romanian NGOs. The format is for NGO leaders to tell other NGO leaders what works for them.  Since there is power in collaboration, I dropped my NGO workshop idea and pursued helping them with their NGO conference idea.

I went on "full court press" to meet leaders at the organizing NGO (began as an informational interview, but I ended with a trial run of my Bucharest presentation) and to get them to invite me to speak at their big NGO conference.  Which they did, but with the condition that I have Romanian co-presenters to give a case study of my main point.  So a couple of phone calls and a day later, I had two really effective Romanian NGO friends lined up to co-present (networking pays off).

So now, in a two month period, I have four presentations at major conferences (two down, two to go) where I talk about one really good idea that NGOs here can improve their services. I illustrate that good idea with Romanian NGOs that are doing it, and US NGOs that aren't. I don't want to criticize my Romanian friends, but I want the audience to learn how to critically analyze NGO mission and activities. So in criticizing foreigners, I'm hoping they can transfer that skill to critically analyzing their own NGO in the privacy of their own office.

from L to R: me; Hon. George Teseleauna, Romanian Consul; Prof. Antonio Panico, Rector. LUMSA Univ.; Prof. Riccardo Rossario, LUMSA Univ.
In my last presentation I was surprised with how big a deal it was: I shared top billing with the Romanian Consul to talk about social service needs of Romanian immigrants.  I did my talk about what NGOs need to do and say to communicate what good they do for Romania. It resulted in a potential research collaboration to do a needs assessment of Romanian immigrants in the EU.  I am writing a grant application, could be really big $/Euros, for a multinational collaboration between three universities (StMU included) to do the research project.

So "what am I put here to do?" I want to nurture good ideas and the people who have them.  By making connections between people and their ideas. By focusing on the good idea, clearing it from all the organizational clutter that distracts.  By showing the impact of the good idea and giving it legs to stand on.

Yeah, that’s what I’m all about.

Erica Lock with Mark Gitenstein, US Ambassador to Romania

Speaking at the LUMSA International Social Services conference

Prof. Antonio Panico, Rector, LUMSA University

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