“A Builder of Modern Bulgaria” with former Foreign Affairs Minister H.E. Nadezhda Neynsky

 

At a young age, H.E. Nadezhda Neynsky was raised in former communist Bulgaria by free-thinking intellectual grandparents who inspired her to be part of ‘Building a Modern Bulgaria.’ This energized her to transition from poetry and literature to politics and the European Union Parliament. In this episode, she joins Anne Pratt to tell her inspiring and inspired journey— exploring her country’s history and future vision to inspire future hope in the Balkans, in Southeastern Europe. Full of hard-earned life, bold leadership wisdom, advice on dignity and freedom, and much more.  This conversation will inspire you to stand for truth, boldness, and hope and how to fortify your moral courage. Tune in to not miss out!

Listen to the podcast here.

 

“A Builder of Modern Bulgaria” with former Foreign Affairs Minister H.E. Nadezhda Neynsky

From History to Hope in the Balkans, South Eastern Europe

Our thoughtful bold leader joins us from Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria, a country with a rich cultural heritage in Southeastern Europe. Her journey takes us from Spanish poetry to literature to politics. She spent ten years as a member of parliament. At age 29, she was Speaker for the opposition party and became the Minister of Foreign Affairs for Bulgaria, serving her country, her region, and the European Union. She spent five years as a member of parliament in the European Union, serving as Bulgaria’s ambassador to Turkey.

Stay with us as she shares how she stood up to the Russian ambassador in times of war, how her journey up into the Empire State Building in New York City at night changed her life, and her concerns about the leadership crisis worldwide and in her region. It has inspired her Harvard initiative to build leadership capacity and unity in the former Balkan states in Southeastern Europe. We warmly welcome my dear friend, Nadezhda Neynsky.

 

LBF 33 | Modern Bulgaria

 

Nadezhda, I have missed you. I’m happy you are here and part of this conversation. Thank you so much.

Thank you. I’m very happy to see you again.

It’s been a while. We have spoken a lot at Harvard over meals, lunch on weekends, and sightseeing together. We had many conversations about history and hope. I like to begin with Hope. I believe that your name Nadezhda means Hope. Could you begin by sharing why hope means so much to you and how it has been embedded in your life, given that this is your name at birth?

I need to be very frank with you. When I was a child, I didn’t like my name so much. Probably all the kids disagree with the decisions that their parents have taken. I had a chance and the privilege to live through a difficult but important time for my country. This is the transition from a totalitarian system to a democracy. I was young at the time when I got involved in the changes in my country. This happens two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I was elected as a visiting fellow in the United States right after the regime change. It happens that the United States was my first big trip abroad. I still remember how much it changed my life, not because of what I have learned but because of how I feel. I remember being invited to the big parade when General Schwarzkopf of the United States and the troops were coming back. I attended as a 28-year-old fellow from National Democratic Institute. Many children wore T-shirts saying, “Proud to be an American.”

At this particular moment, I said, “I want to be part of the change in my country.” I want my kids, which at the time were aged 6 and 2, to one day wear the same T-shirts but with the written text, “Proud to be a Bulgarian.” This was the starting point of my dream to be part of the change and see my country stand up as a normal and strong European state with people who are happy and satisfied with their lives and feel secure for their future. My entire life, I have spent more than 50 years in politics. I’m happy I was part of this endeavor, which made everything possible for the better future of my country.

I know you went from literature to poetry to politics. When you were 21, you had your first publication. It was a translation of a collection of poetry. I recall that you were proud to get your first check. You bought your mother an automatic washing machine. That was a momentous moment for you and a lot to be proud of. Can you take us back a little further? As a young child, is there a defining moment where you felt it was difficult, dark, and troubled? What was that moment? How did you pivot out of that with the idea that there is a brighter and better future?

When I was a child, I remember my grandfather studying law at Sofia University. My grandmother graduated in French Theology. At the time, they were defined as enemies of the states because they belonged to the society in my country. When the communist took power, my grandfather was forbidden to practice law. My grandfather and my grandmother worked from home, doing some simple artisan things to be able to earn money for our living. My mother also was forbidden to study at the university as a daughter of the enemy of the state. She worked as a nurse. She started her high education when I was a grown-up kid.

