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Meet Svetla Kostadinova from Bulgaria

The Voice of Economics
Svetla Kostadinova

Svetla Kostadinova has been the executive director of one of the most influential economic think tanks in Bulgaria for 13 years. 

Svetla Kostadinova has the exceptional quality of a calm, serious demeanour, which makes you respect her even before she impresses you with her mind. She is the executive director of the Institute for Market Economics (IME), an important, influential economic think tank in Bulgaria for nearly 30 years. Svetla enjoys respect and influence in Bulgaria without talking about it.

Svetla Kostadinova

“The first challenge I ever faced is one I still have — how to explain what I do to my mother”, Svetla laughs when replying to a question about the hardest part about her job. She joined the IME in 2001 and became its executive director in 2007. By now her mother has “a feeling” about what the job is but still has a hard time explaining it to her friends. Svetla adds that it is not easy to explain to people that organisations like the institute create change and influence public opinion. “We try to form public opinion or create a feeling that something must be done, that there is only one specific course for a particular policy”, she says. “Many companies or people consider NGOs to be just lobbyists or organisations with social functions who should help disadvantaged groups”, she adds. Meanwhile, Svetla and her team advocate for free market reforms and provide both journalists and politicians with expert opinions and thorough analysis.

Svetla Kostadinova quote

Because the IME has a strong, prominent role in public discourse, we can assume that Svetla Kostadinova is doing a great job as a leader. One of the think tank’s most memorable achievements, one she is exceptionally proud of, was over a decade ago in 2009. “We were advocating for the abolishment of the minimal capital required to register a company. Up to this point, the law said you had to have 3,000 leva to do that... It was not a high hurdle for starting a business, it was more of an administrative thing you had to overcome”, Svetla says.  “After five years of advocacy, we had educated the public and created the feeling that this was the most logical thing to do. The very fact that this was the first thing for three very different political parties to submit in parliament [right after elections] just shows that if you are consistent, do not give up, provide different arguments, and  are always around, things can happen. Not always, but anyway — they can happen”, she says with a smile. Though such breakthroughs do not happen often, moments of success inspire the IME team to push forward.

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Svetla studied economics during an economic crisis which she describes as “a bit of a mess”. At that time, Bulgaria endured protests, hyperinflation, and an unstable political situation. “My mother was calling me to go home and leave the city as it had become very dangerous”, Svetla remembers. Yet whether it was youthful stubbornness, ambition, or just her instinct, Svetla remained in Sofia and graduated in 2001. Before she applied for a bank job, a friend told her about the IME. So her career began.

As a female leader who succeeded a man, Svetla does not really distinguish between genders when it comes to professional development or taking leadership positions. “I don’t think there is any special encouragement, but I haven’t seen discouragement either. I have talked to other women about this topic of whether there is a glass ceiling. In my experience, I have not witnessed it”, she says. “In moments of crisis, the initiative passes to those who are best prepared no matter if woman or man”, the economist mentions as her recipe for empowerment.

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