Freelance Chronicles: A Look Back at 2023 Highlights

Freelance Chronicles: a Look Back at 2023 Highlights

By Veronica Cretu

At the culmination of each year, it becomes imperative to engage in introspection, contemplating our achievements, discerning what strategies proved effective, assimilating lessons from our experiences, and strategically integrating these insights into our plans for the upcoming year. 

The canvas of 2023 has been painted with new and intriguing accomplishments, each stroke contributing to the evolving narrative of my professional journey. As a freelance professional, the journey is inherently characterised by its challenges and demands, requiring a relentless commitment that often translates to working around the clock.

The life of a freelancer is a perpetual cycle of dedication, a commitment that doesn't adhere to the conventional 9-to-5 boundaries. It's about being immersed in the craft 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The challenges are plentiful, from navigating the ebb and flow of client demands to ensuring the continuous refinement of one's skill set.

Yet, within this demanding landscape lies the essence of resilience, adaptability, and a ceaseless pursuit of excellence. In the realm of freelancing, success is not just about the final deliverable; it's about the process, the relentless pursuit of improvement, and the ability to transform obstacles into stepping stones. It's a dynamic process involving collaboration with specific organizations and teams. On average, each assignment requires me to concurrently work with 4-5 distinct teams (be it as a lead, co-lead or member of the team), a testament to the multifaceted nature of freelancing and the adept juggling of responsibilities it demands. 

The freelance journey is indeed demanding, but within its challenges lies the thrill of uncharted territories, the joy of autonomy, and the satisfaction of seeing one's dedication translate into tangible success. 

Below are my most important highlights of 2023! 

🇲🇩 A significant highlight of 2023 has been my involvement in the revitalisation of the Open Government agenda in my home country, Moldova. Contributing to the local open government component has been a fulfilling endeavour, collaborating with the Council of Europe and supporting mayors from across Moldova to understand what global platforms like OGP can provide. 

I hope that at least two-three municipalities from Moldova will be accepted into the OGP LOCAL 2024.

The revitalisation of the Open Government agenda in Moldova holds profound importance for the country's EU integration aspiration. Actively contributing to the local open government component not only signifies a commitment to transparency and citizen engagement but also establishes a vital connection with the global community of open government reformers. And OGP Local is important because it empowers local communities, strengthens transparency and accountability, facilitates knowledge sharing, encourages innovation, fosters international collaboration, and aligns with EU governance standards—making it a valuable initiative for countries like Moldova seeking to enhance their governance practices on the path to EU integration. 

With gratitude to Marite Moras, Svetislav Paunovici and Ludmila Samoila of the Council of Europe, Anastasiya Kozlovtseva of the Open Government Partnership, Natalia Postica and Doros Diana at State Chancellery of Moldova, Adrian Ermurachi of IRPE for their commitment to re-bring back the Open Government agenda for Moldova. 

With Anatolii Fedoruk, the Mayor of Bucha

🇧🇦 Additionally, I've closely collaborated with eight municipalities in Bosnia and Herzegovina on behalf of Council of Europe. I have been deeply impressed by the professionalism and dedication of BiH civil servants at the municipal level. As Bosnia and Herzegovina continues its journey toward greater stability and development, the role of municipalities becomes pivotal in shaping the trajectory of the entire nation. Strengthening local governance is a cornerstone for achieving broader national goals, and so, I hope that at least half of the municipalities applying to OGP Local will find themselves in the program in 2024. With gratitude for this productive collaboration to CoE colleagues: Marite Moras, Milovic Natalija and Jugovic Damjan

🇺🇦Similarly, I have also been supporting four municipalities in Ukraine on the OGP Local application process. Ukraine, facing unprecedented challenges posed by russia's brutal war, stands as a testament to the indomitable will of its people. 

