Since 1996 Open Society Institute – Sofia has been assisting in the building and inclusion of the Roma community in civil society and in the process of developing policies for the participation of the Roma in the socio-political life of the country. The initiatives are oriented towards supporting and civil monitoring of the process of equal integration of the Roma in Bulgarian society by formulating evidence-based integration policies, creating conditions for informed public debate, overcoming the negative stereotypes about the Roma and encouraging Roma inclusion.
The topic covers a wide range of activities, including participation in the identification of key problematic areas left outside the focus of attention of the public policy in this field:
- Providing data about the situation of the Roma, their attitudes and the attitudes towards them and the inclusion policies regarding them, including by carrying out longitudinal studies;
- Facilitating an informed debate on Roma integration and overcoming the negative stereotypes about them, including by maintaining the websites ethnos.bg and romunda.net providing information about the minorities in Bulgaria – news, opportunities, documents, documentaries, etc.;
- Improving the opportunities for including young Roma in university education, the public sphere and the business.
The work in the specified areas is carried out by implementing specific initiatives, in partnership or independently, with own budget or external funding.
Scholarship Programme for Medicine Students of Roma Origin
The Scholarship Programme started in 2008 with only twenty-three students when medical practitioners were thin on the ground. With time the programme gradually gained popularity and more and more young people of Roma origin choose to study medicine. In 2010 the number of scholarship holders exceeded 100. They study in all medical universities and colleges in the country. Until present over 400 scholarships have been awarded and over 250 people already work at various health centers in Bulgaria. The model was recognized as effective by the Ministry of Health which replicated it for two school years. From 2018/2019 academic year a scholarship programme with similar parameters will be implemented with funding of EEA Grants.
Bridge to Business is an initiative aiming to facilitate the access to qualified young people of Roma origin to the private sector labor market. The initiative has been implemented in cycles since 2007. In fact, it connects young people meeting the business requirements for personnel with particular and specific skills (the so-called white-collar employees). In different periods of the implementation the Programme was run in the form of an internship (and 70% of the interns continue working for the respective business company after that) or assistance and support for obtaining a position in compliance with the individual abilities and interests of the person. At the same time, the initiative operates in cooperation with private companies of various sizes, encouraging and developing mechanisms for application of the principles of diversity in the corporate environment of Bulgaria.
Energy for Development is an initiative which completely changed the image of the Roma regarding the payment of utility bills. In cooperation with the power supply company EVN and Microfund AD the Roma district Stolipinovo in Plovdiv obtained a new power supply network, new electricity meters, cash desks for payment of monthly electricity bills and the possibility to contact representatives of the company on site, in the residential district. As a result the share of the paid electricity bills in the area increased up to over 97%. EVN applies the same approach in other problematic areas and the model is studied by institutes in Austria, England and Spain.