Back in 2020 (and onwards) COVID-19 significantly impacted our personal lives. The AmCham Board managed to follow their duties and to make strategic decisions. COVID-19 didn’t obstacle our most valuable partnership and ally: the U.S. Embassy team lead by Ambassador Herro Mustafa. The AmCham Team partnered with DCM Justin Friedman, the Commercial Attache Miguel A. Hernandez, and the whole Commercial Service, as well as with the Political Section, to Drake Weisert, Peter Vanderwall and the USDA Department led by Mila Boshnakova.
In 2020 the AmCham team listened to chamber members’ needs. The team has initiated another restructuring of our members based on the industries they represent. It will lead to much more focused work of our committees or even an introduction of new ones. The team played well in the critical juggling with a lot of policy and advocacy matters, as well as to build-up solid partnerships that augment our agenda.
In 2020 together with the U.S. Embassy, the Bulgarian Donors’ Fund, and America for Bulgaria Foundation we made something unique in the histories of those four organizations. The “United Against COVID-19” Fund collected more than 1 million leva for less than a month. This joint cause gave a true example to the public: nearly 700,000 people were reached, in almost 300 places across Bulgaria, and totaling of 112 projects were funded – some of them received just this support for a long period of time.
By our calculations, 70 or 80% of the funds were collected thanks to our members.
Again, this success is a shared one. We would like to thank all sponsors for their generosity. Please join me to applaud both groups – donors and those we call “the backbone of any society”: the NGOs, the teachers, and the medical workers.
The most active committee in 2020 was the Healthcare Committee. It was reestablished in 2019, self-organized its work in early 2020, and pushed hard to motivate its members to craft genuine content. The highlight of their work is outstanding “Healthcare as an investment” Report.
Also, this committee set a peer-platform with the German and Swiss Chambers, and the DHI Cluster. We jointly proposed to the Ministry of Health the establishment of a Healthcare Advisory Board to work proactively for the improvement of the healthcare system to benefit the whole society.
In 2020 we supported the joint AmCham EU position on the new EU Pharma Strategy too.
In Healthcare this committee complemented and build-up on those of the U.S. Embassy and their work with the Ministry of Health. COVID-19 showed that the healthcare system needs significant change and targeted long-term investments no matter which political party or coalition rules.
For another consecutive year, the HR and Education Committee was able to connect the HR professionals across AmCham to share best practices and to focus on labor policies.
In 2020, the it organized a webinar with the (then) Minister of Labor Ms. Denitsa Sacheva, and provided excellent proposals that found place in the Amended Labor Code.
Zlatina Kushkieva – long-lasting leader of the committee – took part in the Entrepreneurial Women’s Program in Bourgas, that was launched by Ambassador Mustafa herself in the Fall.
This committee had a solid track of activities in 2020. It had excellent exchange with its peer from the German Chamber, as well as served as a platform for the development of the energy sector by introducing new digital solutions.
An important event that was co-organized with the U.S. Embassy and Bulgargransgaz, was the LNG Round Table that explored the diversification potential of Bulgaria. Also, we had a webinar on Intelligent Utilities, jointly with SAP.
The Tax Committee is led by Milen Raykov, EY, whohelped us shape three of our position papers: 1) on the 60/40 Rule; 2) on VAT Amendments, and 3) on Corporate Income Tax.
The Communications and CSR Working Group is our internal network of 600 PR, Marketing, Digital professionals. Their expertise serves as the bridge between members and the Chamber.
The year started with in-person event such as Meet the New Members Party, and after the lock-down as of March 13, 2020, the team had to adapt and started a long series with webinars by utilizing an excellent platform such as Cisco Webex.
The internal events helped our members e-meet with each other via committees and working group formats, as well as provide support and solutions in the early months of the lockdown. We had the pleasure to have Ambassador Mustafa exclusively before our membership.
Through the year, we had top-class webinars with key representatives of EU and Bulgarian authorities. Having them prove that AmCham is well-positioned institutional-wise:
- EU Commissioner Mariya Gabriel
- Then Deputy Prime Minister Tomislav Dontchev
- Then Labor Minister Denitsa Sacheva
- Then Transport and ITC Minister Rossen Jeliazkov
- Eva Maydell, Member of the European Parliament.