This lesson showed me that it was not enough to be capable, talented, hardworking, and ambitious at the time. You should be part of the elite party system if you want to succeed and have a bright future. In my childhood, I was eager to study journalism. Some friends of my family said that I would never have a future as a journalist because journalism is an ideological field. People from a family like mine will never be appointed in newspapers or magazines because they are used as propaganda machines.

It is not enough to be capable, talented, hardworking, and ambitious. You have to be part of the system if you want to succeed and have a bright future. Share on X

This is the reason why I started translating poetry. I started with Spanish poetry. This magnificent world of poetry attracted me. This practice of translating poetry not only took me to another world but was also a positive for educating my discipline, doing things correctly, and being precise in what I’m saying and how I express myself. This also was helpful for my future political career. The start of my career was when I returned from the United States and brought some photos to the opposition leader then. I had a long talk with him. At the end of our talk, he asked me whether I would accept to become a spokesperson of the opposition party.

That was Philip Dimitrov in 1991.

Exactly. I was shocked. I said, “I have two small children, and I had to talk to my husband and family about whether they would support me in working for the party and not being at home all the time.” He was slightly angry with me because he said, “This is something that everyone will accept because it is a unique opportunity.” I said, “You can offer it to each and everyone, but I care about my kids. I need to know that there will be enough care from their parents and grandparents to replace me when I’m busy.” Finally, I accepted the proposal. This is the way I started in politics. In the beginning, I was a spokesperson for the opposition.

I want to pause on that childhood story because what you are saying is it was a difficult time. It sounds like you shifted out of the threat of being a journalist to do poetry, which became translations for poetry. It then became a building block for a new and different career. Is that how you managed that difficulty at the time? How old were you, Nadezhda?

I was 29. My grandmother was afraid. She said that it was not safe and something might happen to me. I have kids, and I shouldn’t get involved in all these because it was a turbulent time. At that time, nobody knew what the outcome would be.

As a child, when your grandfather was prohibited from practicing law and doing artisan work and stuff, how old were you then?

I was 10 or 12 years old. My grandparents were caring people. My mom was busy. She is a chemical engineer. She was very much involved in her career, but my grandparents raised me. They took care of my education. My first lessons on dignity and freedom came from them. I appreciate all the stories they told me and the examples they gave me.

Do you have one story you can share with us? What story stands out as a big lesson?

My grandfather had a book called The Builders of a Modern Bulgaria. There was a story about one of the political leaders of Bulgaria who was open-minded and pro-European. My grandfather also used to tell me that truth is the strongest instrument and weapon in life. He said, “Never lie. You should always tell the truth no matter how much this will cost you because the truth is what makes the world change. This is how you can make people get involved in the big mission because not all of them have a vision, but they all have a purpose.”

 

 

You transitioned into politics and once said, “Politics is like a drug.” You made three big decisions and choices in politics. The first is you had already alluded to when you became speaker of the opposition. You also chose after they offered you the position of becoming Foreign Affairs Minister for Bulgaria. You’ve spent five years serving in the European Union as Bulgaria’s ambassador to Turkey. What has been the highlight of your political career, and then what was the most difficult defining moment?

I will start with your second question. The most difficult moment in my career was the war in former Yugoslavia when I had to make difficult decisions. The war in former Yugoslavia and the bombarding of Belgrade and Bulgaria needed to define its national security goals. We knew then that if we did not support the Democratic Coalition, which stands against Milošević, the whole region could get into the fire, and the flood of refugees would destabilize the Balkans.

At that time, we played a significant role in providing the Democratic Coalition with information about the plans of Milošević because, as a part of the region, we knew what he intended to do. He intended to spread conflict to get all the Balkan countries involved in this conflict by doing this to a Black male, the Western world, and the Democratic world. I became the speaker of Southeast Europe on important issues regarding the region’s national security.

