Advocacy is one of the most important ways in which civil society organizations can influence the formulation and implementation of public policies. For years, advocacy has been one of the strongest areas of work for Amalipe and the organization has been recognized – by national and European institutions, by foreign embassies in Sofia, and by civic organizations – as the most active and successful Roma advocacy organization in Bulgaria.
One of the main focuses in the advocacy work of the Amalipe Center is the campaigns to include Roma issues in the Operational Programme “Human Resources Development” strategic documents.
«Written comments on the National strategy for regional development were received from active Roma organizations such as Amalipe, which were particularly valuable and complementary to the sources of information used. In total, over 45 Roma organizations provided formal and informal comments on individual parts of the OPHRD. Reflecting the partnership principle, the comments received were carefully reviewed and about 90% of them received and integrated into the program. » (NSRD, p.214)
Advocacy for the Past 2015
Advocacy for a specific cause involves partnership and joint action by multiple stakeholders. Advocacy for Roma integration is an even greater collective task: Roma and non-Roma, organizations working in different regions and on different issues. That is why the support and partnership of the World Without Borders Association – Stara Zagora, the New Road Association – Hayredin, the Largo Association – Kyustendil, the Open Society Institute, the National Children’s Network and a number of other organizations in Bulgariawere particularly important. Also the support of the National Roma Center (Macedonia), Romani Chris and Sastipen (Romania), the European Roma Information Office (Brussels), etc.
Of particular importance to us was the support shown by the ambassadors of Norway, the Netherlands, the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Poland, India and the Republic of South Africa by participating in forums organized by Amalipe. Some of them visited Amalipe’s office in V. Tarnovo, others visited our offices in the country, which was a sign of mutual trust and a desire to work together. The ambassadors also participated in “Together We Are Better at… School” campaign initiatives across the country. Amalipe became a major Roma partner of the embassies in Sofia, which enhanced their commitment to Roma integration and the ability of the Roma movement to generate international support.
An important prerequisite for the success of advocacy activities was the confidence of the institutions – at national, local and European level – in the activities of the Amalipe Center. An indication of this was the fact that Vice President Margarita Popova, deputies, Ministers and Deputy Ministers responded to our invitations and participated in all advocacy forums and events organized by Amalipe.
Representatives of the European Commission also took part in the forums of Amalipe, organizing advocacy events in the capital of united Europe, Brussels. The organization continued to be invited to meetings of the European Roma Platform – the highest European forum for Roma.
Advocacy also involves participation in institutionalized decision-making mechanisms. In 2015, representatives of the Amalipe Center actively participated in the Monitoring Committees of OP Human Resources Development (OPRD) and OP Science and Education for Intelligent Growth (OPNOIR), after being selected by NGOs working to integrate Minority CommunitiesIn 2014 We also participated in the Public Council of the Minister of Education, in 20 of the Advisory Councils of the Regional Inspectorates of Education and in many other district and municipal consultative structures.
Advocacy and results achieved at national level:
In 2015, the advocacy efforts of the Amalipe Center at the national level were in the following directions:
- Targeting a financial resource from the European Roma Integration Funds: These efforts have yielded first results, and the OPNOIR and OPRD Monitoring Committees have approved 6 targeted (targeted) operations for municipal Roma integration projects:
– Operation Educational Integration of Ethnic Minority Students and Seekers or Applicants for International Protection is a continuation of the similar operation from the previous programming period. The budget is BGN 25 million and the approved projects can be worth between BGN 100,000 and 1 million. It will fund a wide range of educational integration activities at school and primary / secondary level: additional training in Bulgarian language, desegregation of segregated “Roma” schools, improvement of the quality of education in rural schools, introduction of intercultural education, support for students in secondary schools, etc. The operation is the first grant scheme of the new programming period: municipalities, schools and NGOs can apply for it, requiring mandatory partnerships between the three types of beneficiaries.
The competition was announced on September 23, 2015, with the first application deadline being November 30. The second deadline is May 3, 2016;
– Operation “Support for pre-school education and training for disadvantaged children” is similar / mirror to “Educational Integration …”, but it is entirely aimed at education and upbringing in kindergartens. It will also be implemented as a grant scheme through which kindergartens, organizations and municipalities will apply (with a mandatory partnership between the three types of beneficiaries). The projects will cost between 50,000 and 500,000 BGN, covering the types of activities from the previous operation. The total budget of the operation is BGN 10 million, and on behalf of the Roma organizations at the end of 2015, Deyan Kolev suggested doubling it.
