Ever wondered if you share your birthday with a famous scientist or whether an important discovery, invention or scientific feat was achieved on the day and month you were born? In Romania, you can easily check this everyday on the Science Calendar developed by our member organisation Asociatia Secular-Umanista din România (ASUR).
For each day of the year, the calendar mentions an important scientific milestone achieved or a personality born on that day. Now spread into many homes and schools, the project was initiated in 2011. Seven years later, it is entirely financed through crowdfunding and the project team has many ideas on how to develop it further.
Together with Monica Belițoiu, Chief Executive of ASUR, we look back over 7 years of hard work that resulted in a success story we hope will inspire many other humanist organisations around the continent and beyond.
Interview by Marc Soignet, EHF Communications officer
How did you come up with the idea of a calendar dedicated to science?
Our organization was founded in 2010 and we were looking for a meaningful project to start with. We had many ideas but most of them were not feasible because we lacked resources and people.
The idea of the science calendar came as a response to Orthodox calendars that hang in many Romanian homes and which celebrate a Christian saint for each day of the year. As a secular and humanist organization, we thought that replacing the saints of the church by great scientists and important scientific milestones could be a way to celebrate science instead of religion every day.
Due to obvious constraints, the calendar does not go into details, it merely mentions an item every day of the year. We see the calendar as a daily starting point for curious minds to learn more about these people, phenomena and process that have had so much impact on our lives.
For instance, in the 2016 edition, at the 15 April entry, you will find: “Birth of Leonardo da Vinci, Italian painter, sculptor, inventor, engineer and architect of the Renaissance (1452). For the 13 April entry, you will find: “A tetraplegic man from Ohio managed to perform functional movements with his fingers, after a chip was implanted in his brain (2016).”
Indeed, especially that all the research we did was done on a voluntary basis. We spent a lot of time in libraries and on the internet searching as many items as we could. Of course, we ended up with a very uneven result. Some dates had several items, while others had only one. In the final selection, we retained those items that we thought would work best, paying attention to have some diversity in the types entries, e.g. Romanian and international entries, or major technical achievements such as the landing on the moon and items related to everyday objects such as the invention of the safety pin.
We then looked for designers and sponsors to edit and print the calendar. Eventually, thanks to external help, we managed to print 3000 copies for the first edition and we took them to Gaudeamus, the Bucharest International Book Fair.
And how was it received?
It was incredible, people of all ages came to have a closer look, everyone focusing first of course on their own birthday and that of their kids. Already at this first public release, we received substantial interest from teachers who could imagine using the calendar in their classes. This was the first edition. Since then, every year, the level of interest is rising and in that last 7 years, we produced over 70 000 copies. We now print around 10 000 copies a year and we send most of them, for free, to schools around the country.
Over time, we kept improving both the content and the design. User feedback helps us a lot in this domain. Every year, we review the information to be found in the daily entries and improve them so that from one year to the other, part of the content changes. A few years ago, we started giving every edition a main theme which is reflected in the overall design and partially in the entries as well. Last year we focused on future technologies and this year the main theme is climate. Our supporters appreciate this addition very much.
We also recently launched a flipping calendar layout that we distribute to our partners and crowdfunding supporters. This allows much more information to be integrated. The first edition focused on endangered species. We also launched a website in November 2012, which acts a vitrine for our sponsors and allows people to download the calendar in PDF.
Talking about sponsors, what is the main source of financing of this project?
At the beginning, we relied a lot on sponsors who gave us the necessary funds to get started. Since a few years, however, the project is exclusively financed via crowdfunding, We launch our 45-days crowdfunding campaign in September on a Romanian platform. Supporters not only have the possibility to order copies for themselves, they can also sponsor the posting of copies to a school of their choosing. We then send copies to these schools on their behalf. This mechanism has proven extremely efficient for dissemination. Recently, doctors who would like to have the calendar in their waiting rooms have also approached us.
What novelties can we expect in future editions?
Oh, we have many plans to develop both the concept and the distribution further. We are currently talking to a Romanian bookstore chain and try to have them give the calendar as a complimentary gift to those of their customers who buy a book dedicated to a scientific topic.
We are also thinking about launching an Android app that will provide the user with a notification about the entry of the day, propose to learn more on the topic and allow browsing within the calendar.
Any plans for version in English and other languages?
There actually already is an English version that was translated by Romanian expats who wanted to show the calendar outside of Romania. We have also been in contact with Slovaks and Hungarians humanists who have worked on their own versions.
We would like to go further though. We’d be happy to support any member organization of the EHF who wants to work on their own version and see how they can best learn from our experience.
We hope to see new versions being published in other countries soon.
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Monica Belițoiu is a Communication Specialist with a focus on NGOs and CSR for companies based in Romania. She is a humanist and for the past eight years she has been involved in many national projects that promote science, education and humanist values. In 2013 she was appointed Executive Director of ASUR – The Romanian Secular-Humanist Association, positions she currently holds.