Chris Worman came to Romania as a Peace Corps volunteer in 2006 and did not leave. He started a foundation – Romania’s first community foundation – and then established the Romanian partner to TechSoup, a nonprofit organization that helps other nonprofit groups and public libraries get technology resources. Ahead of holding a speech at the upcoming TEDxBucharest event on November 16, Chris Worman spoke to Romania-Insider.com about the changes he would like to see in Romania’s society and the small things people could do here – starting with joining their block association.
What compelled you to stay in Romania?
I wanted to see if I could finish some of what I had started as a volunteer, primarily the Community Foundation in Odorheiu Secuiesc where I had been stationed during my time in Peace Corps. But the Foundation was really only representational of what I was trying to challenge in civil society – - the notion and apparent feeling in a lot of Romanian communities that Romanians don’t really care and don’t want to engage in making their time and place better. I was seeing many small examples to the contrary and hoped through the Foundation that we could change that perception by creating places for people to engage in building their community. I stayed this long because people did indeed engage and today the Foundation in Odorhei has more than 4,500 families who contribute monthly and work together on building new clinics, parks, and playgrounds as well as a variety of longer term projects in social change.
What are the main changes you would like to see in Romania?
I would like to see regular people engaging more in the small things that provide the basis of a strong democracy – joining their bloc association for instance. I would like to see civil society encouraging and teaching them how to do so. This is a democracy and little things like that help people understand that there are ways individuals can influence their time and place which then aggregate into larger, positive social impact through NGO or governmental channels.
Where do you see yourself having an impact on Romania?
I hope that some of the models I have built with local partners have translated into something inspirational. Most of my time was spent listening, reflecting back and trying to support others to take the initiative in environments that helped them evolve. This led to projects like ReStart Romania and the Foundation, which are all about local leaders. As those leaders (the ReStarters and grantees of the Foundation) emerge and build their own space outside of and beyond what I started, I think something good may have come of my time here. I hope that some of this translates into models that CSR understands as well and we find some longer term partnerships with local corporate backers.
What are the first three things you would tell an expat living in Romania about our country?
Listen, learn some Romanian, and get the hell out of Bucharest – this is one part of Romania but there is so much more.
How could Romania better advertise itself?
That is a tough question. Depends upon to whom you are trying to advertise. If your target is business, I might suggest tax reform and investments in infrastructure. If you target is tourism, again infrastructure but more importantly, show the unique value of Romanian tourism, which is rural agro-tourism versus trying to be something like a cheaper version of Austria. Compete with what you have that is incredible…
Interview by Corina Chirileasa, email@example.com