Tony Regan: British Embassy in Sofia Tries New Type of Charity

Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | October 5, 2002, Saturday // 00:00

Tony Regan chairs the Board of the Directors of Traditzia, a charity gallery, while working as a EU pre-accession advisor with the British Embassy in Sofia. Traditzia's main goal is to aid disabled children, orphans, single mothers and artisans whose talent might otherwise go unnoticed in the remote villages they live. The beautiful souvenirs displayed at the show-room are actually handmade by such people and all revenues of the gallery go back to them. By purchasing the unique pieces, customers help those Bulgarians buy their supper, pay the electricity bill or learn a skill that will provide for their living in a lifetime.

Tony Regan met Milena Dinkova, Editor of The News and Novinite.com.

Q: How did you come up with the idea for Traditzia?

A: Actually, the concept of Traditzia was developed by the former [British] ambassador and his wife Mr. and Mrs. Stagg. Every Christmas, social homes were asking the embassy for help so they can buy food, oil and gifts for the children. I think what happened was that Mr. and Mrs. Stagg recognized Bulgaria's fantastic traditions of arts and crafts. So had the idea that if they develop a foundation such as Traditzia, they could do two things. One is to help support and sustain traditional Bulgarian crafts. But they also wanted to provide social homes and artisans with an opportunity to produce goods and then sell them on the market. This is an opportunity for them to make a profit so they could buy their own food, oil and gifts for Christmas. This idea is moving away from traditional charity simply because it is based much more on the market philosophy and also on the respect for the traditions and culture.

Q: What kind of response do you get?

A: The response is very positive. People who come here and know about Traditzia, come back frequently. They know they could buy things that are hand-made but really very high quality. We always make sure the goods meet the high standard criteria.

Q: How do you discover the talented artisans whose work is displayed at Traditzia?

A: We have a network of organizations that we work with. One of the most important is the UN Jobs Project, we have twenty-four centers throughout Bulgaria. Many of the artisans and the social homes we work with make the contact with Traditzia by the UN Jobs Project. The other way is through word of mouth. Some artisans know they could sell their production through Tradizia so they tell others. We try to encourage that.

Q: Does Traditzia provide such artisans with opportunity to start a successful career?

A: What Traditzia can do and I have to say the UN Jobs Project as well is provide people with an access to the market not only here in Sofia or nationally in Bulgaria but also potentially on an international level. And within that, there are many career and business opportunities. That is part of what we want to offer. Some make the big step from the small supplier of hand-made goods to the internationally successful artist. It happens and it has happened, I hope it will happen again.

Q: What difficulties does Traditzia encounter?

A: Sometimes the most simple issues are the most difficult. Some of the artisans need additional training. I mentioned quality which a huge issue. Some artisans and social homes need to learn to do the same thing to a higher standard and often they need equipment or tools. So these are the technical hurdles but there is another hurdle as well. There is the market and people have to be entrepreneurial and business-like. The main goal of social homes is to take care of the children. But they also have to develop their ability to raise money in a market-based way.

Q: Do think Bulgaria is making progress towards European standards?

A: I first came to Bulgaria two years ago. And I think step by step progress has been made, particularly in Sofia. Bulgaria reminds me very much of my native Ireland when I was a student. We all left, there were no opportunities for work. The economy was really struggling, it was hard. And now I see a lot of parallels. In Bulgaria the education is very high standard. I work with very well educated Bulgarians. Clearly, the country has huge human potential. There are great traditions and natural resources as well. In my opinion, Bulgaria should follow the path that Ireland has followed. Now Ireland has more growth than the other European countries. That is what I want to see happen in Bulgaria. The conditions are right, the direction is right and I hope that comes through.

Q: Could you describe Bulgaria in three words?

A: Warm, traditional and modern.

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