An expat in Bucharest: why collaboration is essential for social entrepreneurship to thrive

My name is Emanuele, I am Italian and 2 years I ago I left Paris to come live in Bucharest. I moved here because I wanted to become a social entrepreneur, and the high cost of living in Western Europe would have not allowed me to easily undertake this career shift. Furthermore, Ruxandra, my wife and business partner is originally from Bucharest, thus Romania offered us a friendly environment with several people that we could rely upon. My social enterprise is called Babele (already on Edgeryders), and consists of open-sourcing the business strategy of social entrepreneurs in order to tap into the collective intelligence of the crowd to improve and scale projects with the potential to tackle the most urgent challenges of our time. In order to develop a meaningful solution, we have validated the concept by holding collaborative business workshops and crowd-mentoring programs in 14 countries, training over 500 entrepreneurs between Europe and Asia.

This project challenges the principle of the Homo Economicus - the center of the liberal philosophy today - which sees society as the sum of rational, individual interests. A profit & loss account mentality has spread from companies to individuals who maximize their short-term economic return while losing sight of the things that are truly important and makes them humans, such as tenderness, understanding, calm and community.

The anthropological pessimism is a construct of the 17th century that makes no sense today. The human nature is not purely based on competition and individualism, and in a period of scarcity, such as the one that we are living today, we can certainly achieve a better outcome if we see one another as partners sharing the same small and fragile planet

The 1992 Rio Earth Summit was the moment when sustainable development captured worldwide attention. It established  why it is necessary to develop solutions that achieve the triple bottom line of economic prosperity, environmental quality and social equity, meeting the needs of present society without compromising resources for future generations. The challenge now is how to execute it, and unless we adopt a collaborative approach, we might never win this challenge.

Something great is already happening.  

All over the world I see a multitude of people coming together to work on projects with the potential to change the status quo: innovative educational programs, shared gardens, co-housing initiatives, sustainable transportation, circular economy, financial services for the Bottom of the Pyramid, etc.

Several of these initiatives are already changing the lives of millions at a local level, despite the fact that they are often not viable economically. They generate positive externalities, that benefit society in several ways but often these benefits are not providing a return for the innovators themselves. As an example, Selaron, the artist who made the colorful staircase in the center of Rio De Janeiro, transformed a dangerous and uninteresting area of the city into one of the major attractions for tourists visiting Brazil. He eventually died poor, as he could not claim any intellectual property over a public space, but this was never the point: Selaron’s drive was not economic but rather the desire to do good for his neighborhood. Another interesting example of non-viable civic initiative are the Velibs in Paris. The Velibs are a system of public bicycles in Paris which revenues only cover 1/10th of the costs encountered to run the service. However, the benefits are indisputable: reduced traffic congestion and Co2 emissions, healthier and happier citizens.

Social innovations happen in various forms and through the interaction of a multitude of actors. Builders and entrepreneurs are just the tip of the iceberg. Change today is happening thanks to the tireless work of networkers, nurturers, investigators, communicators and resisters, who together create pressure to keep questioning things and mobilize to bring new solutions.


A great example to understand the value brought by this diverse network of individuals, is the free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States, also known as TTIP. Citizens from all-over Europe are contributing to bring transparency to this topic, thanks to the work of investigators and communicators, they are ensuring that more people are aware of the trade terms, thanks to the work of networkers and protesters, and are engaging society into a healthy debate, thanks to the work of Nurturers.

All these actors are key to accelerate change.

However, social innovation remains a niche, as mainstream media do not rise sufficient awareness on these topics. Instead, they keep us distracted, confused and a bit intimidated, unable to understand ourselves and without the will to alter political reality. Our televisions are inundated with fiction stories about a world in continuous danger from alien attacks and epidemics while the real calamities of our world remain unattended. As a result, the majority of our society ends up ignoring the real priorities and settle for desires manufactured for us by corporations, without any interest in our true welfare.

The result of deviating mass attention toward more frivolous topics is observable in the economics of the social innovation market today, which is still a derisive fraction compared to, for instance, the derivatives market that caused the economic crisis in 2008.

