When reached in Hungary, Daniel Lungu was in the pickle aisle of a supermarket in Budapest. “Believe it or not, there’s a whole aisle of pickles,” he said. Lungu, almost 22, is a grad student at University of the Pacific. He is in Budapest to teach a Hungarian coffee company socially responsible corporate behavior.
“I’m just going to multitask,” Lungu said into his cellphone as he continued to shop. “You know, pick out some salami while telling you about Hungary.” Pacific’s Global Center for Social Entrepreneurship dispatches “entrepreneurship ambassadors” to countries as far flung as Paraguay, Vietnam and Rwanda. I thought it might be interesting to catch up with one.An East European country, Hungary was communist from 1947 to 1989. It’s a developing nation in the sense that its capitalism is still maturing.The owner of Rubusta coffee factory ordered up a dose of American ideas: the first time Pacific has sent a student to consult with a for-profit corporation.
Lungu chose Budapest partly for the cultural adventure. “Nobody else before me went to Eastern Europe,” he said. “I’m the first one that dared to take that step into the unknown.” He had already been to Europe with the Israeli national water polo team (Lungu got a water polo scholarship to Pacific; his Russian parents immigrated to Israel).
Every workday, Lungu rides a motor scooter out of Budapest, a metroplex of 3.3 million people on both sides of the Danube River, to the nearby city of Szentendre.The 15-mile trip takes 40-50 minutes because Budapest traffic is crazy and because Lungu is a 215-pound guy on a puny scooter. “I barely go 50 mph.”
Of headlong, swarming Hungarian drivers, he says, “Have you seen the movie, ‘Death Race’? It’s similar.” At the factory, Lungu is director of corporate social responsibility. “My responsibility is to make sure that the company – which is currently a growing, profitable company – will do things toward the community and toward the improvement of the environment in the local area.”While his playbook is familiar stuff to Americans, to Hungarian workers it’s a whole new soccer game.
“Of course, like everything new, you have a little bit of doubt, but slowly, surely, if you know how to present it … I think people realize the change is inevitable. This is the future.”Another hurdle involves older Hungarians: They don’t like Russians. “But people here are very warm, very welcome, very open,” Lungu said. “They will really, really open up and share their last piece of bread with you.”Inside Rubustu, Lungu fosters a socially conscious employee culture. He has overseen installation of energy-efficient lighting, reduced paper use and increased passive cooling to reduce energy usage.Outside Rubustu – which has a sidelight in toilet paper manufacture – he arranged the donation of $25,000 worth of TP to a homeless shelter.
He also founded a Rubustu newsletter to form better relationships with customers. “Nowadays,” he said, “if we’re not thinking creatively, companies are doomed to fail.”After work, Lungu weaves the scooter home to a third-floor flat in Buda (Pest is on the other side of the Danube; Hungarians say, “Live in Buda, party in Pest”).When he can’t find Hungarians who speak English, Lungu does a lot of reading, tourist photography and people watching.”I really also enjoy looking at human behavior. I realize maybe I don’t know the language … but learning body language, it’s kind of like a silent movie. Sometimes you learn to appreciate the movie much more without sound.”
And to appreciate the starlets. “I would probably find that the most beautiful women are actually living in Hungary,” Lungu said. “You can quote me on that. Just make sure my girlfriend doesn’t see it.”Lungu said the experience, which lasts three months, has been incredibly enriching so far.”Absolutely. I think every experience like that – even if you want it or not – is reshaping who you are and your beliefs. And making you a better person. It’s like multiple internships in life.”