The Power Of Community: Sustainability

A speech by Nancy Schiller, President and CEO of America for Bulgaria Foundation at the second ABF All Grantee Forum on January 23, 2018 

The forum gathered more than 500 Foundation partners from the non-governmental sector, national and regional institutions, public and private media, social and private entrepreneurs, educational and cultural establishments, corporate partners and international organizations representatives. Watch video HERE.

Thank you, Ambassador Rubin.

Your steadfast support and friendship in good times and challenging times is greatly appreciated. Thank you.

For those who were here for last year’s inaugural event, welcome back. For those new to the Grantee Forum, welcome. You are joining a community of nearly 500 grantees and partners who share your vision for Bulgaria’s economic, educational, and democratic growth.

My talk is in three parts:

1. Where we’ve been;
2. Where we’re going;
3. How we’ll work together to get there….

1. Where We’ve Been…

Last year, I made a confession…that I was an optimist. Some of you laughed, but many of you shared my optimism, secretly perhaps, but still…

Fast forward 12 months, and I remain an optimist about Bulgaria. It’s not naivete, as we all recognize the challenges Bulgaria faces. But it’s because of each of you, our partners, and the community we’re building…step by step. Your dedication to your country is inspiring and for that, I am deeply impressed and humbled as I know it’s not always easy.

There are many barriers, both external and internal, but you persevere. More often than not, together we achieve much of what we set out to do. We recognize change comes slowly and impact may not be seen for months or even years. But progress has been made, and I would like to share a few highlights of the past year.

This graphic shows ABF investments for 2017 and since inception. The numbers speak for themselves so my focus is on several initiatives, but I wish I could highlight them all.

More than $100 million of the total of $200 million of grants since 2009 are in Education. Along with continued support of grantees you see all around us, late last year we introduced the ABF Education Leadership Academy bringing world-class principal and teacher training to Bulgaria.

Schools of the Future added 23 schools, bringing the number of schools to 68. By funding computer, science, and language labs, we immediately impact the educational environment. Community engagement is key…through fundraising initiatives, each school generates 25 – 30 percent of the improvement budget, creating a sense of ownership and community pride.

Our beloved Muzeiko, the children’s science and technology museum, welcomed its 200,000th visitor. Its “Inventors” exhibit travelled to Razgrad due to the generosity of local private donors. And, Muzeiko added two more international awards for its content and design.


We are extremely proud of additional international recognition received by ABF grantees.
The United Nations awarded the Trust for Social Achievement a prize for its land zoning initiatives in Kyustendil, Peshtera and Dupnitsa. This project can be a model for other communities in Bulgaria and countries dealing with similar issues.

In Paris, ABF and its partners the Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Tourism, Municipality of Plovdiv and the Permanent Mission of Bulgaria to UNESCO introduced the Bishop’s Basilica of Philippopolis to UNESCO delegates along with an eight-day exhibition. For those who haven’t yet seen the video, I invite you to enjoy the stunning visuals. Watch video HERE.

Back in Bulgaria, we delighted in President Radev’s recognition of the Bulgarian Donors Forum for its “Learn to Donate” program, aimed at familiarizing students with the principles of charity and goodwill.

The Little Heroes initiative transformed the children’s wards of Pirogov with corporate support, DMS contributions, and individual gifts, resulting in a 2,200 square meter, 65-room, three-floor transformation, along with a new playground. We are enormously proud of this transparent model of fundraising. When a community comes together under an umbrella of trust and shared goals, amazing things can happen.

We are grateful to the 26 NGO’s who combined efforts to hold government to account regarding proposed amendments to the Judicial System Act. The lack of transparent ownership of media, the threats to independent media, and ongoing corruption issues accentuate the need for continued engagement of all citizens to hold Bulgaria’s leaders to the country’s democratic values.

2. Where We’re Going….

In the coming months, we will break ground on the Bishop’s Basilica of Philippopolis and submit the UNESCO application. In spring, we will cut the ribbon on the new ABF-funded campus at the American College of Sofia.

Several new initiatives include a partnership with Texas A&M University to train Bulgarian agricultural specialists. Start-Up Navigator, a dedicated webpage created by ABLE – the Association of Bulgarian Leaders and Entrepreneurs – serves as a one-stop shop for new businesses.

