I left my country at the age of nine. I spent more time abroad than I did in Romania. I was raised differently and I have come to appreciate diversity, to respect other people’s life and their cultures. That is precisely why I find it very important for others to go through this exercise, so they realize that, in order to complete a task, we need other people around us. We can never do anything alone. This is what they teach you here at a corporate level. If you want to work in Canary Wharf, or somewhere else, you should know they never expect you to go on a mission impossible by yourself. One of the qualities required here is to be a team player. You cannot make it if you are not tolerant, because the norm in a place like London is to have a team consisting of a variety of people.
How do you get to the performance of achieving a high level of tolerance?
Everything started for me in a natural way. At the age of nine I did not know how to set my mind up and accept the reality I was living in. To have an open mind when confronted with the situation of dealing with a multicultural environment is a quality specific to mature and rational people. If you do not keep an open mind and if you are not aware that others might see things differently to yourself, you will achieve nothing. One has to have some principles, but they must always be measured against the question whether the other one could not be right even if he believed something that you might find silly. To see the big picture, you always have to take a step back – as the English like to say – and you need to put yourself in his shoes in order to understand where that person you are working with comes from.
Do you think that the family was a great support for you?
Yes, I think that my family was of great help to me. My father worked as a diplomat for 15-20 years and he realized that he had to show me something different so he took me to places. London came much later. At the age of nine I moved with my father to Cairo, Egypt, an unlikely place for a child like me to be brought up in. We went there because my father was on diplomatic mission so we spent four years in Egypt. To grow up there from the age of nine to the age of thirteen was pretty weird and different in comparison to the environment some children are being raised today. The fact that I made something out of the time spent there was due to unconscious behaviour more than anything else since conscious abilities are limited at that age. My folks insisted on telling me: “Since you are here, do learn Arabic. It’s something else.” They exposed me to the new things that were to be found there. As a Romanian, it was unusual for me to go to school and having to communicate in Arabic. I went to a British school, but 90% of my colleagues were Egyptians. During the breaks, I was forced to learn Arabic because it was the language they spoke. But I also learned that they were very welcoming people. Since I was different, they would adapt to me by telling me for instance “We do this. But because you are different, we are going to explain you how this works like”. They introduced me to that world where a different person integrates in a new environment by learning what to do when dealing with a more diverse society than the one he comes from.
Is there a close connection between your life and your current professional life?
I identify with this organisation (GRASP) because it is exactly about the story of my life: moving from place to place and integrating myself as a Romanian in an international environment that was different.
What plans do you have right now?
We started with the idea that we need to create a community. When I began working with the team I decided to deal with the networking, the shaping of the community. The basic idea of GRASP is to bring together Romanians from different professional backgrounds. We started with people working in finance in Canary Wharf and we expand our network by contacting various groups we know; therefore, we are growing every year. The numbers are not important, though. The point is that it works and people see the value of networking with likeminded peers that come from the same background; this is what pleases us mostly. GRASP is like a catalyst that brings people together to create beautiful things.
Moreover, I do not believe in the idea of meeting people without a purpose. People must feel there is a reason that brought them together, so all our events have a specific theme. We have projects we get involved in. One of them is called Meet a pro and it encourages the dialogue between generations, between the generation of Romanian professionals who managed to get somewhere by acquiring expertise in their fields and years of experience in working abroad and the generation of those at the beginning, such as students or young professionals.
Should Romania be a product and should you be responsible for selling it to a lot of people, where would you start?
Us, the Romanians, we have an outstanding quality that is not common among nations – adaptability. But there is also the fact that we do not give up when things become difficult.
Apart from business and the activities you cover in Canary Wharf for the professionals’ community, how would you define yourself? Do you have a life motto as a guiding principle?
My life motto is to discover the world. I would like to believe that by the end of my life I will have visited as many diverse places as I could and that I learned from them all. When planning a trip, it matters a lot for me to go to a new place in order to learn how other people live and what their values are, so that I can take some of that, put it somewhere in my backpack and head my own way – as if I lived the life of a nomad in a cultural sense. This is one of my passions.
Do you believe in going beyond your limits?
I believe that we all need to do this. It is in our nature to strech our own limits. If I did not believe in going beyond limits, I would not have worked in the technology field. I am trained as an engineer and I work in technology because I believe this field transformed our lives.
What are your interactions with Romania?
It is very important for me to keep in contact with the country. Even if I did not spend a lot of time in Romania, I feel Romanian and I consider that I grew up as a Romanian, but I am an open minded Romanian, who can learn from wherever possible and can enrich himself with many values and customs from other places. I travel to Romania several times a year, where I visit family, friends, and I am even interested in opening a business.
What do you think about change in Romania?
When in Romania, I look at the half full glass, I try to identify what is to be admired from what has changed. One can always focus on the negative side of things, but I think it is essential for a rational person with a healthy mindset to open his eyes and also look for the positive side. You must look at what changed for the better in Romania and for the opportunity to contribute where nothing has been done yet. It is exactly what we do at GRASP. Our purpose is twofold: on one hand, we want to create an awareness movement in order to show the benefits of shaping a mindset that changes Romania and leads to the inclusion of ethnic diversity in all environments; on the other, we want to bring over as many quality people from abroad as possible, that can have a say in designing policies for implementing multiculturalism. For instance, one of my ideas is to bring over someone holding the position of Head of Diversity in a department of a large company in Canary Wharf in order to speak about how to create policies within a company and make people with different backgrounds feel part of the same system. Moreover, I would also like to invite people who created public policies at the state macro level in order to produce inclusion that provides individuals from minority backgrounds with equal rights to the others.
Where do you think that the attitude of rejecting cooperation comes from?
People want to be noticed for what they do as individuals because they have never been encouraged to collaborate. Take the educational system and the wording of requiring students to answer questions – “Laura, show us what you know!” or of examining students – “Laura, please repeat today’s lesson.” The educational system here, which I am more used to, encourages students to interact with peers, therefore students are not marked for their ability to repeat almost word by word the lesson, but also evaluated in terms of interaction with other members of the team and contribution to the learning process of the others; to be evaluated for helping others to accomplish something. I think the key is to value this quality as a child and successfully use it over one’s lifetime.
Our purpose is to dismantle sayings like “make sure the grass is never greener in your neighbour’s backyard”, or “put a sticks in someone’s wheels” because we want to encourage a constructive way of looking at things, that will enable cooperation between the different professional groups or various entities that at the end of the day have the same goal: to show the world that positive things can be made. Romania has valuable people and we could create something important if we joined forces.