Teodora Migdalovici: Private diplomacy is a more effective and interesting scene than a street protest.

By October 9, 2018

Teodora Migdalovici

From: Bucharest Born on: December 1975 Occupation: Diplomat, strategy person, keynote speaker, author, consultant, brand creator.

“I was a few years old and I believed in Aladin’s stories. One day, I took the carpet from my bedroom, put it over the balcony window and ordered: “Fly! Stay still so I can walk over you and let’s travel around the world!”

Usually, people need structures – of things, events, relationships, and this mind-set becomes a must, to properly function, when it’s about the others. This is our mental setting, operating on perfectly delimited structures. When we meet atypical people, that’s the trouble. We question them, we pinch to see if they are real and if they bruise eventually, we force them to fit the virtual cardboard box in our head. We need this order, because, in reality, we have no idea how to handle what’s elusive to our previous experiences and what’s fundamentally different.

“Teodora, I don’t quite get you. It’s hard for me to figure it out which tribe you belong and what are you made of, exactly ”, someone recently told her. I’m sure this was not the first, and will not be the last person to verbalise or think in those terms about Teodora.

And I can understand. Teodora Migdalovici doesn’t fit any template. The solution is simple: no labels and no strings attached.  Just take the person as she is.

Teodora is the ambassador of Lions Festivals in Romania, founder of The Alternative School for Creative Thinking and MEALCHEMY.COM (the personal branding and successful management platform), she is a speaker at international communication conferences and she delivers creative trainings for agencies and clients around the world.

The latest project she is working simultaneously, for a Romanian edition and a Middle Eastern one is #LadiesFirst, a qualitative research that will later on turning into a magazine.

Its goal is to chart creative industries in the MENA region, exploring local contemporary cultures, gender balance, great campaigns and top-level talented people.

#LadiesFirst is a #LoveAndLobby project, the first private diplomacy initiative, to which she aims to dedicate her next professional years. #LoveAndLobby encapsulates all her projects tailored to promote creative Romania at the A class festivals in the last 15 years. After completing her diplomatic studies, she realized that working in an embassy wouldn’t make her happy, so she opted for a similar, yet private approach.

Exploring all these apparently insular projects in Teodora’s biography, it’s not necessarily simple to extract the essence of her personal definition.

Recalling the image of the stubborn childhood rug refusing to fly, one can see how she managed to create, through every single professional move, a different Persian carpet, offering her full access to the world wonders.

Thanks to her both sides of the family, she has a rare mixture of Polish, Ukrainian, Jewish, possibly Turkish and Romanian blood, but Bucharest was the place where she grew up.

Although she is strongly bound to Romania, the vibration of the bazaar – the intersection of many cultures, is embedded in her personality. “I feel easily at home everywhere. “Take me to France and it’s home. Istanbul? Home. Tel Aviv? Home. Bali? Home.”

She believes in the family name etymology and its associated symbolism.

“I saw recently my grandfather’s 7th grade note book. His father signature was there, proof that he took note of his son’s progress. That’s how I saw clearly, for the first time, the name of my grand-grand father. It was Franz Migdalyewicz. Through my grandparents, the name evolved into Migdalovici, but kept the Migdal root, an old structure that in Hebrew means something (tower, observation point), and in Arabic something else (elegant, refined). My grandfather name, from my mother side, was Bunescu (meaning Of Good).  This name smells like a warm loaf, with butter and salt on top. “Bunescu” – there you have it – a whole life code – you have to be a good person and to have the radar set for positive energy and everything that comes along with it”, says Teodora.

She has a huge flair for potential, and she is always able to spot good ideas and special people. For ideas, the detection mechanism is simple “a good idea has an epidemic effect and the power to send its audience outside time”. In people’s case, she knows the qualities that make her tick –talent, warmth, generosity, intelligence, an open mind with a great education, but she also knows which are the unaccepted behaviours: the lack of empathy, opacity, limitless ego and gossip.

No receptivity, power show-off, authority in itself combined with absolute ignorance, those are character flaws impossible to digest, not even for money’ sake. Imposture calls for imposture. I don’t want to be there when the consequence of such destructive formula finds its way out. “

The people I meet are always activating my memory and Teodora’s story reminded me of Richard Florida, with his The rise of the creative class: “Access to talented and creative people is to modern business what access to coal and iron were to steel-making.”

Photo: LadiesFirst, The Embassy Festival

MS: You are a cosmopolitan woman. You travel a lot. How is back home, in Romania?

