Felicia Ienculescu-Popovici is the founder and director of Greenitiative and a finalist of the 2017 Roger Léron Award.
Illustration : Felicia Ienculescu-Popovici
Felicia Ienculescu-Popovici is the founder and director of Greenitiative, a Romanian NGO active since 2007 in the field of promoting climate change awareness and energy sustainability amongst the Romanian public. Her organization has grown from a personal initiative into a nationally relevant organization in these 10 years of existence by developing and implementing projects covering three main areas of interest:
Most of Greenitiative’s projects are either educational or demonstration projects or a combination there of and target both young students in schools and high-schools but also university students and young professionals active in relevant fields such as architecture, design, civil engineering, building systems engineering. The first educational project, back in 2008, addressed a small audience (one class of secondary school students in Bucharest) while recent projects have a much larger audience, for example the Green Schools Platform offers support for teachers and schools interested in eco-education all over Romania and its main result is the development of a secondary school full-year course in environmental education and its introduction in Romanian public school curriculum as part of the optional curricula.
All this time, Greenitiative was keen on connecting all its initiatives. Similarly, the first green-building demonstration project consisted of actually turning Felicia’s family home into a green building (this project received the Romania Green Building Council Award in 2012) that was subsequently used to host visits from school and university students interested in green building and living for almost 5 years in a row until Greenitiative received funds to initiate a larger green building demonstration project. Then, they created the Green Mogo Centre for Training and Energy Counselling, a demonstrative zero-energy building that hosts Greenitiative’s office and a hub for energy training, counselling and education in Ilfov County and Bucharest Metropolitan Area. This demonstrative building has already welcomed more than 1500 people in its first year of existence (school and university students, young professionals, trainees from companies) and is gradually addressing an international audience as well as international events are organized here or international students become its visitors on various occasions.
All this time, Greenitiative was keen on connecting all its initiatives to a broader, European context, enrolling some of its events as EUSEW events or participating in EC funded campaigns, events or programs. For example, Greenitiative organized a conference called Schools as Models of Sustainable Public Buildings and the workshop Energy-efficiency technologies at work in a green building, a seminar for graduate students in HVAC engineering, both events included in the official program of EUSEW, 2010 and 2011 respectively.
Felicia Ienculescu-Popovici founded her organization, Greenitiative, in 2007 and initiated relevant projects and continued to develop and expand them even though for most of its first 6 years of existence the organization had to rely exclusively on personal resources to fund its activities. It took basically 6 years of sustained volunteer work to attain a level of recognition within the NGO community, based on successful projects, that enabled Greenitiative to access more substantial financial resources made available by public and private donors and thus to take its projects to the next level in terms of relevance and impact. All this time, the focus of Greenitiative’s projects remained unchanged, the initial goal of contributing to a faster transition of Romania towards a carbon free society remaining the core rationale for all its initiatives. Once Greenitiative became more likely to receive donor funds, the challenge to keep course became actually even bigger, as it is often more tempting for an organization to develop projects according to available funding rather than to seek funding for its core initiatives. Notwithstanding, Greenitiative continued to pursue the same goals and build upon previous projects even after entering this new phase of its existence, when more substantial resources became accessible to it.
Felicia explained to me that right from the outset she had the intuition that in order to maximize the impact of her climate change and energy projects with Greenitiative she had to 1) walk the talk, 2) bring together various stakeholders and develop projects benefiting all of them and 3) create flagship, visionary projects that naturally draw attention from the media, support from business and academic leaders and inspire government leaders to do their part. The impact of Greenitiative’s projects grew constantly with the support of the NGO Fund, the Bucharest Community Foundation, UN House in Bucharest, The US Embassy, partnerships with schools, school inspectorates and universities, local government and businesses. The Green Mogo Centre is such an example of how one single project can have an impact on so many levels: during one year almost 1000 students benefited from energy and environmental education there, more than 100 university students participated in workshops and hands-on learning activities related to the construction of a zero-energy green building, 350 employees of Romstal Group, mostly from top management, attended courses on energy sustainability and also a summer school was organized here for the local vulnerable children, exposed to the risk of early school leaving. The fact that Greenitiative received more grants and collaborated better with businesses such as IKEA Romania, Romstal, Solaris Plant, Green Group, Lidl Romania, etc., created local jobs and made people confident that we can develop successful energy sustainability projects in Romania.
After founding Greenitiative in 2007 with the aim to promote climate change awareness and energy sustainability in Romania, Felicia and her husband, Marius Ienculescu, participated in Brussels at the 2008 and 2009 editions of EUSEW. At the time, they owned together an IT consultancy company and were already active supporters of a strong response to climate crisis through energy sustainability. They were willing to invest personal money and time to understand EU policies in the field and to explore ways to disseminate those concepts in Romania. Felicia was particularly interested in teacher training regarding climate change and energy sustainability and after participating in EUSEW events she managed to design, finance and implement two school projects (The Age of Clean Energy and Terra, our Only Home), with more than 10000 students and 400 teachers involved. Convinced that students respond better to environmental education when participating in hands-on activities, she has continued to develop ways to communicate environmental and energy sustainability issues building on concepts and methods tested during these two initial projects. The Green Schools Platform, a project initiated in 2013 and implemented between 2014 -2016 with the support of EEA Grants – NGO Fund, represents the very materialization of her initial vision at a nationwide level, more than 500 teachers from all over Romania having already enrolled to teach their students about ecosystem services, environmental footprint and to guide them in implementing their own green local projects, using digital textbooks and innovative pedagogical methods developed by the project.
When you first meet Felicia, you realize that her commitment to combating climate change and advancing energy sustainability is genuine and whole-hearted. Her effectiveness in motivating others is based on her giving a personal example of what an individual can do to address the climate crisis, on her willingness “to walk the talk”. When you see that all her resources are channeled towards Greenitiative’s initiatives aimed at convincing everybody that an accelerated transition towards a low-carbon society is our only way to avoid a climate disaster, you become contaminated with her enthusiasm. It is therefore no surprise that the projects she has initiated and developed these years grew in extent and impact with the support of former volunteers and collaborators. Felicia has also convinced partner organizations like WWF Romania to join forces and turn one of her visionary projects into reality (The Green Schools Platform). The long-term interest in green buildings that use sustainable building materials and produce their own energy determined her to apply for an EEA Grant to build The Green Mogo Centre for Energy Training and Advice, a flagship and visionary project of a zero-energy building in Romania. Her commitment and entrepreneurship were acknowledged on numerous occasions by the US Embassy in Bucharest: she was nominated and took part in International Visitors Leadership Program (IVLP) on climate change and clean energy and in 2012 she received the first Romanian edition of the prestigious Women of Courage Awards, created by the Department of State.