Mills Kelly, director of the Global Affairs Program at George Mason University, teaches students who want to make a difference in the world through international service and volunteerism. This past semester, he set an example for his students by volunteering his time with an international foundation.
Kelly recently joined the board of the Romanian-American Foundation, a two-year-old philanthropic foundation that grew out of a fund established by the United States in 1994 under the Support for Eastern European Democracy Act. This law established funding for development and investment projects across Eastern Europe in countries such as Poland, Bulgaria and Romania. Since its inception the Romanian-American foundation has invested more than $3 million in various development programs in Romania. As a new board member, Kelly traveled to the country during the fall 2011 semester to examine a series of funding proposals for different projects around Romania.
“The Foundation’s work in Romania is very energizing,” Kelly said. “The needs in the country, even more than 20 years after the fall of the Communist regime, are still very great, and I am proud to be part of an effort to help make good things happen there. For instance, seeing how foundation funds have helped to create after school entrepreneurship programs for high school students in small cities—and the remarkable work those students have already done with almost no funding—was really exciting.”
Among the programs the foundation is currently funding are small projects such as a group of women who have founded a village co-operative that makes organic jellies and jams using local ingredients that are then sold across the European Union, and larger projects, such as a nationwide series of grants for high school students to start their own businesses. During his most recent trip to Romania, Kelly visited some of the areas where funding will make a direct impact, such as Iași, the second-largest city in the country, located in the economically depressed northeast.
“The foundation spreads its funding across the country, but is especially active in some of the more depressed parts of Romania. It was great for us as board members to meet the people who benefit directly from our funding,” Kelly said. “As a new board member, it really helped me to get up to speed quickly on the needs we are addressing.”
Kelly, a specialist in modern East European history, has already used his experiences with the foundation in his teaching, discussing the results of his most recent trip with the students in his honors seminar in Global Affairs.
“There are very talented students in the honors program,” he said. “I was glad to be able to share with them some of what I learned in Romania and to hear their insights into my experiences. It’s a lot of fun to work with them.”
January 31, 2012