Welcome to the OCA Spotlight Series!
OCA Spotlights highlight the career stories of alumni, who in their own ways, are working to make an impact on the world. We hope that, through this program, you will find ideas and encouragement for your own career journey, and will take the opportunity to connect with alumni, who are generally happy to talk with students and make connections themselves.
This interview with Marian Stas first appeared as an OCA Spotlight in 2012. Marian, who teaches at HKS each summer, met with OCA recently to update his interview and to talk about how he is using what he learned at the Kennedy School to affect deep, systemic change in his own country.
Says Marian, "Don’t hold back from immersing yourselves fully into the transformational process: you will have missed a lot otherwise. And seek out the meaningful public value to which you can contribute, in the aftermath. It is easy to stand on the sidelines and say what should be done. It is not easy to be the one to do it."
Experience & Advice
Let me illustrate my work during the last ten years mentioning three relevant projects in line with this vision:
- “Leaders for the Third Millennium” – a youth leadership extra-curricular program for high school students offered since 2002, now has over 10,000 graduates. This project was a “Trojan Horse” of sorts. I founded it knowing that I wanted to transform education in the country. To get that done I knew I needed to legitimize the conversation first and make myself accepted (or, at least, not rejected) by the school system. The success of this program helped me do that.
- The introduction of International Baccalaureate (IB) programs in the public school system (this is work in progress since 2007: in 2009, “Barbu Stirbei” National College in Calarasi became the first public school in Romania out of about 8,000 in total, accredited by the IB Organization to offer the Diploma Programme). I was, and am, the process facilitator for getting this program going. I traveled to IBO headquarters in Geneva to talk to people there. I talked to high schools, invited them to join the process of application, and helped them get funding so that they could apply.
- Values-centered curricular decentralization in pre-university schools (this, also, is a work in progress since 2010. To me, this is the most critical process towards the authentic transformation of the educational system). I initiated the project. My argument is that there is almost no other voice talking about alternative curriculum. Right now students take13-19 subjects each semester. When you tell people there is a way for them to take eight instead and to be more effective, they think immediately of work going away and teachers losing their jobs, and that is where the conversation stops. I see my role as making the vision part of the public conversation, but doing that means introducing ideas drop by drop by drop and bit by bit. There is tremendous inertia and the only way around that is to create fertile ground and drop seeds.
Tell us about the journey you’ve taken to get to where you are.
I would best describe my journey as an act of “social courage” (to quote one of my essential readings: Rollo May’s “The Courage to Create”) and, again, I refer specifically to creating meaningful public value. Besides the work briefly described in my previous answer, teaching in the HKS Mid-Career MPS Summer Program since 2000 is a significant part of what I consider to be a meaningful contribution to creating public value, which, to me, is transformational in its every single moment of manifestation. Understanding the contexts in which I operate, respecting the people I meet along my journey and learning from them are also parts of the exercise of working on my own self.
I also have worked believe it or not, in the military in Romania, where I found that the best way to manage my career was simply to create new projects, hence, my next job. For ten years I was the Chairman of the Board of an NGO. At some point I realized that projects can become bigger than the organization and that projects had to come first if I was to remain true to my vision.
What about now? In 2013? What’s new and what’s been happening?
Marian Stas being interviewed on TVR2 Romania
I believe we are near a tipping point. Most important is recognition of the fact that the current state of affairs in education is totally obsolete.
A major role now is played by the media. I have done 10 to 15 shows in the past year. I guest blog for one of the most well-read blogs in my country, the name of which translates to “The Truth.” In the past six months I was invited to write for them. I started writing and I became more mature in the process, less afraid to speak out. This has made a huge difference.
About two months ago I said something that I think hit people like a punch in the stomach. I said that our current education system was a security threat, much more insidious that any military movement because this year’s inept graduates may become our inept leaders in ten years."Since then especially, people began reciting a mantra calling for change.
Another big thing that happened in the past year was that I spoke at a TEDx conference. It became apparent then that I was speaking for a great many people, who have not had the courage to say these things themselves. People know the current system is unacceptable. I am not alone in thinking this. However,I could say that I am one of the voices who airs a more articulated and courageous account of their legitimate frustrations and feelings.
What role does your HKS experience play in helping you articulate your vision and create action?
It is one thing to speak about your vision, but another to sell it. This is the activist challenge: to make people aware that the old guard should go away; it should die to make way for a new set of values.
I did a Skype interview recently and the Deputy Minister of Education saw that and texted me and said she agreed that the paradigm we are in needs to change. This is the first time something like this has happened. We are gaining momentum.
But the time is right, too. This summer was marred by corruption in the baccalaureate exam. It was a huge scandal, that significantly was being monitored by the Romanian Intelligence Service—equivalent to the FBI in the United States. The principal of a high school was arrested as a result. The fact that such a high –level government agency took an interest in this case is an illustration of how close we are to everything coming apart. This was just the tip of the iceberg. It is proof that we are living with an outdated, inefficient system that is rife with corruption.
What is your goal in all of this? Where do you think your work will lead you?
I am not someone who needs recognition for what I’ve done. In fact, my preference would be to write and engage society, to talk with teachers and to get them out of denial and into the new world as it should be. I feel in this way, I could better work to spread the movement.
Taking a leadership position with the government is less attractive for me, but I would certainly do it if I were asked.
It is not easy to see someone else step in to take all the glory after you have done so much work, but I learned at HKS to detach from the ego part of it, from the need to be recognized. Because when it comes to transforming a country that is not what matters. It goes beyond that to the ways you influence people and create a process that makes far-reaching change possible.