Creating a context for innovation9 min read
It’s almost 6pm in Dubai and while an amazing sunset is just happening, I am struggling to finish my Eisenhower Fellowships Youth Leader project report, while competing in the world’s most important competition for solar houses and trying to finish something to make household energy production in Romania a reality for as many people as possible.
One year has passed since the Malaga conference in Spain with Eisenhower Fellowships, I just turned 27 a few days ago and my life has never been more interesting.
For the past few months, I have tried to make a video compilation of my last year. I find forgetting very frustrating and this is really a year I wouldn’t want to forget for so many different reasons, for all the failures and things I did well. Ironically, I have been too busy to finish the video detailing how busy I am. But I will finish it soon! I really hope I didn’t disappoint Colette.
I am Mihai, 27, I was born in Cărbunești, a small town in Romania, and I am now living in Bucharest, Romania’s capital city. I believe in social change through smart design —incorporating architecture, engineering and sustainability. I love to create not just products, but experiences and communities to make people’s lives healthier, happier and more productive. In the last 8 years, I have participated in 3 editions of this competition, designing and building 3 multi-awarded houses and I have also changed a law.
It all started in 2010, by luck
When I was 18, due to my sister’s recommendation, I joined the first group of what came to become the PRISPA team. In 2010 I learnt how to dream, but more importantly, I’ve seen dreams becoming reality – Romania’s participation in the world’s most important competition for solar homes ‘Solar Decathlon’. Back then it was a challenge so big and so unexpected for our country that that only crazy people like the PRISPA team could think of it. Their craziness inspired and transformed me.
Being part of an interdisciplinary team unified by a single goal, to design and built an amazing solar house was a life-changing experience for me. I learned that passion can overcome knowledge. To a point.
It was 2010 and we started from scratch, we had to design, to fundraise and build with our own hands the house in Romania. After two months of testing and visiting, we had to disassemble it, transport it 2500 km to Madrid and reassemble it in just 14 days and participate in the competition with other teams that brought their houses to Madrid, the meeting point for more than 600 students across the world.
After 2 beautiful years of complete madness, I’ve learned something more important, that a dream could die as well. Due to financial constraints, we had to sell the PRISPA house to be able to participate in the competition so when we returned home, we rebuilt the house for the owner and the project died. I then realised that sometimes people could live together even with different dreams. PRISPA’s dream was to reach the competition, while my own, personal dream was to make it a long lasting experience for others, to change others as it changed me.
That moment was crucial in the trajectory of my life, how everything I’ve done so far is influenced by the decisions I took when I was 18 and 20. I’ve experienced the domino effect on my own, the best of it.
I really felt that participating in the next Solar Decathlon was a responsibility, to create a context for innovation for others as others created that for me.
2012 – the birth of a bigger dream
As PRISPA died something new had to be born and along with a few old colleagues from the team, we created what came to become EFdeN – today one of Romania’s most important NGOs in sustainability, having more than 10 projects so far and actually changing a law.
We created a context for innovation, a place where students and young people could meet, inspire each other, create a common dream and start building it. I am still fascinated by how powerful this strategy can be.
Give people the tools, and they will build anything. Give people context and they will realise amazing things. Therefore creating tools and context becomes both a priority and a responsibility.
2014 – The year a failed a lot and very publicly
Due to my lack of experience and some decisions we didn’t take in time, we ended next to last in the competition, in Versailles, in Romania’s second participation to Solar Decathlon, the first one for me as a manager.This was disastrous for our country’s officials and universities (even though they didn’t do much to help us along the way),
Some people considered me accountable for this failure and they were right, it was my fault it ended that way. Unfortunately, I did not know any better at that time.
I am still amazed that we got eventually in the competition taking into consideration all that happened and I cannot see any other result in that context.
On the other side this was the year I was supposed to graduate and become a civil engineer, but because I had to decide what was my top priority, I had to postpone my graduation with one year. My parents were devasted, disappointed and upset. Luckily they got over that, and they are now are very proud of what I have done.
Furthermore, all the team vanished after the competition, just 5 of us remained. Our former colleagues have fulfilled their dream to participate in the contest. We were very tired, with a house inside 9 trucks, with no money, bills to pay, we didn’t have a final destination for the house.
