1990s

Not a Second to Spare

The tale may well be apocryphal, but as an allegory it bears repeating. As the democratic revolutionaries led by Vaclav Havel gathered in the Magic Lantern Theater during the November Changes, they recognized that the collapse of the communist regime was as much about inferior economic planning as failed ideology. Well-stocked shelves and disposable consumer incomes would soon be demanded, and given that the economy was going to get much worse before it got better, the revolutionaries sought out managers to handle the unstable transition. EWI's job in the 1990s was to help develop and network these very people.

 

In times of extreme change, fortunes can be made overnight and careers explosively ignited. As Lenin himself stated, "Time compresses in revolution." Twenty-seven year old Prime Ministers and thirty-three year old enterprise bosses were not uncommon. As the post-communist transition process was evolving, many at EWI realized that there was a growing discrepancy between the "micro" and "macro" levels of democracy and market economy. Grass-root civic movements had few links to decision-makers at the national and international levels. Macro-economic improvements had little impact on the local economic conditions of average people. In this situation EWI focused on developing "bottom up" approaches to policy-making, empowering local people through community and regional development programs, and driven by local and regional needs. One interesting case was an EWI information technology project requested by Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Bozhkov.

 

On the direct appeal of the government in Sofia and under the leadership of EWI economist Rado Petkov in New York, the Institute conducted a far-reaching investigation into the practices of American and Israeli corporate technology parks. These inquiries led to studytrips to Raleigh-Durham and numerous computer and software centers in California by a Bulgarian delegation. Following a year of work and raising capital, the outcome was the construction of a high technology incubator park in Sofia, employing and developing local computer programmers and software engineers. Other countries in the region have emulated the model. Four years later, one such young software company recruited EWI's Rado Petkov, a Bulgarian, to work in its New York office.

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