Elvin Guri (‘96) Donates $100,000 at AUBG Donor Recognition Dinner
An emotional evening celebrated all the people that have supported AUBG over the years – from the university’s founders and the people and organizations that have donated millions to help educate the region’s talented youth, to the active AUBG alumni community and the students, staff and faculty members whose daily efforts ensure the university’s success.
AUBG gathered its supporters together at the second annual AUBG Donor Recognition Dinner Feb. 21 to thank and award those whose support to AUBG was instrumental in the past year. “AUBG started as a bold idea 28 years ago and has now become an institution that makes a truly positive change in the country, the region and the world,” said Interim President Dr. David Evans in his welcoming speech. “It would be impossible to mention all the individuals and organizations that have supported the university over the years. I want to express my deepest gratitude to all of you who have contributed to our cause. It is people like you that make the world a better place.”
The evening’s grand prize – the Dimi and Yvonne Panitza Visionary award – went to alumnus and successful entrepreneur Elvin Guri (’96). The award celebrates his dedication to supporting bright young minds in their pursuit of high quality education and prosperous future for themselves and the region. He has funded a range of partial scholarships for new and current Albanian and Bulgarian students and students of Albanian descent. Guri’s fund has supported 247 AUBG students in the past two decades. Accepting the award, Guri announced that he would donate $100,000 to the university.
“President Eisenhower said that the people that put their privileges above their values soon find out that they lose both,” Guri said during his acceptance speech. “Remember that, because we are fighting here for one value, a principle that is a cornerstone to our society – education. Continue finding it in your hearts to support AUBG.”
AUBG students handed all of the awards for the night and the ceremony began with a video that tells the stories of some of the scholarship recipients at AUBG.
The first award for the evening, the award in the Corporations category, went to Progress, a leading software company that gained a foothold on the Bulgarian market in 2014 after acquiring alumni-led startup Telerik. Since 2008, embracing Telerik’s commitment to AUBG, Progress has supported 24 talented AUBG students. Maria Atanasova (‘11), Director, Human Capital – EMEA at Progress, accepted the award.
“It is very emotional for me to receive that award on behalf of Progress because I am myself an alumna of AUBG, so it is double pride,” Atanasova said. “We are committed to continuing to support the young people not only to succeed at AUBG but also to help them realize their full potential. This year we created the Women in Technology fund as part of Progress’ inclusion and diversity commitment to allow for more and more diverse talent to get into technology.”
AUBG Trustee Dimitar Tsotsorkov received the award in the AUBG Board of Trustees category. Tsotsorkov established five full scholarships for the four-year course of study of first-year AUBG students. The Prof. Dr. Lachezar Tsotsorkov Distinguished Scholarship is set up in memory of Lachezar Tsotsorkov — a prominent philanthropist and businessperson and father of Dimitar Tsotsorkov — and will support Bulgarian students who have demonstrated a strong commitment towards social causes and community service.
“On behalf of my family and the foundation, I want to thank you very much for this recognition,” Tsotsorkov said in a video message. “We believe that excellence in education is one of the pillars of a prosperous and successful society and that AUBG is a leader in this respect. And not only that. Apart from an excellent education, AUBG is a place that teaches excellence in character and values.”
AUBG student and co-founder of startup Grandma Knows Best Maxim Lezginov handed the award in the Innovation category. “When I was a little kid, I always dreamed about starting my venture,” he said. “AUBG’s supportive environment helped me turn this dream into reality. (…) [This would not] have been possible had it not been for the AUBG Acceleration Program.”
There to receive the award for Innovation were co-founders of the Accelerator Daniel Tomov (‘97), University Council (UC) Chair and co-founder of venture capital fund Eleven, and Gerry van der Sluys, former AUBG Trustee and UC Chair.
“The old word for accelerator was incubator,” van der Sluys said. “But we don’t use this word anymore because incubator sounds like protection. And what we just don’t need in starting up a business is to be protected. I wish all of the participants in the accelerator a lot of success but also challenges that they can learn from.”
“I hope that this [acceleration program] could become one of the pillars of AUBG,” Tomov said. “Because more successful entrepreneurs means a better future for all of us.”
There were two recipients of the award in the AUBG Alumni category. First on stage to accept his award was Dilyan Pavlov (‘95), who donated $100,000 for AUBG scholarships for the winners of the AUBG MultiTalent Quest.
“I knew that AUBG is going to be a very special experience even before I got there for the first time,” Pavlov said. “I was taking a bus, an old bus from Sofia to Blagoevgrad and (…) the windscreen of the bus broke down. (…) It was very windy inside, so the driver could not really do it by himself. Each of the passengers ‘donated’ something. When we arrived in Blagoevgrad, the driver was wearing a lady’s hat, sunglasses, a scarf, gloves and three sweaters. So, I think we need to keep the bus going and that is why we give back. Keep the bus going.”
Boston-based Krassen Draganov (‘96) sent a written note to accept his AUBG Alumni Recognition award. “AUBG was there for us during some of the most challenging times of our personal and professional development and very difficult time for the country as a whole,” the graduate, who donated $100,000 to the university in the past year, wrote. “Now, it is our duty to be there for AUBG and support its continued efforts to prepare the [region’s] best for the challenges of tomorrow.”
Draganov and Pavlov co-founded Dynamo Software, an innovative global provider of software with over 220 employees, many of whom AUBG graduates, on four continents.
The Special Award – an award that recognizes the individual or the organization that has gone out of their way to support the university in the past year – went to the AUBG Alumni Association (AAA). AAA set up the AUBG Alumni Pledge, which aims to donate $5,000,000 to the university over a decade. The alumni managed to surpass the goal for Year One of the pledge in just a few months, collecting over $ 300,000 for the university.
“I am sure that every alum here would say that what they have achieved in life is due to AUBG,” said AAA President Jordan Karabinov ('97). “And I am sure everybody would say this without any hesitation.”
‘I want to thank each of the alumni here for your contribution and support to AUBG,” said Deyan Vassilev (‘95), a driving force behind the initiative. “Tonight we are celebrating the big donors but I would also like to celebrate every small donor, each person who didn’t have money to give but spent time and energy [to support AUBG.]”
Vassilev reminded the guests at the event that while the pledge has reached its nominal goal, alumni can still donate by June 30, 2020, to reach the 6% participation goal for Year One. What is more, the America for Bulgaria Foundation (ABF) has recently announced that it will match each alumni donation from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2020, up to $500,000. AUBG’s largest donor, ABF donated $250,000 to the university in the past month and, in total, has donated over $23,000,000 to AUBG for scholarships, institutional development and the award-winning America for Bulgaria Student Center.
“I am so pleased to be here tonight to witness the warm embrace of AAA and the alumni to AUBG,” said President and CEO of ABF Nancy Schiller. “It is wonderful to see the successful results of your fundraising initiative. To not only meet but exceed your goal in a matter of few months is remarkable; (…) your early success is an indication of your desire to see AUBG continue as a premier institution of higher education in the region.”