Five Questions with Corina Murafa, Managing Director of Ashoka in Romania, and former GDN grantee, who has always focused, in her various professional engagements, on producing long-lasting positive change in Romania. She is passionate about public policy, especially in the energy and sustainability field, and was involved with a GDN global research project on governance (basic education quality assurance systems in southern Europe), in 2011.
Q. Romania is possibly one of the poorest countries in the European Union and is going through several governance challenges. How do you envision its future?
Wow, that’s a tough question. I think the best insight into what Romania is facing is comprised in the latest Systematic Country Diagnostics that the World Bank has done for Romania, which I also contributed to. It is a document which is drafted by a huge independent team of the Bank, without being influenced by the national government, which makes it very independent and reliable. You can read it here. In a nutshell, unless we improve governance, none of the areas of deep need and systemic impact (e.g.: education, healthcare) will improve. I believe our system is becoming less opaque with the entry of new political parties since 2016, and estimate that by 2020, we will have 25% “reformed” parliamentarians. I see more and more opportunity co-created by entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, civic and social entrepreneurs, and increasingly there will be policy intrapreneurs joining. I think our institutions are strong enough to resist the bullets that our politicians are trying to shoot into the rule of law in Romania. Citizens are more and more aware, informed and connected, and we will not condone another dictatorship. I do fear the populist/anti-EU factor, but I hope it will be contained over the next ten years.
Q. You are passionate about public policy, and even started a fact checking platform. What role does research play in your life?
Although I rarely work as an active researcher nowadays, I’ve continued to collaborate on research projects, particularly on energy policy, with the Center for Democracy Studies, a think-tank associated to the Babes Bolyai University. In my daily job, which is to run the local office of Ashoka (the largest global network for supporting social entrepreneurship), I am pushing hard, internally and externally, for a fact-based approach to everything that we do. We are in possession of a wealth of data on social entrepreneurship and social innovation and we could do a much better job of working on it. This is why I was one of the strongest internal promoters of the setup of an Ashoka Learning and Action Center, based in Berlin, which has been established, and is now actively drawing lessons of innovation from our network of 3,600 fellows around the world, on ecosystems for social innovation, the mechanics and evolution of social entrepreneurship, barriers and opportunities, emerging trends, etc. We hope to grow this center and are actively fundraising for it. In the work that I do at Ashoka Romania, we work with partners on research (for instance, the Changemakers Map with FASE and the National Report on Social Entrepreneurship in Romania with Babes Bolyai), but I always kept a close eye on validating the methodology and data collection techniques.
Q. What has been your association with GDN and its mission?
Unfortunately, after the project I did in 2011 with the Romanian Academic Society and GDN, I haven’t been actively involved with any other GDN opportunities, although I disseminated the results of that research many years afterwards in public policy trainings I did for various public officials, in a public policy handbook I co-authored, etc. I think I always used, in my way of thinking about public administration and political economy, the theoretical framework that underpinned the whole GDN global research project (long and short route of accountability, principal – agent theory, etc.) and I also got to understand a lot of the activities I was doing as a World Bank advisor/ advisor to the Prime Minister through that lens.
Q. What did you learn from that association, and how does that intersect with your job as the Director of the Ashoka Foundation in Romania today?
This is what I learnt: Use data, dig deep into them, base your conclusions on facts, do not jump to conclusions, understand the political economy dimensions of the work that you’re doing, power equilibria, etc. Be innovative and creative when data is lacking – come up with proxies, approximations, indexes.
Q. What benefits do global research networks such as GDN bring, and how can they stay relevant in a changing world?
In theory, they could be immensely beneficial, as long as the research they bring to light ends up informing policy and practice. It could be relevant if GDN paired its efforts with a network of practitioners (e.g.: a global social entrepreneurs network like Ashoka) to reinforce each other’s strengths, learn from each other, draw lessons from one another, and thus create more of a “think – do” structure, which I think may be more relevant for today’s changing world. Social entrepreneurs fix many problems intuitively and their work reveals immensely interesting insights into the future of our world, if only it were analysed “systematically.” Another question I wish the GDN community examined is how to deal with the increasing polarization in our societies, with the rise of populism and extremism and with the fact we’ve done so much progress as societies, we seem to be more divided than ever. What could new forms of participation look like? How could new institutions look? How could we “enfranchise” the “disenfranchised”? These answers require more than intuition – they require premium research. What trends are emerging in our world? Why? How could they be enforced or, on the contrary, counteracted?
In correspondence with Madhuri Dass Woudenberg, Head of Communications, Global Development Network, in January 2019.