Sunday, December 20, 2009

SK 12/09: Business in Bulgaria

Filed under: Uncategorized — plinius @ 12:45 pm

Bill and Melinda have established the world’s biggest transparent humanitarian foundation.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) has an endowment of about thirty-five billion dollars. To maintain its status as a charitable foundation, it must donate at least 5% of its assets each year (Wikipedia). The world’s richest individual – Warren Buffett –  has donated about half his assets to the Foundation.

Transparence means  that the public have access to information about the organizational structure, activities, economy and decisions. From the library point of view the BMGF is interesting because it:

  • invests substantially in library development
  • links library development to community development
  • applies business standards in humanitarian fields

The library program focuses on public libraries in less favored communities – both in the US  (US Libraries Initiative) and in a dozen countries in the South and in Eastern Europe. (Global Libraries Initiative). Both initiatives are aimed at the role of libraries as providers of web-based information and services.


Bulgaria can serve as a case.

In the course of the next four and a half years, the program shall enable the use of ICT equipment and Internet by visitors at 900 public libraries in large and small towns and villages countrywide.

Approximately 3,000 librarians will be trained in computer literacy, library service delivery and library management.

Once the Foundation selects a country, it invests heavily over several years. This gives it practical and political leverage: it can engage national partners from a position of strength. Developing public library networks on a national scale requires both political and professional support. Material support and training is not enough. The change processes must be anchored within library organizations, on the one hand, and within government bodies, on the other. The practical proposals are linked to government goals:

The Bulgarian Government strives to improve quality of life by providing to all citizens the opportunity to acquire the needed computer and Internet usage skill, as well as the means for free and secure exchange of knowledge and information, regardless of any geographical, physical or economic barriers.

Equal access

Public libraries offer a way to realize these goals:

An immediate step in this regard is to enable the use of information and communication technologies at venues accessible to the entire population, as is the case with public libraries.

Through the support of the program, libraries are expected to expand their activities, to become more attractive places for visitors and to play an important local development role.

In Bulgaria the Foundation collaborates with the department of Culture and UNDP (United Nations Development Programme).  Municipalities that want to participate, must commit themselves to offer suitable space and to pay for a full-time librarian.

Does it pay?

Chile is another case. Here the Foundation has financed the national network BiblioRedes , which has erquipped about four hundred public libraries with computers, internet access and training. This development program was carried out in cooperation with DIBAM – xx – in the early years of this decade.  The comprehensive evaluations of the outcomes are – as I see it – typical of “the business way of working”. Gates og Buffett represent a commercial and entrepreneurial culture. They are not satisfied with providing resources. As business people they are also very much concerned with returns on investment – even if that is measured in development rather than in dollars.

This willingness to learn from experience is perhaps the most important contrinution the Global Libraries Initiative can offer. It implies a culture of assessment.  The Foundation clearly emplys staff with high competence in evaluation, survey methods and economic and social assessment. This means that they also can engage local consultancy firms to carry out surveys without losing professional control.

The papers I have seen from the Global Libraries Initiative are realistic, convincing and methodologically appropriate – neither too technical nor too simplistic. Studying impact – and using the results for advocacy – is a task the Statistics and Evaluation Section will spend substantial time on in 2010.




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