In my experience, a worthy social innovation is happening in Vuollerim, a very small village of 800 inhabitants located in the middle of Lapland (Sweden).

The people of Vuollerim have come together and worked on a new welfare system which involves citizens in first person, embraces entrepreneurship and taking initiative and is based on collaborating for the common good rather than focusing on individual benefits. Together, they have created and co-own a multi-function store, a year-round open hotel, a small school, and even a business incubator to develop unique, locally anchored, sustainable enterprises. They are the living example of the ‘individually we are a drop, together we are an ocean’ philosophy.

And what about Romania?

I find that Bucharest is hosting a very active hipster movement with very progressive political views, and is also a place where several innovative projects are coming to life - from shared gardens (gradini urbane) to up-cycling ads banners into bags and wallets (Remesh and upside-down), as well as recycling used cooking oil into bio-diesel (Uleiosul). However, despite the motivation and excellent execution of these innovators, for such initiatives to succeed, Bucharest still lacks a solid support ecosystem that can accelerate change and make it more collaborative. The large majority of the population ignores the existence of these initiatives, because we need more networkers, nurturers, investigators, communicators and resisters that can help social change gain momentum.

I am really looking forward to attend the Futurespotters workshop because I believe it will be a great occasion to mobilize more people to embrace the global movement for change that both Babele and EdgeRyders are nurturing and promoting. Finally, I would be delighted to propose a session on social strategy to help initiatives consider the key aspects that can make them successful.

So, how are you contributing to change things for the better? If you’re not already signed up in this commnity, please do so, leave your comment below and let’s share our experiences to start playing a more active role today.


The canal versus the reservoir

Hi Manu, and officially welcome to Edgeryders!

I can totally relate to the illustration of roles you shared. Actually, our own theory of change is based on building spaces in which these roles can be better supported by a community of peers. Community management is a little bit of each, and here’s an inspiration from the secret lives of community managers. Eliminate the word corporate and makes for a decent read.

About what is missing or needs to happen so that Bucharest social change can coalesce into an ecosystem… I am thinking about that too, but I’m very new to the scene and don’t want to throw an uninformed opinion. So I’m more curious what others here think…? What is missing to become stronger as the sum of initiatives? 

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My Secret Sauce(ɔ) to community management & introvert networks

Disclaimer: I am no full time online community manager. I like to think of myself as problem solver - but that really is for others to judge. I am aware I will be preaching to the lambish in a harsh tone. Sorry about that @Noemi . @Hegazy @hazem I think this could feed into some of the considerations that you nicely bring up in the networking visualization*. With the book coming up ( @Nadia ) I thought I’d try to throw in a provocative minority opinion, and see if this will get us somewhere.

After I listened to the article linked above I thought about the issue for a while. Then some more. Then I started writing my take on the issue, but decided it would not reach the people I want to reach somewhere on page 4 or so. So here is the simplified short form.

The secret lies in:

  1. Finding one or more introverts deeply engaged in an issue.

  2. Then getting a signal out of them that carries the detail and reasoning to make another introvert understand the problem and emotionally commit.

  3. Transmitting the signal through a network of extroverts without breaking it.

  4. Detecting the special way some introvert in a closet frowns at the message - and correctly discerning that this means he/she is on the brink of committing ten or more years of his/her life to the issue. Weak signals.

  5. Gently and extremely considerately nudge the addressed introvert towards the other introverts. If that does not work, understanding which case can be helped by what kind of pressure (hint: only 1 in 10 can).

Sounds simple right? Just 5 steps to world domination…

The trick is that each of the steps has requirements the respective subjects will by default not do, or do in a very, very bad way. If you don’t feel offended by this sentence - this is highly likely true for you as well. Sorry. Please do feel offended, this is not going to work in anyone’s comfort zone (or it would be happening all the time). I’ll explain each of the steps in a little more detail. Just to rub it in.

  1. If you fail at the first step the game ends there. It can’t be skipped. As I am talking to extrovert community managers**, you need to start with finding an introvert. This will be hard for many of you because the last time you saw one is “the unpopular kid” in school. After this compulsory community, most strong extros mingle with other strong extros - and intros almost vanish from their life as it is awkward to have one between 8 other extros. Imagine the unpopular kid did not vanish, but once in a while checked your social network accounts in the last couple of years, and just shook his/her head at what you were doing. How misguided. How superficial. Most of the intros time however went into building self esteem over (failed attempts at) solving some ridiculously complicated, almost impossible problem.

