Romanian-American University’s 25th Anniversary
aprilie 19, 2016
Eliot Sorel’s lecture on President Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States: An enduring vision in the 21st century
mai 3, 2016
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An interview with Dr. Madlen Serban, Director of the European Training Foundation since 1 July 2009

Based in Turin, Italy, and operational since 1994, the European Training Foundation (ETF) is a decentralised agency of the European Union (EU) having a clear mission: to help transition and developing countries to harness the potential of their human capital through the reform of education, training and labour market systems in the context of the EU’s external relations policy. Having a PhD in social partnership in education and training from the University of Bucharest, Madlen Serban represented the Romanian government on the ETF’s Governing Board from 1998-2007, and Cedefop’s (European Centre for the Development of Vocational Training) Governing Board from 2007-2009. Dr. Serban has a broad international experience as an expert and evaluator for international organisations including UNESCO, USAID, the European Commission, OECD, the World Bank, and the ETF. It is worth mentioning that she has been Director of the National Centre for Technical and Vocational Education and Training in Romania before coming at the ETF. It is our honor and pleasure to share the respect for a “brand” that proves passion, authenticity, and accountability in serving and promoting a culture of excellence.



According to Aristotle (for him his “logic” was the instrument by means of which we come to know anything): there is no excellence without training and habituation, while moral virtues, like crafts, are acquired by practice and habituation, and if we are brought up in good habituation, we are already prepared to recognize the principles of good action.

On the other hand, according to Robert Kiyosaki, training and discipline are good for confidence, while in the opinion of our Constantin Brancusi, to see far is one thing, going there is another.

What is your current vision of training and learning, and translating learning into daily practice, taking into account the “ETF’s strategic focus on vocational education and training policies and reforms which strengthen the employability of the labour force,” one hand, and the current challenge of identifying, building, and sustaining the capabilities employers need to continuously improve performance and deliver impact, on the other hand?

Dr. Serban:

Professor Purcarea, your questions formulation reflects whom and how you are: well-trained, or maintaining the language of Aristotle’s “logic”, a knowledgeable person. I am impressed by the connection you made of training with philosophy, art and pragmatism that drives towards financial independence and confidence. A journey in time, geographically spanning the Planet. Let me get inspired by you!

Since the ETF (the only EU agency acting under European external relations policies in support of human capital development) is in Turin, I suggest starting with Seneca’s view saying: “If a man knows not what harbor he seeks, any wind is the right wind”.  At the very beginning of the current era, Seneca suggested that without vision, it does not make sense to start any search for how to act or look for support. Rightly so, Constantin Brancusi is reminding us that having a vision is necessary but not sufficient: you have to have ideas on how but also the capability to get there.

Well, training and learning is part of the two questions’ answer. Human capital is essential in our view for any endeavor, of any kind. Robert Kiyosaki is right in his strong views on the entrepreneurship role in the individuals’ career and personal development. We at the ETF we believe into the entrepreneurial continuumThat’s our vision!

Yes, it is suitable for individuals to become entrepreneurial, but acting alone they do not create the critical mass for sustainable advancement of themselves and of their societies.  One cannot forget that in our time more than the bottom three quarters of the world population owns only 1% of the global wealth. This is about inequalities or lack of equal opportunity. We strongly believe that citizens should learn and be entrepreneurial, but the society should not create barriers, on the contrary it should induce and give reasonable guarantee for success. In other words, we see the continuum defined by collective action of the communities, institutions or the whole world of governance and the citizens. Not least, public policies should equally be entrepreneurial.

I personally believe and I published on that, resilience helps adaptation and innovation makes anticipation possible. Together with risk taking and uncertainty successful navigation, for me, being entrepreneurial and the entrepreneurial continuum frames the required ecosystem.

I propose a brief and selective illustration of the concept that gives also a flavor of what the ETF does related to two continuum components, namely public policy making and community based human capital development. On the others, those interested can search on our website ( or address me.

The 29 partner countries of the ETF reflect much of the global diversity. They are either G20 or OECD members or middle or low income countries. From time to time, we say that ETF manages diversity. Thus, we have to ensure policy learning processes that are capable to contextualize and differentiate action accordingly. Still, there are common principles we associate with policy analysis that we propose for documenting all the phases of the policy cycle, like policy formulation, policy adoption, implementation, monitoring and evaluation and re-formulation, when the case , which relaunches the cycle spiral.  The principles focus on the public policy making process essentials, notably be evidence-based, participatory, holistic and owned by the country. These are elements of an entrepreneurial public policy that “invents the future”, associating policy choices which should be predictable in the expected results achievement (we suggest mitigating policy risks by using the ex-ante impact assessment method). This is our work with the Torino process.

“Inventing the future” translates at the ETF into public policies foresighting for human capital development. To our knowledge we are among the pioneers in this field. For sure, for the first time ever this has been done in the countries of South Eastern Europe, known also as Western Balkans. Turkey also pioneered Turkey also pioneered skills policies but being notably advanced in R&D&I and foresighting as a method.

The ETF methodology proposes approaching human capital as an asset of the country and not being fragmented between sectors. The method facilitates the reconciliation of distinct agendas of government, business and society as a whole. Business, employers and their associations are invited to play global first in the search for those economic sectors that are capable to generate competitiveness, economic growth and create jobs for a modernized cohesion of their societies. This is a way to select priorities for investing the ever insufficient resources for human capital development. More information can be found looking for the ETF FRAME project (stands for Framing the future!).

As for the entrepreneurial governance that should be good, efficient, accountable and anticipatory, we suggest and support changing its focus from institutions driven towards community based. I know I risk not being popular among readers from the university world with such a statement that one can see it as putting in question the role of the university as transformation driver. But it is not about that. What I try to convey is that the university alone cannot make it anymore! Without skills for technology transfer, the technological innovation remains in the laboratory. And having skills without knowing what they are for is almost equally destructive.

There are good practices on how to act together and at ETF they are named entrepreneurial communities.  But, communities should be supported to become entrepreneurial too.

How? Based on their entrepreneurially discovered innovation potential!

Therefore we sustain building and fostering smart territories. This is by putting together in a quintuple helix logic, innovation & research & development with education and training or, as societal actors, government, education and training providers, business and civil society for generating sustainable development. With that, we add to human, cultural and intellectual capitals, another crucial capital: the social capital. One can say the ETF is the institution of “capitals”. Nothing wrong with that!

Let me end by quoting Ben Franklin who illustrates better that anybody else the holistic and acting together credos I briefly referred to: “we must all hang together or most assuredly we will all hang separately”.

I chose this on purpose, since I have this chance to address the Romanian -American University publics. And I am grateful for this opportunity.

Happy anniversary and good and inspired continuation!


Dr. Serban, thank you very much for answering our “holistic” questions, and for your good wishes on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of the Romanian-American University!

Let’s finally recall again some inspiring words of U.S. President Benjamin Franklin (often called the “First American”), one of the Founding Fathers who drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States:  “Those that won’t be counseled can’t be helped”; “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”; “Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time”; “A place for everything, everything in its place“!