A partnership with Telerik Academy Foundation will teach digital skills to students in grades 4 – 12. Over the next three years, we expect to reach 5,600 students in 13 cities.
With the Center for Applied Sciences and Innovations, ABF is funding a new laboratory at Sofia University to encourage research and development in the biotech industry and to help keep scientific innovators in Bulgaria.

Partnering with the Srednogorie Cluster, we are launching BASE – Business Achievements for Social Entrepreneurs – to train budding entrepreneurs on how to run a small business.
The HUB cities project focuses on three communities: Razgrad, Gabrovo, and Vratsa. We will closely work with organizations, businesses, and local government to see how ABF and its partners can assist in building stronger, sustainable communities.

And the Muzeiko “Innovators” exhibit will travel to Gabrovo and Plovdiv, again due to generosity of individual donors, corporate and municipal support.

When you look at the diverse portfolio of NGO’s, you may wonder “Why?” Why this mixture of programs, events, research, organizations, and institutions? There is a point to this…a plan…a vision.

When ABF’s six areas of interest work in concert, step-by-step achieving the goals we set, the lives of Bulgarians are positively impacted and businesses can grow and thrive. Together, we help build a society that values the individual, their education, their career choices, the freedom to choose their path. And this benefits Bulgaria, building a society where people want to stay and prosper.

We deeply value our community’s engagement and begin 2018 with determination and optimism. But…as large as ABF is we alone cannot provide the long-term support to all the worthy causes in the country. Or the same initiatives indefinitely. The times present us with different challenges that need to be addressed.

Looking around the room, you can see there’s many of you and only one ABF. We need to work together to improve opportunities for multiple funding sources and to better connect your communities of potential donors. Which brings me to the topic of today’s conference: Sustainability.

3. How We’ll Work Together To Get There…

Over the past 18 months, the Foundation’s team expanded our reach and broadened our network of contacts. We are actively exploring domestic and international partnerships – with government, embassies, businesses, and individuals, along with US and international foundations and organizations. We are doing this because we want to help our grantees and partners have even greater impact and to better sustain their initiatives over the long term.

I am delighted that many corporate leaders and CSR specialists are in the room with us today. I’m also pleased that several foundations, EU organizations, and media partners are attending.

Society’s issues are rarely solved by the efforts of one sector. It takes the policy-making power of government, the innovation engine of business, the energy and commitment of NGOs, the media to report honestly on the successes and failures, and the financial support of individuals and philanthropic organizations. As we all know, the power of a group is so much greater than the power of an individual.

ABF is here to plant the seeds, to nurture the germ of an idea for the betterment of society. Not all seeds will take root, but some will successfully see the light of day and possibly, transform society in ways none of us can anticipate. Let’s actively explore ways to collaborate, ask questions, and share our collective wisdom. We’ve brought you together to consider new ideas, meet new contacts, and hopefully, be inspired and motivated by what you learn from the experts – many of them, your peers.

In last year’s speech, I mentioned how our predecessor organization, the Bulgarian American Enterprise Fund, became a 17-year overnight success. It took 17 years of hard work and creative problem solving before the stars aligned, leading to our success.

Let’s continue our sustainability journey. I hope it won’t take 17 years, but it will take diligence and significant effort to build a community of support. And ABF will be here.

We will continue our partnership. But it is our expectation that each of you will make a sincere and concentrated effort to financially engage with your beneficiaries — those individuals and companies who believe in the importance of what you do. Society benefits when individuals and companies support – financially and as volunteers – initiatives that are meaningful and have impact.

I hope this conference provides you with the tools you need. It is also my sincere hope you will take these tools out on Wednesday morning and apply what you learn to help sustain, build, and realize the full potential of your organization.

I greatly anticipate next year’s conference where we can report your many successes. Now…that is optimism!

Finally, I would like to read the quote from my bottle written by Mr. Rogers, a television personality who educated generations of American children. This quote is meant for you:
“We live in a world in which we need to share responsibility. It’s easy to say, “It’s not my child, not my community, not my world, not my problem.” Then there are those people who see the need and respond. I consider those people my heroes.”

You are the Big Heroes. You see the need and respond. On behalf of ABF, I extend my gratitude for what you do every day.

Thank you and have a wonderful conference.

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