MEETING POINT

by Ani Ivanova

New York-based Robert and Nellie Gipson on education, museums and the rewards of donating in Bulgaria

When Robert Gipson, an owner of an investment company in New York, first visited Bulgaria in August 2001, he came to meet his future in-laws. Or so he thought. Little did he know that quite soon he would be making a portion of his personal wealth available to charities in Bulgaria. His wife Nellie Gencheva-Gipson had a lot – but not all – to do with it.

The couple – Robert went to Princeton and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Nellie graduated from the Sofia University before she went to the United States on a Fulbright scholarship – never forgot that "someone else paid for our education," and are endeavouring to support young Bulgarians in their studies. Through their foundation they are currently donating 1,000 leva annual merit awards to 100 university students in Bulgaria, are providing a scholarship to a Bulgarian student at Princeton and are granting 50 annual 600 leva grants to students from orphanages in Bulgaria who want to continue their higher education. As if that was not enough, the Gipsons, who share a passion for history and donate to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among others, have helped preserve Bulgaria's historical heritage as well. They assisted Bulgaria's National History Museum with 22,500 leva for multimedia equipment and provided the means for the purchase of the three display cases showing the "world treasures" in Sofia's Archaeological Museum. Nellie and Robert were in Sofia in May to witness the graduation ceremony at the American College where Nellie is on the board of trustees and "to see what our work has done and how to improve it".

Why Bulgaria?

Robert: There are two sides of the story – one is philanthropy and the other one is Bulgaria. Before I met Nelly I set up a private foundation, the Tianaderrah or meeting point in Native American, Foundation, as a means of allocating a certain amount of money to various charities. The foundation has grown over the years and now a third of what we do in terms of grants every year is done internationally, mostly in Bulgaria. The reasons for it? Nellie is from Bulgaria and she loves her country but also, your dollar goes a long way here, you can give away grants to 20 students in Bulgaria for the cost of one in the United States, and the students are worth it. I'm a business man and I like to measure the benefits of what we do.

It seems you're focused on supporting students? Why?

Nellie: Both Bob and myself firmly believe in education.

Robert: The blessings that we have are largely attributable to free education. I would say that most of what we do both here and in the United States relates to education. Maybe we're just paying back society for the gifts that we received. The American College in Sofia is a beautiful example – if you look at how far it has come in the quality of the education and the quality of the students, it's exciting.

You are interested in museums, too.

Robert: You can't do everything in life, you have to pick up things that are consistent with what you value and cherish. Nellie has always been involved with museums and arts and I've always had an interest in historic preservation. We became aware through the Bulgarian American Society administered by Ambassador Sol Polanski of the needs of the Archaeological Museum in Sofia. These magnificent Thracian treasures, some of them newly discovered, others part of previous collections were not in proper display cases. We provided a grant to the Archaeological Museum to acquire and install the German display cases which had been recommended by a curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art who came over to advise. After all, the Museum's collection is world class.

Nellie: Museums are very close to my heart; this is where I developed myself professionally. I was involved with museums and initiated a pilot project for education in museums here in Bulgaria so when the opportunity was there, we took it.

Robert: The museums are a huge asset for a country. Bulgaria has a very rich history and this museum protects it, but it also does much more than that. Tourism is a natural industry for Bulgaria and museums provide part of the framework that makes this industry working and interesting. Take for example New York – many people go there for the Met, it is part of the experience. And in Bulgaria archaeology is a huge asset.

How does your foundation work in Bulgaria?

Robert: We're only donating through another charity. In Bulgaria, we work mainly through three organisations – the American Foundation for Bulgaria, the Bulgarian American Society and the American College in Sofia. The only social action we do is the Detstvo, or Childhood, Foundation where we provide scholarships to students from orphanages to go to a college or trade school.

Name three things that make the Bulgaria of 2008 different from the Bulgaria of 2001?