How do you find this person? It is hard. You can look through your network all you want - it is full of other extros. And they are isolated. Especially, the powerful and strong intros. What are you to do? Ring random doorbells? Not quite, but searching for activities that would attract introverts may help (certain music or movies are a strong cue if they apply to your culture). In short: Go where other people (especially you and your friends) don’t like to go, and see who is there. Listen and watch for weak signals. Another method would be to bring a couple of your extrovert friends to a relatively random crowd, and then be very extrovert in everyone’s face. The ones that are running away are the ones you’re looking for.

This can be easier and usually much faster to do on/with the internet. Actually, if you end up in a place that you don’t understand, and people behave strangely - chances are you stumbled upon a community of mild intros. The strong introvert is like a Yeti. It leaves big footsteps but is rarely seen in person.

Sometimes a mild intro may be the gatekeeper of one or more strong intros. Thus getting to the real powerful connections is always a two step process. First you have to win trust and show you can engage an intro on their terms. Then you get into their sanctum. Having intro-respected people who will vow for your integrity makes things easier as you progress. But remember, you are in a different ecosystem that has different requirements and different dynamics. Okay, this was long - because you have to get it right or there is no point.

  1. If you have an issue and found your introvert, you will have to find out this introverts needs. For that you’ll have to understand in quite some detail what he/she is trying to achieve. Then discuss or observe how the work is conducted. If you can think of ways to improve the workflow you could carefully put them on the table, mostly to watch why and how they will be declined. Assume an intro will be too shy to tell you about the real motivation, so watch for weak signals on that. Networking / collaboration opportunities to be may be be ignored (often because they don’t mix with the work mode). Carefully feel around why each opportunity is not taken, and let the explanations stand for now. We’ll come to the emotional commitment in point 4.

  2. The “without breaking it” part is crucial. I have done and attended quite a bit of interviews with conventional main stream media on scientific topics. Almost without fail, they disfigure the message - not seldom making exactly the mistake you explicitly implored them not to do. Less mainstream media (introvert niches) usually fares better. In the age of exact copy&paste or digital recording options this can be improved a lot. Just make sure whatever happens, the original detailed data can be quickly found, and you find a combination of cat pictures (transmission) and differential equations (reception) you can both live with.

  3. If you got this far you already have a decent chance at this part. Unfortunately introverts are pretty diverse on some fronts (and blindingly simple on some others) so tread carefully initially. Chances are, if you come across as informed and sincere, and the other intro you have in tow is compatible, the emotional commitment part is not going to be difficult for you. It’ll be more difficult for you to believe someone will have a emotional reaction to such a complicated concept.

Getting yourself to understand the detail necessary to make an informed choice on whom to approach is probably the hard part. Introverts survive deep in specialist niches. Leaving this exact niche because some “shallow new guy” blathers something about it being a good idea is a recipe for disaster. Make a solid case why this is a risk worth taking, and remember the risk is mostly on the specialist. Even though these niches are hard to find it is often smarter to try again somewhere else than to force things. If you did your job well up to here you can often get some very valuable guidance into more appropriate parts of the community. Resist the urge to ask for endorsement if it is not signaled.

  1. I’ll just repeat: 1 in 10!

How many cases did you do already? Less than 5? That would in all likelihood make it a bad idea. Remember intros are generally careful, risk averse people operating in a complicated environment. It is easy to break stuff that won’t be fixable for you.

*People use networks differently - thus networks should look differently to different people. There is no one size fits all. MBTI is probably a good middle ground starting point.

**The introverts can ask me for an “introvert way to world domination” - which I know they won’t. :slight_smile:


Gotta test this out

Was reviewing all the content in the STF Bucharest group and read this carefully this time around. Brilliant advice, have to test this out methodically, since attempts so far have been rather instinctive and messy, making many of the mistakes you mention (extrovert here). Hunt for feminist introverts is ON! :stuck_out_tongue:

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Some hints?

