OVER 9,000km from her native Bulgaria, World Bank Country Manager Galina Sotirova is steeped in the challenges and opportunities of developing nations like Jamaica.
Sotirova joined the bank in 1994 as a human development specialist and was a former country manager in Burkina Faso, and country operations advisor for the Caribbean before moving to Jamaica in July 2015. She also worked in Nigeria, Macedonia and Poland, the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia.
Her on-the-job experiences have included working in specialist areas like pension reform and health, and she has lived in countries where there was “constant turmoil and social unrest, shootings and coups”.
Her graduate degrees in international relations, economics and public policy from the University of Sofia, Johns Hopkins University SAIS, and the London School of Economics prepared her technically, but it is her “hands-on work in social and economic development that is most fulfilling”, she confesses.
Sotirova says that her current position in Jamaica allows her to “contribute to an overall programme that the bank has for a country rather than a particular sector — to work with governments and stakeholders to develop strategies based on issues being faced”.
A major focus of the country strategy for Jamaica, she said, is growth and the reduction of vulnerabilities, hence projects that seek to increase youth employment and empowerment, reduction of crime and enhanced safety.
But, she says, the World Bank does not simply design and implement projects and not look back. “We are constantly evaluating our project results and asking pertinent questions — are we doing the right thing? Is there something we need to be doing more of? We're constantly looking for the best model.”
One of the projects that she is particularly proud of is the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI) which aims to improve market access for micro and small-scale rural agricultural producers and tourism projects, with an overall objective of reducing rural poverty and increasing the earning potential of rural communities.
The World Bank provided US$15m for the just-concluded project which began in 2010, and has resulted in the establishment of over 172 greenhouses in rural agricultural communities, and the transfer of technology to 160 farmers who are now producing crops like sweet peppers, tomatoes, cauliflower, broccoli and lettuce, which are being sold to hotels and other tourism-related enterprises. The project, which has provided 850 direct jobs and changed over 5,000 lives, was implemented by the Jamaica Social Development Fund.
“I really love what we were able to achieve with REDI, and now we need to work out how to scale it up and ensure a bigger impact on the overall economy,” she said.
These are the types of results that keep Sotirova motivated at work; she gets satisfaction from “being close to the action and seeing the real impact of the World Bank-funded projects”.
She loves Jamaica too. A wife, mother and grandmother, she “enjoys the beautiful mountains and beaches and tasty jerk chicken, jerk pork and coconut curried chicken”. It's far from her native Bulgaria, but she calls Jamaica home.