Romania is the place where I bring the positive energy and the valuable information, from all over the world. Here I come with precious essences. I carefully present them and serve them as an inspiration for people receptive to new ideas, through every single project or event.

After all, this is the story behind all my initiatives – I have an absolute pleasure in sharing what I’ve learned. Romania, with all its challenges, made me a stronger person and I am extremely grateful to this country that had an enormous contribution to my evolution. Besides, if you succeed here, you succeed anywhere.

My story goes like this: I was born a few days before Christmas.

On my 14 birthday, I should have pick up my first identity card. But on that very same day I saw instead on tv, for the very first time in my life, young people corpses, placed in stacks, with gunshots all over their naked bodies. It was December 1989. My mother didn’t let us wonder the streets of Bucharest, let alone attend the protests. She loved us too much to put us at risk. I felt helpless for not being able to help; I felt an incredible pain for those who died and their families, same pain you feel for one of your own. I’ve been crying for hours, and in those very days I promised myself, that if I was meant to live when other people just a little older than me end up at the morgue, I will make sure it wouldn’t be a life vain. I can only hope that I’m on the right path.

MS: There are people telling you that you are a bit off-reality. Why?

Might be, I don’t deny it. I have a pretty strong connection with the above, where my ideas, plans and my inner creator feel great. Everything that is consistent and tangible today has started from an idea, right? This is how I operate, with my radar set on ideas first. But to be honest, I was lucky enough to enjoy the company of a very lucid and pragmatic mother. She thought me to keep my feet on ground, although my head is in the clouds. If you want to capture my essence in a line, you can say “I am a “dreamer” as much as I am a “doer”, perfectly able to make things happen”.

When I put my focus and energy at work, ideas are translated into reality at an incredible pace. And yes, I admit, I have a certain dose of innocence, idealism, whatever you might call it and I am not ready to give it up just yet, even if I am over 40. Here’s an example: Though my heavy traveling habits, I discovered the world, as one might never see it in mainstream media. So this is how a magazine centred on the creative women realities in the Middle East was born. #LadiesFirst magazine, by itself, through the MENA edition, is an opportunity to bring some light in the clichés one might find in the mainstream media when it comes to this region. The number of those who think there is nothing more beyond terrorism, camels, fundamentalism and abused women with no right to education and self expression, is disarmingly great. I’ve felt the need to do some justice to a very diverse region, with fascinating people, where there is beauty and art, and sophisticated individuals with an amazing education and plenty of space for innovation and tolerance. Although it is a costly and complex project, I have no doubt the necessary financial support will come eventually, as it has happened with the second edition of the Romanian version. My principle, at least in this experimental project, is “first demonstrate what you can do and the money will follow.” It’s not a form of naivety, but of respect for those who can fund such atypical projects.

MS: What kind of innovation is Romania ready for?

Tech. The Romanians have resonated to tech since the early days of aviation game, and later, in the Polytechnic Institute glorious years.

My parents’ generation opted for safe choices in a very unstable political period. In order to avoid the politics all together, they preferred mathematics, physics, economics, choosing to hide behind equations and abstract languages. My generation was crazy about computer science and it’s normal for nowadays generation Z to devour tech.

MS: There are several mathematicians in your family. Why not you?

I was raised in an atypical family, with immigrant grandparents on my father side and maternal grandparents with a prosperous bourgeoisie attitude. I’ve lived at the intersection of such different worlds: the world of discipline, severity, inventions, economy and entrepreneurial focus on my paternal grandparents side and the world with an appetite for good life and a vivid society around on the other. Maternal grandparents didn’t fully recover financially after the communist regime took over their properties, but from the little they had left, they knew how to live a beautiful life. I’ve fancied bohemian stylistics, arts and literature – it seemed impossible for me to achieve the degree of abstract sophistication my father, my uncle or my mathematician aunts had. Today I find that poetry, mathematics and philosophy have a lot in common. To understand mathematics beyond its immediate mechanics, one needs extensive lectures, time to digest information, culture, perhaps maturity. If I would start study mathematics now I think I would love it very much.

 Anyway, I dream to scan my father’s handwriting equations and translate them into an abstract wallpaper collection. I find them incredibly mysterious and beautiful. Probably in my next house some of the walls will benefit from this idea. My dad used to speak very often about the elegance of an equation and I bet he didn’t refer to its graphical attribute. For me, however, an equation turned into wallpaper is an implicit tribute to math and ultimately to my father.

