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October 2010:

HKS-Inspired Vision Becomes a New Classroom in Bulgarian Town

October 25, 2010
by Doug Gavel

Future generations of Bulgarian students will blaze their own paths to success in large part due to an innovative new educational program developed at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS).

Pathways is a public-private partnership designed to increase the competitiveness of Bulgaria’s young people and improve access to computer science, the English language and entrepreneurship. Its first classrooms, located in the south-central town of Pazardzhik, opened their doors in mid-September, with seed funding of $500,000 from USAID, making it the organization’s largest investment in the country this year.

Although anchored in Eastern Europe, the program’s roots lay in Cambridge, where Angel Kelchev MPA 2011 first began assembling a corps of volunteers – including students from Wellesley College, the University of Warwick, and the MIT Sloan School as well as from the University of California, San Diego, and Sofia University in Bulgaria – to help mold his vision to reality.

“Pathways was inspired by my dream to improve the learning environment in my home country, and to provide young people with greater opportunities to develop critical skills necessary for Bulgaria to achieve its potential as an economic and social leader in the years ahead,” said Kelchev.

Kelchev and his team unveiled two state-of-the-art facilities in Pazardzhik specializing in the teaching of information technologies and English language. The facilities feature three modern classrooms that address the needs of today’s most demanding students and offer up-to-date computer equipment, multimedia and software.

The student coursework is complemented by a dynamic mentoring program staffed by more than 50 high achieving volunteers from top academic and professional institutions from the U.S. and beyond. In addition, Pathways offers seminars on business development, business ideas generation and career planning and also provides scholarships to ensure that people from disadvantaged backgrounds gain access to world-class education and resources.
“This program is a dynamic example of how ambitious and committed Harvard Kennedy School students are making a real difference in the world,” said Alan Trager, senior fellow and chair of the Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) Study Group, sponsored by the Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government. “Angel and his team have shown the creativity, dedication and energy to maintain focus, be flexible and not get discouraged.

“One way to support outstanding students like Angel Kelchev is to give them a structure to learn about PPPs and test their best ideas, with the objective of putting them to work in their country or region. The PPP Study Group currently includes students from Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Jordan, Pakistan, India, China, Mexico, as well as the United States,” said Trager.

Pathways’ Advisory Board, which is chaired by Trager and includes Brian Mandell, senior lecturer in public policy; Guy Stuart, lecturer in public policy; Elaine Papoulias, director, Kokkalis Program on Southeastern and East-Central Europe; and Mikhala Stein, associate director, Kokkalis Program, helped Kelchev devise a comprehensive business plan and provided on-going guidance and support for the project.

“The mission of Pathways is aligned with that of the Kokkalis Program,” said Papoulias. “And the program’s early success has helped immensely to dispel the unfair characterization of this region as a place where the collective efforts of people have little chance of being impactful.”

The program is launching on a small scale, with 65 students having been admitted this summer, but it is expected to grow over time.

“This year [Kelchev’s] program will expand, giving several hundred Bulgarian high schoolers the full range of technical computer skills necessary to get jobs in Bulgaria’s IT sector,” said James B. Warlick, Ambassador of the U.S. to Bulgaria, in a recent presentation to the American Chamber of Commerce in Sofia.

Kelchev’s latest initiative in Bulgaria is a continuation of his longtime international service work. He launched his first project in his home country in partnership with local Rotary clubs in 2006. That year the Mathematics High School “Konstantin Velichkov” received a gift that allowed for the establishment of two new computer labs. In the following four years, Kelchev led similar initiatives at the Bertold Breht Foreign Language High School, the Ivan S. Aksakov High School, a regional library and a children’s library, all located in his hometown of Pazardzhik.