Social Enterprise Center Supports Craiova Community through COVID-19

Ford's Resource and Engagement Center in Romania pivots programs to support the community

Male and female volunteers wearing light blue face masks and yellow FREC logo vests while pushing grocery cart with bags in parking lot

CRAIOVA, Romania — Craiova's pioneering social entrepreneurship center has been forced to temporarily close due COVID-19—but that hasn't stopped its student volunteers helping their community through the crisis.

The Ford Resource and Engagement Center (FREC)—supported by the Ford Fund—acts as a space for students and graduates of the University of Craiova to design and launch innovative and sustainable, nonprofit social enterprises.

It opened in October 2018, and since then has launched nine projects to improve the lives of residents in Craiova—home to the Ford Romania plant—but in March this year, as Romania and the world went into lockdown, the center closed its doors.

Male wearing face shield with Ford Resource and Engagement Center logo on headband

Student Raluca Stamatescu explained, "What Coronavirus could not suspend was our volunteering spirit, our being part of community life. We have never ceased to feel that it is time for meaningful action."

Members of the center's GoBike enterprise—which offers rental bicycles at affordable prices—joined a city hall initiative helping to deliver food to more than 100 elderly residents. "That got the ball rolling," pointed out Raluca.

Inspired, the students volunteered to help design and pilot disinfectant arches, gateway structures that spray disinfectant on healthcare professionals to reduce contamination as they remove their Personal Protective Equipment, known as PPE.

One person in distance of field rows with planted seedlings in foreground

The team has also designed and produced 3D-printed face shields, while members of the GRENA (Green Nature for Healthy Life) social enterprise have planted 1,800 seedlings to grow vegetables for those in need.

Raluca said, "When we started working on the Ford Resource and Engagement Center projects it was because we didn't want to take a back seat and watch things change in our community, instead, we wanted to be part of the change, to drive the change, fueled by youth, enthusiasm and commitment to long-term enterprises."

Raluca added, "We no longer feel as though we are part of different FREC projects, we feel more bonded than ever. We feel encouraged every step of the way—for instance, our university rector has given us a large piece of additional land that can be used to grow potatoes for the community."

Professor Leonardo Manescu, President of Educol, the nonprofit organization that manages the center, said, "We might have closed our center, but we could not dampen the students' enthusiasm to help in their spare time. Our team has been very mindful to support the students to take all the necessary precautions and follow relevant guidelines. Community feedback has been positive with some elderly residents asking if the home delivery food service can continue in the future."