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Raluca Negulescu-Balaci, Executive Director of the UiPath Foundation: We can make the world a better place, but it takes all of us to change things

How would you summarize 2021 for the UiPath Foundation? Did you manage to achieve what you set out to do? What were the main challenges and opportunities?

In order to adapt our intervention to the reality created by the pandemic in places where access to education was already extremely difficult, in 2021 we attempted to draw lessons from the past years’ experience. Despite the pandemic context and the restrictions in place, all of our programs carried on, making the most out of the digital environment as a chance to provide vulnerable children in 6 areas of Romania (Bucharest – Ferentari neighborhood and the counties of Cluj, Vaslui, Galați, Botoșani, and Olt) with access to high-quality education.

We have expanded the scope of our interventions, added additional participants to the programs, and initiated partnerships to better serve the needs of the Romanian children who face poverty. Our organization has made digital inclusion the top goal, and we have created environments where all kids, regardless of their social backgrounds, may improve their digital skills. We developed, together with Brio, the first online platform that measures the digital skills of children between the ages of 7 and 18, accessible free of charge for 2.8 million children across Romania.

The pandemic continued to be a source of worry and the devastating wave of COVID that hit India in April 2021 impelled us to react fast and mobilize the global community of UiPath employees and engage UiPath, the company that funded us, in supporting the Global Emergency Fund Against COVID-19. We raised more than $1.2 million in one week and we joined forces with Oxygen for India, dispatching 2 planes with oxygen cylinders to India, ensuring more than 250,000 hours of oxygen for people affected by the virus and who didn’t have access to medical facilities.

 

In the 2021 Report, there are 3 main programs mentioned: Future Acceleration Program, Early Education Forward, and Nurture Teachers’ Potential. Are these separate programs or do they work together in a way?

 

Our programs are complementary and connected, with a long-term approach, focusing on tackling the multiple challenges children face in terms of access to education in marginalized communities. We approach the entire educational ecosystem by limiting the educational gap through early education interventions, providing integrated support to children and families and by working extensively with teachers and schools to ensure access for underprivileged children. Extensively, we also focus on improving at systemic level the capacity of teachers and schools to address the complex educational needs in such communities.

The Future Acceleration Program is one of our three main educational initiatives. In Romania, we assist children from vulnerable communities in Bucharest (Ferentari) and Cluj, Galați, Vaslui, Botoșani & Olt counties. Through access to high-quality education and the development of relevant skills for the 21st Century, our main goal is to assist children in understanding and realizing their potential. We provide these kids with all the resources they need, including a monthly scholarship, school supplies, clothing, food, medical care, and psychological counseling, so they can just focus on their studies.

The Nurture Teachers’ Potential program aims to improve teachers’ abilities to recognize and stimulate the educational potential of kids from disadvantaged families. We work with Teach for Romania with the goal of having an educational program that is accessible to teachers who work in vulnerable communities.

And last but not least, we are working on an early education dimension. This is our third program, Early Education Forward, developed in partnership with the OvidiuRo Association, designed to prevent educational gaps for children that face poverty and who, unfortunately, do not have access to quality early education.

 

How do you choose your partners for these programs? Why do you choose to work with other NGOs?

 

We always choose partners that are aligned with our mission, in terms of values and objectives. They work with and for the children in vulnerable communities, and they’re not afraid of innovation.

The partners we work with understand the dynamics of the communities, work in a transparent way and have proven impact, along with flexibility and collaboration skills.

We work with partners because we need to tackle together a very complex challenge – access to quality education for underprivileged children. By approaching various dimensions of the educational ecosystem, we can have more impact together.

 

What would you say are the main areas of interventions that Romanian disadvantaged kids need right now?

 

I believe that building an integrated intervention in early education is crucial, because this is, as many studies show, the only way we can prevent future educational gaps – to this end, this autumn, we are launching a reading application for children, accessible free of charge on the mobile phone and on the tablet.

In addition, remedial education is of utmost importance in essential subjects such as Romanian, Mathematics and English. In the world we are living in, we can’t afford as societies to leave underprivileged children behind in terms of digital skills. The development of digital competencies is paramount for us and in poor communities can be truly effective only as part of a long term integrated intervention.

Last but not least, the continuous training of teachers working with children from vulnerable communities is a key component to a successful intervention in education.

 

Are there certain things you are most proud of from last year? Are there things you think could be improved?

 

We are very proud of our partnership with Brio – the ed-tech platform measuring educational attainment. Together, we developed the first standardized digital literacy assessment tool. It consists of online tests that measure the digital skills of young people between the ages of 7 and 18, that can be used for all the students in Romania – 2.8 million, free of charge.

We’re also proud that in 2021 through the diverse range of programs we are involved in, we have reached more than 26,000 children in Romania and India and improved their quality of life through access to quality education.

And last, but not least, we’re proud that, together with the global community of UiPath employees and the UiPath company, we mobilized quickly and in only one week we managed to raise $1.2 million, an amount we needed to send two planes with oxygen tanks for the people in India, who were seriously affected by COVID-19.

 

What are the plans for this year? Are you working on any new programs? What’s next?

 

This year, together with NABU, an organisation from New York, we will launch a reading app for children in Romania. NABU is a reading app best suited for low bandwidth environments, dedicated to children aged 2-10. It’s an easy-accessible app that works with low-speed Internet connection, requires a basic smartphone and is free of charge.

Also, in September, we will launch the Own Your Path Program dedicated to high school students from disadvantaged communities. We want to create a community of over 1000 young people who will benefit from financial support, but also educational support: English language classes, activities to develop digital skills, support to keep up with school subjects.

 

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

 

We can make the world a better place – but it takes all of us to change things! Check the stories from the communities on our website – www.uipathfoundation.com

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