Beyond the Community Service – Can you Make a Difference with What you got?

My wife is originally from Romania. Recently she told me that her younger brother, Vlad, who lives in Bucharest, has been forced out of his job, presumably because his less-educated boss felt threatened by Vlad becoming too good at his job and possibly getting promoted. Whatever the case may have been, my wife was really upset about the whole situation, especially because dignified and respectable jobs are very difficult to get in Romania. Most of the time, good jobs go to people who know people. That’s the way things often work in Romania. It’s not always based on merit.

Now, my wife’s brother is a well-educated young man who is eager to work hard, learn new skills, and wants to make a meaningful contribution. In fact, he has a master’s degree in arts from one of the most prestigious universities in Bucharest, Romania. Not only that, but he is a great artist, too, and we have one of his works at out apartment in Boston! Unfortunately, his arts degree is not technical enough for most employers in Bucharest. This makes it incredibly hard and frustrating to find dignified, respectable work.

When, I learned about the situation with my wife’s brother losing his job and how disheartening it was for him and their whole family, we started brainstorming various ideas and coming up with possible solutions to help her brother get back on track. Now, clearly, it’s not my job or responsibility to help my wife’s brother to find a job, but I saw an opportunity to do something meaningful and help out this young man who is eager to work hard, learn, and grow.

It occurred to me that I was actually in a good position to help Vlad learn new technical skills, gain real experience, while also earning a decent living, at least by Romanian standards.   What was it that I was going to offer Vlad?   Well, it turns out I could offer him a real job!

I was working on my own start-up, a consumer intelligence platform for homeowners in search of a home remodeling company they can really trust.  Since, there was a lot of work to be done in order to accelerate the pace of growth of the new platform, I realized that I could actually employ Vlad in a win-win sort of way. Granted, my start-up did not have any VC backing, at least not yet. It was 100% self-funded, bootstrapped venture, but it was a real corporation I co-founded last year in Massachusetts. Fortunately, my company, although still in an early prototype stage, already enjoyed some modest, early revenue, which has made it possible to employ Vlad and pay him decent wage for his work.

But, before I could have Vlad work for us, we needed to overcome a few challenges; first of all, Vlad’s English was rather limited and in order for him to work for me, I would have to rely on my wife to act as a translator and an intermediary. At first, my wife thought I was kidding, but eventually she realized that I really meant it, although I was a student myself, and she agreed to help bring Vlad on board. We had a few training sessions and soon enough, we were able to have Vlad become a real contributor to my start-up. We were helping him out along the way by providing timely, ongoing feedback on his work and helping him improve along the way. Vlad currently continues to work for my start-up and he is regaining his confidence, plus he has learned some valuable skills that will help him in whatever he may decide to pursue next. The bottom line is that we found a way for him to make a meaningful contribution to our company, while also earning a decent living and maintaining his dignity. In terms of ethical framework and learnings from the class, I believe we were able to strike a nice balance of doing something good and empowering, while also keeping it sustainable. By teaching a man how to fish for himself and offering him dignified work, we achieved two goals; we helped my wife’s brother and her family, while also accelerating the rate of growth of my company.

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