Someone's standing out from the Brussels society. A respected voice, a community-builder who easily attracts followers, a talented, strong Romanian who needs to be cherished and motivated to give back to our country! Here's the story of Sabina Ciofu, another one of the many multitasking successful Romanians I had the honor to meet recently, looking to positively change the world!
Name: Sabina Ciofu
Abroad since: 2007
Living in: Brussels
Current occupation: Policy Advisor @ European Parliament; Co-Founder of Gentlewomen's Club; Global Shaper @ World Economic Forum; Senior Editor @ Strife Journal by King's College London
TGR: Sabina, with so many activities in your life, I literally don't know where to begin, so I will just ask about your most preferred role.
SC: That would be the Gentlewomen’s Club, because it’s the baby among the projects, so it needs most attention and work to grow. It’s also the cause closest to my heart, as I’ve always found value and energy in the kind of honest, genuine sisterhood we are trying to promote and encourage. And not lastly, because I think there’s still a long way to go to reach gender equality, and one of the obstacles to that is women not being supportive to other women. So we are working on providing our members with the framework and the tools to be kinder to each other in their professional and personal lives.
There are many similar initiatives lately, looking to boost leadership exposure among women. In your vision, what else do you think is missing, apart from this support you are talking about?
Oh, but we already have amazing female leaders to look up to. Women are now miltiary commanders, top scientists and engineers, heads of state. Glass-ceilings are being broken as we speak and their stories are truly inspiring. There is a quote I love - „you can’t be what you can’t see”. Role models are crucial, they put a face on a dream, they put the possible in any equation.
However, that’s not enough. There’s education, there’s society, there’s culture, there’s legislation that influence just where a woman’s role lies within the world. And it’s the family environment where the key lies for everything good we want to see – who educates, how they educate. Before school and society, you’ll already have an idea of what you are supposed to be.
I dream of a world where all outspoken, outgoing, confident little girls and teenagers are encouraged to be just that. Of a world where there’s no such thing as boys and girls toys in a kids shop. Of a world where we are going to praise men for successfully „juggling” career and kids. And see? Educating perception and fighting prejudice can take a very long time. And that answers your question: there’s nothing we lack, certaintly not on gender comparison level, and that is the exact thing we, as women, need to be aware of.
OK, and this is only a small part of your quest. Please briefly explain each of the projects you are involved in.
My day job is policy advisor for the European Parliament, where I mainly cover EU digital policy and EU-US relations.
In parallel, I’m doing a PhD at King’s College London, where I’m looking into how machine learning and artificial intelligence can reduce cognitive biases in elite decision making.
For my university’s defence studies journal, I am a senior editor, basically helping them out in editing articles and improving my own writing skills in that process.
In Brussels, I am co-organiser of the Young Professionals in Digital Policy, which is exactly what the name says, a network of about 300 people now, whom we connect and bring together regularly.
And I am also part of the Brussels Hub of the Global Shapers network of the World Economic Forum, where we work on local projects to improve the life of the less fortunate in our city.
How do you successfully fit all that in a 24-hour day? With such a busy schedule, do you still have time for yourself?
I make. You make time for what’s important. However, I lack constancy in my out-of-work activities – I trained for and completed a couple of semi-marathons. I love swimming and ballroom dancing. I am also a pretty bad tennis player and I try to also hit the gym sometimes. And when I really want to disconnect and put my phone in a locker for a few hours, then I head to a spa. Brief city trips are also my favourite way of escaping once in a while. But all these are hardly structured or constant. I’m quite spontaneous in my spare time. I don’t like planning that much there, I do things that I feel like doing.
I am very grateful that, despite having a full-time job, I am lucky to have plenty of flexibility that allows me to focus on a lot of things in a day.
This flexible day revolves around one ambitious desire as I can see - to positively influence this world. When you will be in your 70s, what would you prefer to be known for?
I’ll never get to my 70s – not with my kind of lifestyle But I think that is exactly what I would like to be known for, that I’ve influenced some people positively and that I’ve done my little part in making the world a better place than the one I was given.