The local authorities, navigating adversity with resilience, are actively seeking avenues such as the OGP Local initiative to enhance transparency, citizen engagement, and good governance practices. The commitment demonstrated by these Ukrainian municipalities to embrace open government principles despite the challenging circumstances is truly commendable. I, personally, believe that all aplicants from Ukraine need to become part of OGP Local. Many thanks to Gryschenko Svitlana and Muzychenko Oleg at the CoE for their wonderful collaboration on this. 

#SlavaUkraini #Ukrainewillwin #SupportUkraine

To continue on the same note of local governance in Ukraine, another highlight of the year 2023 for me was meeting Anatolii Fedoruk, the Mayor of Bucha, here, in the town of Klosterneuburg in Austria. This meeting was made possible by the efforts of the association "Klosterneuburg hilft" which is actively supporting up to 600 Ukrainian refugees. The interaction sparked discussions on potential partnership and cooperation opportunities between the two towns. Recognizing the value of town partnerships, especially during times of war, discussions emphasised the potential to provide essential support to communities grappling with the aftermath of conflict. In these difficult times, supporting Ukraine and its people is crucial, and such partnerships serve as a testament to the solidarity and compassion needed to rebuild and uplift communities affected by conflict. With gratitude to Klosterneuburg hilft group leads. 

🇦🇿 In 2023, I was part of a few compelling Data Governance Assignments. I led the team's efforts around Data Governance Assessment for Azerbaijan's public sector. 

The Data Governance Assessment anchored its analysis in a comprehensive framework for data governance that encompassed various aspects of the data ecosystem. The framework covered key components such as governance and institutions, value, trust, foundations and skills. To develop a holistic understanding of the current state of data governance, the assessment adopted a rigorous methodology that triangulated existing data sources with new data collected through surveys, interviews, and a findings workshop. Given that there is still no unanimously agreed data governance assessment methodology in the public sector, the assessment team analysed the existent frameworks and methodologies used by various organisations to assess their data governance practices. Thus, the assessment analysed the above mentioned five major components and 24 sub-components. The sub-components were assessed on a 0-4 scale, in which “0” is “absent”, “1” is “nascent”, “2” is “emerging”, “3” is “expanding” and “4” is “mature”. Based on the Assessment, the client Ministry has developed the Data Governance Strategy for the public sector. 

I am grateful to the colleagues I worked with on this important assessment: Constantin Rusu, Andrew Stott, Igbal Safarov. 

🇲🇩 In 2023, Moldova continued to be on the radar from the perspective of Data Governance and together with Declan Deasy and Yaroslav Eferin we continued our efforts around understanding Moldova Data Ecosystem. We hope in 2024 we will be in a position to share the results of those efforts. 

🇽🇰 The summer of 2023 was busy with another Data Governance related assignment and this time it was a Data Governance Academy in Kosovo, working closely with the amazing team at Open Data Kosovo

The Kosovo Data Governance Academy, was conceptualised by myself and Igbal Safarov, and we undertook a comprehensive approach to capacity building in the realm of data governance. Key activities included the development of curriculum for the face-to-face and remote training programs. 

The face-to-face program held in Pristina on June 19-20, 2023, allowed for in-person training, fostering discussions and activities centered around data governance. Subsequent online webinars on July 12 and 13, 2023, extended the learning experience, covering specific topics remotely. Feedback received was very positive and there are aspirations to continue with the second edition of the Academy in 2024. 

With gratitude to the rock stars of the Open Data Kosovo: Blerta Thaçi, Dafina Olluri, Ariana Gjuli. 

Talking about Kosovo: the culmination of this year was the acceptance of Kosovo into the Open Government Partnership (OGP) as a non-voting member. It was great to have such a great representative of the civil society of Kosovo, Blerta Thaci, during the Summit. 