There was no popular war. At that time, Bulgaria was not a European Union or NATO member. As an Ismalic country, the Bulgarian society was more pro-Serbs than pro-Kosovars. At that time, we had to explain to them that everyone has the right to stand for democracy, freedom, and human rights. The Kosovo Albanians’ massacres and ethnic cleansing were terrible crimes against humanity. As Democrats, we need to stand for the truth and liberty and not for an ethnic group. (Editor’s note: The Kosovo conflict occurred in 1998–99. Ethnic Albanians fought ethnic Serbs and the government of Yugoslavia in Kosovo. The conflict gained widespread international attention and was resolved with the intervention of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Kosovo is a mainly ethnic Albanian territory that was formerly a province in Serbia. It declared independence in 2008. Serbia has refused to recognize Kosovo’s statehood and still considers it part of Serbia, even though it has no formal control there.)

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This was important to be explained to the Bulgarian public. At that time, we had to make difficult decisions. At the beginning of the war, the support for the decisions among the society was low. We were brave and committed to standing for values. We travel all over the country. We met with people and explained to them why we made these decisions.

At the end of the campaign, we had strong and increasing support on behalf of public opinion. Those are lessons learned with difficulty because war is a terrible thing. That was a war for defending people and not killing people. As a result of this, Bulgaria was seen by the international community as a democratic state ready to pay the price for defending democracy.

That’s a very powerful story. In that process, what was your light bulb moment around standing for the truth and defending the people? Is there a particular moment? How did you fortify your own moral courage and strength?

I remember one more story. I should share it with you. At that time, Russia was always standing close to the Serbs and Milošević. They wanted to protect Milošević from the International Democratic Community. They asked Bulgaria for permission to overflow the Bulgarian territory. If we had been given such permission, no one would know the end of the war because they intended to divide the territory. This would not have been a real peace. It would be zones of interest, which Russia used to create frozen conflicts. Having frozen conflicts close to the Bulgarian borders would have been a big threat to Bulgarian national security.

The Russian ambassador at that time called me at home and said, “The military aircraft are in the sky. We are going to overflow Bulgaria.” I told him, “You don’t have permission.” He asked me what I are going to do. I said, “Don’t try.” They were furious with the government and me because I spoke on behalf of the government. That was a decision of the government. In moments like this, many things depend on your statement and decision. This is a huge responsibility.

I was 35 years old at that time. I never thought that in my lifetime, I would be witnessing a war and, even more, taking decisions on behalf of Bulgaria, which can define the outcome of that war in one way or another. I’m happy that we were brave. We were united as a government. We were people who were freedom fighters. We knew the price of liberty and democracy. We know that nothing is taken for granted. Leadership brings people from where they are to where they want to be. It is important to have courage because it is an integral part of leadership. I remember one of the European leaders told me something. He said, “If you want to be a successful leader, you must have a vision, strategy, and courage.”

Leadership is bringing people from where they are to where they want to be. It's very important to have courage because courage is an integral part of leadership. Share on X

You exemplified all of that. I can see the sense of unity and understanding of the price of freedom. Were those the things that fortified you in making those difficult decisions?

I believe that people are born equal, and each of them has the right to be free, have an equal chance, and live in a free and democratic world. That is why people worldwide who stand for the same values are close to me, no matter where they live. There is an invisible link between all of us because not everybody is ready to pay the price for freedom and democracy. Some people pretend they are ready to pay the price. The question is not whether they can take it. The question is, if the time comes, were they ready to do it in practice?

 

 

What fortified you to be able to do it in practice when you were faced with that difficult decision? What was the thing that fueled your energy to maintain that courage?

I don’t know. I was born and raised as a Democrat. This is stronger even sometimes during my maternity because there were moments when I sacrificed my family and the time with my kids. I knew I was driven by this passion for protecting my country and bringing respect to my country. I wanted to see my country being respected. This is something that is a strong passion. The dignity and the respect for my country were emotions that had driven me this many years.

What comes to mind is the story and book that your grandfather shared with you about the future leaders who would build a modern Bulgaria also helped shape you and that passion from a young age.

It is important to learn those first lessons you get from your family. You must be ready to accept and somehow digest this in your mind and make it part of you. It is not about someone making you do this or that. I would never do this if I didn’t believe in what I did. There were moments when people and even friends of mine criticized me. They said, “Don’t be a fanatic. You should think differently. Maybe there is a different point of view.” I said, “There is no different point of view of democracy.” Sometimes I’m too committed to this, but I couldn’t be successful if I’m not in this with all my mind, heart, and soul.

