On behalf of the AmCham Board of Directors, I would like to welcome you to the 2023 AmCham Bulgaria General Assembly.
With this event we are officially restarting the business season after the summer holidays. With such dynamic times in which we have to navigate our businesses and the Chamber, I’d say that few of us have some quality rest.
As of today we are enjoying a solid membership base. 2022 was a year of recovery after the pandemics. Again, during the two pandemic years – 2020 and 2021 – we did our best to work for the business environment improvement, defending our members, and providing benefits.
As of today we have 331 members which are structured in four categories, and, I am certain, that they get the best of the benefits that we can provide. I’d like to thank to those companies that continue being our members. Also, I’d like to thank those that have joined over the past year and a half.
In 2022 we had a stable fee collection that met the budget.
To all of you I should say a reminder: AmCham membership is not for granted. We’d like to have solid, values-driven organization that strives for the investment climate improvement in Bulgaria. That means that we are trying to keep our mission, operations, and members to the highest possible level. The rationale is simple: if the members act with integrity, then AmCham can really stand for the values that we hail.
One more thing here: over the past several years we have witnessed a trend. Several Bulgarian companies with some doggy past and ill connections are trying to postinion themselves as very American. This American-washing trend is one of the battles that we – as Board, CEO, team – are having right now. I’d love having your support in this too.
Our priorities remain unchanged for years. This is a symbol of consistency and show our true dedication to improve the investment climate in Bulgaria.
They are reconfirmed during our Board’s strategic meetings. All events and partnerships that we do, aim to implement our priorities completely.
- Regional and Transatlantic Advocacy.
- Sustainable Business Climate and Investments.
- Digital Economy and Innovation and
- Human Capital Development.
- In 2022 the Board was refreshed with six new members which despite some changes, are fully aligned with our mission and vision.
Also, the ExCo had to organize a time-wise and transparent process of selection of a new CEO after Petar Ivanov’s decision to return to the corporate world. We are glad that after reviewing many, many candidates we univocally approved Ivan Mihaylov as the AmCham Bulgaria CEO.
I’d like to thank him for his willingness to step-in and to dedicate his energy, experience, and wisdom for the building-up what we have achieved so far, and to add his own touch in Chamber’s positioning and success.
- CEO – during the selection process, Ivan presented to the ExCo a detailed, focused, and ambitious agenda. His priorities cover the full spectrum of what an AmCham should do to meet our membership’ expectations and to work for the improvement of the investment climate. Ivan is also keen in team’s development and streamlining all of our processes, of how the Committees work and deliver, and how we cooperate with partners, incl. the U.S. Embassy in Bulgaria.
- As mentioned, Ivan’s priorities on Committees aimed to focus them in order to deliver results that improve the business climate and bring benefits to members.
- I’m glad that despite the shift from one CEO to a new one, the team followed its duties and strived to excel. I’d say that the transition period went smoothly. In the following slides you will see many evidence of these words.
Quick overview and Thank you
- In 2022 the Chamber produced the “Power Sector Decarbonization Study” – a major document prepared by one of the most prominent strategic consultants in EU and globally. In a professional, deep, and neutral way it showed several scenarios for decarbonization of the electricity sector of the country. It was presented before various stakeholders, incl. the government in January – March 2022, as well as it was updated in September after the work of Energy Transformation Commission.
- Our great pride and expectations go to the newly opened U.S. Office of AmCham Bulgaria at Washington D.C.
- I’d say once again – the Chamber was very well positioned in its strategic sectors. Here I have to mention our famous “Healthcare as an Investment “ Report which served as an advocacy and outreach tool in 2022.
- I have to tell you that our Board has confidence due to the fact that we could rely on the full support of all of you – our members.
- Also, we are very grateful and happy having like-minded people at the U.S. Embassy as our friends and partners. In 2022 we relied on the cooperation of Ambassador Mustafa and Miguel Hernandez, who have passed the diplomatic relay to Ambasador Merten and Hannah Kamenetski and their teams. I’d like to thank Andrea Bruillette-Rodrigues, the DCM, for her great role in the interim period too.
