|Call Center Breathes New Life into Jiu Valley, Romania
dot-ORG's Romania Information Technology Initiative (RITI) Access project has collaborated with the not-for-profit Jiu Valley Association (JVA) and one of Romania's leading software developers and call center operators (Softwin) to establish a business support call center at University of Petrosani.
This activity forms part of one of the self-initiated pilot projects that RITI - Access undertakes under USAID funding to stimulate economic growth and small and medium enterprise development through information and communication technologies (ICTs).
Jiu Valley, a former mining center under the Communist regime, is one of the poorest regions in Romania, with an extremely high unemployment rate and a history of political unrest.
Economic Growth and Improved Visibility in an Impoverished Region
The Call Center provides support services for companies such as telemarketing, a tele-servicing help desk, reservation services, and e-commerce transactions.
The Call Center has already made an important impact on the region: in its first quarter of activity, the Center had secured contracts with several international companies and employed nine agents. The Call Center has also introduced ICT as a new industry to this region and raised its global technological profile in Romania and abroad.
Finding Jobs for University-Educated Romanians
One beneficiary of the Center is Mirabela Laios, one of the Call Center's new agents. Mirabela is 25 years old, a graduate of University of Petrosani in 1999 with a degree in Office Management. Similar to almost all young adults in the Jiu Valley, before the Call Center was established Mirabela had no real job opportunities and would have been forced to leave the region or perhaps the country to earn a living.
When asked about how the Call Center job has impacted her, she states, "I love this job! I feel very lucky to be able to work here. It is a fun environment in which I am able to work with other young people, to improve my computer skills, to speak with people all over the country, and to save money so that I can afford to live on my own soon."
According to Marian Groza, the Office Manager at the Jiu Valley Association, "one of the most satisfying experiences I have had lately is in the process of hiring the employees for the Call Center. You can feel their enthusiasm about this opportunity - and their gratification when offered a position is so evident that you cannot help but smile and feel that you are helping to make a difference in their lives".
Vital Role Played by Peace Corps/Romania
The Call Center activity would not have been possible without a strong partnership with Peace Corps. In February 2003, Christopher Troxler arrived as part of the 16th Group of Peace Corps Volunteers (PCVs) in Romania. He and four other volunteers represented the first Information Technology PCVs to be assigned to Romania - and the entire Eastern Europe region.
Before arriving in Romania, Christopher lived in New York City and worked for almost 10 years in the Information Technology industry - specializing in the area of Customer Relationship Management and in the implementation and management of outsourced Call Center services. Not only was Christopher able to offer extensive knowledge of Call Center operations and management, but he also brought additional skills of business analysis, business development, and project design and management.
Christopher was assigned to spend his two years of Peace Corps service living in the Jiu Valley, and working directly with the Jiu Valley Association as a RITI-Access Field Project Manager. He has been involved in all aspects of the project; from helping to develop the feasibility studies and business/project management plan to acting as the interim Call Center Manager.
Christopher has focused on the process of knowledge transfer to the project partners and the JVA. Rather than completing all of the reports and tasks himself, he has worked hard to involve local resources in every step of the project - seizing the opportunity to transfer knowledge and skills to his counterparts at every possible stage.
"My responsibility as a Peace Corps Volunteer is to act as a consultant and to guide the team through the completion of the project. The sustainability of this project depends on this transfer of knowledge and skills - and to instill the confidence in the team that this project can continue its' success for many years to come," Christopher said.
The RITI-Access Project began in August 2002 and runs three years (Associate Cooperative Agreement No. 186-A-00-02-00104-00 under the dot-ORG Leader Award No. GDG-A-00-01-00014-00).