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Mobilizing Volunteers to Conserve Bulgaria's Unique Biodiversity

Region: Balkans, Bulgaria, Central and Eastern Europe
Author: Green Balkans Bulgaria (Plovdiv)
Consortium Member: Green Balkans Bulgaria
Status: Needs Funding Budget: $32222 Collected: $0 Needs: $32222
Goal: To establish a nation-wide system for volunteer recruiting, training, management and retention in our organization.
Comment: "Green Balkans" has active projects and representatives at seven nature conservation sites throughout Bulgaria. All of our projects receive funding for materials but no funding for salaries. It is vital for us to use knowledgeable volunteers to complete the bulk of our project work.

Information about our organization

Green Balkans preserves, studies, and restores biodiversity throughout Bulgaria and the Balkan Peninsula as a whole. Our goals are:

With branches, working groups, and representatives in 25 cities throughout Bulgaria, we passionately mobilize public participation to confront the challenges of nature conservation. Since our founding in 1988, over 47 conservation, education, and other varied projects and numerous actions have been successfully implemented.

Our activities include:

Conservation and Restoration of Wetlands
In partnership with, and with the financial support, of WWF-International, UNDP, WWF-Austria, EURONATURE, and the Regional Environmental Center for Central and Eastern Europe, we have successfully implemented 16 projects. The most significant of these projects are:

Conservation and Restoration of Threatened Species and Habitats
Eleven conservation projects have been completed, involving activities and the promulgation of new protected areas which aim to conserve the following species: Imperial Eagle, Cinereous Vulture, Pygmy Cormorant, and Ferruginous Duck, as well as colonies of herons, avocet, and Sandwich Tern. Green Balkans has similarly established a volunteer system for monitoring of mid-winter numbers of rare and wintering birds for anti-poaching activities in wetlands.

The Wildlife Rehabilitation and Breeding Centre
Our Centre for treatment and release of injured rare and endangered birds is the only one of its kind in Bulgaria. It is managed by Green Balkans Stara Zagora, in co-operation with I.P. Pavlov Secondary Vocational School of Veterinary Medicine in Stara Zagora. Over the Centre's 6-year existence, nearly 200 rare birds have been nursed back to health and released into the wild. In the last year the Centre has successfully started to breed rare species that cannot be released into nature due to permanent injuries.
Future plans include the transformation of the Centre into a National Centre under the Washington (CITES) Convention and the launch of a programme for breeding and reintroduction of Lammergeier.

Expansion of the Network of Protected Areas
Green Balkans has prepared proposals for promulgation of 10 new protected areas. We have carried out studies of fauna and flora in Vrachanski Balkan and Strandja Nature Parks.

Nature Conservation Legislation
To date, we have implemented three projects with the common theme "Public Participation in the Reform of Nature-Conservation Legislation". Support for these came from USAID and the EU. We have established and coordinate a Voluntary Public Committee, consisting of 10 NGOs. A panel of experts from the Committee proposed 50 articles for inclusion in the new Forest Act and Protected Areas Act. A large part of these proposals have been adopted by the Bulgarian Parliament.

Sustainable Development
In conjunction with the EU Phare-Partnership Programme, Green Balkans has implemented two large-scale projects, 'To Promote Sustainable Local Development in Central and Eastern Europe', in partnership with CEEWEB, and 'A Project to Combine Sustainable Economic Development with Natural Resource Protection in the Danube River Region of Bulgaria', in partnership with WWF-Austria. Green Balkans has also developed and implemented programmes for sustainable development in Sadovo District.

Educational Programmes and Conservation Working Holidays
Green Balkans has conducted 12 international conservation working holidays wherein volunteers from Bulgaria, Great Britain, EU-countries, and the U.S.A. have carried out field conservation activities on the Black Sea Coast, the Danube River, and in the Eastern Rhodope Mountains. Green Balkans also conducts interactive educational activities with secondary school students and orphan children on a monthly basis.

Project Goal

Our goal is to establish a system for volunteer management that will increase Green Balkan’s (GB) organizational and human capacity by attracting, training, utilizing, and retaining 25 intensely active volunteers, 75 active volunteers, and 100 volunteer-members as effectively as possible to meet GB’s broad organizational needs (Intensively Active Volunteer = 15+ hours/month, Active Volunteer = 6+ hours/month, Volunteer – Member = Attend 50% of all weekly meetings and participate at least 2 actions a year).

Methods of Implementation

The management system that we envision is based on philosophies that ground a highly successful system that has been used for two decades by our seven-year partners The British Trust for Conservation Volunteers. This system follows an ongoing 4-step cycle that consistently recruits/initiates, inducts/trains, supports/develops, and celebrates its volunteers.

With this 4-step cycle in mind, we aim to attract at least 200 volunteers by visiting and making visual presentations to biology/ecology students at 20 vocational/high schools and 2 universities in Plovdiv, at interested community centers, and at specific fairs, and by advertising via radio and newspaper over two separate one-week periods throughout the year. Once recruited, all individuals will undergo a closed-question interview wherein they will select for particular positions based on interests and abilities. Job descriptions and training schedules will be provided accordingly.

We then aim to train roughly 25 volunteers apiece to complete practical conservation work in each of the 7 primary regions of high biodiversity importance where GB works, and about 25 volunteers apiece to fulfill 10 different conservation administration duties. Two field trainings and three in-office trainings will be conducted a month during training seasons. Current volunteers who are intensively active will be invited to serve as Volunteer Officers (VOs). These VOs will then assume responsibility for a region or conservation administration task, and prime responsibility for working with the project coordinator to organize their training and their team of trainees.