Photo: Anton & Olga Migdalovici

MS: You deliver memorable presentations all over the world. What makes them unique?

Beyond the chance to explore, for over 18 years, the most relevant creative events of the world and to be sure, in this way, that I am in line with the latest information, I expose myself, as much as I can, to cultural events and experiences, to art in all its forms and sizes. I explore the world’s museums with such an incredible passion. Only this year I saw amazing exhibitions in Tel Aviv, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Milan, Nice, Lucca, Genova, Florence and Istanbul, while London and Belgrade are in the schedule by the end of the year).  I resonate with both history and the contemporary experiment, and I have an absolute weakness for sacred architecture, regardless of its denomination.

I am still nervous before every presentation, even if I’ve been doing this for over 20 years. As for my presentations technique, things are pretty simple – I like to intrigue, to provoke, to make people smile until we reach the “aha” moment. I leave room for spontaneity as well; I’ve never learned a speech by heart.

Ah, and I have an absolute dependency on visuals with substance and a soft spot for metaphors. One of the reasons I’m going in all the museums and galleries of the world is that I need memorable sources for retina, for all the stories I want to share compellingly in my presentations.

Photo: Sculpture – Daniel Firman, Würsa à 18.000 km de la terre, 2006-2008

MS: You have a soft spot for performances. What does it mean for you to lose?

It happens rarely for me to lose, if never. (She laughs).

I look at every failure through the lucid optimist lenses. What some might call it “failure”, for me it’s just the necessary intermezzo for a larger plan. Although I have no patience at all, I’ve learned to embrace set backs – I treat them as the necessary counterpoint to value to the construction, at large. Each blockage is a reflective indicator, clearly pointing towards the direction I should take. I take “no’s and rejections as necessary stepping stones to pave my true calling path. With this kind of attitude, I transform any frustration into fuel for directions and projects that make me happy. From that good energy, I am contaminating everything around me and I finally get the result I want.

I always say that failure is nothing more than a matter of time: not persistent enough? Ok, keep going.

MS: What are your guiding mottos?

  • Starting with a great idea, one can do a lot out of nothing.
  • No bread? Eat cake.
  • If there is no road, make one.

MS: Teodora Migdalovici on money:

Money is a consequence, not a goal. That’s why I’ve never wanted to make money, but to do something with money instead. I must admit, very often I have succeeded without it. And that’s because I never bet on money per se. “Do a good job and money will follow”, that’s my belief and it is confirmed by practice. I was raised as an heiress, my paternal grandparents managed to be very prosperous by the end of their lives, given that they came to Romania with only two suitcases, very poor, without properly knowing the language of their adopted country. But they had the intelligence, the entrepreneurial instinct; they understood Romanian society under communism and what this society needed. So they built a business from the scratch, by creating exotic plants bulbs or by enhancing the attributes of the local flower breeds. In their immense garden were special tuberoses, with consistent carnation and incredible perfume, were dahlias with sunflower-like corollas and the roses grew up in trees. What a poem. They understood flowers were a very strong alternative currency in the communist society, beyond coffee, cigarettes and jeans. There was a time when people had money, but the shopping offer was scarce. So my grandparents’ flowers, so different from anything else, could sell well. Although they had managed to reach prosperity, they never spend. But if there’s an area were my family was never short on spending, that’s education. Education and what you can do out of it, no matter where you go in this world. Immediately after Revolution, my grandparents did some bad investments in the newly formed banking system and all their economies got trapped in the stocks paraphernalia and never ending reinvestments. My family still owns stocks from a very influential bank that now is part of an international network. Nevertheless, at 18, instead of having all the privileges, I started my life journey with empty pockets, but with an heiress-like mentality. My bank account might have been empty, but my way of thinking was unlimited. I never had a penniless mind-set. I was thinking on a grand scale, I had some incredible generosities, and that came from my upbringing. I was raised with the conviction that I’ll have everything in my life and I kept behaving as such. The reality in my head was stronger than any daily fact.

When I look back, it seems incredible how this prosperous inner universe, that became a sort of a defence mechanism in my youth, allowed me to dream and eventually act without limit.

I’ve got the power to find solutions where others wouldn’t even dare to search for, to make complicated things seem easy and to make big things out of nothing, but ideas.

Money is a remarkable teacher. When you don’t have it, but you want to translate your goals into reality, it teaches you how to find alternative solutions, in a smarter, funnier and more efficient way than one could ever thought.