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Politicians have a mixed reputation. Many people say that people spin things because they think it helps them for political gain. Telling the truth and being naked with it, how do you dispel this perception of politicians spinning things for their own political purpose and gain versus the real making of a politician and being committed to the truth?

I accept politics not as a job but as a mission and commitment. I was not looking for a job in politics. I know people in politics because I have been there for quite a long time. They were dreaming of becoming ministers, presidents, or prime ministers. I never had such a dream. I want to be part of positive changes because they could be a positive or negative changes. People sometimes get involved in negative changes as well because of some reasons.

I was asking myself whether my family would be proud of me. I want to be a good example for my children. I always wanted my children and the kids of my children to know I have been a decent and courageous leader and not to have secrets that would make them ashamed of me. It depends on your integrity and the integrity of your family and the people you care about.

There will always be people who will dislike you and criticize you because people are different. They have different backgrounds, dreams, and perceptions about life and things. That is why you should never try to be loved by everybody. In politics, this is a big mistake. People fail because they want to be loved by everybody. When you are loved by everybody, you don’t make anything because you do not confront anybody. By not confronting, you are in the golden middle, as they say.

When you try to change and make bold decisions, there are always people who will say, “It is okay.” Others will say, “I don’t like this. I think it is wrong.” It is important to know whom you represent. Where do you identify yourself? You can’t be in the middle of nowhere. You either stand here or there. There are always nuances, but in big things such as democracy, freedom, and human rights, there is nothing in the middle. You have to stand for one or another.

In big things such as democracy, freedom, and human rights, there is nothing in the middle. You stand for one or another. Share on X

That reminds me of some things my former boss at Unilever used to share with me. It is that you can’t be half-pregnant. You need to find a niche. Half pregnancy doesn’t work in the world of biology and the world of life. It is important to have a positioning, identity, and value proposition underpinned by those core values.

Turning to something we have spoken about quite often in our times together, what are the biggest leadership challenges that concern you, keep you awake, and care about not only for your region in the Balkan states or Southeast Europe but the world? What are the big issues that trouble you in a way but issues you believe your region and the world needs to deal with?

There is a general global problem with world leaders. Time is ahead of us. We are trying to be in a hurry to catch the momentum, but we do not always succeed. Humanity is lagging behind. There are a lot of practical things and issues which we foresee as important. What is lagging behind and what is important is the lack of humanity.

Because of the new technological progress and the change in the world, communication between people is fragile. People don’t talk to each other. They don’t care about each other. We see this even in families but also in big groups, societies, and countries as well. As a result of this, in politics, there is a lot of uncertainty, change, and unprepared leaders to take responsibility for these changes and make bold decisions.

I’m hearing that you are saying that you feel there is a lack of real leadership in the world. There is a lack of appreciation and respect for humanity and a communication breakdown. Would that be fair?

Yes. In my region, we don’t make a difference in the whole thing. We need to heal divisions in the region. We need to find the pain point of the Balkans. This is one of the reasons that at Harvard, I start working on the idea of creating a leadership academy and bringing the future leaders of the Balkans together to find things on which everybody agrees. Maybe find and discuss good practices, and create a platform for important discussions that will help change the mindset to stand for moral values as a psychological power. Creating a common public narrative for democracy is important. It will greatly help the Balkan countries because the story we tell becomes the world we believe in.

It takes me back to some of those many conversations we had about your region, your incredible vision for the region, and taking it from history to hope. What do you think are the common pain points? What is the common glue? What is the narrative for a future of hope?

The common pain point is dignity. We have been part of a lot of changes in the region. People are sensitive about their dignity. They don’t want to be treated as secondhand Europeans. This is something that brings a lot of attention. Some people and leaders overdo things. Others are underestimating the role of their countries.