Sorry for getting back to you so late - I didn’t see your post. Here are some more leads for you @Alex_Stef :

  1. Introvert/extrovert are actually relatively blunt tools and not exactly optimal for the job, see e.g. here:

  2. I am not exactly sure if he fits the bill (didn’t know him directly) but he sure smells like a “yeti”: - dig around his network a little more (at least to Taren and Lawrence). He would normally be quietly sitting in his shelf and working away, had he not been a critical contributor to web 2.0. Compare his media impact with that of for example with . Funny enough AO just tweeted about cross-community AMAs - he! But like I say above you want to tread carefully around “yetis”.

  3. If you are looking for female introverts the physics department is usually a reliable refuge. If you want I can give you pointers - you have some really interesting people in over there in the east :). If you’re more looking for feminists (and want to have a good time) then I would recommend sniffing around his site a little. He gives shout-outs like a good networker would and his stuff is hilarious! I could see this stuff being popular with other HSPs/non-mainstream folks. Perhaps you can dig up a worthy for him? You had like the most bad-ass medieval history I know of in Romania, there must be loads of material!

Just found another spice that goes well with the secret sauce

This may also be interesting to @Alberto , particularly the math basics I think.

I had manage to miss the thread!

Wow, @trythis. Wow.

Ok, look. The math is straightforward, and I have known about Axelrod’s tournaments since undergrad. I had not thought about prisoner’s dilemma with error, but I have seen enough evolutionary game theory as a Master student to speak the language.

The introvert stuff, now. That’s quite new to me. I like the intuition that intros are good for the community – I suppose I have been taking it for granted for so far! Bot one thing I find unconvincing: you make it look like it’s some kind of finely tuned social engineering, but that’s impractical. Weak signals by definition get lost in noise, so you are constantly barking upon random trees. To me, the process is more messy, biological, yes, evolutionary. People come together, or not. Sometimes people that are very clearly a good match miss each other, and continue floating in the dark, with nothing much happening. And nothing you can do.

In my experience, all you can do is put yourself on the line, show respect to anyone that floats your way, lead by example and try to build stuff that is important for you personally. But maybe I am an intro myself? I am not shy particularly, but do get along with the big nerds, and many people think I am myself a nerd… which, I suppose is true, at least in part. The “unpopular kids” are pretty cool as far as I’m concerned.

But I do not get this in reference to intros. Are you saying they K-select and extros r-select?

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Was hoping the online blurs boundaries between introvers/ extrov

Me too managed to miss your comment above @trythis.

I have seen time after time how someone completely showing extrovertism online was in fact an introvert. And that’s something we are pretty good at doing - nurturing diversity. Also, some people think introverts make for great or better community managers! (statement example)

The bigger challenge, the way I see it and maybe your comment was aimed at that - is enabling networks offline. And that’s where I’m taking your advice in full… And I have a feeling that it takes a different combination of network weaving skills offline than online. Then there is the cost of attention - working with large numbers makes it more expensive to to the balancing act in your points 1-5…

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Yes, every medium makes it different

You made a very good point there! I should probably edit this in the above. How much you are inclined to engage with others, and what it does for you psychologically, depends strongly on the medium I think. Some birds can’t fly, some can’t swim, some can’t run very well. So, yes, online people can be quite different (and I think sometimes have to because they play a different role) from how they would be on a podium, over an office table, or over a coffee. I don’t have much literature at hand to support this claim, but I think it is obvious to most people who think about it. I would say that very much has to do with intuitions / gut reactions, fears, etc. that we cannot avoid as social animals, but we can strongly reduce if we switch to a much more abstract form of communication.

Also please note that the terms “introvert / extrovert” technically don’t exactly describe the groups I want to describe - but it is fairly close, and a fairly understandable term.

Not truly random

First off: Do treat this as a hypothesis based on shoddy anecdotal evidence. I make it look like a “finely tuned social engineering” trick - so that my intended audience (who does not enjoy digging into the detailed nuts and bolts, long lists of exceptions, etc.) can be reached. In the end it boils down to an unsupported claim on my side. If I had written out the long version (not the 5 step click-bait style) full of “ifs” and “probablies” who would have read it? I tried to break out of that circle.

