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The Social Teahouse and Vratsa Software receive support from Open the Circle in 2021

It is our pleasure to announce that the Social Teahouse in Varna and the Vratsa Software Community are the two finalists who have been selected to receive support from the Scaling Readiness Program, which is financed by ING Community Investment Fund and developed by Reach for Change Bulgaria.

The program supports later stage social entrepreneurs, by helping them improve their business models and thus scale their positive impact upon a greater number of vulnerable members of our society. As it is part of Open the Circle, the main objective is to improve the financial status of families at risk of poverty and social exclusion in Bulgaria.

Who are Vratsa Software Community?

Vratsa Software Community offers programming and digital marketing courses to graduates, enabling them to start a well-paid career in the digital industry in their hometown. The IT community they are building attracts external companies and creates conditions for launching new projects in Northwestern Bulgaria (the poorest region in the EU). Three software companies have opened offices in Vratsa, 1570 people participated the events organized by the Community and 250 started their courses over the last four years.

Who are The Social Teahouse?

The Social Teahouse helps young people raised in foster care centres to develop themselves and live independently. The organisation provides them with a long-term mentorship program and a first job in a protected setting. Since 2015 they have their own place in Varna, where young people work as waiters, barmen and/or other related services. After having been trained and , confident of their developed work skills, they move on, giving way to others. We do not hire people to brew tea, we brew tea to hire people!” – they say. The Teahouse plans to scale their model in two more cities - Veliko Tarnovo and Plovdiv.

Selection process

The two finalists were chosen among 6 candidates in a 4-level selection process, including the assessment by ING Sofia’s and Reach for Change Bulgaria’s employees, as well as by external experts. After a careful mapping for social entrepreneurs who meet the criteria for the Scaling Readiness Program, the 6 candidates were invited by Reach for Change to apply.

Following the initial selection by our colleagues, the candidates took part in a thorough interview with experts overviewing their social impact, programs and products, the experience and capacity of their teams, desire for scaling and initial scaling plan.

"Vratsa Software aims to develop new skills for young people in one of the poorest regions in the EU. There is a proven positive impact noted already but also a good plan to scale the solution by both broadening its educational offer and expanding geographically. The Social Teahouse addresses the problem of integration of children from foster care centres in the society and fills the gap created by lack of sufficient state support. I am impressed by the motivation, flexibility and persistence of the ST team to scale their operations into other cities” - reflects on the Jury’s choice Grzegorz Konieczny, Country Manager of ING in Bulgaria.

Open the Circle

Open the Circle is a cross-sector coalition, founded jointly by ING and Reach for Change Bulgaria. 32.5% of the population of Bulgaria lived at risk of poverty and social exclusion, even before the Coronavirus outbreak. This is the highest percentage among all members of the European Union. Led by our desire to change these statistics, we established Open the Circle – a project aiming to empower innovators to develop their sustainable solutions for social inclusion. The project is supported financially by the global ING fund, established to help communities build back better by supporting projects in areas such as financial health, sustainable employment and digital skills.

Related links:

Who are the winners in the Scaling Readiness Program  (news at