Interethnic Interaction Program
USAID programs seek to empower ethnic groups both economically and socially in order to reduce potential flashpoints of ethnic tension
Photo by PBF: The extracurricular activities supported by Partners Bulgaria Foundation in Dupnitsa raised Roma children‘s motivation for regular school attendance and better school results.DEVELOPMENT CHALLENGES The transition from a state-run economy to a free market system in many cases served to exacerbate the problems faced by Bulgaria’s Roma and Turkish/Muslim population. The poor educational, social and economic status of Roma and Turkish population placed them in an unequal position in the new realities of the emerging market economy. The crises of transition stimulated the spread of ethnic intolerance and prejudice and subsequent marginalization of these groups followed at a rapid pace. Presently, the social and economic crisis of these communities poses a threat to the comparatively good relations between ethnic and religious groups in Bulgaria.
USAID INVOLVEMENT Since 2000, USAID has been addressing Roma and Turkish/Muslim re-integration in Bulgarian society through improving economic, social and educational opportunities and promoting interethnic relations in 13 Bulgarian municipalities with multiethnic population and high levels of unemployment.
Launched initially in the towns of Lom, Vidin and Kyustendil, the Interethnic Interaction Program was expanded in 2003 to include four more communities with mixed Roma and Turkish/Muslim population. In October 2004, through its Global Development Alliance Initiative (GDA), USAID entered into a strategic partnership with Partners Bulgaria Foundation (PBF). These additional public and private resources were leveraged to include six more Muslim communities in the program, bringing the total number of communities to 13.
The work in the field is complemented by technical support to the Government of Bulgaria (GOB) provided under USAID’s program. Recognizing that reducing discrimination against and promoting inclusion of ethnic minorities is a precondition for EU accession, GOB requested technical assistance in the development of a comprehensive Strategy for social inclusion of Roma people. The strategy is a guiding document for providing Roma with equal access to the labor market and reducing their dependence on the social assistance system.
GOAL To enhance inclusion of Roma and Turkish/Muslim populations as a result of improved living conditions attained by increased access to quality education, business opportunities, and social services.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION USAID’s Interethnic Interaction Program works for establishment of sustainable mechanisms of interethnic and inter-sector cooperation between local municipal authorities and the local Roma and Turkish/Muslim communities.
The efforts are streamlined along three main activities, which promote inclusion, tolerance and protection of human rights:
• Cooperative planning process: The program provides assistance to facilitate cooperative planning processes between local authorities and minority representatives to develop initiatives that focus on economic development, educational advancement and social support for minorities. In the same time, the program tries to build inter-sectoral and inter-ethnic relations, thus promoting ethnic integration and participation in policy decision making. Participants are trained in communication and negotiation skills, cooperative planning, project development and project management.
• Conciliation Commissions: USAID assists the introduction of conciliation commissions as a working model for solving urgent problems of minorities and facilitating positive ethnic relations within the local community. Being a USAID legacy the conciliation commissions (supported by the local government, NGOs and local legal consultants) will remain as Mediation Centers to help local communities resolve ethnic-based conflicts in Bulgaria.
• Leadership Institute: Originally launched as the Roma Leadership Institute for development of Roma leadership capacity, the Minority Leadership Institute was transformed into an informal training institution for building management, leadership, and networking skills of Roma, Turkish/Muslim, and Bulgarian leaders.
Additional to the main three action lines:
• Support to the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy: USAID provided the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy with technical assistance and training to develop a comprehensive social strategy for Roma integration and to build its capacity to implement the strategy.
• Index of Ethnic Integration (IEI): The index measures the degree of ethnic and religious integration of the population in 10 municipalities of the program activities. The Index of Ethnic Integration tracks the status of ethnic groups in seven fields: local self-government, labor market, education, health care, social cervices, quality of life, relations with others (ethnic tolerance).
SUCCESS STORY Mediation Keeps Lights on in Roma Neighborhood. Nonpayment of electricity bills by residents in the Roma neighborhood Gizdova mahala in Dupnitsa was a growing problem with no apparent solution. The electrical utility was frustrated at their inability to collect back payments and control illegal usage. Roma residents were frustrated by a payment system that made it difficult for them to pay back debts and current bills. Total electricity debts in the neighborhood exceeded $120,000.
In October 2005 the PBF Mediation Center in Dupnitsa decided to organize a roundtable with all interested parties, including neighborhood representatives, the mayor’s office, and electrical utility representatives. Despite the skepticism of all parties, a solution emerged: individual payment plans for more than 100 households that allowed payments as small as $5-$10 to be credited towards past debt as well as current bills. 5 percent of the original debt has already been collected under the agreements. Some residents have paid even more than was required under the agreement, and some households who didn’t sign an agreement have begun to pay as a result of positive peer pressure from neighbors.