The competition was announced on September 23, 2015 and the deadline for applications was November 30;
– “Supporting vulnerable groups in access to higher education – Phase 1” is an innovative operation aimed at increasing the number and percentage of young people in vulnerable and secondary schools in vulnerable groups: disabled young people, representatives of ethnic minorities and other. It is envisaged to do this through information and motivation campaigns, candidate-student courses, payment of application fees and semester fees, activities to engage parents and to change negative stereotypes.
The operation will be implemented as a procedure for competitive selection of projects for which schools, universities and NGOs will be able to apply. The participation of a university and an NGO in the implementation of each project is also mandatory.
Approved projects on both components will be biennial. The budget of the component for ethnic minority youth is BGN 3 million, and the value of each project will be between BGN 50,000 and BGN 100,000. The competition is expected to be announced on June 15, 2016, and the application deadline be September 15;
– “Increasing the capacity of pedagogical specialists to work in a multicultural environment”: the operation will support practical training for 2,000 teachers. It will be implemented as a procedure for competitive selection of projects for which universities, schools and kindergartens can apply in partnership with NGOs. In addition to the trainings, the projects will include follow-up activities for the implementation of pedagogical innovations and modern approaches to work in a multicultural environment, as well as updating the curricula in higher education schools that prepare pedagogical specialists.
The approved projects will cost between BGN 50,000 and BGN 100,000, with the total value of the operation being BGN 5 million. The competition for projects for the operation is expected to be announced on 15 June and the deadline for applications is 15 September 2016;
– Adult Literacy – Phase 1 is a continuation of the New Chance for Success project, implemented since 2011. The operation provides adult literacy courses for various educational levels. A new feature of the operation is the provision of opportunities for continuing education in the upper secondary school through the organization of distance learning. Validation of non-formal learning and informal learning outcomes is also envisaged. The operation will be implemented through direct provision of funds to the Ministry of Education and Science, with the ministry engaging the wishing schools.
The total value of the operation is BGN 25 million, which will reach 10,000 adults. The MES, as a specific beneficiary, is expected to launch the operation in 2016;
– Operation “Socio-Economic Integration of Vulnerable Groups” is a large-scale investment by OPRD for the implementation of integration policies at local level. It will be implemented in the period 2016 – 2019 and will have two components. The first is targeted at municipalities that have adopted Municipal Plans for Roma Integration 2015-20, and the second is for large urban municipalities that have included measures for the construction of social housing in the Integrated Urban Reconstruction and Development Plans. Both components will be applied by the respective municipalities, with partnership with at least one non-governmental organization and at least one employer. The partnership will be proven through a co-operation agreement approved by the City Council. The municipality will be required to provide evidence that the partners have been selected on the basis of clear criteria in compliance with the competitive principle.
The projects will be able to envisage activities in 4 areas: improving access to employment, improving access to education, improving access to social and health services, developing local communities and overcoming negative stereotypes. It would be advisable to include activities from each area, with the directions “Improving access to social and health services” and “Enhancing access to education”.
The procedure will be without a fixed deadline and will include two steps. Under component 1, municipalities with updated Municipal Plans for the Integration of Roma, together with an NGO and an employer, will be able to prepare a concept for an integrated project and, after approval of the concepts, to develop the specific project. The ceiling for the project will be BGN 500,000, with the component earmarked for BGN 50 million. Component 2 will approve those municipalities already approved by OP “Regions for Growth” for the construction of social housing and the budget of the component is BGN 30 million.
The approved operations are an initial investment for the implementation of the Municipal Roma Integration Plans. Amalipe Center will continue its efforts to channel resources from European Integration Funds to funds locally and nationally;
2. Advocacy for the Law on Pre-school and School Education: The Amalipe Center actively participates in the preparation of the Law on Pre-school and School Education. In collaboration with other NGOs and hundreds of schools, we have formulated proposals for:
– inclusion of the topic of educational integration in the law;
– providing guarantees for improving the quality of education, preservation and development of primary and rural schools.
The proposals included a request to remain the eighth grade in primary education, to prevent early admission (in 5th grade) in the specialized high schools, to designate a “one-of-a-town/village- school” category, to facilitate reintegration into a school of drop-out students and to Bulgarian children traveling abroad with their families, preventing ethnic segregation.
