Although Bulgaria joined the EU a decade ago, efforts to build a civil society are still lagging behind. As a result, Bulgaria is still missing key elements in securing sustainable human rights protections, which puts minority groups at a particular structural disadvantage. The LGBTI community is one such group. The stigma, prejudice, and discrimination experienced by LGBTI Bulgarians have no parallel elsewhere in the country. Many flee Bulgaria in pursuit of a better life abroad; those who stay behind experience a hostile and stressful social environment that often leads to mental health disorders, psychological and substance abuse, depression, suicide, or - at the very least - a life s... read more Although Bulgaria joined the EU a decade ago, efforts to build a civil society are still lagging behind. As a result, Bulgaria is still missing key elements in securing sustainable human rights protections, which puts minority groups at a particular structural disadvantage. The LGBTI community is one such group. The stigma, prejudice, and discrimination experienced by LGBTI Bulgarians have no parallel elsewhere in the country. Many flee Bulgaria in pursuit of a better life abroad; those who stay behind experience a hostile and stressful social environment that often leads to mental health disorders, psychological and substance abuse, depression, suicide, or - at the very least - a life spent in hiding. There are no legal protections for LGBTI people in Bulgaria. The Bulgarian society at large is largely oblivious of these issues. The still-nascent discourse over human rights is still polarized over whether gay people deserve any rights at all. There is a resounding lack of political, institutional or media leadership willing to face the real-life problems experienced by this community. The few existing LGBTI organizations in the country have used primarily a campaign-based approach, which has proven ineffective in tackling those problems. We believe that in order to achieve sustainable social change, we need to adopt a new, pragmatic, bottom-up approach that allows for an active and empowered LGBTI community to grow and thrive. Single Step Foundation (www.singlestep.bg) was established in December 2016 with those goals in mind. Single Step aims to establish itself as the most respectable, effective and sustainable LGBTI organization in Bulgaria. We pride ourselves in our focus, leadership and governance, innovation and partnerships (non-profit, corporate, community) in order to achieve substantial social return. In order to help achieve LGBTI equality and acceptance in the country, we need to focus on (i) helping and nurturing young members of the LGBTI community into proud, out and fully functioning members of society; (ii) addressing the overall ignorance and homophobia in the country; and (iii) adopting a focused, behind-the-scenes legal and political effort in order to implement a progressive LGBTI legal framework. Focus Initially, we have three pragmatic goals in mind: - a crisis intervention helpline and chat app for LGBTI youth, their parents and allies, staffed by trained professionals; - an LGBTI Center which will provide psychological and medical counseling, suicide prevention, legal advice, peer networking and support, and a "safe space" to youth at risk, in addition to a venue for community events, meetings, a cafe; - Public awareness-raising campaigns similar to "It Gets Better" in the US. Once we have achieved critical mass and have the active participation of all stakeholders required, we will initiate a strategic litigation effort in collaboration with the other LGBTI organizations in Bulgaria. We have assembled a team of professionals, Executive Board and Advisory Board, unprecedented for an LGBTI NGO in Bulgaria: https://singlestep.bg/en/about-us/ Innovation In addition to our bottom-up approach towards achieving our core priorities, we believe that innovation underscores our approach towards fundraising and forming partnerships in order to capitalize on the network effect of natural allies. Fundraising We have deliberately tried to diversify Single Step's funding sources in order to achieve sustainability: - Corporate: a unique approach for Bulgarian NGOs, under Single Step's "Embrace Diversity, It's Good Business" initiative. We are in the final stages of discussions with a major multinational in Bulgaria to help fund the LGBTI Center, which, if successful, will be a ground-breaking partnership for the country. In addition, Single Step was approved by Benevity, Google's corporate matching program administrator. We have identified specific channels of allies within Google and are kick-starting the fundraising effort there shortly. Benevity also administers the employee matching programs of a number of multinationals (such as AstraZeneca, Biogen, Apple, etc.) and we have had initial discussions with them in order to replicate our partnership with Google. Single Step has also partnered up with VMware in Bulgaria; our first fundraising campaign is planned for early September. At DigitalK, Ivan Dimov reached out to members of the start up/tech/venture capital community, which will be a major donor target, as this community values talent and personal potential, thus a natural ally for our organization; - Regular and focused crowdfunding campaigns: Single Step's Founder ran 12 marathons in 12 weeks in order to raise the initial funds (https://singlestep.bg/en/donate/). Our new campaign was announced at DigitalK, where Ivan was a speaker: it is a CrossFit challenge aiming to raise 10,000 with a very high likelihood of becoming an international viral campaign (a number of CrossFit gyms around the world plan to participate). We are running regular campaigns on www.singlestepbulgaria.causevox.com to harness the crowdfunding network effect of friends and allies; the current campaign is 51% funded with a total goal of 30,000. - Individual donors: we are trying to popularize the culture of charitable giving among wealthy individuals in Bulgaria. We have financial commitments by Vassil Terziev, co-founder of Telerik, a successful Bulgarian tech company, as well as 3 other successful Bulgarian businessmen; - Grants: we have applied for a grant by the Human Rights Initiative of the Open Society Foundation ($25,000) and are planning to opportunistically apply for grants that fit our core priorities. Establishing Partnerships Building the right network of partners, including the few other LGBTI organizations in the country, is of utmost importance to us. Strategic Partners - Educational institutions with existing networks across the country: Teach for Bulgaria, Fulbright, New Bulgarian University (Single Step became part of its accredited internship program, which will provide us access to psychology majors as volunteers and interns); Institute for Progressive Education; - Financial donors: our goal is to establish long-lasting relationships with several institutions that share our progressive values; - National Network for Children: Single Step is part of the largest national alliance of civil society organizations and supporters working with children and families (144 members in total). Pro Bono Partners We believe that in-kind and pro-bono support is a powerful tool to help create a sustainable organization. Popov & Partners (a major Bulgarian law firm), Havas Bulgaria (a multinational advertising agency), AllWeb (a web developing company), PushPull (a production house), and a few others are offering their services to Single Step pro-bono, as they believe in our cause and our ability to execute and deliver results. Finally, we have deliberately tried to reach outside of our "bubble" by establishing partnerships with the leaders of various communities, which will help us increase visibility and start a new discourse in the country: sports communities, a Women CEO Club, a party promoter who has a devoted following, etc. All of these are examples of our innovative, bottom-up approach. Our Communications Strategy In partnership with Havas Bulgaria, we are developing a comprehensive communications strategy in order to (i) reach our target audience (LGBTI youth, their parents, friends and allies) and (ii) raise general awareness of LGBTI issues in the country We were selected to become part of the Google AdWords Grant program, which provides Single Step with a budget of $10,000 of in-kind advertising per month. - We launched a revamped website (www.singlestep.bg) created pro bono by AllWeb - Single Step is becoming increasingly active on social media and has had a dramatic increase in public visibility: - We presented in front of approximately 300 participants at DigitalK, a major tech conference in the region. This was the very first time an LGBTI-related cause was promoted at a mainstream event; - We also presented at the launch event of VMware's "Power of Difference Community" initiative.
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