Dear Members and Guests,
On behalf of the AmCham Board of Directors, I would like to welcome you to the 2022 AmCham Bulgaria General Assembly.
We are meeting now more regularly in person. And I do hope that you all are all right both at work and at home. Also, this year our prayers go to the people of Ukraine.
So, today we need to review our 2021 activities, approve our financial report for 2021, adopt the Budget for 2022; elect an auditor for 2021, and – very important – vote on the New Board members.
Our last gathering was on March 18th at the Public Hearing of the nominees for the Board.
Today’s GA will start officially at 6 p.m. So I will continue with our Board of Directors’ Report for 2021.
But first, let me ask you to warmly welcome a true friend of AmCham, Bulgaria, and the local shkembe chorba – Migel Hernandez. Today’s event is probably the last one for him in his tenure in Bulgaria. Miguel will leave soon but he did a great job here and – most importantly – he made lots of friends.
Now we are having our second event for the day since we had our very successful Business Breakfast with the Government this morning. And, allow me to quote Miguel – it is like a big wedding but we were not able to get you a present.
As of today, we are enjoying a solid membership base. 2021 was the second year of the pandemic, that impacted our events but didn’t influence our membership. Right now we have 319 members which are structured in four categories, and, I am certain, that they get the best of the benefits that we can provide.
In 2021 we had a stable fee collection that met the budget.
During our Board’s strategic offsite meeting in September last year, we united that we should continue having those (same) priorities:
- Regional and Transatlantic Advocacy
- Sustainable Business Climate and Investments
- Digital Economy and Innovation and
- Human Capital Development.
I am confident that all of our activities in 2021 met our priorities and were designed to achieve them.
- 2021 was the second year with COVID-19. We tried to adapt our businesses and our family lives. I said last year, but I have to say it again: I hope neither of you has lost any relative or friend. There was too much suffering and too many losses in Bulgaria, and globally.
- Again the Board followed its duties and made strategic decisions to guide the Chamber, despite COVID-19.
- The team followed its duties and strived to excel
- 2021 was a very successful year if we solely mention three words – “Three Seas Initiative”.
- That will not be enough if we don’t mention “Healthcare as an Investment” Report.
- In 2021 we paved the way for the creation of the “Power Sector Decarbonization Study” – which was released this year.
- Last year we continued to work with passion and dedication to position the Chamber, execute priorities, find new and noble partners, and moreover – strive to meet our members’ strategic needs.
- I have to tell you that our Board had confidence due to the fact that we could rely on the full support of all of you – our members.
- With the same weight of importance, we had and still continue to have the support of our allies and friends from the U.S. Embassy, led by the amazing Ambassador Mustafa. I would like to thank her for her great partnership, to thank Miguel and the Commercial Service, Martina Grayson, and all the people there who interact with us and the team on a daily basis.
General Assemblies are the place to highlight the people who are working on the background of our organization. For another consecutive year, in 2021 the AmCham team listened to our members’ needs. Even more, they initiated the establishment of our first AmChampion Awards which were given to the most active companies among our members.
The team played well in the critical juggling with a variety of events and a lot of policy and advocacy matters. Also, their work helped us upgrade partnerships that augment our agenda. In the fall we had some fresh addition by attracting Stephania to our team that helped streamline the work of the committees.
Here I would like to thank Nadezhda, Petya, Rositsa, Tatyana, Kalina, Stephania, and Daniel for their hard work.
A few moments ago I said that name. The Three Seas Summit and Business Forum was the most visible and solid event which we did on a regional level.
The 3SI Summit and Business Forum was held on July 8-9th in Sofia.
AmCham Bulgaria was among the four co-organizers of the 3SI Business Forum
In addition, we initiated the Sofia Joint Declaration of 10 AmChams of the 3SI Region
The Business forum had four panels, and AmCham was engaged in three of them:
- The Digital Panel was created and moderated by Petar
- The Energy Panel – was moderated by Kostadin Sirleshtov from our member CMS Sofia, and I had a speaking slot in it.
- The Innovation Panel – we had our former Board member Bojidar Neytchev of PwC Bulgaria as a panelist
In 2021 we attracted a person to work full-time on the committees. Thus, in mid-August 2021 we welcomed Stephania Semova who folded sleeves to learn the organization and the committees, to shape the processes better, and to identify people full of ambition and passion to lead and work for the committees.
Thus, at the end of the year, we had our first elections for committee chairs and we managed to sustain many of the active ones and attract new ones who were ready to dedicate time and knowledge for the sake of the Chamber.
Bit by bit the committees started working on a regular basis, to create and follow their priorities and annual agendas. In 2021 we established two new committees: “Rule of Law and Legislative Reform” and “Research, Innovation, and Startup”.
