“From Struggle to Success” Hold the future in our own hands
Hold the future in our own hands
“A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead
This article will introduce you to Hristo Boyadzhiev. He co-founded two non-for-profit organizations (NGOs). The first is called Tuk-Tam (means here-there, direct translation from Bulgarian) and the other one is called Foundation III. In some shape or form both deal with problems within education in Bulgaria. He also runs a 40-person digital agency called Despark.
1. What is your idea/ business about? How the idea was born?
Tuk-Tam is the largest network and platform for Bulgarians with work or educational experience abroad. We aim to bring positive change here (Bulgaria) using what we’ve learned there (abroad), hence the name. At Tuk-Tam, we organize various events and undertake different initiatives and projects towards that goal. Some of those include the largest career fair in Bulgaria, running a platform for generating ideas and ultimately using those to solve societal problems, helping high school students find the best university abroad, or just connecting bright people who want to work together and tackle issues they see. The idea naturally evolved from our need (7 of us co-founded this back in 2008) to reconnect with like-minded peers after spending 4-5-6 years abroad and coming back to our home only to see things needed change.
Foundation III was born in 2014 when one of my co-founders at Tuk-Tam and I realized that we as a society have a problem with how we raise our children. What we’re trying to do with the foundation and the various projects we’re undertaking there is helping parents with kids aged 0-7 give them a better start in life. Our biggest initiative so far is the Parent Academy platform that creates a space where parents can meet and learn from professionals, NGOs, organizations or just share know-how with other parents. The first edition of the event was a huge success (1,500 people came, we had 30+ speakers, 15+ workshops and 40+ organizations and the videos have reached over 12,000 families in the space of 3-4 months) and we’re continuing to extend its reach.
2. Tell me about yourself and your team?
In both NGOs we’ve been lucky enough to have built amazing teams of passionate people who believe in what we’re trying to do and are dedicated to our goals. We come from all walks of life, but what unites us is the desire to do good and the innate belief that we shouldn’t wait for someone to come and fix the issues we see or that change will just miraculously happen on its own. On the contrary, we hold the future in our own hands and instead of complaining we can just get on with doing what we can to making it better, for ourselves and everyone else.
3. What are the main struggles that you have experienced?
Oh, there are many Starting an NGO in Bulgaria is not easy. The landscape has changed quite a bit over the last few years, but back in 2008 when Tuk-Tam was founded the word “NGO” was either unknown or largely associated with money laundering in post-communist days. As a result, there’s been a lot of mistrust and accusations for our goals and motivation — it was hard for some people to accept that this was an altruistic initiative that did not directly benefit us, other than enriched those involved through connecting us with amazing people who were bringing about change in their own little ways and letting us be a part of it. As a result, funding remains to be a large issue for a lot of non-for-profits. Things are moving in the right direction, but we are far away from where US/UK/other developed societies are in terms of supporting and stimulating their NGOs, whether that’s through government grants / reliefs or private and business contributions. So to me the very fact that Tuk-Tam for instance has been around for almost 8 years now and has proven to be one of the most active organizations is success on its own, but we definitely have bigger plans.
4. How did you solve your problems?
Persistence. Commitment. Passion and many long hours. Our problems are not solved, we are still experiencing many, but that’s part of doing something meaningful, so we’ve learned to work through the setbacks.
5. If you had a chance what would you do differently?
I don’t believe in having regrets and doing things differently. Sure, we’ve made mistakes and we could have gotten to where we are faster, but it’s a learning curve that we needed to go through and that’s made us more resilient. We prefer to only focus on the future and the steps we need to take now to get there, having learned our lessons.
6. What was the best advice you got and what was the worst?
Hard to say. Perhaps it was that one is not alone and you can rely on others, both inside and outside your organization, to support you and help you. The only way to get to where you want to go is to find amazing people and empower them to work with you. The worst might be when someone said 3-4 years into Tuk-Tam that we’re obsolete and we should close shop… here we are, 4 years after that moment and still going as strong as ever
7. What will be your advice to the other entrepreneurs?
You need to start with really identifying the issue you’re trying to solve and then setting a big outrageous goal for yourselves of how to solve it. There will be ups and downs along the way and you have to find a way to thrive in the former and persevere in the latter. You will be tested many times and you will want to quit. So in times like these, look back to that problem and to that goal and remember why you started, what you did. Remember that others are counting on your vision and unfaltering belief that you can do it and find strength in helping them get there. And look to others to support, you are never alone.
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July 22, 2016