Oana Bouraoui is the Co-founder and Vice president of Romanian IT, an NGO that aims to bring together the Romanians in tech worldwide and empower them to work together in order to bring about positive change.
Designer, Social entrepreneur, Forbes 30 under 30, full time human being.
The first part of my life was about fitting in, doing the “right thing”.
Growing up in post-communist Romania we were thought that being different is not allowed, that generating your own ideas is wrong. We all needed to be equals, thinking for yourself and competitiveness were traits completely discouraged. Basically being creative would make you an outcast.
That wasn’t the easiest environment to grow up in for somebody like me who is always asking uncomfortable questions, can’t stand still for more than 2 minutes and always wants to do things the other way around.
But, as society encouraged me, I grew up aiming to be normal. Went to college, got a good job, an apartment and I got married. That’s what everybody else was doing. I was afraid to make any kind of mistakes, step out of the “perfect life” recipe.
At some level I never related to any of that and I got to the point when I had the feeling I was living somebody else’s life. I always knew that there must be something more than that and that. What helped is that I always was extremely curious. I read everything I could get my hands on, explored everything that spiked my interest, from drawing, boxing to handcrafting. In my spare time from my marketing job I thought myself graphic design and how to code and became pretty good at it.
I left Romanian at 26, confused about what to do and what should come next. The only thing I was sure about is that I needed a change and to gain some more perspective on life. I felt I was stuck and that I wasn’t seeing things clearly enough. Together with my husband, we decided to move to France. We both needed a new challenge, and for me moving to Paris to work as a designer & developer was pretty exciting and scary at the time.
It turned out to be the beginning of an amazing personal and professional journey and the first step to the second part of my life.
This part of my life is about finding my voice and shouting as loud as I can.
I truly believe there are no coincidences in life and that we were all meant for something.
After I moved to Paris I wanted to become an excellent web designer and I enrolled into a high-end private school there. I quit after 3 months, just didn’t feel like the right next move, it wasn’t meaningful enough.
Meanwhile I met Valentin Maior and Vlad Pop. Living abroad allowed us to get a wider perspective on things and made us think a lot about how we can help Romania grow and give something back.
We saw what being surrounded by the right people and having access to mentors had done for us and how it had accelerated our growth as professionals and individuals. We knew that was the way we could make a difference.
Together we founded Romanian IT – the global community of Romanians in tech. It all started from our desire of leaving things a little bit better than we found them.
It all started from the idea that connecting people could shift mentalities, create opportunities and set a cycle of innovation in motion. We took that idea and and started to dream big. “Once your mind stretches it can never go back to it’s old dimension” – Oliver Wendell Holmes. This is something I live by.
We aim to engage the next generation of Romanian shakers and doers worldwide and encourage them to take their ideas and make them happen. We set out to build a global framework, a support system that will allow them to do so and in the process also help Romania develop. The first step was to reach out to the Romanian tech Diaspora and make sure they get reconnected with what is happening back home.
That is how all positive change comes about. Bringing talented people together, empower them to be their best and give them the tools they need to become positive change agents.
We had never started a community before, nonetheless a global one. Did we know how we were going to do it to make it a reality? Did we know where to start? No. But it didn’t stop us because we showed up and found ways to make it happen and that’s all that matters. A big part of the process is to trust yourself and your instinct.
Trusting that process was a necessary step to making this vision a reality. We adopted a DIY approach,
meaning stop waiting for circumstances to be perfect and have a clear picture of where u’re going. Start with the small things you know you can do next and start building from there. Things will get clearer with time.
In less than 6 months we managed to gather more than 1.000 members worldwide and to launch 6 Romanian IT local hubs (Paris, London, Manchester, Munchen, Vienna and San Francisco). We are planning to launch 5 more by the end of the year. It never seized to amaze us how many amazing, talented Romanians out there where sharing our vision and were just waiting for an opportunity to get involved and make a difference.
After you manage to go trough the first bumpy steps it alters the perception of what is actually possible if you set your mind to it. There were of course a lot of ups and downs. In order for our work to be authentic we need to be ourselves. We permanently questioned our leadership and we needed to say yes to those things that scared us the most. Leadership is sometimes just showing up, doing the work and lead by example.
As the lead community builder my biggest challenge was that I needed to be grounded enough in who I am and what I care about in order to make a real contribution and so that people can truly empathize whit the message I am sending. I learned it’s not about having the all the answers, it’s about finding those that can help u along the way.
A few months ago both Valentin and I decided it was time to go back home, we both felt that in was the next step in order to continue this mission that we started. We managed to surround ourselves with amazing mentors and change makers witch inspire us to do more everyday and help us put together all the pieces of the puzzle.
I feel that we have just begun and the best is yet to come. Now I have the courage to make my own mistakes and not be afraid of the consequences. Now I know that curiosity is my biggest asset.
Today I am divorced, moved back to Romania and I started writing my own story.