What we aimed at with the committees over the past couple of years, is having them work on strategic issues that can improve their respective sectors.
For a concequtive year, I should start this overview with the Healthcare Committee. In 2021 the activity in the two working groups and the involvement of IQIVA Bulgaria with solid data and methodology resulted in the famous “Healthcare as an Investment Report”. It was widely presented to stakeholders – including two caretaker ministers – and all of them liked it. Even more, in 2022 the report was embedded in the planned reforms in the healthcare sector by the current government.
We all hope that this remarkable track will continue this year as well.
Also, we continued pushing together with the German and the Swiss Chambers, and the Digital Innovation Cluster for the establishment of a consultancy body to the Minister of Healthcare. So far, this idea has no progress, but the idea of having mini-working groups on specific matters is underway.
Our main goal here is, no matter which government is in power, the philosophy they should follow is that the Healthcare system needs reforms, and all funds there should be seen as a true investment in the health and lives of the citizens.
So, a big “Thank you” to Luka, Ruslana, Sava, and Boryana who are the driving force of this committee.
After some webinars on strategic topics, the Energy and Mineral Resources Committee organized the “EU Green Deal Transformation: Opportunities and Challenges” Conference. It discussed the uncrertanty before the heavy industry, energy, and mining in the eve of decarbonization goals implementation and the lack of government strategy. This event, along with the inspiration from the Healthcare Report, paved the way for the conceptualizing of a study on the potential scenarios for the power sector decarbonization. In the fall we hired a prominent consultant – Compass Lexecon – which top experts spent the next months – from September 2021 till February 2022 with our experts to create the “Power Sector Decarbonization Study”. It was greatly accepted by a myriad of stakeholders and institutions this year.
I would like to thank Krassi Nenov – who has a birthday today – and Ivan Tzankov, along with the sponsors of the study and our experts who worked on that.
For another consecutive year, the HR and Education Committee was able to connect the HR professionals across AmCham. In 2021 they had five virtual meetings on best-practice exchange and sharing.
Right after the call for the election of co-chairs at the end of 2021, Zlatina Kushkieva took the lead again and is heading the Human Capital dimension of this committee. Now the committee has solid priorities and agenda for 2022. Should you have HR professionals that are not aware of this one, please advise them to join it.
Tax is led by Milen Raykov, EY Bulgaria, who helped us shape one position paper in 2021 – on VAT Structure Amendments, and took part in the discussions on the cancellation of the famous Ordinance N-18 – that could have brought additional burden to the companies. Due to the strong opposition from the business, incl. AmCham, this one was not introduced.
The Communications and CSR Working Group is our internal network of communication professionals. More than 600 people get regular updates about AmCham’s projects and activities.
In 2021 we had to mix online events with physical ones due to the still present COVID-19 and lack of vaccination across the population. We didn’t have many events, but honestly speaking – they were true success stories for AmCham.
Again those three words – 3SI. It took us months to be recognized by multiple stakeholders in a very rigit and fragmented einvrionment full of distrust among institutions. However, we were able to defend our brand and position our organization as a co-organizer of the 3SI Business Forum along with the Ministry of Economy, SME Agency, and the Bulgarian Development Bank.
Here I would like to thank Petar who was probably acclaimed as a true 3SI Ambassador on a regional level since he was in Ljubljana, Tallinn, and Sofia, and now is sending an eye to Riga for the 2022 Summit and Business Forum.
EU Green Deal Transformation: Opportunities and Challenges was mentioned before. It was one of the first AmCham events for some years in which organization the leadership of a particular committee was engaged. Krassimir Nenov and Iliya Garkov worked together with Nadya to make it happen. We had Boyan Rashev, denkstatt Bulgaria and Ivan Tzankov, AES Bulgaria who presented a very pragmatic and factual point of view with regard to the challenges before the economy and the country’s energy sector as a whole.
During this multifold event, Ambassador Mustafa delivered important messages to the full of hope public at large in Bulgaria. Despite that it was a members-only event, its first part was open to media who had the chance to listen to her warm, inspiring, and factual speech. The key word of it was “nadezhda” – you remember it well, don’t you?
The idea to acknoledge our members for their work and dedication through the year was introduced a long time ago. Thanks to Nadya’s persistence and will, in 2021 we awarded those companies that contributed the most to the success of AmCham in 2020. We had a special jury from the Board members and they verified the results of a very complex Excel sheet that collected all activities of the members through the first pandemic year. We were able to give even a special award – All-Round Winner – to the company that was most active in almost all of the categories reviewed.