Re “the math post”: Not exactly the same issue, but something in the same vain I think (survival strategies). I just thought it could be good for you to have it on the radar (if you didn’t already) for a variety of reasons. No new magic. End of story.

Re survival strategies:

Yes, in my simplified way I was saying extro = r-strategists, intro = K-strategists. But please remember that what I tried to say with simple words would have been more accurately: A group of people that shares many traits with extros also shares many aspects of their survival strategy with r-strategists, and accordingly for intros and K-strategy. An examplary dynamic would be: the introvert saying: “I knew XY before it was cool.”, implying: “I can read weak signals (next big thing), which is highly correlated with being an introvert. I do not have to care about other people’s opinion - because I am an introvert. “Cool” attracts extroverts whom I don’t want to mingle with because they are relatively homogeneous and I am way different from them in a desirable sense (I am special). I live in a non-competitive niche, so as long as you don’t piss me off I am not threat to you. If you do piss me off (e.g. because you wan to encroach on my “territory” with your extrovert tactics) I can employ tactics you cannot use (e.g. because you need to stay “cool”) to ruin your day.”

Re random: In ecological systems there is very little random about whom you find where and how they interact with each other. Humans have filled functionally different niches (as different as say a squirrel and a goose), and accordingly adopted different survival strategies. Some rely more on a group cohesion and conformism, some (especially observable during speciation) actively try to distance themselves from the middle of the road strategies (which usually come with strong competitive pressure). Thus if people are somewhat rational about their networking, they will end up in pretty different ends of the network. This probably happens very much in an “evolution-like” process, after many, many interactions with varying degree of “stickiness”. Even the varying probabilities for certain consequences may not be drastically different, the large numbers of interactions that eventually guide you to your position in the network make this effect quite significant in the end.

What I should probably stress again is that the simple click-baity recipy above is not a sure-fire way to build networks on the fringes. It is more an attempt / minority opinion for raising your chances from 0.001 to 0.01 (under circumstances XYZ).

Does that make things clearer or cloudier?

Agreed then

Yes, I get this now.  You summarized my whole point:

the simple click-baity recipy above is not a sure-fire way to build networks on the fringes. It is more an attempt / minority opinion for raising your chances from 0.001 to 0.01 (under circumstances XYZ).

This is important, because you can rely on the recipe working its magic only when the number are large. Something that increases the probability of a successful engage by 0.01 requires at least 1,000 runs to confirm (for reasonably low variance). As I write this, Edgeryders only has 906 accounts which contributed any content, and are therefore engageable; so, we are probably unable to parse that kind of signal from noise. We might be able to parse a probability = + 0.05, and definitely a probability = +. 0.1.

Mine above is also a back-of-the-envelope simplification. But it does carry home an important aspect of doing this stuff: sometimes you have a solid hypothesis, which is testable in principle but not in practice because small numbers and expensiveness of evidence. Sometimes we are rational, but still cannot do better than random and follow our own gut feelings.

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Yep, when you used the word “evolutionary” I was pretty certain we meant the same thing. Some things just need more time, and can’t be shown in every quartely report. :slight_smile:

Let me throw in an off topic, but apposite idea for OpenCare: You will need to communicate similar issues with “the crowd”. I found it fascinating to look at the world through the lens of micromorts (see also: Spiegelhalter), and QALY (quality-adjusted life year).

Practice understanding other projects’ challenges

and have a go at ‘what if’ scenarios. It’s so easy to get stuck into one’s project obstacles (and into a discourse about those obstacles) that some relatively easy or available partial fixes remain hidden in plain sight.

That’s not to say there’s always an easy way out, but there is always a different way of formulating a challenge. Getting mentally unstuck, even without finding a clear solution, can be a lifesaver.

Social entrepreneurship can sometimes be about survival, so getting through it alive is, at times, enough. I can’t wait to find out about Babele’s experience with crowdsourced business strategy for social enterprises and discover more reasons to open up projects, challenges, ambitions. To me, the #Futurespotters workshop is a free card to play with my project as if it weren’t my own - full flexibility, dare to revise the basics, no excuses.

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