The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy in Bulgaria


With accession to the European Union (EU) local governments in Bulgaria have been gradually developing capacities in areas required under European Union benchmarks. This included capacities for the administration of decentralized social services, under the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy (MLSP). The country needed to shift from highly centralized and government-funded social services, often unable to reach the most vulnerable in rural areas, to a decentralized, community-managed system capable of providing quality services where most needed.

As unemployment was running high in the country (18% in 2000, well above the EU average), the MLSP realized that, to succeed, it needed to focus on both demand and supply: in other words, provide care to the poor and unemployed, while creating employment and therefore reducing the number of people in need of services. In this overall context, MLSP approached UNDP with the idea of a project which would guarantee sustainable community based social services, and maintain its commitment through strong political leadership until and beyond the country’s official entry in the EU.


MLSP and UNDP worked hand in hand to design and implement a holistic capacity development intervention, to strengthen MLSP itself and create a network of qualified partners from the private and public sectors, the central and local levels, which, as a coordinated system, would guarantee high quality services to Bulgarians.

The project (“Social Services for new employment”, SANE, 2002-2008) worked to reinforce the capacities of MLSP, of the municipal administrations in charge of implementing the system at local level, and of NGOs, which in partnership with the municipal administrations, act as service providers. With MLSP, UNDP worked primarily on reviewing and defining more comprehensive legislation on social services to address gaps in procedures for implementation, capacity strengths and needs and in defining quality criteria for selection of a monitoring system, based on users’ feedback. With regards to the pilot in administrative municipalities, a training package was designed for staff, and provided an overview of the new decentralized model for funding, management, provision and monitoring of the new Social Assistant service, including social negotiation with the NGO-service providers.

In the 2000-2010 decade, two other complementary projects supported the development of MLSP capacities. A capacity assessment of the MLSP Directorate for pre-accession funds was conducted and then training was provided to the Directorate staff on strategic thinking and planning. In 2004-2006, the institutional support focused on: 1) defining a Human Resources Development Operation Programme; and 2) identifying and improving the communication channels between central and regional structures and other local stakeholders.


The government’s motivation to meet the requirements to join the European Union acted as a strong push toward national ownership of all development projects and interventions. By 2005, ownership at local level was demonstrated, with the municipal administrations willing to co-finance project activities. The partnership developed in the last 10-15 years between the MLSP and UNDP, resulted in:

  • successful transition from costly and hardly efficient centralized social care to sustainable community-based social services in the country;
  • adoption of secondary legislation, including a Methodology for the Provision of the Social Assistant Service (and national standards) and instructions for the operational organization of the Social Assistant and Household Assistance services;
  • new criteria for vocational training of Social Assistants established and included in the educational system;
  • a cost-sharing model that split the financial burden amongst the users of social services and the national and local governments;
  • MSLP ability, through its network of quality partners, to extend the coverage of all 265 municipalities, which, in turn, are now able to co-finance, manage and control the outsourced provision of the community-based Social Assistant Service. In numbers, while in 2003, 635 people who needed care were tended for by 263 new assistant (previously unemployed and now trained accordingly), by 2008 there were 7,346 people from vulnerable groups accessing the services of 3,304 assistants;
  • guaranteed sustainability and improvement/adaptability, among others, by an annual assessment of the work of the NGO providers, as mandated by the secondary legislation supporting the Social Assistance Act;
  • exchange of lessons learnt among NGOs and municipalities, and, empowerment of local population to influence local and national level decision-making.

When Bulgaria became an EU member, the Social Assistant service was the first to be negotiated under the European Social Fund, and is now run by funds coming from the state budget as well as the European Social Fund. As a country in transition from a recipient to a provider of development assistance, Bulgaria, in cooperation with UNDP, has shared its experience in this sector with other countries in the region and beyond.

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