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Is it difficult to start and develop a business with a cause in Bulgaria?

19 September 2022

For 11 years in a row, we at the Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law have been working hard on the NGO Entrepreneurship Program. Through it we encourage and support civil society organizations in Bulgaria to develop their business activities - business ideas that both address significant social issues and help organizations to be more sustainable and financially independent.

Over the past 11 years, the environment for social entrepreneurship in Bulgaria has changed. In this context, we surveyed the community of organizations in the Program between March and July 2022, with the aim of understanding:

  • What are their current challenges;
  • What support is needed to start and develop a social enterprise;
  • What are the organizations' attitudes towards new formats of collaboration and capacity building.

We summarized the results in the report "Entrepreneurship for NGOs: starting and developing a business with a cause", which you can read HERE.


The context

The concept of business with a cause is now more popular, to which the efforts of the civil sector have contributed significantly. In 2019, the Social and Solidarity Economy Enterprises Act came into force. It also creates the first legislative framework for the state to define social entrepreneurship and support the development of an environment in which more social entrepreneurs successfully implement their ideas. The COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath have had a negative impact on the development of many social enterprises. For micro-enterprises, a crisis of this magnitude is a huge challenge to their existence and development. However, many of them have found new opportunities to implement new ideas, products and services.

More than 10 years ago, at the beginning of the Program, we heard remarks such as "This is not for us" and "If we could be entrepreneurs, we would not work in civil society organizations and dedicate ourselves to causes". It took a lot of energy to convince people that this was just another way to achieve our missions through real results - more immediate and visible on a day-to-day level for people, and also to attract supporters and tell our stories.

Today we hear things like, "I never imagined we would get this far, that we would be this successful, and that we would be so much more helpful to the people we exist for" and "It's very hard, but it's also very exciting because little by little you see that you are becoming dependent on yourself, things are in your control, and that's freedom. Freedom to make choices and to know that you are the heart of change and you are making it happen - little by little, right now at this moment."


The study

Key challenges defined by survey participants included:

  • Insufficient financial resources for the development and sustainability of social entrepreneurship ideas (relative to the stage of development - start-up capital, capital to develop new ideas and products, crisis support and uncertain external environment);
  • Organizations fail to dedicate a team focused only on the business development part and the business idea;
  • Policies to promote social entrepreneurship fail to catch up with developments in the environment and current needs.

The study shows that the Program addresses many of the needs of NGOs related to the creation and development of social enterprise to support their mission. The most important needs addressed through the program according to participants are:

  • To clarify their purpose to run a business and gain confidence to start;
  • Structure the processes from idea to implementation.

Organizations highlighted three key elements of the program that had the most significant effect on the development of their business ideas:

  • Mentors who, in one-to-one mentoring meetings, are able to give them practical and concrete recommendations for next steps;
  • The personalized support and "accompaniment" in the process by the BCNL team to each organization, idea, specific context and stage of development, including with other BCNL programs, legal assistance, etc.;
  • Financial support for the implementation of ideas (through the "Best NGO Business Plan" competition).

The report also identifies several recommendations that will form the basis of BCNL's next steps and initiatives in the field:

  • The issue of flexible financing for social entrepreneurs;
  • Stimulating new ideas and models in the community;
  • New community development formats for the NGO Entrepreneurship Program;
  • Advocacy for a better environment.

More information can be found in the full report HERE.


We gratefully acknowledge the dedicated support of our program partners and donors. For over 10 years we have been supporting the entrepreneurial spirit and the development of businesses with a cause together with the America for Bulgaria Foundation,  UniCredit Bulbank, Accenture Bulgaria and TELUS International.

The NGO Entrepreneurship Program is organized by the Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law, with the support of America for Bulgaria Foundation, Accenture Bulgaria, Unicredit Bulbank and Telus International.