🇲🇩My 2023 highlights include contributing to Moldova's SDGs Progress Report. It was a pleasure to work on the report together with Marcel Spătari and I am excited about the positive impact this collaborative effort can have on shaping Moldova's journey towards sustainable development, evidence based approaches for the public sector improvement and for any reform agenda in general.  Wishing Rodica Nicoară  and the team at the State Chancellery best of luck in fostering a robust and comprehensive framework that not only incorporates SDG reporting seamlessly but also becomes an integral and sustainable aspect of governance practices. 

Out of the 398 monitoring indicators and sub-indicators we analysed, data for the year 2022 is available for 146 indicators (37%), along with sufficient data from previous years for trend and progress assessment. For another 90 indicators (23%), available data extends up to 2021. The completeness of data for 48 indicators (12%) is estimated at 50%-80%, meaning there is data for some past years but insufficient to estimate recent progress. Limited data (1-2 years) is available for 21 indicators (5%), and there is no data for 93 indicators (23%).

The highest reporting rates are observed for 

The lowest reporting rates are recorded for 

The average reporting rate for all indicators is 65%.

🇪🇪 Autumn of 2023 brought me back to the amazing Tallinn, where I had the honour of moderating the Opening Panel at the Tallinn Digital Summit. The Opening Panel focused on ways governments can become more open and transparent having to go beyond bureaucracy and embrace digital capabilities, ensuring access to quality infrastructure for citizens, entrepreneurs, and consumers in the digital era. The government alone cannot harness the full digital dividends. Collaboration with innovation facilitators and stakeholders is crucial. What role should the government play in facilitating new technologies like AI? Who are the emerging actors, and what rules shape the digital space? Open governance is about enabling access and the re-usability of government-provided infrastructure and data, while creating the right conditions for collaboration with other actors at the open marketplace. These and other aspects were addressed during this panel. 

A highlight of the Tallinn Open Government Partnership Summit was the opportunity to be part of Tim Davie's event which focused on Empowering Nations through Data & AI Governance Capacity Building. I have shared some reflections from this event here: 

During the summer of 2023 I conducted an independent evaluation of UNFPA's Expanding Choices initiative in the Western Balkans and Moldova, together with national evaluators from Kosovo and Albania. Notably, Moldova has the potential to emerge as a leader in family-friendly policies, thanks to the commendable efforts of UNFPA Moldova and national stakeholders. Congratulations to Natalia Plugaru, Aliona Cristei and other colleagues at UNFPA Moldova. 

The importance of implementing family-friendly policies, engaging fathers in caregiving, and promoting women's economic empowerment and workforce participation, were recognised in national strategies such as European Moldova 2030, the Strategy for Ensuring Gender Equality, and the National Strategy for the prevention and combating of violence against women and domestic violence. The Expanding Choices project contribution to legislation and regulations related to caregiving leave and alternative care services demonstrates its alignment with the emerging priorities of the government. UNFPA CO worked with 5 champion companies that agreed to implement the Family-Friendly Workplace policies model. These companies have taken significant steps to implement gender-responsive family policies that have had a tangible impact on their employees and the overall work environment such as:

In addition, all these champion companies have invested resources in creating dedicated spaces and facilities to address the specific needs of working parents. In addition, three specific policies have been developed and implemented in champion companies, namely: i) policy on the recruitment process to prevent gender discrimination (Asena Textil, Panilino, Premier Energy); ii) policy for onboarding new employees to ensure clarity on company policies, benefits, and gender-responsive family initiatives (Asena Textil, Orange, Linella, and Premier Energy); and iii) a policy to establish a buddy system, supporting new recruits during their initial weeks for enhanced engagement and retention. These policies aim to support work-life balance, caring responsibilities, and employee rights.

🇪🇸 On the academic front, I embarked on my Master's in Artificial Intelligence for Government in the fall of 2023. This is my 3rd Masters and the journey thus far has been rewarding, and I eagerly anticipate what 2024 holds, with the certainty of an important thesis paper on the horizon. The face to face program in Madrid provided the opportunity to meet my colleagues in person. It is an impressive cohort of professionals from all over the globe. Many thanks to Gianluca Misuraca and his team for this timely and much needed Masters. 