AmCham Bulgaria Team
Here you can see our Board picture from the GA 2022.
And here they are – the AmCham Bulgaria Team. Some of them are in the hall right now, and if you don’t know them, please go and shake hands and introduce each other.
Here I would like to thank Nadezhda, Rositsa, Petya, Tatyana, Stephania, Ivo, and Daniel for their hard work. We also have two mothers that are caring for their babies – Iva, and Kalina – and they plan to come back one day too.
Committees and Working Groups
Committees at a glance
There was a positive vibe in early 2022 that the Chamber will present significant development by meeting members’ needs and created several new committees.
During the year the organization of committees’ work aimed to shape their processes for some better deliverables. Again we need to constantly attract proven experts with solid values from our members in order to achieve our goals and priorities.
In 2022 we made a strong emphasis on the Rule of Law topic.
A little comment about how we have structured the following slides. Since this GA is in September, and we are making a report about 2022 activates. However, Ivan and I decided that I’d better to show you the then and present Committees’ leadership.
Committee is lead by Luka Chichov who teamed in 2022 with Ruslana Toncheva, and after her leave in early 2023 and the followed by-elections Boryana Alexieva stepped-in. This is a trully logical acknowledgment of Boryana’s work over the past 3+ years here: the four of them, including Sava Todorov made the Healthcare Report and advocate for its ideas to be implemented on national level.
Their priorities include Hospital Efficiency, Prevention and Screening, and Digital Health.
The Report was instrumental in series of meetings with the Minister of Healthcare, deputies, and senior officials, as well as its essence was considered important part of the Healthcare System Improvement.
We continued our collaboration with the German-Bulgarian and Swiss Chambers on the establishing of an Advisory Council to the Minister of Healthcare.
Energy and Mineral Resources Committee
This committee leadership was well balanced between the power generation and mineral resources having Iliya Garkov and Krassimir Nenov there. Since Krassi left ContourGlobal, the followed by-elections presented Svetoslav Ivanov as the new co-chair, who already brought fresh energy to the committee’s work.
The major achievement this committee did was the preparation of the “Bulgaria’s Power Sector Decarbonization Study” that served as a major tool for the work of the Energy Transformation Commission which is part of Bulgaria’s EU Green Deal Transformation Advisory Council.
This committee had robust activites along with the mentioned report. They had a session with the newly appointed CEO of NEK, as well as with Radan Kanev, MEP.
Human Capital and Education Committee
For another consecutive year, the Human Capital and Education Committee connected HR professionals across AmCham.
The long-standing committee co-chair is Zlatina Kushkieva who manages the HR-related topics, and she teamed with Borislav Slavchov whose focus was education. In the spring of 2023 he stepped-out and now this seat is vacant.
The highlight of their work in 2022 was the implementation of the first AmCham Educational Partnership with 2 universities – Faculty of Economics and Business Administration at Sofia University and the New Bulgarian University.
Seven HR topics were presented by experts from more than 10 of our members before more than 80 students in this program.
This committee is also strong with meetings and webinars. They presented some of the EU Funding Opportunities of HR Development Programs, as well as continued the conversation around the Diversity & Inclusion topic.
Their experts made recommendations for improvement in legislation for digitalization of the Labor Code together with the Digital Economy Committee.
Also, they partnered with their peers in AmChams in Poland and in Ukraine.
Rule of Law and Legislative Reform
Established and chaired by Omourtag Petkov, this committee folded sleeves for a major Commercial Law Modernization Project. Omourtag engaged half a dozen of top-notch lawyers and academics to deliver a comprehensive report on the very needed change of this law.
The Chamber had a meeting with the Minister of Justice Nadezhda Yordanova, and collaborated well with CIPE – the Center for International Private Enterprise – on the mentioned report and in making an impactful conference (organized in January 2023).
Digital Economy Committee
This committee is led by Georgi Ganev, who is also a Board Member, and Plamen Zhechev (former Board member) working on Regulatory Changes, Cyber Security, and Digital Health.