What also strikes me is your teenage passion for Latin studies... Where did it come from and how did it help in your career path?
My first grade in Latin was 3.75 (out of 10), in my first year of high school – at least that didn’t go into the official records! I was one of those nerdy kids with straight 10 marks and I still remember calling my mum and telling her very proudly that I have two 9s in Latin. To which she said: It’s just Latin, you could have gotten 10.
Jokes aside, it was 100% my teacher’s “fault”. I had an amazing, inspiring, motivating teacher that saw potential in me and exploited it so gracefully. She had a favourite girl in every grade, for decades now, and we are one big family of Latin-lovers.
When I got into Cambridge to study Classics, my teacher received a letter in Latin from my Director of Studies, thanking her for preparing me to that level. I cannot thank her enough, I spent 8 years of my life studying Latin, literature, philosophy, art – it really structures your way of thinking a lot.
You have many reasons to never forget your Romanian background, don't you?
I love my country, both through the nature of my job and through my personal upbringing. I’m very political by nature and with a strong sense of civic duty. I’ve always been close to what’s happening back home. It’s an often frustrating and disappointing journey of things improving slowly. Too slowly...
I remember seeing the low participation rate at the last general election and telling myself that I’ll just never vote again, that’s it. And then January protests happened and I realised it’s not just frustrating for me, but for a lot of us. So the fight must go on.
Do you believe in the weapons we have shown during this fight?
I think we can already see a young middle-class group of Romanians that have both the financial security and the time to start worrying about more abstract things, like values and freedoms and democracy.
That was what I found so special about the January protests and that’s what most of my foreign colleagues were always mentioning: in a sea of populism and nationalism around Europe, Romanians are standing up for democratic values and rule of law. It’s been heart-warming to see that we care, that we don’t take things for granted, that we are willing and ready to defend a pretty frail democratic system.
I wish we could see the same level of determination when Election Day is on. That’s how democracy is done, not in the public square, but at the ballot box.
What is it that you miss about Romania?
I miss a lot my childhood home. I grew up in Bacau till the age of 19, when I left the city and the country. It’s a small paradise there, a small old house, with a nice garden around it. Every time I go back, it’s like a little corner of heaven, quiet and peaceful. My grandma still lives there, and they kept my room exactly as it were when I was a teenager living at home. It’s like a place stuck in time, it’s beautiful. But I guess we all say that about our childhood homes, right?
Please tell me something about Romania you usually say to a foreign friend.
I know we complain a lot about the roads, and I couldn’t agree more. We definitely need motorways.
But I find it amazingly charming to drive through Romania, by passing through all these villages, especially the ones in the mountains.
I always advise my friends to fly into Bucharest, do one day in the capital, and then drive through the mountains to Transylvania, visit Brasov, Sibiu, Sighisoara and fly back from Cluj. That way, you can still enjoy the charm of the roads, without getting too angry about the time spent on them
Do you see yourself moving back sometimes? What could convince you?
I can’t picture that now. But I’m always following the principle – never say never. I think the ability to constructively and durably contribute my experience and expertise to helping my country develop would be a high motivation factor. But having seen a lot of my friends having tried that in the technocratic government and seeing that most of them are now either out of the country or out of politics, I believe that time has not come yet.
Sabina, how does your future look like? Any new plans for the following years?
Who knows? I’m exploring so many paths and projects at the moment. And maybe that’s really what makes me happy, being involved in many meaningful things, challenging mentalities and self-set limits, learning a lot from experiences and people and just generally being open to new things and opportunities.
I’ve had a very structured education and career path up until a certain point, now I think I’ve just learnt that not everything can be planned. Some things just happen. And when they do, we should have an open heart and mind to see them and let them run their course.
What is your biggest dream?
One of my biggest regrets is that I’ve never taken a gap year to travel the world and that has remained one of my dreams. I dream of traveling in a caravan from Vancouver in Canada, all the way down on that coast to Chile. Without a phone, without an Instagram account, no emails. In an old American convertible car, with loud country music on the speakers. Imagine Thelma & Louise, that kind of atmosphere Never too late to do it, though – so it’s still on my bucket list.
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