I loved the “master and disciple” concept. In my youth, I wanted to give myself time to learn and to become the best, so earning consistently was never a topic. I had a deal with myself – for my first apprentice years, as long as I would have the resources to buy at anytime a flight ticket to Paris, where my boyfriend lived back then, I was good.

After the first ten years, everything evolved for the better and now I am grateful to my younger self and her wise life choices.

I like money for its associated freedom, which is probably the second best thing in life, beyond inner freedom. But the freedom to travel, to buy beautiful things, to access otherwise intangible experiences, to make special gifts to friends, they are all connected at one point or another to financial well being. I can only be thankful for it.

Photo: LadiesFirst

MS: You are the founder of MEALCHEMY, the longest and the most complex personal branding platform. You work for entrepreneurs, CEOs and influential leaders. But what’s the meaning behind you own portraits?

At ME.ALCHEMY we don’t have a contact email address. The message on the site reads: “Ask a very good friend to recommend you.” How can one grow such a private business, where the clients’ images are not on the website or in the press, no matter how iconic they’ve become?

So I decided to launch public projects such as “Chapeau, Madame” or #LadiesFirst, every five years. Every lady guest starring in those magazines received the ME.ALCHEMY experience – a professional shooting with make-up, style recommendations and high quality photography. By looking at their portraits, one can have a taste of the alchemic team competencies and effect.

But beyond public projects, I think nothing can better sell what I do at ME.ALCHEMY, than my own image and the associated experiments. I like to play with coding and de-coding in a portrait. I resonate a lot to irony and humour in the visual storytelling and I don’t like to take myself too seriously all the time. At a recent shooting at IQOS, I had some golden circles for a background. After the crop, we ended up with my head surrounded by an aura. I found it amusing to invite the audience to reflection. It’s an intriguing portrait: what’s the meaning behind it? She’s a saint? Is she serious or is she joking? Is it an emoticon translated into a photo or is it a replica of a famous oil paint? Is it about innocence? She is guilty or not? What is she guilty or not guilty for? Is there a hidden message and if yes, for whom? Is this picture a message about who is she or is it about how we all should be? Is it about reality or aspiration? You know the famous Leo Burnett quote: “When you reach for the stars you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either.” That was my true intention behind that photo, but I never verbalised it. I let people talk and I‘ve heard a lot of comments, some more interesting and funnier than others: some accused me of impunity and irreverence and others of arrogance. It didn’t bother me. In a picture, everyone sees what he or she wants. The way one looks at a portrait, especially if its message is ambiguous, it says more about the viewer than the subject of the photo. So I am fine with the comments, as diverse as they might be. Actually, I believe the mystery, punctual controversy and well-calibrated ambiguities in photography help people to think more, leaving indifference aside. All of the sudden, they are off the automatic pilot mode. And when a picture does that, it’s a good sign. In my portraits I opt for experiments that I probably wouldn’t try with customers, although I have quite some stories with the most courageous ones.

Photo: Portrait, Qreator by IQOS

MS: What’s a private embassy and when do you think it will become a common concept?

Private diplomacy has a bright future. I also believe that in less than 20 years, private embassies will be the ones that will count in the narrative of a national identity, infinitely more than the official state structures. Here is why – the official structures are stuck, they move slowly, the decision making chain is long and not always the brightest, the projects are very often related to personal interest or the conjectural political context and very often those decisions have less to do, if nothing at all, with the national benefit. Those opting for private diplomacy will practice out of passion, with dedication and competence.

In my view, private diplomacy is a far more interesting scene than the street protest. Actually, is a better version of it. Private diplomats will be fast and efficient, because the regular hierarchy model will be replaced by an entrepreneurial behaviour. They have other reasons that make them tick, beyond money.

They will not be interested in building a reputation or making a fortune out of the public resources. Their stake will be to ensure that their nation voice, their identity attributes, will shine on in the world, in an honest dialogue with other cultures, beyond election seasons and party interests.  Private diplomacy will lobby for the culture, ethos and art of the nations, using talents and elites as image triggers, and their work will count enormously on the clichés demystification, in the false news dissolution, and in putting to sleep, once and for all, the colossal amount of deformed information about nations that are not well known and not understood.

Photo: LadiesFirst

You can find more about Teodora Migdalovici on her Linkedin account here or by exploring The Alternative School web-page here.

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