It is still May, but I am happy to invite you all to our U.S. Independence Day Party on July 2nd at Sofia Tech Park.
It will be our first physical event since 2019. So, we are welcoming you to buy tickets, to contribute with sponsorship to create this community event a real fun and celebration.
As you remember, AmCham Bulgaria won the privilege to host the event in 2020. Due to Covid-19 it was postponed for th enext year. In 2021 it was postponed for the second time. Our team’s efforts made it possible for us to keep the hosting and not have a virtual format as a substitute. We do hope that in October this year we will be able to welcome some 45 CEOs from AmChams in Europe here in Sofia.
Our policy and advocacy efforts followed the political dynamics of 2021. As you remember, last year Bulgaria had a long period of uncertainty and was governed by two caretaker cabinets, and its citizens had to go three times to the voting ballots.
In the second half of the year, our advocacy efforts were focused on engaging with strategic institutions to work with us on the “Power Sector Decarbonization” Study. After we hired Compass Lexecon, our stakehoders and communication plan foresaw inviting experts from the Ministry of Energy, the then Deputy Prime Minister on EU Funds, the Regulator, as well as representatives of the Environment Ministry. They joined several webinars with the consultant, which was a good decision to keep them informed and engaged.
Ever since the current government was elected – late December 2021 – the Board crafted a solid letter with the key priorities of AmCham and expressed readiness for cooperation on strategic topics.
I would ilke to highlight two emergency demarches that we had to do to defend the business climate and predictability in the Energy sector. First was the proposal of the then-government to the European Commission with regard to the Consultation on Bulgarian Electricity Market Implementation Plan which was sent to Brussels without consultation in Bulgaria. It was the second time when the then-government made such “moves” to bypass the energy community here and to present to the EC a text that had not been consulted domestically.
Also, we opposed some of the proposed in the very last minute changes to the Energy Law that under the “mask of liberalization of the market”, aimed to hit power producers and violate the existing contracts for power purchase.
Our cooperation with several institutions from Poland in parallel with the Three Seas Initiative brought us to a partnership with Digital Poland – one of the most influential business associations there. They initiated the creation of the CEE Digital Coalition that would defend the positive dialogue between the digital companies in the Three Seas Region, the European Commission, and the big American vendros. We supported several positions that aimed to create a sustainable digital regulatory framework.
In 2021 we continued with the exchange with other bilateral chambers in areas where we have similar interests, such as investment climate, healthcare, and innovations.
AmChams in Europe
AmChams in Europe continues to provide benefits to us with network, contacts, joint initiatives, and outreach to the European and American institutions.
AmCham Bulgaria is the only affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Bulgaria. This organization is the single biggest business association in America, having over 3 million members – from SMEs to the big tech giants.
We rely on their transatlantic support, knowledge, and leverage of contacts. Since the opening of our office in Washington D.C. last week, I believe our relationship will get even stronger.
In 2021 we continued to have excellent contact with the Bulgarian Commercial Attache Ivo Konstantinov who was instrumental to support Bulgarian companies in their plans to probe operations in the U.S.
When you are rich in content and have a positive attitude, media will like you. Thus, our CEO had his excellent moments to get people’s attention during his public apearances.
Again, he spoke on the conclusions of the 2021 U.S. State Department Investment Climate Report.
AmCham is seen as a valuable partner thanks to its brand and its solid membership base.
We were invited by Transparency International Bulgaria to provide feedback in the process of transposing of the EU Whistle-blowing directive.
We partnered with Tuk-Tam NGO whose team works on how Bulgaria’s next generation can get better jobs here. They are supported by the U.S. Embassy and some of our members too.
For a second year in a row, AmCham and the German Chamber supported the Media Literacy Coalition by raising media literacy awareness together with Ambassador Mustafa.
Now it is time for some acknowledgments. The list is quite long, but I have to mention just a few people.
First, I would like to thank our Board of Directors. It was another extraordinary term, and without any modesty, I can say that we succeeded.
I would like to thank Petar for his great achievements as CEO.
This is the last year in which I have to thank Miguel Hernandez. And I do hope that he got his promotion to Senior Commercial Attache thanks to our great cooperation. Joking aside, but we really appreciate his work with us.
I would like to thank our Patron Members for entrusting our organization.
My gratitude goes to all our members. Together we share the same vision and values.
I would like to thank the Committees and Working Groups’ leaders. Both reports that were produced in 2021 and 2022 are evidence of great work done!
Last but not least, I would like to thank the Amcham Team for their hard work and dedication!
Once again, I would like to thank each and every one of you that contributed or are still contributing with time, money, knowledge, or advice for the progress of the Chamber.