Written as part of Bodler Giving's Global Givers initiative by a regional partner.
On November 26, 2013 I invited about 60 of my friends to celebrate my birthday. I bought prosecco and macarons as a treat. I reserved the large room in a fancy new downtown Cluj building, appropriately named Inspire. And I was excited about presents! I badly needed a new Chanel bag to replace the one that had been stolen from me, some new black boots, and perfume.
But then I thought: Do I really need these things? Don't I better need to show my children and their friends in school that we, the adults, have values that go beyond material things?
So I asked my friends not to spend money on my gifts and instead to support my dream of building a functional robotics lab in my children's school instead. My children's great-grandfather, Professor Andrei Albu, had started the first robotics department at the Cluj University and the foundation he built there changed the field of robotics in Romania forever. The robotics lab needed funds to give students the best possible tools to learn, expand their creativity and challenge them to achieve. That would be the best birthday gift.
My request didn’t surprise my friends. Ever since I started Donors’ Circle here in Cluj they got used to me introducing them to social causes I cared about and asking for their support. The Donors' Circle is an informal group that regularly chooses three causes and fundraises around them, tracks grant progress/related expenditures and measures the impact. It's a new fundraising tool that gives donors both the opportunity to gather more resources for one cause and to control how the funds are spent. I started one of the first Donors's Circles in Romania with my friends in the spring of 2013, with support from the Association for Community Relations, which brought the concept from UK, and in the first year we raised more than 10,000 euro for social and cultural causes. So I knew it worked.
I was always a giver. As a child, I listened to my mother when she told me that when you give you encourage other people to be generous too. As an adult, I gave half of my first salary as a lawyer to an old woman I met on the street because I felt it was much more than I needed and she seemed to need it more. I supported various causes, NGOs and groups and I learned with every experience. Some of my philanthropic endeavors failed, some had a very short-term impact, and some accomplished my heart’s desires and gave me confidence that I needed as a donor. I learned that it all comes down to doing due diligence, asking the right questions, and following up on gifts if you want to have a meaningful and lasting impact.
I primarily donate to projects that promote progress - may that be scientific, educational or social. You get better as you go and now, thanks to my philanthropic experiences, I know that getting involved with a cause beyond a one-time donation - promoting it to others, making recurring donations, asking the initiators what they need before giving them something - is a lot more rewarding and also makes you feel part of change process. That is why I took it upon me to help setup the robotics lab and for the past two years I have been supporting it in every way I can.
My friends, my family and I donated double the amount needed by the school so that more tools, books, and computer programs would be made available to students. They proved to be worth it - the school is now participating in international robotics competitions, such as the one in Debrecen, Hungary, where a team of 12 year olds won the forth place for a robot they built and commanded.
I believe I showed my children not only that I would always do my best to give them the education and values they need to grow up as good citizens and good people, but, also, I showed them that you need to have a big heart in order to accept all the love that's coming towards you.