The Balkans have a significant place in European history. We must recognize this place and try to move it from a disadvantage to an advantage. Many people say that we have the bad luck of being at the crossroad of the Balkans. If the crossroad was a disadvantage in the past and usually attracted a lot of tides from the big powers, now this crossroad could be a great advantage for the developing world. We have to use this and advocate this advantage of the Balkans.

I believe that people in the Balkans are creative and artistic. They are not used to working in teams. They are very individualistic. Team building and teamwork are something they have to be educated on to use as an instrument for future success. That is why I believe that if the young leaders of the Balkans get together, discuss the different issues, share their experiences and practices, and get to know each other better, it will bring much relief. If we elevate the regional problem to a global level, that is the point where unity comes.

If you had to define that higher level, this is a process. It is about having those dialogues with the up-and-coming future leaders of the region. What do you think is the new narrative for the Balkan region? What is the message of hope? If you were asked to present to all these up-and-coming leaders today and share your perspective, what is that message of hope?

It is important to bring more self-confidence to the Balkans to bring more empowerment and not to wait each and every time for someone to come from outside to resolve the problems. Self-respect and dignity are important things. It is important to learn how the world will become a better place and not always complain that it is bad. See the glass of water half full and not half empty. This refers a lot to the mindset and mentality of people. The mentality is the most difficult thing to replace, reform, and deviate from. That is why I think everything starts by defining the problem and starting healing and resolving the problem together.

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What do you see in the people of that region? You talk about self-respect and dignity. I have learned much from you in our time together, so much more about your beautiful country and region. What would you express about what you love about the people of that region? What do you think is part of the uniqueness those people bring to Europe and the world?

They are exclusively creative, talented, and open-minded. They have to spread their wings. This is what they need. That is why I speak about self-confidence. They have a huge potential, but they are used to hide the potential because of all the problems they used to have over the years. My grandmother was a French-educated person. If you ask her how she is feeling right now, she always used to say, “Comme ci comme ça” I said, “Why do you never say that you feel okay and that you are happy?” She said, “It is because the devil is under the table.”

It’s this mentality that if you say something positive and publicly express your feelings and happiness, something bad will happen to you. This comes from the old times. The new generation has all the chances to open that curtain and the windows to bring some fresh air. I see this in the eyes of my children. They are a completely different generation.

My generation wanted to be part of the free world. The new generation of my kids is part of the new world. They travel a lot. They work outside. My younger daughter is an architect. She works not only in Europe but in many countries in the Middle East. She travels a lot. Free borders and free travel is one of the greatest achievements we get during transition years.

As you said, it’s about spreading wings, being out there, connecting with the world, sharing their gifts, and learning at that university of life. I have the privilege of meeting one of your daughters. She is a fine young woman too. I’m shifting a little bit. We have spoken a lot about that region, its divisive history, and a lot of ethnic wars and conflicts. We have also spoken about someone we both admire, Nelson Mandela. In one of your sessions and classes at the Harvard Kennedy School, you also spoke about Mandela. I’m curious to hear this from you. What was the specific ‘Mandela Moment’ for you, a moment that knowing and learning about him touched your life, opened your heart, and inspired you to bring Mandela’s leadership blueprint into your life and your region?

Among all the important things that Mandela said and did in his life, the most that impacted my life and my political career was his commitment to building bridges and forgiveness. To forgive doesn’t mean to forget. We have to know our past. We need to know the truth about our past, but we need to move forward because no one wants to live only with history. History must be remembered. History is not a sentence.

 

 

This is something that brings a lot of inspiration to me and motivation to try to find bridges among the countries of the Balkans and try to reach this reconciliation. I was once in a meeting of the Balkan leaders during my mandate as a foreign minister. At the end of the dinner, the host said, “I have a surprise for all of you. I invited some musicians who will play a song. You should guess to which country this song belongs.” They start playing the song. Ultimately, everyone thought that this song belonged and came from the origin of his or her country. This was a great metaphor for how close we all are, regardless of political disagreements, conflicts, and bloody wars. We share common roots and things.

What was the song?

It is a documentary movie. The name of this movie is Guess What Is This Song. The rhythm of this song is that we share this rhythm in all the countries of the Balkans. It was not a song belonging to Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, Romania, or any of the other countries. As they said in music, you can find this motif in all the traditions and backgrounds of the different countries of the Balkans. That is why I said, “It is a great metaphor for unity, friendship, and partnership, and not division.”