Applying more practical approach, Georgi Ganev and Simeon Stoychev, another Board member, initiated Cyber Security Series in partnership with the SME Promotion Agency. In 2022 they made two dedicated sessions guiding SMEs how to be more efficient in protecting their digital content. Also, it resulted with a Cyber Security booklet distributed broadly.
Tax and Finance Committee
Tax is led by Milen Raykov, who focused the committee work on Improvement and sustaining business environment: how Government and Parliament to make more predictable policies on taxes in a post-pandemic economy. Other areas of exchange were maximum social security income, tax reductions on R&D.
Research, Innovation, and Start-ups
This was one of the newly established committees back in 2021 based on George Alexandrov’s concept and proposal to the Board. He made some solid stakeholders’ outreach to probe various ways of collaboration. After he left the Chamber, he was succeeded by Ryan Fisher who initiated one session to reinforce the message of work for the development of Bulgaria’s innovation ecosystem.
This one was part of the 2021 Board Strategic session discussion and based on the numerous and important manufacturing companies that our members, the Board decided to have such a committee. At the kick-off meeting in April 2022 we gathered 25 leaders of manufacturing companies.
They united over the following areas Energy prices, Lack of workforce, Regulation burden, Education, Business Env. Predictability.
Communications, and CSR Working Group
The Communications and CSR Working Group is our internal network of communication professionals. More than 600 people get regular updates about AmCham’s plans and work done.
Committees and working groups development in 2023
As I mentioned here I am giving you the Report of the 2022 activities, and since we are in September, I must give some short snap-shot of the current status of the Committee and Working groups.
Based on the activities of our committees, throughout 2023 they were reduced to five, and we are having four working groups.
We have a lot to be proud and happy of the Events that we organized and at which we partnered in 2022.
AmChams in Europe Best Practice Conference, Sofia 2022
The most long-time expected and important event was our hosting of the AmChams in Europe Best Practice Conference in Sofia.
You know that AmCham is part of a pan-continental network of 46 AmChams across Europe and Eurasia. After our very strong 2019, the AmCham team proposed and we won the bid to host this high-profile event in 2020. Then we had to celebrated our 25th Anniversary. Due to the pandemics it was postponed two times, but the hosting chamber remained. This was thanks to the ACE Secretariat, Petar’s efforts, and the kind understanding of Greece that aimed to combine thir hosting with thir 90th Anniversary in 2021.
Those four amazing days presented Bulgaria and AmCham in their greatest possible way! The feedback from our ACE colleagues proved my words. Here, I would like to thank the team that made it happen, but most of all I’d like to thank to Nadezhda who organized it. Now please let’s applaud them all!
During the event we welcomed 37 colleagues, most of them CEOs from 27 chambers. The special moment was the Gala Dinner at which we enjoyed the key-note of Susan Danger – CEO of AmChamEU and Chairwoman of AmChams in Europe. She is role model for developing the Transatlantic Relations and we were very glad having her speaking in Sofia.
The magic moment of the event was the AmChampion Awards Ceremony. Here you can see some of the moments from that grand Gala. More will follow shortly.
Here are our sponsors – thank you, all.
Bulgaria – North Macedonia Business Dialogue
Earlier I mentioned our priorities and the initiated cooperation with CIPE.
One of its outcomes was a project to bring closer the business communities of Bulgaria and North Macedonia. After Bulgaria’s EU Presidency in 2018, the Western Balkans integration topic was put aside. We knew that this is a huge and political effort in 2021, but we wanted to give our contribution utilizing the AmChams network.
Thus, we partnered with AmCham North Macedonia in two roundtables – one in Skopje during the first visit of the then Prime Minister Petkov, and one in Sofia, organized together with Kapital Executive Circle.
Public Presentation of AmCham’s Power Sector Decarbonization Study
This was a very important moment for us, because we had to present 6-month of hard work to prepare the study in a very turbulent period – the outbreak of the unjust, unprovoked war of Russia against Ukraine. Thanks to the Energy Committee leadership the event happened on March 1st, 2022.
I would like to thank once again to the members that supported the study. Without any modesty they are have plans to remain as long-term investors in Bulgaria.
