Nicolae Florin Dorlea graduated from Connecticut College in 2017, having majored in international relations and East Asian studies. He earned his certificate at the Toor-Cummings Center for International Studies and graduated cum laude with an international relations major. He was born in a small town in Bixad, Romania and moved to Chicago at the age of 10, speaking no English. He lived, worked and explored in China for a year, worked in New York City as a research analyst at the primary research firm Third Bridge and now works in Seattle at Capria Ventures, a private equity firm focused on impact investing in emerging markets.
Did you move directly to Chicago from Romania or did you live elsewhere in the U.S. first?
At the age of nine, I moved directly from a small town called Bixad, tucked away in the north/northwest mountains of Romania bordering Ukraine, to a small Chicago neighborhood, Albany Park, alongside the ever-flooding North Branch of the Chicago River.
Your Parker peers called you Florin, but today you go by Nicolae, or Nico. What’s the story?
Entering Francis W. Parker as a 6th grader, I had only two years of lived experience in the U.S./Chicago; thus, I entered the welcoming community with an eagerness to build meaningful long-lasting friendships. In alignment with my goals, I chose to go by my middle name, Florin, a name that only people who care can pronounce and remember. After matriculating to Connecticut College, I had a change of heart and decided to make things easier, using the shorthand for Nicolae, Nico. Nowadays, one of my favorite things to do is to bring together these two entities in my life. Florin will always feel more endearing and reminiscent of my wonderful explorative time at FWP.
What sparked your interest in international relations as a field of study? Was it the fact that you lived in more than one country or some other inspiration? And why China specifically?
As an Upper School student at FWP, I had the privilege of choosing elective courses to explore topics that were outside of my immediate comfort zone. It was passed down the grapevine that students who studied Mandarin during what would be my junior year would have the opportunity to travel to China for two weeks. Excited at the thought of traveling across the world, I signed up for Mandarin and went on a two-week experience across China, hitting all the major cities: Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai. I realized that the country was in the midst of enormous change. Given those circumstances, we were surrounded by curious locals who often took pictures of us and tried to engage us. I wanted to connect with them on a deeper level. Unfortunately, my Mandarin fluency was nowhere near ready to use in this setting. Thus, I decided to pursue the language further while studying at Connecticut College, where I majored in international relations and East Asian studies. As a college student, I studied Chinese history, modernity, contemporary art, healthcare, financial development, political development, etc. to get a good, well-rounded understanding of the country. Of course, four years of education made me realize I had yet to discover much in a country of 1.3 million people.
And how did you develop an interest in global impact investment opportunities as a profession?
I’m willing to make a wager that the proportion of folk (Parker alumni, community members, liberal arts fanatics) reading this piece who have at least a high-level understanding of impact investing is much larger than and disproportionate compared to the general public. Part of my confidence in making this bet is based on the underlying principles that impact investing is based on: a) helping others b) acting with purpose c) engaging with the masses d) learning by doing and e) increasing the value of the dollar by magnifying its impact on the world. Now, why would these principles help me in making a safe bet? The reason is simple. There is consistent alignment between these principles and those instilled in us through our journeys at Parker. I found Capria Ventures while seeking opportunities that keep me connected with the world by actively engaging with internationally minded investors, fund managers and foundations.
Capria Ventures has created the largest global network of fund managers investing in 37 countries across Africa and the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia and Latin America. I joined Capria in part due to the community service, community engagement and forward-thinking principles we were taught at Parker. Capria’s thesis relies on bettering the lives of others through smart and profitable investments. We provide deep local presence and expertise combined with global reach and best practices, while focusing on financial returns and also bringing about meaningful, quantifiable impact on millions of people. In my current role as analyst, I focus on investor relations (engaging with investors conducting due diligence on our fund), fund manager advancement initiatives, impact measurement and fund reporting for two funds, Capria Ventures and Unitus Ventures (our sister fund).
What is Ripple Diplomacy?
During my sophomore year at Connecticut College, Amy Dooling, the former head of the East Asian Studies Department, informed me about a unique undergraduate Fulbright opportunity to go to China (more about the Fulbright experience here). I applied and was one of 16 selected candidates from the United States. After spending eight months in Xi’an, I spent another four months at CET Beijing in an immersive language program. By my junior year, I had spent a full year in China. But it was clear to me that my exploration of Chinese culture and development had just begun. I recruited John Tian, professor of government and international relations to be my CISLA Senior Integrative Project (SIP) advisor. The topic would be Chinese health care in rural China.
During the eight months I spent in Xi’an, many things shocked me, but most of all, it was the fact that, even in 2015, Chinese citizens, particularly those living in rural areas, were being prescribed fake medication. I know this because I witnessed it myself.
Instinctively, as an international relations and East Asian studies double major, I asked myself a few basic questions: What is the government doing? Is the government aware of the health crisis facing rural China? What types of medical coverage do rural patients in China have access to? How can I personally make a difference? The core of my CISLA SIP was to conduct further research on Chinese health care development in rural China and to establish Ripple Diplomacy, a nonprofit, and use it as a vehicle for bringing about a small amount of positive change in the lives of others.
With the help of the CISLA office, I founded Ripple Diplomacy and used it as an effective vehicle for change. By leveraging personal connections, I was able to get in front of an affluent audience at a golfing event in Gansu province. I prepared a presentation in Mandarin to discuss the impact Ripple Diplomacy would have on vulnerable populations in China. The event was a success, helping us raise $15K in funding. These donations are proof that private citizens understand the inefficiencies of health care in rural China and are willing to contribute to help solve the problem. Many donors insisted that their own children volunteer with us at the health clinics and promised to spread the word to their broad networks. There was tremendous excitement and motivation, which translated into well-attended and impactful events.
During the summer of 2016, Ripple Diplomacy held four health clinics across four provinces, helping 600+ patients. Each health clinic event assessed the current health condition of our patients by giving them access to qualified professional doctors. In addition, Ripple Diplomacy conducted surveys of patient health care practices, which I reported in my CISLA Senior Integrative Project.
What are some of your favorite Parker memories?
There are too many to list; when visualizing this question, it is difficult to sort through the slideshow of memories. Many great times were spent in intimate English senior seminar class discussions (which, by the way, cover so many college-level books that I could not find a college English course to enroll in covering new material). The College Counseling Office was an important, safe and welcoming space that encouraged us to dream and reach for the stars. I also cannot help but laugh at the thought of the Parker soccer team being completely okay with playing soccer on the Montrose field in mud, rain, snow, you name it. Last but not least, one of the best things about Parker was the Morning Ex experience, especially those that were presented by members of our community, including talent show(s), the Christmas/Thanksgiving holiday Morning Ex(es) and stories of Parker peers who traveled the world or built homes for vulnerable communities, teaching us what they learned. Morning Ex made the Parker community feel like family.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Most recently I have focused on taking advantage of Seattle’s proximity to Mount Rainier, Stevens Pass and Whistler, California for hiking and skiing. When I’m not out and about, I like to enjoy the rainy Seattle days watching films/documentaries (currently Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates) or reading (currently Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World by Anand Giridharadas). The two portray both sides of the same coin: the documentary features a prominent philanthropist who uses technology to change the world and raise people out of poverty, while the book critiques the Silicon Valley elite(s) who flipped the social pyramid on its head by targeting the masses with their products and services.