The USAID program in Bulgaria focused on helping the country achieve a more prosperous, stable, and democratic future. New generations of Bulgarians will grow up as European Union citizens.
The American people, through USAID, contributed more than $600 million in economic and technical assistance between 1990 and 2007 to support Bulgaria’s transition to democratic governance and a market economy. The USAID program in Bulgaria evolved from humanitarian aid and political party strengthening to a broader development approach designed to help the country overcome the challenges of its transition. Together with its partners, USAID assisted with developing private businesses, improving local democratic governance, supporting rule of law reforms, enhancing human capacity to manage these changes, and addressing the needs of vulnerable populations. Economic assistance provided by USAID under the Support to Eastern European Democracy (SEED) Act ends in September 2008.
STRENGTHENING DEMOCRACY AND THE RULE OF LAWEarly USAID support focused on developing a pluralistic political party system, strong civil society, and independent media. One of the most successful components of USAID democracy promotion in Bulgaria was support for local governance reform. Later USAID turned its attention to rule of law issues, anti-corruption, and judicial reform. Results of these activities include the creation of 140 “one-stop shops” in municipalities to provide citizens with easy access to information and services, the increase by more than $100 million in municipal revenues between 2000 and 2006, establishment of a National Association of Municipalities, the Foundation for Local Government Reform and a network of viable local government support organizations, and creation of several community funds which raised more than $800,000 for grassroots community projects such as hospital and school renovations. Thirty-two model courts implemented administrative reforms greatly increasing standards of transparency and efficiency. USAID facilitated establishment of the private enforcement agent profession, which collected more than $60 million in enforceable claims during the agents’ first year of work. The USAID-supported National Institute of Justice is recognized as the premier judicial training center in Central and Eastern Europe.
CULTIVATING A ROBUST ECONOMYMore than half of USAID funding in Bulgaria aimed at helping the country develop its free-market economy. Initial assistance focused on privatization and reform of economic policies. Later, it shifted to stimulating private entrepreneurship with technical and financial assistance. After the banking crisis in 1996, USAID stepped in to strengthen financial institutions. USAID was also involved in reform of the pension system, and in restructuring the outmoded energy sector. Starting in 2003, USAID focused on improving private sector competitiveness. Results of these activities include privatization of more than 1,000 medium-sized state-owned firms, passage of modern investment and taxation laws, establishment of key investment promotion and SME development strategies, hospital energy efficiency projects with 20 percent average savings, more than 53,000 micro-enterprise loans worth $68 million that supported more than 78,000 jobs, and growth of banking system assets by more than 500 percent since 1997. The Bulgarian American Credit Bank was a pioneer in mortgage lending, providing more than 5,000 mortgages by 2006.
USAID programs help improve the business environment and create opportunities for small and medium-sized entrepreneurs throughout Bulgaria. (Photo: USAID)
LAYING GROUND FOR CONTINUED PROGRESSNational and regional stability depend upon Bulgaria’s ability to sustain economic and democratic reforms. USAID assistance developed and reinforced the infrastructure required to support these reforms and Bulgaria’s future progress. USAID trained Bulgarian professionals, created advocacy and public awareness campaigns, enhanced avian influenza preparedness, and provided flood relief assistance. USAID supported the American University in Bulgaria, the only American-style liberal arts education institution in southeastern Europe.
USAID established two funding mechanisms to continue reform work beyond 2008 in key areas. The main mechanism is the America for Bulgaria Foundation, which will become operational in 2008 and was established with the liquidated assets of the Bulgarian-American Enterprise Fund. The three-year Bulgaria Fund was established with the German Marshall Fund in November 2007 to give targeted grants to NGOs.
Below is a list of institutions supported by USAID that made a lasting impact in Bulgaria’s transformation, and continue to support its progress.
- American University in Bulgaria
- America for Bulgaria Foundation
- Broadcast Training Center
- Bulgarian American Credit Bank
- Bulgarian Center for Development and Training
- Business Foundation for Education
- Network of career development centers
- Foundation for Local Government Reform
- National Association of Municipalities in the Republic of Bulgaria
- National Institute of Justice
- Nine Regional Associations of Municipalities
- Nachala and Ustoi microcredit institutions
- Managed system of protected areas, including two national parks