Have you ever thought of the cause and effect of inequality and how leaders of the world can best address its challenges? It may sound very political and distant from Romania, but in reality, it’s not. The Romanian chapter of United Way co-organized The United Way Roundtable on Philanthropy in Bucharest, between 27-29 September, a “gathering of like-minded people who believe that positive change in our communities is possible, that we all have a responsibility and the opportunity to make that change,” as the event is officially presented. BR went to find out more.

Firstly, this was a very useful and necessary gathering, especially for the NGO sector of Romania. Among the speakers, were Klaus Johannis, president of Romania, Brian Gallagher, CEO of United Way Worldwide, Michael Hayde, member of United Way Worldwide Leadership Council, as well as local and international United Way partners. They all gathered to focus on the increasing economic and social inequality, particularly through the lens of migration, education, income and health.

In a country like Romania, where inequity is mentioned in all official reports – for example, Eurostat notes that 25.4 percent of the population is at risk of poverty, topics like those mentioned above, are currently on the presidency’s development strategy. However, until local politicians decide how to deal with migration, education, income and health, the NGO sector is struggling to offer their communities a better life.

“United Way Romania is first of all, very pleased that both the CEO of United Way Worldwide and the United Way Worldwide Leadership Council decided to have their annual roundtable event in Romania. Meeting with all these great people, both from Romania and worldwide, who are here to find solutions and also new donors for our cause, gives us a boost of energy. We have new hope that, although we are fighting with lots of problems, from bureaucracy to difficulties to raise more money for our programs, we are doing the right thing for society,” the executive director of the NGO, Cristina Damian, told BR.

How does Romania look from these expats’ eyes? 

“First of all, democracy is still young. It seems to me that progress has been made and there are challenges. You could be like the US and have 200 years of democracy and still face challenges, to say the least,” said Brian Gallagher for BR. “Romania is not different from the reports I read. I expected a friendly place from the beginning, and as I mentioned before, the democracy being so young, the enthusiasm is in terms of adolescence, and I like that. (…),” added Gallagher. The same question was also answered by Mike Hayde,  one of the biggest US philanthropists. “It’s not about the reports, it’s about the people. I donate money on a trust base, so I first have to be convinced by the person. And Steven van Groningen was the one who convinced me to donate here, by presenting to me what’s happening in Romania.” When it comes to advocating for a social cause one truly believes in, as it is safe to assume that NGO impassioned people are, it’s easier to convey your point,, despite all the current social problems they may be confronted with.

“(…) the way the organization operates in Romania demonstrates that you know how to harness the potential you have when it comes to mobilizing decision-makers in institutions, companies and non-governmental organizations for the same ideals. I appreciate and encourage the way you have managed, over time, to organize and promote yourself in such a way as to help people in difficulty,” president Johannis cordially saluted the United Way Romania implication, not before mentioning the importance of international partners, the EU and NATO, the foreign investors and the continuous fight against  corruption.

From where I stand, Romania received some role models and examples of how doing good can lead to a common goal, despite the nationality or the donation amount. Also, the fact that the president of Romania made time for a short speech of the importance of an NGO, like United Way, in Romania should be a confirmation that, at least from one side of the local politics, there is encouragement to continue their tremendous work. Of course, a single meeting won’t change either the legislation, or the bureaucracy or the skepticism of those who don’t see the bigger picture. But perhaps it plants a seed of trust….

In picture from left to right: Brian Gallagher, Cristina Damian, Michael Hayde