- National Bank Governor – Dimitar Radev
- Ivo Konstantinov, our commercial attache in the USA.
In 2020 we introduced one special format “AmCham Connect”. It allows the Large Corporate Members to share before other members their knowledge and vision of the next level of management and growth.
Another way to engage with members and create content was through partnerships on topics such as LNG and Energy Diversification of Bulgaria.
We, also, intensified our regional cooperation with AmChams in Europe. Jointly with chambers from the Czech Republic, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia we co-organized events such as “Biden-Harris Policy Impact on the World” and “CEE Future of Investment conferences.”
Since March 2020 the monitoring and reaction to the newly introduced Emergency Act and its amendments was among the top priorities for the Board and several committees. We selectively picked on which business topics we should be vocal. In some of those months we bombardiered the local authorities with letters and positions, as well as utilized our reputation to engage with their representatives in series of high-profile webinars.
In an extraordinary period such this pandemic, AmCham preserved its position as one of the most impactful business associations in Bulgaria. For us it meant just this: to join forces and knowledge with members and partners, and to propose solutions, as well as to provide feedback to the government, if some economic measures are wrong.
However, the world was not only coronavirus. The so-called “Business as usual” policy activities included our proposal on Bulgaria’s future AI Strategy. Thanks to our “homework” we did in the Digital Sustainability Forum 2019, we present our statement to the Ministry of Transport and ICT.
HR Committee made several proposals to the Labor Code improvement. The Healthcare Committee addressed the National Healthcare Insurance Fund 2021 Budget. Considering the opinions of the members of the Communication and CSR Working Group, we supported the initiative of bTV Media Group for improvement of the people-metrics system in Bulgaria.
Set high in our agenda and in Ambassador Mustafa’s priorities, Rule of Law found rich soil to grow. The seeds were planted with the Joint Board Meeting with German-Bulgarian Chamber that was attended by the U.S. and the German Ambassadors. It was followed by a Webinar on FCPA with Vanessa Sisti from the Department of Justice, and Jessica Kim (US EMB) for the memberships of AmCham and the German Chamber.
Following the pulse of the political and public tension, we initiated another joint project with the German Chamber: an internal survey on Rule of Law and Corruption. Its results showed that businesses desire major improvement of the business climate, red tape reduction burden, and severe fostering of digitalization.
AmCham is seen as valuable partner thanks to our brand and our solid membership base.
Transparency International Bulgaria invited us to give feedback in the process of transposing the EU Whistle-Blowing Directive.
Our institutional support to the next generation of Bulgaria was well accepted by Tuk-Tam NGO and their U.S. Alumni Club at the 2020 Hive 2020 career forum. This was another initiative that was supported by the U.S. Embassy and our members.
In 2020 we established a relationship with the U.S.– Bulgarian Chamber of Commerce in America. They are seen as a potential bridge with and liaison with the Bulgarian business in America, and with the Federal and State Authorities in future.
AmCham and the German Chamber supported the efforts of the Media Literacy Coalition in a high-profile event. It aimed to raise awareness on media literacy, fake news, and disinformation. Ambassador Mustafa delivered a key-note there.
Our heavy involvement with the Three Seas Initiative led us to have strategic and operational exchange and planning with the President of the Republic of Bulgaria and his team, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Economy, as well as with the SMEs Promotion Agency, and the Investment Agency.
The need of an unified voice of the “foreign business” as well as to support the InvestBulgaria Agency idea of nearshoring, we started intensive exchange with other bilateral chambers. For months we were very active in the idea of positioning Bulgaria as the new top-nearshoring destination. However, it wasn’t well structured and there was some lack of institutional leadership. So, after one major webinar, in the end of the year we withdraw from it.
Our CEO was and still is very active in public communication. Being digital savvy and utilizing his AmCham experience, he was able to speak about the economic impact of COVID-19, as well as to present our balanced view on measures and challenges before the national economy.
His most remarkable appearance in 2020 was on the State Department’s Investment Climate Report.
Of course, other topics included the Three Seas Initiative, the AmChamEU’s Transatlantic Report 2020, and other.