AmCham Business Breakfast with the Bulgarian Government
This traditional format for us aimed to show support to the efforts of the then Government to navigate the country in a very turbulent times – the Russian war was demolishing Ukraine for three months now, the sanctions were just introduced, and the russianl gas was stopped for Bulgaria and Poland.
Also, our members wanted to hear answers from first hand from the Prime Minister and key ministers.
We enjoyed the welcoming remarks of Dr. Karen Donfried, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.
Explore U.S. Conference with SMEPA
In 2022 we continued our effort to present the business and investment opportunities of the United States.
The stake in this event was higher because for a very first time Ivo Konstatinov would present in his new capacity – the director of AmCham Bulgaria Office in D.C..
Again we had a panel of entrepreneurs that shared their experience in doing business in America.
Our high-rank guests were Geophrey Pyatt, Assistant Secretary of Energy, two ministers, and we organized this event in partnership with the Small and Medium-size Promotion Agency.
Three Seas Initiative Business Forum, Latvia
AmCham Bulgaria’s engagement with the Three Seas Initiative remained in 2022. We tried to support AmCham Latvia gain a status of “co-organizer of the Business Forum” but they were in position to organize a warm-up event on” Digital Transformation, Smart Infrastructure, Connectivity and Security” in Riga.
Also, our partners of the CEE Digital Coalition organized a side-event during the 3SI Business Forum. Our then CEO Petar Ivanov attended both as a speaker.
AmCham Office in Washington D.C.
We are very proud of the establishment of AmCham Office in D.C. With Ivo’s experience and contacts, along with emerging new opportunities for doing business in America, this venture is already giving fruit to its clients and to our organization.
Ivo was intrudmentla for organizing series of public and private meetings of government officials with U.S. investors.
Also, during the AmChams in Europe U.S. Summitt in 2022, the office was formally inauguratied before the eyes of a solid group of AmChams CEOs. Later in October during the ACE Conference in Sofia, Ivo had a dedicated session before them about the services the office offers.
Later same year, Ivo was instrumental for the so-call “U.S. Road Show” called “Scale in Europe Outreach”. A big Bulgarian delegation had series of meetings, two forums – one in Plug-n-Play, Sun Valey, California, and one at Portland University.
Independence Day Celebration
Now, let’s move on to more social events we did in 2022
Last year’s the Independence Day Party was the first one after the pandemics. We welcomed more than 1,000 guests. Also, we had Ambassador Mustafa and her family, as well as we had a super-start – Dimitar Berbatov whose foundation was the charity cause that we supported on that event.
Hereby, I’d like to thank to our very active and keen to support AmCham fellow Board Member Tony McMurray who had series of MC performances in the past couple of years.
Also, a big “Thank you!” to the sponsors of this event. With some of them we are partnering with more than 20 years!
Thanksgiving Charity Dinner
In the year of the restart, we managed to attract 200 guests at our traditional charity event – the Thanksgiving Charity Dinner. Again, we had Ambassador Mustafa, and were grateful to have Angela Rodel, Fulbright Bulgaria Executive Director and a prominent TV anchor as Yana Nikolov to master the event.
Thanks to the generoucity of our members and guests, we collected 65,000 leva that are supporting two of our long-standing causes: Schollarships for orphans with excellent grades, and women’s victims of domestic violence. We all recognize that these two vulnerable groups need constant support to overcome their challenges and have normal lives.
Such an event can not be possible without the support of our sponsors. Thank you!
I mentioned several times that 2022 was the year of recovery and restart of the “business as usual”. That does not mean that webinars as format was abandoned. In fact, webinars gave some balance of our Events Calendar and help us to react to a mutli-stakeholder event with speakers from abroad, and are great in terms of speed. Here are two examples.
The first one is a rapidly organized webinar in March of the AmChams in Europe with the CEO of AmCham Ukraine after the start of the Russian war.
The second one is a joint activity with Jon Decker – prominent U.S. journalist that covers American politics for more than 20 years. This one had some cost-efficient effect as well.
Meet the New Members
Last year we organized one in-person presentation of the newly accepted members in the Chamber. It was something that many of us expected for a long time.
For a third year, AmCham Bulgaria partnered with the organizers from the Delphi Forum. In 2022 they changed the location of their event from Plovdiv to Sofia.