Robert: The boom in construction is the most obvious difference. Prices have gone up so we need to reconsider the amounts of money we allocate. The heavy traffic in Sofia is the biggest negative. It definitely affects the visiting experience.

Your advice to anyone interested in donating their money to education or culture in Bulgaria?

Robert: There are opportunities here to do things that have a very meaningful impact. It takes a little bit of time and a little bit of care but you accomplish a great deal with a modest amount of money.

  • COMMENTING RULES

    Commenting on www.vagabond.bg

    Vagabond Media Ltd requires you to submit a valid email to comment on www.vagabond.bg to secure that you are not a bot or a spammer. Learn more on how the company manages your personal information on our Privacy Policy. By filling the comment form you declare that you will not use www.vagabond.bg for the purpose of violating the laws of the Republic of Bulgaria. When commenting on www.vagabond.bg please observe some simple rules. You must avoid sexually explicit language and racist, vulgar, religiously intolerant or obscene comments aiming to insult Vagabond Media Ltd, other companies, countries, nationalities, confessions or authors of postings and/or other comments. Do not post spam. Write in English. Unsolicited commercial messages, obscene postings and personal attacks will be removed without notice. The comments will be moderated and may take some time to appear on www.vagabond.bg.

Add new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.

Discover More

GERGANA ATANASOVA: BEING A PART OF THE CHANGE
Renewable energy has immense potential for helping humanity to put climate change under control. But it is more than that.

FRENCH AMBASSADOR JOËL MEYER
The stylish French residence in Central Sofia is indeed a very special place. For about 100 years, in addition to being the home of French ambassadors, it has been the meeting spot of senior dignitaries.

NATALIA PETROVA: LET'S TALK ABOUT MODERN INVESTMENT
Natalia Petrova has over 20 years of experience in asset management, capital markets, equity and fixed income trading, UCITS products and services, and is a licensed investment consultant, broker and trader with government securities.

KATYA MACHUGANOVA: THE GAMES AI PLAYS
Women are increasingly making their own way into iGaming: as players, creators and developers. Katya Machuganova is one of them.

KENNETH MERTEN
Three times an ambassador (in Haiti, Croatia and now in Bulgaria) Kenneth Merten has a wide-ranging career in various positions within the US State Department, including in the office of the director general of the foreign service.

DR VALENTINA IVANOVA: INSPIRING CHILDREN FOR A BETTER FUTURE
In times of rapidly changing social, technological and political climates, all parents worry about what is the most responsible way to prepare their children for the challenges of tomorrow.

KRASIMIRA HRISTOVA: FEMALE ENERGY IN THE CAR INDUSTRY
Antifreeze, AdBlue® diesel exhaust fluid, windshield wiping fluid, grease... When drivers and car mechanics in Bulgaria and the Balkans buy such crucial products, they often choose one brand in particular.

NANCY SCHILLER, AMERICA FOR BULGARIA FOUNDATION
It has funded over 1,000 projects in all corners of Bulgaria and has reached thousands of people. It provides support to local partners in many areas: from encouraging private enterprise to building democratic institutions and fostering tourism.

GENERATION DATA
Data science has the power to provide invaluable insight for the competitive advantage of businesses.

MARGARITA STANCHEVA: RECRUITING PASSION
Margarita Stancheva is one of those people who challenge stereotypes as they breathe: she is young, she runs one of the hottest recruitment agencies on the IT market, she is a young mother and is refreshingly candid when talking about business and her life.

TEODOR DOBREV: SEEKING NEW CHALLENGES EVERY DAY
Perseverance, ambition, enthusiasm to learn and to adapt to the everchanging game are qualities crucial for the success of any company in the competitive IT field. Telelink Business Services is a case in point.

UNLEASHING THE POTENTIAL OF STRATEGIC COMMUNICATION
Celebrating 30 years on a market is an achievement for any company in our fast-moving world. This is even truer in the quickly changing and highly competitive field of advertisement and PR.