Oikocredit is known worldwide for taking bigger chances on smaller organizations that may be considered riskier investments. But as was shown in Bulgaria – and has been shown time and again throughout the world* – our willingness to take those chances often pays off, and helps those most in need. This installment of Tour Around the World with Oikocredit explores our investments in Bulgaria, and introduces this former Soviet Bloc country ahead of our staff person Leah’s trip there next week!
When Oikocredit staff first visited Bulgaria in the early 90s, they were skeptical to say the least. Loan applications had been flowing in in large numbers but we weren’t sure how impactful we could be in the former Soviet Bloc. “We were not at all sure that we could operate there,” wrote Erik Heinen, Oikocredit’s former Project Support Officer. “Those were the cowboy years of new capitalism in the former socialist states. Some people managed to make a fortune in a short time, while others were left empty handed.”
The community-based village cooperative farms were in a state of despair. They no longer had any livestock. People were growing winter and spring wheat, barley, maize, seeds and sunflower. The staff writes of broken down tractors, decades-old equipment, dilapidated tractors with old implements that were little more than scrap metal. However, it was also clear that these farmers were expert agronomists and that the agriculture sector and its rich Bulgarian soils were worth an investment.
Although a member of the European Union since 2007, poverty in Bulgaria is very real. In 2008, a fifth of Bulgaria’s population was reported as living below the poverty line with an income of about $120 per month**. Today, Oikocredit invests in 64 projects in Bulgaria, the vast majority of which are agricultural cooperatives.
Our Portfolio at Risk in Bulgaria (meaning, those loans which are delinquent for 90 days or more) is only 0.3% – an incredible achievement!And the success of our project partners has not gone unnoticed in Bulgaria – three of our project partners have been chosen as “farmer of the year” and three cooperatives have gained the prestigious “cooperative of the year” award by the national government. Oikocredit’s impact in Bulgaria is immensely successful.
Oikocredit attributes that success in large part to the strength of our staff there, and to a willingness to take a chance on Bulgaria when no one else would. In a few weeks I’ll be visiting a few of these projects and reporting back to you about Oikocredit’s impact there!I hope you’ll follow my progress at Oikocredit USA on Facebook, and @OikocreditUSA on Twitter, #OikoinBulgaria.