Trainings for those who will complete practical conservation work will take place on Maritza River, in Tutrakan (off the Danube), on Sakar Mountain, in Pelevun, on Pomorie Lake (on the Black Sea), in the Western Rhodope Mountains, and in Stara Zagora, and are designed as follows:

  1. Initial ½ day training in-house to acquaint trainees to the area (give a history of the region and GB’s work there, let trainees know what kind of work they as volunteers will eventually be assisting with in the region, and prepare trainees for the following in-field 2-day training).
  2. Two-day training in the field, designed to specifically suit the needs of each region.
  3. Follow-up ½ day training in-house to encourage trainees to synthesize their in-field training experience and to more specifically plan how each particular volunteer can be useful in future work.

Trainings for those who will complete Conservation Administration work are organized as ½ day sessions, with the presented skills as vital components to GB’s work in all of the previously mentioned 7 regions. The following 10 trainings will be provided

All trainings will be offered twice throughout the year.

After appropriate training, volunteers will be warmly welcomed to participate in all pertinent projects and actions that relate to the volunteer’s field of interest and will be amply utilized. As Green Balkans has active projects and representatives at all of these 7 sites, and because all open and envisioned future projects provide funding for materials but no funding for salaries, it is vital for us to use knowledgeable volunteers to complete the bulk of our project work. This said, there are not only ample opportunities but further tremendous need to utilize all willing and trained volunteers. Volunteer regional teams will now exist to better support and sustain the work of GB in these 7 vital places, and volunteers in each of these regional teams will have not only the needed practical conservation skills but further a varied mix of conservation administration skills to support Green Balkans' regional work. Volunteers will be supported and encouraged to develop throughout the process. Mentor/Buddies will be allocated to trainees to support their growth. Project Coordinators will review progress, offer constructive feedback, and help establish further development needs with volunteers. Feedback will be considered and by the Project Coordinators.

Volunteer assistance and achievements will be regularly celebrated by bi-annual recognition ceremonies, wherein fun games that encourage volunteers to review their progress toward achieving organizational and individual goals will be played and volunteers will be awarded great thanks and small gifts for their contribution to nature. Ongoing support, quarterly mailed newsletters, thoughtful response to volunteer feedback, and volunteer appreciation make us hopeful to retain at least 25 intensely active volunteers, 75 active volunteers, and 100 volunteer-members by the close of the 12-month project.

How This Specific Project Will Make A Real Difference

This project will provide us the with human, financial, and infrastructural resources to allow us to reach out, train, utilize, and retain people according to an organized system. The project acts on a real opportunity to mobilize and coordinate the energies of people who want to be involved at this particular place in time. It gives us the opportunity to invest in people so that they can invest in us.

Because the project spans a full year, it allows us a fair deal of time to build a greater skilled human resource base upon which we can more regularly rely. This Long term impact will be realized at an organizational level in that GB will be better equipped and more systematically prepared to work effectively with volunteers in a more regimented fashion, will have a greater number of people properly skilled and trained to complete needed work, and will encourage a greater number of citizens to participate in nature conservation. This will allow for greater organizational growth at the main Plovdiv office and will provide a tried system by which to better work with volunteers at our Stara Zagora and Sofia offices and our smaller representative associations throughout the country. At a national level, this in turn will allow us to better protect Bulgarian wildlife and to better encourage a greater base of citizens to do the same. It is only through participating in society that people begin to feel a part of that society, and, in this, that democracy, in any real sense, is actualized, that mentalities shift, and that societies begin to move toward positive social change.

Project Sustainability

Aside from the need to secure on-going core costs for a volunteer Project Coordinator and perhaps the cost of the rent for the volunteer center, the present project is relatively sustainable. The requested community outreach materials will help us to become much better known not only in the community in which we’re stationed, but throughout all of Bulgaria, and will allow people who want to become involved as volunteers and/or members to be better informed. Once more volunteers are adequately trained, we will have a base of trainers with whom we can work to continue to regularly train/mentor new recruitees and we will have the materials with which to train them.

Established systems, data bases, and forms for recruitment, training, and volunteer development/support will remain in place. The ongoing presence of VOs for every region will encourage greater responsibility for each region and will ensure greater ongoing assistance to staff. The provided infrastructure will allow for the transport, accommodation, and materials needs for volunteers for at least the next 7 – 10 years. Membership dues are now being raised in order to cover the cost of newsletter production and circulation following the project. Local fundraising efforts and continuing attempts to raise funds from corporate sponsorship could potentially cover the costs for Project Coordinator and rent for the Volunteer Center.


Virtual Foundation Request:

Inclusive of 1 full-time coordinator: $2,400.00

Community Outreach
Slide projector, presentation boards, participation in fairs, ads in the newspapers, radio, posters, brochure, business cards, stickers, pens: $3,225

Trainers' fees, training hall, books, translation of books, creation and copying of training manuals and materials,notebooks, flip chart, markers, fuel, food: $3,710.40

Volunteer Center, equipment for the center, office materials, used mini-van, tents, sleeping bags, binoculars: $17,175

Recognition ceremonies with meals, t-shirts, pins, hall rental: $2,782

Subtotal: >/B> $29,292

Virtual Foundation administrative cost: $2930

Matching and in-kind contributions from Green Balkans:
Salaries: $600
Community Outreach: $170
Infrastructure: $7,250
Retention: $60
Total match:$10,836
Total needed for project: $40,128
Provided by Green Balkans as match: $10,836
Requested from Virtual Foundation: $32,222