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Bianca Buliga is a natural storyteller who is taking her reckoning with the terms ‘business’ and ‘politics’ to the place she wants to go. She’s on a lifelong journey to feel fulfilled.
Bianca Buliga grew up thinking ‘business’ was a dirty word and that nothing good comes of its practice. Her early perceptions seemed diametrically opposed to her life goal of making positive, societal change.
The 2017 graduate of Thunderbird School of Global Management knows better now. As a result, entrepreneurs throughout sub-Saharan Africa, social impact startups throughout the United States, and immigrant students in Arizona who are reaching for a college education are all benefitting from her knowledge and passion.
“I thought business was corrupt,” Buliga said. “I didn’t want to be a businesswoman. I wanted to work for an NGO or a nonprofit. I wanted to be on the front lines. Growing up, no one ever told me that business and social change could go hand in hand. I thought if you want to do good in the world, you’re going to have to work for a nonprofit, take a low salary, and work 60 hours a week to feel fulfilled.”
Today Buliga is all about business – as a vehicle to accomplish social impact goals. She’s currently a senior marketing manager at SEED SPOT, a leading incubator and accelerator that supports idea and early-stage entrepreneurs with market-based solutions to social problems. “Having an intimate understanding of business has given me the competitive advantage to be more effective in enacting social change,” she said.
“There’s a strategy that’s required. There’s the ability to synthesize data and understand what it means. There’s the ability to look at new market entry from not just an intuition standpoint but from a data-powered understanding of the local situation. How to negotiate, how to communicate, how to run finance, accounting – all of those pieces make me better at what I want to do.”
“Having an intimate understanding of business has given me the competitive advantage to be more effective in enacting social change.” – Click to tweet
At 26, Buliga, a first-generation US citizen born in Phoenix, already has an impressive record of volunteer leadership to package with personal and professional accomplishments. All of her work is interconnected, and there is considerable overlap on issues that are dear to her heart: equality for women, immigrant rights, and education.
She serves on the board of directors of the Immigrant Scholarship Hustle (ISH), which connects undocumented students and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients with extra levels of support to pursue higher education. She also serves on the board of Promineo Tech, a coding bootcamp that equips people with technical skills to transition to new careers in software development or coding.
“My dad was a refugee (from Romania), so I’ve always had a special place in my heart for folks who come to the US in hopes of escaping whatever difficulties they faced in their home country in pursuit of new opportunities to better themselves and their families,” Buliga said.
“I’ve always had a special place in my heart for folks who come to the U.S. in hopes of escaping whatever difficulties they faced in their home country in pursuit of new opportunities to better themselves and their families.” – Click to tweet
At SEED SPOT, Buliga enjoys one of her first loves: storytelling. She tells the stories of social impact businesses, how they improve communities, and the people they positively affect.
In the course of doing her day job, she has accumulated some fascinating stories of her own to tell. In January, she spent three weeks in Mauritius, a tiny island off the coast of Madagascar, as an awardee of the Reciprocal Exchange component of the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders. The Reciprocal Exchange program enables Americans to travel to Africa to collaborate on projects with African Fellows.
The opportunity in Mauritius developed after SEED SPOT volunteered to host an African professional, Djemillah Mourade-Peerbux, an entrepreneur committed to ending period poverty (caused by the cultural shame often attached to menstruation and a lack of resources that stop women from going to school and working every day) and creating solutions around sustainability.
Buliga went to Mauritius to help Mourade-Peerbux deploy a pilot program for 17 entrepreneurs from across sub-Saharan Africa who were tackling issues from lowering maternity mortality rates to making sustainable products out of bamboo. (Weathering a Class 3 cyclone that threatened to derail the project added drama to Buliga’s story.) The intention is to develop a turnkey, easy-to-use program to cultivate entrepreneurial ecosystems in any community in the world, Buliga said.
Empowerment programs, with a focus on building grassroots vs. top-down movements, is also a thread in the life Buliga is tightly pulling together to create social change. She weaves those threads with gifts that are uniquely hers, including the ability to speak four languages (Romanian, English, Spanish and Italian) and a fascination and respect for different cultures.
Her work in Mauritius is the focus of her project in the intensive Leading for Change Fellowship. Leading for Change’s mission is to prepare new and emerging leaders with the tools, resources, and networks to advance social justice and progressive values across a variety of roles – from running nonprofits to running for political office.
“Being immersed in sessions on power mapping, coalition building, and campaign planning has truly equipped me to champion positive change in my beautiful home state,” Buliga said. “I care deeply about being an Arizonan, about giving back, about elevating voices of folks from underserved communities that are usually denied that voice.”
Like ‘business,’ ‘politics’ is another word that is evolving for Buliga. During her undergraduate studies and the early stage of graduate school, she thought politics was her best path for achieving social change. Internships at the Arizona House of Representatives and the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, Romania, evolved her methodology for affecting change.
“Though deeply formative, those early experiences forced me to acknowledge the bureaucracy that exists,” Buliga said. “These experiences inspired a deep shift for me. I decided I wanted to do the work. I wanted to be on the front lines and be an active part of organizations doing the work. I wanted to lend my skill sets and experience however I could to make a visible difference.”
“I care deeply about being an Arizonan, about giving back, about elevating voices of folks from underserved communities that are usually denied that voice.” – Click to tweet
Today, Buliga is taking another look at politics. In a new light, she sees possibilities of doing things better in the political arena, and she doesn’t rule out the possibility of pursuing elected office after building up more experience.
“As of right now, I am promising to say yes to opportunities that come my way and excite me,” Buliga said. “I am committed to continuing Phoenix’s transformation into an incredible, globally-connected city and paving a way for new Thunderbirds to really transform Arizona’s economic potential overall.”