Unlocking human potential through a universal basic income

Floyd Marinescu launched UBI Works to reframe the debate about basic income — and his message is catching on

Growing up in a family where money was scarce, Floyd Marinescu (BMath ’02) saw firsthand the impacts of working class poverty. “Money was a source of a lot of conflict in my house,” he said. “I knew that if there was financial security, it would have been a lot better for my family.” 

A fan of Star Trek, Marinescu yearned for the egalitarian, poverty-less society depicted on the show, often wondering, “How do we get to that future?”  

When he heard about basic income, he felt he had discovered a key piece of the answer. “I was amazed that you could have a market system without poverty,” he recalled.  

The more he read about basic income, the more passionate he became. In 2019, he launched UBI Works, a non-profit that shares knowledge and mobilizes support for the cause. He hopes to convince voters that basic income will not only reduce poverty but also fuel our economy and help people lead more creative, fulfilling lives. 

“I believe innovation most often comes from inspiration, not desperation,” Marinescu said. “Innovators like Newton and Botticelli had the security to tinker and create. I look at basic income as a way to create psychological safety for our entire society so that we unlock people's potential and enable them to pursue their best selves.”

From creating community for software engineers to driving political change 

Marinescu came to the University of Waterloo for Computer Science in 1997, drawn by the renowned co-op program. His experiences in the program proved formative.  

In his second year, he secured a work term in Silicon Valley and used the time to network extensively. Visiting a conference during a lunch break, he met the CEO of a startup Java-training company and soon became the company’s first employee. Balancing this full-time job with his studies, Marinescu helped build the world's top Java programmer news website, TheServerSide.com. 

He enjoyed the work so thoroughly that shortly after the company sold in 2002, he launched his own technical media company, C4Media. The company runs InfoQ, a news website featuring stories written by and for software engineers, and a popular practitioner-driven conference called QCon, which has hosted events in London, San Francisco, New York, São Paulo and Beijing. 

Marinescu’s proudest accomplishment, however, is the work culture. Despite being one of the world’s first globally distributed, fully remote workplaces – with more than 40 full-time staff from 12 countries – C4Media has a strong sense of community and experiences little turnover. 

As C4Media became established, Marinescu found more time to devote to basic income advocacy. Through UBI Works, he hopes to reframe the conversation about basic income, balancing more familiar arguments about how it can eliminate poverty with arguments focused on its economic benefits. They funded research by the Canadian Centre for Economic Analysis showing that a basic income would grow the economy by more than it costs.  

The organization also promotes digital activism. Its online petitions have led more than 800,000 emails being sent to government officials at all levels since 2019 and its social media content is seen more than 2,000,000 times a month across all major online platforms. This activism seems to be working. At the 2021 Liberal National Convention, delegates voted overwhelmingly in support of a basic income, using references from research UBI Works promoted. Then, in 2023, basic income was passed and prioritized as official party policy. To date, members of every major political party in Canada have publicly supported some form of basic income. The recent Senate and House Bills S233 and C223, which aim to develop a national framework for a guaranteed livable basic income, have had more than 32,000 signatories.   

Marinescu is also the first signatory and organizer of CEOs for Basic Income, a group of more 170 Canadian business leaders, representing $1.5 billion a year in revenues and more than 5,300 employees who signed an open letter in support of basic income. 

As automation rapidly replaces good jobs, Marinescu feels the need for a basic income grows more urgent by the day. “Automation has been linked to falling job quality,” Marinescu said. “We need a means to help people in poverty reeducate. Basic income will help people in transition.” 

Advice for students: Escape the Silicon Valley mindset 

Marinescu believes basic income will enable people to pursue more fulfilling work, liberating them from the “hamster wheel of dead-end jobs needed just to survive.” In his own career, Marinescu has sought to prioritize meaningful work over money but that hasn’t always been easy.    

“When I started C4Media, I had a Silicon Valley mindset where the goal was to build a company, make lots of money and then flip it,” Marinescu said. “But I realized that I didn’t want to sell, because our service to the world was useful and I enjoyed building its culture. I had to deprogram myself from the romanticization of the serial entrepreneur.” He explained that it’s fulfilling to continue C4Media’s services while channelling some of its profits into social change work.   

Marinescu believes there’s a message in this for today’s students: “Be true to yourself. Work hard and make money but direct yourself to the things that bring you fulfillment.”