In addition to participating in numerous discussions and forums, we have initiated a subscription involving 280 schools. In just three weeks, it was supported by 12,000 citizens.
We achieved the following results:
The law provides texts that will support policies for the educational integration of ethnic minority children and students. For example:
1.1. Introduces a standard for intercultural education: albeit “molded” as “civic, health, environmental and intercultural education”;
1.2. Requires all schools to develop their own programs to reduce early school leaving and to integrate students from vulnerable groups;
1.3. It is forbidden to separate classes with students from one ethnic group in schools that teach children from different ethnicities. The latter remained a “decision in half”, with MPs not finding the courage to ban segregation of segregated schools in cities with a multi-ethnic population.
All these issues will be further elaborated through the Intercultural Education Standard.
We have not succeeded in the efforts of the eighth grade to remain in primary education, but we have achieved the introduction of mechanisms for the protection of rural schools, which until now were the main losers of the restructurings that followed the introduction of the principle “Money follows the student”:
2.1. “United Schools”: which will teach grades 1 through 10, incl. and in vocational education. The transformation of rural schools from primary to integrated will be subject to the decision of the municipal council and the opinion of the Regional departments of education;
2.2. Co-financing of small classes in protected schools: Art. 282, para. 5
2.3. Possibility to co-finance the smaller classes in other schools: Art. 294, v.2. This will require a by-law;
Amalipe Center, in partnership with over 190 schools, will continue to work for a better educational environment through
- Participation in the development of the Intercultural Education Standard;
- Participation in the development of Your Lesson project: the largest investment resource for the development of school education in the coming years, incl. to fund activities in schools;
- Formation of public councils involving parents of all ethnicities;
- Support for the creation of united schools;
- Work on other standards and regulations for financing
Advocacy at European Union level:
In 2015, the Amalipe Center continued to actively participate in advocacy activities at European level. Although the focus of the organization’s work remains in Bulgaria – locally and nationally – we recognize and welcome the fact that as a Member State of the European Union, Bulgaria complies with the decisions of the European institutions.
Guided by this understanding, in 2015 we realized:
- Two advocacy events in Brussels: January and March. They were attended by representatives of the European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Economic and Social Committee and other institutions and organizations;
- Contribution to the commitment of the European Commission to control and monitor the implementation of the National Roma Integration Strategies by EU Member States: Amalipe Center sent its assessment of the implementation of the National Roma Integration Strategy of Bulgaria and our observations were included in the evaluation report published by the European Commission;
- Contribution to the establishment of a Roma Integration Ambassador Group: Throughout the year, many ambassadors participated in events organized by the Amalipe Center. Taking into account the importance of this international support, we have proposed the creation of an Ambassador Group on Roma Integration, with ambassadors from the EU, Norway, Switzerland and the USA. The initiative was taken by the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Norway HE Guro Katarina Vikier. The first meeting to set up the Ambassador Group was held on 9 December 2015.
These activities have contributed to enhancing the support of the European Commission and our partner countries for Roma integration policies in Bulgaria. The Ambassador Group formed will be an important political channel in this regard. The Amalipe Center will continue its advocacy activities at European level in the years to come.
Despite increased anti-Roma rhetoric, Roma integration remained on the agenda of institutions and society in 2015. Many necessary steps were not taken, but at the same time some preconditions for the implementation of the National Roma Strategy were created in the coming years. The Amalipe Center was an active participant or even a major initiator of most of the important developments in the field of Roma integration in 2015. Currently, the role of the organization as a key partner in defining and implementing Roma integration policies is recognized by all institutions.
We will continue our advocacy efforts in all areas started in 2014. The steps outlined should be continued and developed. It should be noted that they can form an appropriate basis for the implementation of Roma integration policies but not guarantee the implementation of these policies. The latter requires public consensus and political will: factors that are influenced but not uniquely determined by the advocacy of civic organizations.
Through the eyes of others:
“An example of effective civic engagement with operational programs is the Amalipe activity. Much of the text concerning the Roma in both programs funded by the European Social Fund in Bulgaria (OPRD and OPNOIR) was taken from proposals submitted by Amalipe. The organization actively participates in the Monitoring Committees and manages to a large extent to determine decisions against the Roma
Kiril Kiryakov, Directorate-General for Employment of the European Commission