Promoting Free Societies

United by Love for Liberty

Roxana Nicula Impact Story 1

Family, Love, and Freedom

Roxana Nicula’s journey to leading Fundalib, a classical liberal foundation in Spain, started nearly 2,000 miles away in her native Romania.

In Roxana’s youth, Romania was a communist dictatorship under the control of Nicolae Ceaușescu. Her family was often targeted by the state because of her late great-grandfather’s legacy as a liberty-minded mayor of a small village. After the regime fell, it was her great-grandmother who set a spark in Roxana.

In 1991, they returned together to the land that had been confiscated from her family under communism.

“It happened when I was 15, but it’s one of my most vivid memories,” Roxana said. “My great-grandmother marched barefoot into the field of sunflowers, kneeled down, and kissed the ground.”

The words she spoke that day left a powerful impression on Roxana. “She said, ‘If you don’t have the land to feed yourself and to feed your family, you have no security over anything in your life.”

It was Roxana’s first introduction to the concept of private property and ultimately an inspiration for her to dedicate her life to the cause of freedom.

Upon attending university in Bucharest, she became involved in the National Liberal Party, witnessing the first change in democratic governments in 1997. That year, she also met her husband, Juan Pina, a Canadian-born child of immigrants from Spain.

The pair later relocated to Mexico City to run a magazine for liberal thinkers before returning to Spain, where they launched Fundalib, also known as Fundación para el Avance da la Libertad, in 2015. Roxana serves as president, and Juan as secretary general.

Fundalib received a startup grant from Atlas Network in its early years, and the worldwide freedom movement has been a major part of Roxana and Juan’s lives since. They even celebrated their 25th anniversary among friends in the movement at Europe Liberty Forum in Warsaw.

“Coming from where I’m from, the principles and ideas of liberty have a very important role in anything I do as an individual, as a mother, as an entrepreneur, as a daughter, and as a wife,” Roxana said. “I’ve been lucky to share with Juan the same vision. We are very united for each other and the love of liberty.”

Roxana Nicula and Juan Pina Impact Story
Roxana Nicula, Juan Pina, and their Fundalib colleagues at Atlas Network's Liberty Forum & Freedom Dinner 2022

A Smart Bet

Under Roxana’s leadership, Fundalib quickly rose to prominence in Atlas Network. Her team used municipal data from throughout Spain to publish an annual index of economic freedom, ranking cities in areas including taxes and government waste. The project encouraged officials to prioritize economic competitiveness and look to Fundalib for how to improve their city’s ranking. The successful campaign earned Fundalib Atlas Network’s 2020 Europe Liberty Award.

In the same year, Roxana won the Think Tank Shark Tank pitch competition, by proposing a campaign to combat Spain’s self-employment tax, which is the highest in the European Union. Three years later, the project has yielded some results. Spain has reduced the tax amount and delayed the timeline for payment to accommodate newer businesses.

“It was a particularly complicated year because we were in lockdown, so we felt the need to use a project that would instill some optimism for an online audience of Atlas Network partners,” Roxana said.

Fundalib has also played a crucial role in Spain’s immigration debate by producing a documentary on immigrant entrepreneurs and successfully proposing numerous policy changes that welcomed more non-EU nationals to work in the country.

These accomplishments earned Fundalib a place in Atlas Network’s 2023 Smart Bets program, a class of high-achieving grantees who receive additional investments, consulting, and networking opportunities to accelerate their ambitious plans. Each year at Liberty Forum & Freedom Dinner in New York City, one Smart Bets organization is recognized with the $25,000 Smart Bets Impact Award.

Roxana’s Smart Bets peers include both veteran think tanks like the Lithuanian Free Market Institute, founded in 1990, and up-and-coming organizations such as Montana’s Frontier Institute, established in 2020.

“Being a finalist of the Smart Bets program means reaching the next level of maturity of our organization,” Roxana said. “All the hard work that we have put forward for the past eight years has been recognized at a higher level.”

“Being a finalist of the Smart Bets program means reaching the next level of maturity of our organization. All the hard work that we have put forward for the past eight years has been recognized at a higher level.”

- Roxana Nicula
Atlas Network 2023 Smart Bets Impact Story
Roxana Nicula and other representatives of 2023 Smart Bets organizations at Investors Summit for Liberty 2022

Don’t Give Up, Don’t Look Back

As a Madrid-based team with many leaders who were born abroad, Fundalib has a global vision that includes partners from many regions in its work. As part of the Smart Bets program, Roxana is currently working with Atlas Network partners to expand the use of city economic competitiveness rankings in Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador, and Costa Rica.

As Europe enters an era marked by war, and both Latin America and Europe contend with rising authoritarianism, Fundalib aims to be a voice of reason that reminds people of the amazing achievements individuals have made under liberal democratic institutions, as imperfect as they may be.

“That makes our relationship with our partners in Latin America very important,” Roxana said. “This is our commitment at Fundalib: To defend the framework of liberal values that brought the prosperity and the respect for individual rights and for human liberty all around the world and brought humanity from hunger to prosperity in less than 200 years.”