TimeHeroes is yet another like-minded organization, that we often collaborate with through our Giving Programme. During the last couple of months, we were engaged in two great initiatives with them, and therefore, invited Blagovesta Nikolova, Managing Director, to share more about these activities, the importance of volunteering and how they are trying to promote it. Read on what she shared:
Hi, Beti, nice to have you here! You are currently an Executive Director at Time Heroes but have once been part of the HR team at Questers. Share a bit more about your career development? How did you get here?
Thank you so much for the invitation - it’s always a pleasure being your guest! Since the very beginning of my professional experience, my path has been leading me towards working closely with people and helping others somehow. I spent more than 8 years in HR, which taught me a lot and gave me a great perspective, but at some point, I decided I needed a change, so I joined TimeHeroes in early 2019.
As an individual, I have always had a very strong internal impulse to understand more about people from marginalised groups, and moreover what I can do to help them. I believe that my role at TimeHeroes combines everything in a way - being part of an organisation which helps hundreds of people in need on a daily basis, while also fighting for a better world, where all people are treated equally and have the same opportunities.
Tell us more about Time Heroes and its mission.
TimeHeroes was founded in 2011 with the goal to build and develop a volunteering culture in Bulgaria, which by that time was with the lowest levels in the EU. Today the foundation runs the largest volunteering platform (which was released in 2012) in Bulgaria - timeheroes.org. It is the main - and often the only - source for Bulgarian organisations to recruit volunteers. To date, we have facilitated over 2,400 volunteering initiatives (called missions) that have taken place in 300 locations (cities and rural areas) across the country and have thus supported over 1,000 organisers. We have a network of 90,000 registered volunteers.
Apart from developing the online platform, TimeHeroes runs the volunteering competition “The Heroes’ Cup” between a network of independent volunteering clubs in schools across the country, increases the capacity of the NGO sector for effective work with volunteers, helps companies fulfil their CSR needs and promotes the concept of volunteering as a whole.
What are your biggest challenges and how do you overcome them?
Being an active part of the community and the civil society can be empowering, but also challenging. At times you may not know how to react, what to do or how to approach a certain (often very sensitive) situation. Especially in times of crisis - for example, during the pandemic or the war in Ukraine. But what you do know is that you need to be adequate, that a lot of people rely on you, and you must act now. So, what we do is we start generating ideas and focus our entire energy on helping those in need, which is always our main priority. In the last two-three years, we have created numerous opportunities and shared a lot of useful information with our community of volunteers, nonprofit organisations and companies. And by doing so, we believe that we help people understand that every little step counts and that every one of us is responsible for taking some action.
Photo by Denislav Stoychev for TimeHeroes
As an organisation, what’s your biggest achievement so far?
2022 marks the 10th anniversary of the platform, and we are beyond proud of all the things we have managed to achieve so far. From working with a network of nonprofits to increase their capacity, starting and developing a nationwide youth volunteering competition, to helping businesses become leaders within the community of socially responsible companies and creating thousands of volunteering opportunities across the country. We are happy that we have helped with promoting the concept of volunteering in general, and with this helped more people understand how important the role of the volunteers is.
Although there is still “room for improvement”, we see that more and more people understand how their actions can bring a positive change in the world (or in their community, their neighbourhood, their school) and feel empowered by it.
We are excited and can’t wait to see what the next 10 years will bring!
We’ve been collaborating with Time Heroes on different occasions, and in March together we turned our office into a donation centre in support of the Ukrainian refugees. Would you share more details about the organization of this mission as you call it?
At the very beginning of the war, Varna and the seaside became a main point, where refugees were constantly welcomed, donations were collected and distributed, and comprehensive support was provided to people seeking asylum in Bulgaria.
That is why volunteers from the city, together with the Ukrainian House of Culture, in early March 2022, established a Center for Refugee Assistance - it was the largest in the country at that time.
The mission we carried out provided assistance to the centre at an extremely important time when refugee families were constantly entering the country. As of March 25, approximately 18,000 people had passed through the Center to register and receive assistance. Around that time, any donation was crucial to the refugees and volunteers who worked 24 hours a day.
We organised the event in less than 48 hours - we knew that the Center needed support and we decided that we had to act immediately. We quickly found a venue (which your team provided so kindly without any hesitation), we published information in our platform and social media, and we recruited more than 50 volunteers in less than a day.
Today, more than 90,000 refugees have passed through the country, but due to the reduction in the flow of refugees and the decision of some people to return home, the Center does not work around the clock, although it still welcomes, supports and assists them in the process for temporary protection status.
Photo by Denislav Stoychev for TimeHeroes
More than 700 kilograms of food, clothes, medicines and other necessities were donated by more than 200 people and then stored and packed by 50 volunteers. Why do you think the event engaged so many people and was so successful?
Since the beginning of the war, the response from our civil society (NGOs and self-organised volunteers), local businesses and authorities has been very strong and positive: hundreds of support initiatives have been quickly developed, offering humanitarian help, free housing, psychological support, job opportunities and much more.
The main reason why we decided to organise this initiative was because of a call we got from the Varna centre that their warehouse was completely empty - there was no food, nor water. We shared this as part of our volunteering call, and naturally, a lot of people responded. Our mission was supported by a lot of Questers people and their friends, but also by many volunteers who understood about the opportunity from our network.
Our experience also shows that similar one-off/short-term initiatives are likely to engage more volunteers when compared to the ongoing/ long-term ones.
Photo by Denislav Stoychev for TimeHeroes
In May, in collaboration with Skapto we introduced the “Q-burger” and 10% of its revenue will be donated to the “Heroes’ Cup” initiative. Would you share more about how you plan to use this contribution?“
"The Heroes' Cup" is a volunteering competition between schools around the country. As part of the competition students need to establish their own volunteer club at school and organise volunteering missions in their communities. Every month the participants receive a challenge on a key topic - education, environment protection, animal care, diversity and inclusion, human rights, helping disadvantaged groups, etc. With the help of resources, ideas and mentorship provided by TimeHeroes, the clubs compete in organising the most missions with the greatest impact in order to win "The Heroes Cup" at the end of the school year.
We would like to use your kind contribution for organising creative workshops for our young volunteers during the summer or the next season of the "The Heroes' Cup". We would like to help them become ambassadors of volunteering in their own communities by teaching them more about photography, video making, digital and social media skills, so they can become opinion leaders (or “social influencers”) and gain support not only from their local communities, but from the wider public as well.
Share more about upcoming volunteering events and initiatives you are planning?
Every day we publish between 2 and 5 new volunteering missions on TimeHeroes.org - it is really exciting to see how many great initiatives and events are taking place! We encourage you to check them out!
But apart from our everyday work, we also plan to develop further opportunities related to skill-based volunteering (also known as pro-bono work). It is a rising global trend, offering professionals the chance to put their specific knowledge in practice to support a chosen cause, and thus get a stronger feeling of value, satisfaction and impact.
In our network we’ve seen many people preferring to help with specific skills – what they are actually good at – as opposed to supporting “general” volunteer opportunities that anyone could join.
We hope that we will be able to share more about this initiative in the upcoming months - so stay tuned!