🇿🇼 The concluding quarter of 2023 was marked by an exciting venture into assessing the Digital Society landscape of Zimbabwe. I am fortunate to work with an exceptional team led by Reyn Anderson and Kate Gromova, who are true rock stars in their field. 

Looking ahead, early 2024 promises an in-depth assessment and analysis as I venture to Harare.

🇦🇹 🇲🇩 The culmination of the year was marked by my role as the co-organizer and moderator of the event that spotlighted Moldova in Vienna. 

This event was dedicated to showcasing Moldova's strides in implementing European Commission recommendations, Moldova holding an EU candidacy status. A heartfelt appreciation goes out to my exceptional colleagues from Moldova who participated as experts: Iulian Groza, Adrian Lupusor and Ilie Chirtoaca, and special thanks to Alexandra Sabou for her unwavering support, to Dorina Baltag for her commitment to replicate this experience in the Netherland, to Natalia Cucos, my partner-in-crime, for her great support along the way and to Nadejda Zubko, from the Diaspora Bureau in Chisinau. 

Heartiest thanks to Mihaela Mocanu, Cristina Mahu and Inetta Panurco of the Moldovan Embassy in Vienna. 

Notably, this event held historical significance as the first to be co-organized in an EU member country by the Diaspora initiative and the Moldovan Embassy.

With gratitude, I reflect on the collaborative efforts that went into making this event a success. I earnestly hope that through our collective endeavors, we have made a meaningful contribution and so, on 14 December 2023, the European Council decided to open accession negotiations with Moldova. It is one of nine current EU candidate countries, together with Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Georgia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, Turkey and Ukraine.

🇫🇷 2023 has taken me a few times to Strasbourg, to participate in Council of Europe Committee meetings on Access Info Group. As a member of the group, our task is to analyse country reports and understand ways in which parties implement the provisions of the Tromso Convention. Currently 15 Parties have ratified the Convention: Albania, Armenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Iceland, Lithuania, Montenegro, Norway, the Republic of Moldova, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and Ukraine. 

The Tromsø Convention was the first binding international legal instrument to recognise to everyone the right to access official documents held by public authorities without discrimination and regardless of the requester's status or motives in seeking access.

Early December 2023, I reconnected to in-person meeting of the Committee on Artificial Intelligence of the Council of Europe. 

Under the authority of the Committee of Ministers, the CAI is instructed to complete the following deliverables: appropriate legal instrument on the development, design, and application of artificial intelligence systems based on the Council of Europe’s standards on human rights, democracy and the rule of law, and conducive to innovation, in accordance with the relevant decisions of the Committee of Ministers. In 2024 we are expected to complete the Convention on AI, thus, there is still some work to be done. 

🇺🇦 In 2023, one of my biggest hopes was for the russia's war in Ukraine to come to an end, the defeat of oppressive forces, the restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity, and the return of Ukrainians to their homes to initiate the crucial process of rebuilding their nation. 

Regrettably, this wish remained unfulfilled, and the year concludes with new massive attacks on the peaceful Ukraine. Atrocities continue and the world remains silent. As we carry the weight of this unmet aspiration into the new year, my enduring hope remains steadfast for a future where peace prevails, allowing the Ukrainian people to reclaim their homes and rebuild their lives with resilience and determination. 

2023 allowed me to reconnect in person with some of my most dear Ukrainian colleagues and friends, professionals who are fighting day and night this brutal war and who never give up! We don't have the right to give up on Ukraine! 🇺🇦

#SlavaUkraini #StandwithUkraine #Ukrainewillwin

As I navigate through these diverse and impactful experiences, I am grateful for the opportunities and collaborations that have defined 2023 and eagerly look forward to the challenges and achievements that 2024 will bring. 

More than anything, I want Peace and Justice for Ukraine! 🇺🇦 

A Happy and Prosperous 2024 everyone!