Also, the relationship between AmChams in the region resulted in our participation at the Skopje Economic Forum.
Special Events and Formats
With the AmChampoin Awards we acknowledge the most active members that contributed for the success of our organization in the past year.
As I mentioned it, in 2022 we combined the hosting of the AmChams in Europe Best Practice Conference with the AmChampion Award Ceremony in a glamourous Gala Dinner.
Here you can see who the winners were, and to inspire for new great achievements together.
United with Ukraine
The unprovoked, unjust war of Russia against Ukraine put many countries, lives, and businesses into a new reality. To show solidarity, AmCham Bulgaria joined the iniatiative of the U.S. Embassy and America for Bulgaria Foundation to find asylum and jobs to the refugees of the war.
Here I would like to thank to all of the companies that participated in the five job fairs. I am certain that this is the right way, here they are:
- America for Bulgaria
- American Uniersity in Bulgaria and the American College of Sofia
- McDonalds, Coca-Cola HBC, JDE Bulgaria, Prestige 96
- A1 Bulgaria, Adecco, Atos Bulgaria, Cargill, HPE, KAI Group, UniCredit Bulbank, Visteon, Sitel, Sutherland, VMware and many local hotels and restaurants.
Ambassdor James Pardew Str.
A moment of a great recognition of a true friend of Bulgaria was the inauguration of the Ambassador James Pardew Street in Sofia. This was an initiative of “Friends of the Doctors’ Garden”, and AmCham embraced their invitation since Ambassador Pardew was a great supporter of the chamber’s priorities.
Policy and Advocacy 2022
In 2022 we were active in our policy and advocacy in line with the main priorities and deliverables of our committees, as well as we had several ad-hoc cases.
I will mention the most important ones:
- The national Healthcare Insurance Fund and the attempts to increase the burden of the pharmaceutical companies
- Our Healthcare Report and IQVIA’s expertise were acknowledged by the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Healthcare to make the Healthcare system more healthier.
- The Decarbonization Study elevated the Chamber to a level of competence and potential policy making that no one expected.
- Two of our energy committee leaders were part of the Energy Transformation Commission as part of the EU Green Deal Council.
- We were the organization that supported our mining members in the efforts of the Ministry of Finance to increase the mining royalties without any analysis and logic behind.
- In Digital sphere we partnered with the CEE Digital Coalition – they are very active in the European Dialogue that aims to have a more predictable and transparent digital market that will allow balance between the interests of the large corporation, innovation need and the development of SMEs in CEE.
- Also, there were other areas of our advocacy.
Discussion with Ambassador Jim O’Brien
Thanks to the great collaboration with Ambassador Mustafa and her team, AmCham hosted a businessa associations discussion with Ambassador Jim O’Brien, Head of the Office of Sanctions Coordination at the U.S. State Department
It was a great recognition by the U.S. Government that AmCham Bulgaria is a strategic and reliable partner.
Discussion with the Minister of Economy and Industry
Proposed by the Minister of Economy and Industry as a follow-up of the Explore U.S. Conference, we had the chance to have two-hour discussion on various topics related to the investment climate and business environment.
In our work and strategy we are happy that we can rely and collaborate with many trusted partners.
Communication Platform & Media
Let me just refresh your thoughts on the fact that AmCham is not only a business organization, not only a great network, not only an advocacy tool, but it is also a media.
We have our own Communication Platform of which you can benefit a lot. It consists of our website, our weekly newsletter, social media – our LinkedIn is just great, and several printings among them is our flagship product – The AmCham Yearbook.
In 2022 we enjoyed media interest to a high extend having such a talkative and content-wise leader such as Petar, and now Ivan has the comfort to give our messages and to shine with his wide expertise whenever needed that we should say something.
Thank you all for your support in 2022. Thank you for your participation at the 2023 General Assembly of AmCham Bulgaria.
On behalf of the Board, I am wishing you to have endless confidence and devotion to continue working for the sake of Bulgaria, Transatlantic relations, and of our Chamber.
Now I officially close the 2023 General Assembly of AmCham Bulgaria