Replicating Roma Success Stories in Bulgaria

September 11, 2013

Ivelina Taushanova, Communications Officer with the World Bank office in Bulgaria, shares this story about a Roma woman who is making the best of her Roma Education Fund Grant.

Dimitrinka works part-time as a health mediator in the Bulgarian village where she grew up while studying to be a nurse in the capital, Sofia. The twenty-six year old knows she's bucking the odds: fewer than half of one percent of Bulgarian Roma obtain degrees in higher education.

But she has a grant from the Roma Education Fund, and a deep conviction that education is the key to success and integration.

"For me, integration means education. That's what integration is—equal access to good education for all. The (Roma) community should also adopt it as a value. Education should be a value, and opportunities should exist for getting it, because not everyone can afford it now," Dimitrinka says.

Her ambitions as a parent are likely to multiply her family's successes. She points to her 7-year old son Tsvetan and says: "I want to see him be successful, I want to see him well-educated, speaking several languages and living a good life. "

" For me, integration means education. That's what integration is - equal access to good education for all. The (Roma) community should also adopt it as a value. Education should be a value, and opportunities should exist for getting it, because not everyone can afford it now "

Dimitrinka Borisova

Dimitrinka is one of 1400 Bulgarian Roma awarded REF scholarships since the international organization was established in 2004 within the framework of the Decade of Roma Inclusion. Its objective is to close the gap in educational outcomes between Roma and non-Roma. REF receives support from many donors, the Open Society Institute and the World Bank among the largest.

The statistics are daunting. Only 19 % of Bulgarian Roma graduate secondary school and around 0.3 % hold a university diploma. Of working age Roma, 34 % have jobs.

That means the vast majority of working age Roma lack the education to participate in the labor market, according to a recent World Bank study. This affects their wages, and the productivity of Bulgarian society as a whole. And because Roma earn little and have few job opportunities, working age Roma pay fewer taxes and social security contributions. They are more likely to be recipients of social security payments.

As a result of lower tax receipts and higher welfare expenditures, Bulgaria loses an estimated 370 million Euro a year in fiscal contributions. These are conservative estimates, based on official population data. If the 2011 EC data on numbers of Roma is used, losses are twice as high.

There are clear reasons to integrate Roma into Bulgaria's society and economy. What can be done to reap the benefits of Roma inclusion? The Bulgarian Government addresses this question through its newly endorsed national strategy for Roma integration, presented to the European Commission in February 2012.

The World Bank was a partner and support to Bulgaria through the process of identifying key barriers to Roma success and the best approaches to break the vicious circle of exclusion. As part of consultation for, and drafting of, a new strategy, the World Bank brought together key stakeholders at a workshop in May 2011 to identify Roma inclusion challenges and good practices. The discussions focused around six key areas trying to identify challenges and good practices in education, employment, healthcare, housing, rule of law and communications.

In November 2011 the World Bank supported another large consultation about the government's strategy on Roma inclusion, followed by an international conference in January 2012 on monitoring and evaluation of the new strategy. And it's supporting the government as it puts new policies into place that will offer smart, inclusive growth to more Bulgarians.