Such an experience has developed also a marked lobbying and research/educational political skills as requirement to deal with the complex net of relations that tie funding agencies (at both the EU and local level), investors (from angel, to seed, to venture funding), business organizations (from SME’s to world wide corporations), Universities and Research Performing Organizations (including networks business/academia/research organizations) and other type of stakeholders (such as consulting companies, public relations or groups of interest).
А member of the Junior Achievement Worldwide, Junior Achievement Bulgaria has been working in the country since 1997. The social enterprise educates and inspires young Bulgarians to cherish freedom of initiative, business and economics, and offers practical and innovative educational programmes in entrepreneurship, economy, finance literacy, and career development. Its board of directors includes leading representatives of the business. CEO Milena Stoycheva elaborates on the mission, achievements and future goals of JA Bulgaria.
Why is Junior Achievement important for Bulgaria?
JA promotes a mindset different from the one young Bulgarians are taught at school. It develops programmes and delivers educational content that brings in the country a new culture of pro-active way of thinking and behaviour, of taking risks and responsibilities. JA Bulgaria shows young people how to do things creatively and responsibly, how to be engaged citizens and address the challenges in the contemporary world, how to create value for themselves and for the stakeholders.
JA Bulgaria provides education through programmes, activities and events in three main areas. The first one is entrepreneurship as mindset, skills, behaviour, knowledge. The second area is financial literacy; it includes management of personal finances and accumulation of such resources, but also understanding of how the state functions and manages these resources. The third area is the skill of being employable, of developing your future career and choosing the right profession and vocation.
A competence we have had recently focused on is digital literacy. This competence supports the development of other qualities and competences. We believe it will become the medium through which we develop all of the other skills and knowledge in the future. We are living in a digital era, and this is really calling for us to understand this medium and to use it so that we build on top of it other key qualities like critical thinking, working in a team, being able to process and analyse information, problem solving.
What does digital literacy include?
Our programme covers trainings for students and teachers. The young generation swims easily in the waters of digital life, but we need to develop the same skills and understanding in older people, the teachers. JA Bulgaria works with several partners in the IT field, including Samsung, in the training and the education of teachers to use our platform and blended classroom approach in the education. This helps them to be up to date and to teach their subjects in a more attractive way for the students. Modern education is impossible without digital literacy.
Jointly with Samsung, we developed four smart classrooms and in the fall of 2015 we launched a training for teachers on how to use online resources and how to develop their own blended classroom classes. We trained about 2,000 teachers and there are more willing to participate in the programme. This indicates that there is a need, a hunger for such opportunities for teachers. An investment like this is extremely important for the country and should be done by the state, the industry and the other players on the market.
How do you work with universities?
JA Bulgaria has been co-operating for nine years with about 20 Bulgarian universities in the Startup Programme. In the programme students form teams and explore opportunities on developing startup ideas and even form companies based on them. The programme utilises the potential of research that the students are working on at the university, and offers them the opportunity to collaborate with other students and even professors. We have been working with Coca-Cola in the last three years to encourage entrepreneurial behaviour among students. The company set up a special space for such kind of training and qualification, called JA Startup Hambar, that will be hosted in the newly established Sofia Tech Park. It is the only place in Bulgaria providing students with the opportunity to study and get financial support for their ideas. Coca-Cola is now investing 10,000 leva in one of the companies born via the Startup Programme. Our co-operating companies are indeed interested in supporting educational startups, investing in them and even buying them up. It is a new approach for Bulgaria. Moreover, the programme inspires the industry to be an active participant in the education of young people. It is a two-way street.
Coca-Cola invests not only financially in the project but also offers expertise, employee involvement and mentorship. Nestlé has been a partner since the very beginning. Citi Bank is another good partner, they have been instrumental for JA Bulgaria's financial literacy programme.
LifeChanger financial innovation camp, 2016
Tell us more about this programme.
Financial literacy is crucial as it helps you to understand, analyse and make financial decisions. Recently we started specific programmes focused on it. One of these, LifeChanger, is in co-operation with MetLife. Volunteers from the company, who are practitioners, deliver classes in 20 classes and to 430 students throughout the country. The course is only a semester-long, but we are already seeing the difference. Our test showed a 51 percent increase in the students' knowledge before and after the course. This shows how such programmes can transform the understanding and positioning of young people in the contemporary market.
"Financial IQ" is a project started in the fall of 2015. We began survey and we conducted it jointly with OECD, the Ministry of Education, NN, MasterCard, and UniCredit Bulbank. Its goal is to test the level of financial literacy among students from elementary to high-school, covering 200 schools and between 8,000 and 10,000 students from all over Bulgaria. The results will be ready by June.
Can you share some of the success stories which JA Bulgaria helped happen?
In a collaboration with the America for Bulgaria Foundation, we recently did a study on our alumni who were supported to develop mini-companies while in high school. The survey found that 100 young entrepreneurs were deeply impacted by the education that JA Bulgaria provided. About 400 jobs and 50 companies were created as the result of this. A telling example for the success of our educational programmes.
But in the sphere of education, measurement of the result is not everything. The more important result is that we change the behaviour and way of thinking of a whole generation. They are the people who are going to transform the Bulgarian society and make Bulgaria a better place to live. We build a constructive entrepreneurial mindset that creates value through talent, strong qualities and knowledge. This is what we want to be associated with and set an example for.
Sofia, 9 Zagore St
phone: +359 2 989 3660
Work with a mentor during an innovation camp, 2015
Presentation of the company of arts students at the youth forum Rising Stars, 2015