The Bridge to Business is through Education


Unemployment among young Roma with university education is below 3% and is comparable to the level of unemployment among mainstream university graduates all over the country (approximately 2.5% in 2018[1]). The risk of poverty, which affects one in five Bulgarian, is practically non-existing for the highly educated Roma. Their income is comparable to that of all university graduates: the average monthly income of BA degree graduates is BGN 820, while that of MA degree graduates is BGN 1100. These data show that by graduating university education, representatives of Roma community become an integral part of the highly skilled workforce and contribute to overcoming the existing inequalities on the labor market.

The share of the university graduates among the Roma, however, is under 1%, whereas the average for the country is 28%[2]. The inclusion of more Roma people in university education can be enhanced through a series of career orientation measures. 30% of the young Roma people with university education, who took part in the Bridge to Business Programme  and the practical trainings for CV development and job interview skills or have visited leading companies that offer jobs to experts with university education, have enrolled in a university or declared their willingness to receive a university education. This share is more than twice higher in comparison with a similar group of young Roma people who have not been exposed to similar measures.

These are some of the findings presented by the team of the Bridge to Business Programme on June 13, 2019 during the conference Diversity and Inclusion at the Labor Market. The Programme, carried out by Open Society Institute – Sofia in partnership with Autonomia Foundation, Hungary, and the Central European University in Budapest, facilitates the access of young Roma (aged 18-35, who have at least secondary education and passed their matriculation exams), to highly qualified positions at the private sector.

Within the Programme, (where 121 young people of Roma origin took part), 13 trainings in soft skills were organized and over 220 career development services have been delivered: development of a competitive CV, identifying appropriate job listings corresponding to the education and qualification of the participants, job interview preparation, etc. More than 20 private companies took part in the project, where some of them opened their doors for the young Roma people and gave them the opportunity to witness the business from the inside for the first time.

Most of the participants declare that as a result of their participation there is a positive change in their skills and attitudes: 42% of them share that they have learnt how to write a good CV; the same percentage of the participants feel more confident, 38% of them have gained experience in job seeking and again 38% of them have improved their communication skills.

The correlation between higher education and higher income shows that programmes and initiatives such as the Bridge to Business may have positive effect in several aspects:

  1. Encouraging young Roma with completed secondary education to continue their education further could partially compensate the decreased number of students within the Bulgarian universities, observed in the last 5 years.
  2. In view of the increasing shortage of skilled workforce for the business, the inflow of a new group of educated young people, that has been outside the labor market for highly qualified position until now, could have a positive impact on the entire economy.
  3. The increase of the number of university graduates among the young Roma, as well their successful career development may result in decreasing the negative stereotypes against the Roma community.

All this provides for a series of potential measures that might be undertaken by the state, the business and the universities:

  1. Provision of accessible forms of career orientation for all students, including for secondary school students in remoted areas.
  2. Application of innovative interdisciplinary school curriculums for development of basic skills related to the requirements of the future labor market –(entrepreneurial, communicative, language and technological (IT) competences). Data collected within the implementation of the Programme show that these are the fields where young Roma feel less prepared: 45% of the participants in Bridge to Business recognize the lack of foreign language skills as limitation, and the lack of computer skills is an issue for 30% of them.
  3. The experience of Bridge to Business shows that organizing short time trainings of 1-2 days for people with secondary education and people with university education together, may be contagious and provoke interest in further education. These approaches may be of interest to the universities that trying to attract more students.

A natural partner in this process is the business. Over 20 private companies became allies of the Bridge to Business and of some of them were directly involved in the trainings or accepted Programme’s participants as short term interns.

Companies that successfully apply diversity policies are 45% more likely to have a larger market share, and ethnically diverse companies are 33% more likely to achieve better financial financial success than ethnically homogeneous companies. This is a small part of the benefits described within the  “Diversity at the Workplace – Why and How? Steps to Develop and Manage a Diversity and Inclusion Policy” a guide developed by the Programme’s team.

The Diversity Pays Off platform was established and launched within Bridge to Business, where stakeholders exchange experience and ideas for promoting diversity in the private sector.

Bridge to Business also unveils the high potential of educated Roma for contributing to the economic growth not only in the private sector. State and municipal institutions may not only provide conditions for the business, but to be an example for promoting the participation of well-educated Roma professionals in the public sector – especially in areas as education, healthcare, social policy and employment.

In 2017 Bridge to Business was nominated for an EC flagship project.

For more details:

Dimitar Dimitrov

Manager of the Bridge to Business Programme

as well as the websites of:

Bridge to Business

Diversity Pays Off –

Bridge to Business – An Initiative for Improving the Access of Young People of Roma Origin to Employment in the Private Sector of Bulgaria and Hungary.

Ref. No. VS/2016/0236

The project is supported by the Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) programme of the European Union (“EaSI”) 2014-2020.

[1] According to data of the Bulgarian University Ranking System, 2018,

[2] According to data of the National Statistical Institute for 2018