International Forum Varna 2019
With high expectations and a strong interest over 200 participants from Bulgaria and Europe took part in the traditional forum in Varna, held this year at international level and as part of a series of events in the NASO programme related to the organization’s 10th anniversary. The International Forum ‘Partnership for Better Social Services, Employment and Development’ and its accompanying events took place at the International Hotel in Golden Sands Resort on 13–14 June 2019. The event was organized by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disability (EASPD), the National Association of Municipalities in the Republic of Bulgaria, the National Alliance for Social Responsibility and Varna Municipality.
NASO President Mr Georgi Georgiev opened the forum and highlighted the most important milestones in creating and developing an organization such as NASO, an idea that was thought up 20 years ago. These 20 years cover a period of 10 years of national and European partnership before the Alliance’s foundation and another period of 10 years after its legal registration. A brief outline of its major achievements and ongoing projects was given and its partners and members who contributed significantly to the NASO establishment and successful operation were mentioned.
Welcome speeches and congratulations on the NASO’s 10th anniversary were given by Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Policy Dr Sultanka Petrova, EASPD Secretary General Mr Luk Zelderloo, President of the State Agency for Child Protection Dr Eleanora Lilova, CEO of the National Association of Municipalities in the Republic of Bulgaria Ms Silvia Georgieva, Deputy Executive Director of the Agency for Social Assistance Ms Maya Vasileva, Mayor of Varna Municipality Mr Ivan Portnih.
At the opening ceremony Mr Georgiev bestowed NASO’s 10th anniversary awards on the official guests; among this year’s recipients were several state institutions. The Grand Award in Municipalities category was given to the Varna Municipality.
Awards in NGOs category were bestowed on the European Association of Service Providers for Persons with Disability (EASPD), the National Association of Municipalities in the Republic of Bulgaria and the Agency for Social Development Vision.
Expressing their deep appreciation to the president and all members of NASO and marking the Alliance’s 10th anniversary, Dr Eleonora Lilova gave Mr Georgiev a SACP Honorary Medal.
Several panels were on the forum’s agenda presenting and discussing important and hot topics related to social sector development in Bulgaria and Europe. The implementation of new laws on social services, personal assistance and people with disabilities were of great interest, and the presentations on these topics provided the audience with further details.
An in-depth discussion took place among the participants – representatives of ASA and its structures, representatives of municipalities, social services providers, etc. – on the need to find correct solutions when drafting and adopting regulations related to the implementation of new laws. A heavy emphasis was put on the state and municipal responsibility for implementing the law on personal assistance, and the next steps to finding the best solutions were specified.
The forum’s second day started with the exchange of good practices across Europe and Bulgaria. The panel moderator was Luk Zelderloo, EASPD secretary general, who presented the latest aspects of social policies development in Europe.
Dr Karin Astegger, research and development officer at Lebenshilfe Salzburg, summed up the situation in Austria, what objectives and approaches had been pursued, what results had been achieved, and challenges faced in implementing inclusive employment for people with intellectual disabilities.
Akoš Pordan, president of Hand in Hand Foundation, acquainted the forum’s attendees with employment services for people with disabilities in Hungary, the activities of Hand in Hand Foundation and its outcomes achieved with successful European partnership in particular.
Zhaneta Georgieva presented Vision Agency – a social service provider. One of its services – a social assistant for children with SEN attending classes in mainstream schools and kindergartens – is unique in Bulgaria and financed by Varna Municipality funds. The organization has been providing this service for more than 10 years, and given its extremely positive social effect, it could be provided in other Bulgarian cities, as it was suggested in the presentation.
The presentation of Maya Doneva, executive director of Karin Dom Foundation, also aroused interest showing some interesting points of view on the intersections between social innovation, social entrepreneurship and social services.
This provoked a discussion involving Deputy Minister Petrova and Mr Georgi Georgiev, and they agreed to pay more attention to the link between social entrepreneurship and social services at the NASO national forum to be held in Albena Resort on September 26 and 27, 2019.
Another topic of interest on the forum's agenda was how social service providers, cultural professionals, educational institutions and other stakeholders can successfully collaborate in facilitating the integration of people with disabilities by arts and culture.
Samah Ben Abdallah, project manager, talked about the work of LADAPT (France) and the ways to build a network of partnerships based on culture and arts-related activities to overcome social exclusion and promote the social inclusion of persons with disabilities.
Sydney von Ihering, events & communications officer, presented the EASPD experience in bridging the gap between arts and service providers, as well as the activities of EASPD Interest Group on Arts and Culture providing a platform for the exchange of information and good practices in supporting the participation in cultural life and access to arts.
Other examples of good practices in integrating persons with disabilities by culture and arts-based activities were provided by Anelia Atanasova, social affairs specialist, who presented the NASO’s work in this field, and Deputy Mayor of Kardzhali Municipality Veselina Tihomirova who emphasized the positive results from putting creative energy in favour of social inclusion and satisfaction of people with disabilities.
With the final presentation NASO President Georgi Georgiev drew the participants’ attention to the need to support the work opportunities for persons with disabilities in the open labour market and forge partnerships between social services, employers, local and state authorities and all stakeholders to achieve this goal. Mr Georgiev presented a two-year project on which NASO is working to promote inclusive employment for people with disabilities in Bulgaria, and given the importance of these matters, he suggested them as a topic for the next forum in June 2020.
The forum’s agenda included a workshop on social inclusion of people with special needs by arts.
Once again, the forum in Varna provided a platform for bringing up and discussing important topics, challenges and needs in the social sector. The participants had the opportunity to exchange information, learn about latest trends in social development in Bulgaria and Europe, share good practices. The forum’s attendees pointed out that one of the main advantages of the event was the opportunity to broadly discuss problems, solutions and development strategies in the social services sector involving all stakeholders, including representatives of social services, employers, cultural professionals and organizations, municipalities and public institutions.