Yanina Taneva’s Unique ‘Baba Residence’ Idea Is Revitalizing Bulgaria’s Disappearing Villages

Posted: March 9, 2019

Through Baba Residence, an initiative of her organization The Ideas Factory, Yanina Taneva is keeping Bulgarian villages alive by bringing generations together.

Yanina Taneva grew up in what were chaotic and difficult times for her country politically. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, which had repercussions across Europe, she saw an entire generation leave for the West, in search of better opportunities.

“Everything that we were watching as children on television, all this inequality, made us so angry, but we were kids and couldn’t do anything,” she told me. “But some of us studied in universities outside Bulgaria and then came back. What we saw was huge injustice, especially regarding the environment. This topic became so well known in Bulgaria because we started a few campaigns that turned out to be huge. And people recognized in environmental problems everything they didn’t accept for so many years: corruption, injustice, inequality, poverty,” she says.

One day, she received a letter from a girl, about a hotel that was being built on the Black Sea coast, and in the process destroying the environment and places they loved – “Guys, this is where they’re going to build the next big hotel, and I want to fight it.” She and her friends were 20 years old. They banded together to protest the building of the hotel, and that is how their organization The Ideas Factory was born.

Today, the Ideas Factory, attempts to create a new society where, “our kids can fully develop their potential, our parents can age with dignity, and we can live a fulfilled life” via many innovative projects, such as the Baba Residence.

Baba means grandmother in Bulgarian. This residency program (video above) connects the elderly in the villages to youth from the city, opening up avenues for positive interaction and learning for both communities. This is how the program works:

  1. Youth (upto 35 years old)are invited to apply for the residency program
  2. Of all the applications 20 are chosen for the program. These 20 participants undergo training in human-centered design, social entrepreneurship and ethnographic fieldwork skills.
  3. These youth are then connected to elderly people living in rural areas. They live in the rural villages for a month and participate in the daily lives of the elderly. Participants receive some private financial support, from Ideas Factory, for travel and living expenses.
  4. After this one month of co-living, the participants work on developing innovative products, services and events which draw cultural and economic potential to those villages.

Not only does this program help bring attention to the villages, but it also plants a “seed of solidarity” between the generations. It helps to preserve invaluable traditions, crafts and stories from the villages. The interaction between the young and the old, helps both generations. The young come in contact with traditions and nature, and find inspiration to come up with novel solutions, such as a professional studio recording of a CD with folklore songs from Dryanovo village in the Rhodope mountains that are about to become extinct.

At the same time, the elderly, who otherwise lead very lonely lives, receive attention and feel useful and needed.

“Baba/Granny Residence is our answer to growing needs: first, the need for access to a quality social life in heavily depopulating villages; and second, the need to know and understand the traditional culture and rural life for urban people. The result: a design thinking- based process where young people and the elderly co-create solutions for their village/s. This is not a one-way street and there are no super-heroes ‘helping’ someone. It is about how we rethink and reimagine the idea of community and traditions, how we create a new story and narrative. Recently we have also been working on integrating refugee families as part of the programme,” says Yanina.

Bulgarian villages are rapidly depopulating and are losing their economical sustainability, cultural heritage and vitality. According to the Institute for Research of Population and People at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (BAS), there are at least 500 empty or ‘ghost’ villages in the country. Without further intervention, low fertility rates, high mortality rates and a lack of employment opportunities in rural areas will mean that by 2060, there will be no villages left in Bulgaria. The situation is dire. That is why Baba Residence is a game-changing initiative.

The theme of International Women’s Day, 2019, which falls on March 8th, is “Think equal, build smart, innovate for change”. #IWD2019

With women still a minority in science, technology & related innovation, it’s time to shine a spotlight on female innovation champions! Enjoy our Women Innovators Around The World series, where we profile 19 inspiring women innovators, from 19 countries, whose work has a big social impact.

Want to know what other innovations women around the world have pioneered? Read about Thato Kgatlhanye here.

Image source: Yanina Taneva

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Vijayalakshmi Harish is a book blogger and writer. To paraphrase her librarian, she is a

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