No one has done more than Pavel Kounchev to encourage volunteering in Bulgaria in the past decade. The platform he helped found almost seven years ago, Time Heroes, has connected more than 46,000 volunteers to 1,650 initiatives, making a difference in the lives of thousands of people around the country. For his work developing creative solutions and digital tools to inspire civic engagement, Pavel was recently selected to join the first class of Obama Foundation Scholars at Columbia University.
Pavel is one of 12 rising social change-makers from around the world who, starting this fall, will be immersed in a year-long program designed to strengthen the expertise and knowledge of individuals with a demonstrated ability to be transformative leaders and the commitment to find solutions to complex social challenges. At Columbia’s campus in New York City, the Obama Foundation Scholars will engage in robust networking, mentorship, service activities, and values-based leadership development.
Even before the Obama Foundation recognition, Pavel had an impressive list of achievements: He is a social entrepreneur with a strong background in advertising and marketing. Apart from cofounding and leading Time Heroes, he is the cofounder and chair of the board of Fine Acts, a global platform for socially engaged art. He is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, one of Forbes Bulgaria 30 Under 30, and an Aspen Institute Romania alum. In addition to running Time Heroes, he is also working toward an MA in digital management at Hyper Island, a digital creative business school. Recognizing Pavel and Time Heroes’ enormous potential to do good in the country, the America for Bulgaria Foundation has supported the platform since 2012.
Pavel jokes that, in addition to fundraising and media relations, being the director of the largest volunteering platform in Bulgaria involves “carrying, screwing, unscrewing, wiping, and sticking things” at the office; despite the organization’s impact, Time Heroes has a small team, and everyone pitches in to get the work done. There is a bigger point here as well, one that is also relevant to volunteering: every contribution is important, and individuals can do good in various ways, whether by donating their time, skills, money, or sometimes, simply, their own two hands. Time Heroes aims to educate people that volunteering is not something outside of everyday life; volunteering means identifying what needs doing and getting it done, without expecting anything in return.
“Fortunately, more and more people realize that when they see a problem, they shouldn’t wait for someone else (in most cases, the state) to do something about it; instead, they act, they attempt different solutions, they stir things up. This is the best we can do and the best we can be,” Pavel says.
Currently, TimeHeroes.org has over 46,000 registered volunteers in Bulgaria. The platform is the main, and in most cases the only, source of volunteers for local nonprofits—many of which admit that volunteers are vital to their survival. In the past seven years, the Time Heroes community has provided crucial support to more than 670 nonprofit organizations, helping children at risk, people with disabilities, economically disadvantaged people, and refugees and participating in nature conservation, cultural initiatives, and educational projects, among others.