That year I learnt how to fail, but not to give up and I wouldn’t change a thing, pain is the best educator. It was a very tough period, physical, emotional and psychological. Having survived 2014, I feel that nothing could make me scared again expect health issues. Transforming a failure into a succes is a good think to know.
2016 – The transforming power of frustration.
In 2014 we come back with the house and in 2015 our house became Romania’s first Research Center for Comfort Conditions, we overcome the challenges and become a success story. After trying to feed in all the energy we were not consuming into the grid, we become frustrated because it was just not possible in Romania, so we decided to tackle this problem as well even if that meant to change a law. One step at a time.
If EFdeN was a project for a big team that consumed a lot of time, the reality was that in energiaTa there were two of us, with some member help from time to time. As we did not have time or money, we had to create a context for change, to crowdsource. How we did that is a longer story for another time but we used the same domino approach we always did, the Pareto principle: the small rock that can move a mountain. Meanwhile, we created Romania biggest prosumers community,
2017 – The Future of Work Conference in Malaga, the moment I got really scared (and inspired)
I got scared for my country’s future. And I mean really scared. Automation, digitalisation and AI will lift productivity and economic growth, but millions of people worldwide may need to switch occupations or upgrade skills. In the next 25 years, around 47% of today’s jobs will disappear according to Oxford, anything that is routine or repetitive will be automated. Furthermore, a research by Dell told us that 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030 haven’t even been invented yet.
No country is prepared for the 4th industrial revolution, but while some have already started to address the challenge, Romania is still in denial.
Romania’s educational system is a mess, we have the biggest percentage of emigration in the world, in a time of peace. It looks like everyone is abandoning the sinking ship and robots will make all this worse. Low skilled labour will be almost completely replaced and people with high skills are leaving the country, tired of fighting against corruption, living in a country with a bad health and social infrastructure, tired of spending their life in traffic (Bucharest is the world’s 3rd most congested city) and for many other reasons.
Today, 19th November
The house we designed and built in Romania this summer is now one of the 15 solar houses producing energy in Solar Innovation Centre, just 15 km away from Burj Kalifa, an amazing and innovative home created by a team of students and young people in Romania. You can visit our house and 14 others until 29th of December.
Back to EFdeN and the magic behind this project
I love technology and as the fire was used to change the world for the better it can also be used for bad things. Technology is a tool and it is our responsibility to use it wisely. Our mission at EFdeN in the past few years was to create a context for innovation, a place where people with energy could meet and learn that they have the power to transform their ideas into reality, to get all the resources they need. We are preparing people for the 4th industrial revolution, not just to survive, but to thrive.
Our mission at EFdeN has always been to create sustainable homes and lifestyle in order to have better cities and happier people. We are doing this by empowering the youth to dream, design and build products involving organisations and institutions in an interdisciplinary and practical collaborative experience. We believe that we have a responsibility in creating the future we want, we do not simply wait for it to happen.
Put yourself in as many contexts as possible
In 2015 I was invited to COP21, in 2016 in the European Parliament, in 2017 to One Planet Summit and in 2018 I attended World Urban Forum – four experiences that have had a profound impact on my life, that made me want to get involved in protecting climate change by changing the built environment, to create communities that sparkle civic involvement.
Furthermore, Eisenhower Fellowships, Future Energy Leaders, or the Aspen Community are all context I got involved. We collectively shape the environment and the environment shapes us back. I believe that we need to create the society we want and for that, we have to care, to act, to resist. Working together for a higher purpose than ourselves is what energises me and keeps me moving. Love and hope are the drivers for happiness.
What’s the next context?
As EFdeN is now an established organisation, being one of the most important NGOs in Romania, winning more than 25 national and international awards in the last years, I am very excited about my next adventure. 2018 was the best year so far and I plan for a better and more amazing 2019, this will be the 3rd year of my 50 years plan!
My goal is to create better living by creating affordable houses that proudly represent the 21st century. Houses that are Safe, Gorgeous, Sustainable, Intelligent and offer an amazing User Experience.
”Stay young, stay foolish.” as Steve Jobs said a while back.