• digitalsocietypodcast

George Gurescu uses communications to bridge otherwise disconnected islands

Do you know the role of a communications specialist also known as a community builder? Have you ever wondered what it's like to work in an NGO? George Gurescu is a journalist and communications specialist and he believes that the non-governmental environment is an incredible source of stories. Stories about the good done unconditionally, because that's how it is in the DNA of organizations. He works at ARC (Association for Community Relations), an environment where passion is the main engine. “All the NGOs I work with are driven by passion and their desire to make a change in their community or in their country. And this passion is quite contagious. I ‘joined’ the NGO/communication field without having a certain experience or know-how, but slowly, the passion I saw in the people around me, gave me that thirst to find out more and to explore. They inspire me. Knowing that there are so many people driven by a force of doing good, makes me go on. I want to find out why they do this and how they do this”, tells George.

But nowadays it means staying too much online for George. Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, some of his habits or rituals have disappeared and he tried to find some “online replacements”. He feels a bit frustrated, but he is more afraid of the pandemic, he says, so he attempts to cope with it. This pandemic tested our capacity, for sure. ARC has decided to create an Emergency Fund in March, so that they could help communities in need. They worked with a network of local organizations and hospitals – to find out what their needs are, what other campaigns are present in that community, to ensure that they don’t double the effort.

From George’s stories, you can learn how to find meaning in your work, how to pursue your passion and curiosity, and, hopefully, his story will inspire you to give back by getting involved or taking your involvement to the next level.

What is the role of a communications specialist, a.k.a., a community builder, in discovering the stories of communities?

A communications specialist is a curious person. He/She is not smarter or more of a specialist than others are, he/she is a person that wants to see, to explore and to write about the fabric that keeps a community together. Therefore, my role here is to write about this fabric. This fabric is made up of people that decide to establish an NGO, because they want a better community or a better school for their children; is made up of other NGOs that want to empower informal leaders or individuals that want to change something in their hometown. In other words, what keeps a community together is trust. I am trying to find as many ways as possible to express and to show this trust.

There are countless examples in our communities, and one story leads to another, and so on. There is a huge treasury of stories that – through communication – can build or strengthen our community. All I need is time to write them down.

Why is your role indispensable in an organization like ARC (Association for Community Relations)?

I don’t think my role is indispensable, and nobody should think that. What I think is that ARC believes in the same things as me. We think that if we tell stories about people who do good in their community, more people will follow. More people will start trusting those around them, and with this trust, we can change our communities.

How did you and the ARC team go from communication to community?

I believe the two are intertwined. You can’t have a community without strong communication within. We can’t talk about resilient communities if people don’t talk about their fears and share their hopes. Communication is an indispensable tool in building a community.

The ARC team developed a network of Community Foundations Program. Why do you think we need it?

Yes, yes and yes. The Community Foundations Program was actually the program for which I was hired. I had countless occasions to see community foundations in action as well as see them do good for their communities, besides their role is vital in our cities. I mean, these organizations are a bit different than a regular NGO. They have the role of facilitator for good. They find resources for those that want to change something in the community. They create a local infrastructure for people to get involved and for NGOs to find the support they need.

I see them as local actors for change. I will put an emphasis on local, because in Romania, we have this tendency of believing that everything good or bad comes from the capital or from big cities. Well, these organizations show you that every community has its own resources for change. Community foundations create the perfect platform for people to believe in their city, to trust their neighbors and, most importantly, themselves.

Community foundations (CF) work on the very fabric I mentioned in the beginning. They work with trust.

Another thing that I see quite special here is that these organizations strengthen one’s feeling of pride in one’s community and reinforces the sense of belonging.

From your experience, what would you say are the main engines of sustainable social change? What is most valuable about it? And what is its main vulnerability at the moment?

Sustainable change can’t happen without the involvement of all parties/stakeholders. We talked about community foundations as local actors for change, these organizations do an amazing job, but this isn’t enough if we want sustainable change. For example, these organizations managed to raise 1,7 mil EURO from private donors and local companies. This is a huge amount of money, especially since these organizations are small (with 3-4 employees), and they’ve done an amazing job in the past three months.

But will this effort bring an irreversible change within the community? Not likely, because they can’t replace all the stakeholders therein. The good news is that CFs are seen as a model and other stakeholders are looking at their actions and good practices and replicate it in their micro communities. More and more companies are seeing their CSR budget as a resource for sustainable change, and not as a band-aid for urgent causes. Private donors see the impact of long term commitment towards charitable causes, and are more inclined to submit to a monthly contribution, rather than a one-time aid.

As I said, CF’s are actors of change, but we need more than actors to produce a movie, right? (isn’t this a funny comparison?)

I’m truly optimistic, and I’m sure that our society, in the long run, will evolve towards a more equitable and safe place. People start to realize that politicians are important, and turnout has been increasing in recent years; civic involvement is quite strong, we see a lot of grassroot initiatives appearing in small cities or rural regions, so there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic.

From what you have learned listening to and observing communities of practice, what is the role of technology in creating and supporting sustainable social change?

I don’t want to enter a field I am not really familiar with, but from what I saw at the NGO level, we are working with technology that is seen as an engine for change. We are using social media platforms to connect with our communities and to disseminate our messages; we have created instruments that help us reach vulnerable regions and improve