INTERVIEW WITH WORLD BIZ MAGAZINE 2019 Awards Winner
"We don't want to create a sense of entitlement or dependency, we want to empower these children, these communities. And the best way to do that is through education."
What inspired the Roma Boots focus on giving back?
The very reason ROMA exists is because we want to make this world a better place by giving back and teaching others the art of giving. Roma is Amor spelled backwards and Amor means Love. Love is all about giving! Growing up in extreme poverty in a small village in Romania with 11 siblings I didn't realize how poor we were. But even though we were poor, my parents instilled in us gratitude and compassion. I recall from a young age helping out widows and other neighbors that needed help. After the Communist regime collapsed and we were able to migrate to the United States in hopes of a better future, we knew that giving back was not only an option, but a moral obligation.
Tell us about the work of Roma Foundation?
Roma Foundation is basically the non profit arm of Roma Boots. But RF has a greater plan and that is to help the children receiving boots also receive an education. Our aim is to "Give Poverty the Boot!". From the very beginning we knew that giving a man a fish will only feed him for the day, it's teaching him to fish will feed him for a lifetime. That is what we endeavour to do with Roma Foundation. We don't want to create a sense of entitlement or dependency, we want to empower these children, these communities. And the best way to do that is through education.
You have given nearly $3 Million worth of boots to children in poverty. How does that make you feel?
It makes me feel great, but there is so much more work that needs to be done and I know our best days are ahead of us. It also makes me feel incredibly grateful, honored and blessed to know that I have the opportunity to make this kind of an impact in the lives of others. But I know that none of this would be possible alone. It's been a labor of love from the start and I thank God daily for putting so many amazing people in my life that have helped me carry out this mission.
What is the impact of having rain boots for a child living in deprived regions?
The truth is that rain boots are the most practical footwear for children living in poverty, especially those living in rural villages and/or in developing countries. Not only are the durable, but they protect the feet from getting infected, cut or cold. When we pull up in these villages, the kids often run up to us in broken flip flops, crocs or other canvas shoes. Oftentimes no shoes at all, but it's rain boots they don't have and what they need. I was 6 years old when I received my first pair of rain boots, a faded orange, that were handed down from older siblings and I still remember the smile on my face to know that I can go outside and enjoy the mud and slush without my feet getting wet. I wanted to recreate that same experience for children all around Romania and eventually the world.
Why were you drawn to footwear as your particular line of business?
Because footwear is what I deemed one of the most urgent needs for kids to walk to school, doing chores outside the home or simply being out playing. I also have a retail background having had the opportunity to work for a large department store. It is there that I was able to meet the founder of TOMS and seeing that he does not produce rain boots, I felt there was a vacuum in the market. Moreover, rain boots were becoming quite popular so I figured it was time to take my experience and try something more meaningful and start my own business.
Tell us about the boots - how important is fashion and innovation in your products?
Extremely important. I have a fashion background and I know that if you offer a boring product or a mediocre product, there is only so much you can do. However, if you can offer a great product at a great price and make it fun and fashionable, there is so much more good you can do. In our case the more we can sell, the more we can donate. But if we had a product with no fashion appeal our impact would be very limited.
How do you balance the time required for philanthropy and operating a growing business?
It's a tough balance and it requires a lot of sacrifice. My heart only wants to focus on giving back, but in my mind I know we cannot give back if we don't have a great brand and a great business. In a perfect world I would like to dedicate 90% of my time to Roma Foundation (the charity) and 10% of my time to Roma Boots (the business). But it is the business that fuels the foundation and that's what makes sustainable business models like ROMA so appealing.
How can our readers best support the work of Roma Foundation?
Spread the word about what we are doing, join us on a boot drop and/or buy a pair of boots for you or a loved one. Starting this year, we will also make it easier for people to donate to Roma Foundation. For many years we received so many requests for boots to be donated. Unfortunately we can only donate so much based one our 'buy one give one' model. However, in 2020 we will create an emergency fund disaster relief so that we can give boots even beyond what we match for each sale.
What are you thoughts on potential opportunities for international investors in Romania?
I think there are a lot of great opportunities right now. Romania is a beautiful country, with beautiful people and with incredible potential. It is a country that I adore and I want to do my share to help and give back to it. I love that the younger generation are hungry for freedom, for change, innovation and they have a strong desire to create a better future for themselves.
You have visited 50 countries, speak 3 languages, you are an author, built a business and foundation... where next?
This year we will be celebrating 10 years of 'Giving Poverty the Boot!' I also have a book by the same name coming out and a documentary that I will be promoting on my life and work with ROMA. I also will be shifting much more of my focus from the brand to the foundation.
About ROMA Foundation
ROMA Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based out of Dallas, TX. Our mission is to “give poverty the boot” by bringing children and families hope, love, and lasting change by donating a brand new pair of rain boots. We are comprised of a team of passionate philanthropists who are motivated by love and who love to give. With a penchant for education and a love for the arts, we have a keen desire to make a difference in the lives of children on a global scale. ROMA Foundation invests in the lives of children and families by Giving Poverty the Boot! By closely working with our partners, we have donated boots in 26 countries across 6 continents. Our goal is to serve those living in poverty and to create a culture of empowerment.