Has somebody taken different parts or songs from different parts of the region and crafted them together?

In music, there is always a motif. This is the core. There were different variations in different countries, but this motif is everywhere.

They took one motif and played that.

In different countries, they played it in different ways. This is the heart of the song. It is in each and every culture.

What was that motif?

I cannot sing, but it was nice. I still remember the moment because it was emotional. When that was finished, people said, “It is Bulgarian, Romanian, Turkish.” They said, “No, you can find this song in each and every state in a different way and with a different variation.”

Going back and talking about Mandela, building bridges, and what he represents, is there a particular moment that you recall?

Mandela symbolizes how one person can inspire the world. This is a dream that can come true. He always said that if he could do it, why should we not be able to do it too? He is the driving force, motivation, and inspiration for many leaders in the world.

Including you. I’m shifting to a couple of fun facts, Nadezhda. What is one childhood memory that stands out as being a moment of joy?

A moment of joy for me was when I could deliver visas for Bulgarian citizens. It was a long and big struggle, which took a lot of effort on behalf of the entire government. Also, the diplomatic community put the final or the cherry on the cake. I had the privilege of being a foreign minister at that time and being part of difficult negotiations with the European Union.

When the moment came, Bulgarians knew they were not being stood anymore on long lines waiting for visas in front of foreign embassies. This was a special moment for the country, particularly for me. I still remember that because of the strong emotion, I get a terrible headache. I was almost losing my mind in the parliament, but I was supposed to stand and greet the members of the parliament. It was such a hilarious and joyful moment for all of us. This was my moment.

The role you played was phenomenal. As a child, is there a moment that you recall?

When you say child, it is quite relative. In my moments as a child, I always spent the summer in a village with my grandparents. My grandfather always wanted to have a grandson, but he had a granddaughter at that time. He always used to call me son. That was funny. In our language, you can play with gender references.

He was taking me to go fishing with him. Those were special moments for me because he treated me like an adult. I feel happy being his companion at fishing. He said, “You should never be afraid of anything. You should never behave like a person who is scared by insects or moving animals.” It was a nice time. My childhood with my grandparents is something I keep deep in my memory.

You have traveled a lot in the world. Every place has its magic. Is there a place in the world that stands out where when you landed and arrived, you were excited, and this was a new exciting adventure? What place comes to mind and why?

I told you in the beginning that my first visit to the United States changed my entire life in terms of psychological change. Maybe self-confidence, being brave and bold, and being committed to a cause you believe is right. It is not surprising that I like New York.

Is that where you had that feeling the first time? Was it your trip to New York? Where in New York were you?

I was in the Empire State Building in the elevator. It was by night with all these lights. I feel it like a beating heart. It is such energy. I’m always saying to my friends occasionally, “When I give up, feel tired, depressed, or disillusioned, I want to go to the States and go to New York, and breathe deeply and take up the energy of this city.” It means something special to me.

As I said, “New York is a city that never sleeps.” It is a pulse that keeps going. I know you had a wonderful time there with your family. The third fun fact is with the benefit of life, experience, and wisdom, what would you say to your twelve-year-old self today?

On the first point, never give up. Many people are full of good intentions and ambition in the first stage. Somehow, they give up for some reason, and there are always excuses. When you decide and know what your mission is and where exactly you want to go, keep going. Be ready to pay the price of the endeavor of your trip. At the end of this, you will find a better you. The challenges, difficulties, and problems make the character. The nice moments and moments of happiness fill your heart emotionally, but they don’t change your personality. When you put goals and high missions, you do not simply reform the life around you but on the first point, you reform yourself.

What is your definition of bold leadership?

Bold leadership does not mean not having doubts and fears. Bold leadership is to overcome doubts and fears to keep going and show the way to the community and people you care about. The strongest inspiration for bold leadership is when you stand for the better future of your country and the people who expect you to sacrifice part of yourself for a better life.

