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Passion and partnerships for impact in Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Zur Oren

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Through the OurCity initiative, Fondation Botnar is working with cities around the world to transform them into places where young people’s voices and needs are prioritised. In this blog, Zur Oren, Partnerships Coordinator, reflects on the partnerships under OurCluj and his recent visit to Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

Cluj-Napoca stands out for its prestigious academic ecosystem and innovations, an active and engaged youth community, and thriving civil society. Mayor Emil Boc has defined the city’s focus: to create an eco-city rather than an ego city, which is setting Cluj-Napoca up for success.

The visit to Cluj-Napoca this past summer was my first since March 2020, and I was grateful for having the chance to visit the city and meet our partners in person after a long period of only virtual connection.

During the meetings with our partners we discussed challenges and opportunities that have come from the pandemic. Photo: Roland Vaczi.

Fondation Botnar and us share the same passion for experimenting for the benefit of  young people and improving education in the ways possible today. Not only was it a pleasure to share and develop ideas based on mutual values and hopes, but the feeling of “the possible” and “the doable” that comes from working in a team was powerful and encouraging.

Oana Buzatu, Innovation Strategy Officer, Cluj-Napoca StartupCity at Global StartupCities initiative.

It was exciting to hear and see all the progress of the projects that are part of OurCluj. This year, a study on the needs and opportunities of young people (LEAP) was finalised, presented, and endorsed by the city council and has become a building block for strategy development and an excellent example of an evidence-based approach in city development. Download the report here to find out more.

Another partner, Wello, has been focusing on tackling obesity and promoting nutrition and healthy lifestyles. They have also developed a unique avatar that children can learn from and in the future speak to about living healthy lives. Wello is planning to scale the project from Cluj to the national level in the coming months. 

I was also pleased to hear that a mentoring community for school pupils has been created by EduAlert where young people can connect with volunteers and get support in their school learning journey. The community of Cluj is so strong and committed, but someone has to take the initiative and coordinate such volunteering opportunities, and I’m grateful to EduAlert for doing so. EduAlert has also worked hard to provide evidence on preventing school dropouts among young people – learnings that can be picked up in other cities in Romania and around the world as education systems are shifting to virtual spaces.  

Some of the challenges that young people have faced in Cluj-Napoca as a result of the COVID19 pandemic are documented in creative ways. Illustrations by: Horatiu Coman, Stefan Sebastian, Bernat Zsofia.

It was inspiring to see how MagicHelp managed to develop more partnerships despite the pandemic reality. The platform connects a supportive community of service providers with families of children with severe illnesses. It has increased its reach to new sectors and now provides many more offers to its community. 

Finally, the (in)visible social study continued to support OurCluj by engaging young artists, documenting and delivering meaningful learnings for our engagement in a creative way.

Young artists from Artvistory documenting meetings and experiences. Illustrations by: Bernat Zsofia, Evelina Grigorean.

At Fondation Botnar, we are in the process of learning and understanding the city and its innovation ecosystems. This involves asking many questions and discussing with our partners what’s already available, what’s missing, and how we can foster collaboration to maximise impact. 

Once we understand the ecosystem value chain better, we will work with our partners to design a coordinated intervention that will improve the wellbeing of young people. It will address the innovation ecosystem bottlenecks, leverage this wonderful community’s strengths, and support Cluj-Napoca in becoming the field of dreams for young people.

The Future Now.
For Young People

Fondation Botnar
St. Alban-Vorstadt 56
4052 Basel
+41 61 201 04 74