 

LBF 33 | Modern Bulgaria

 

Interestingly, you talk about sacrifice because, in your own life, you made significant sacrifices for that. Why do you think sacrifice fits in? Are you saying that there does need to be an element of sacrifice? How did you decide what sacrifices you were prepared to make?

I never take the time that I dedicate to my mission, the problems, or the pain as a sacrifice. I don’t say, “I’m going to make a sacrifice.” This is the way I feel it. I do it by heart and unconsciously because this is how I think and believe it should be. Make it more authentic because making a sacrifice is something very intimate. What part of you are you ready to give up for a higher purpose?

Sacrifice is purpose-led. It is motivated by purpose without cognitively thinking too much about the sacrifice one is making. Having got to know you, I think you live that in who you are and what you do, and in the vision, you are still there to create for the world. In our final moments together, any final thoughts about the future of leadership? What do you think Mandela would say to your region and the world today? Finally, your message of hope.

In the context of what is happening now in the world, this terrible war of Russia against Ukraine was a wake-up call for many countries, leaders, and consciousness. We saw that democracy is not taken for granted. We need to work and sacrifice for democracy every day. It is like a plant. You need to take care of it every single day. We need to advocate the advantage of democracy for the people’s well-being. We need both leaders who are ready to stand and motivate others to follow and fulfill the big missions because it is not one man’s show.

Even if you are a bold leader but cannot motivate people to follow you, you become a lonely warrior. Today’s world is not a time for lonely warriors. People with similar visions and understanding of the world’s needs share their visions and create a common platform to help each other. Support those who want change because this will make the world a better place to live for our kids.

Today's world is not a time for lonely warriors. People who have similar visions and understanding about the needs of the world today need to help each other because this will make the world a better place. Share on X

On that note, Nadezhda, thank you for being part of this platform. I’m excited that we continue to work together, support each other, and help make this world a lasting and better place. I miss you, my friend. Thank you so much.

I’m happy you do these things. You are an inspirational leader. I believe we can do a lot of things together.

Thank you.

Have you ever wondered why we learn things in books and do well in the classroom, and yet despite knowing better, we do not change? Nelson Mandela once said, “One of the most difficult things is not to change society, but to change yourself.” Spending quality time with my dear friend, Nadezhda Neynsky, in Harvard over lunches, dinners, and a weekend away gave us fun time to relax, explore new places, and dig deep. She helped me understand better the extent of this leadership challenge and crisis worldwide and how we transform ourselves to change the world.

As a young child, she grew up in a conservative communist country called Bulgaria in Southeastern Europe. Her educator grandfather took her on fishing trips and shared a book called Building a Modern Bulgaria with Dreams and hopes for Freedom and Democracy. She studied freedom and democracy. She listened to his inspiring stories. She wanted to be part of the change.

 

LBF 33 | Modern Bulgaria

 

In June 1990, almost two years after the fall of the Berlin War, Bulgaria changed. It transitioned from a communist regime into freedom and democracy. It was the experience of freedom and the benefits of democracy in the United States that deepened her commitment and changed her life. Her first trip abroad was as a young adult. She came to the United States, the global standard for freedom and democracy.

A profound transformation happened from her head to her heart to her soul high up above in the Empire State Building, a beautiful art deco skyscraper, and a building 102 stories high in Midtown Manhattan in New York City. Amidst the bright lights, she sensed this freedom and democracy, this renewed energy, and this democratic beat on the street. She went on to serve for ten years as a member of parliament in Bulgaria. At 29 years of age, she was the official spokesperson for the opposition party. She became Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Bulgarian government, serving her country, region, and the European Union.

The research tells us that 10% of learning happens in the classroom, 20% happens through peers, mentors, and coaches, and 70% of our learning and transformation happens at the university of life. We learn in the classrooms. The stories inspire us, but the university of life is where the transformation from head to heart to soul creates meaningful and lasting change. Until next time, remember that leading boldly is about making thoughtful and clear choices. Bold leadership is about taking bold action one small step at a time. One small step for you, but together, a giant step for humanity. Take care and take thoughtful bold action.

 

 

Important Links

About H.E. Nadezhda Neynsky

LBF 33 | Modern BulgariaAmbassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Bulgaria to the Republic of Turkey.

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