The projects of BILD began December 14, 1996, when BILD’s Executive Director, Christopher Bragdon, arrived in Tuzla from the United States. He arrived at Tuzla’s bus station with a backpack, two duffel bags, a dictionary, thousands of dollars in his boots, and an intention to help the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Four years prior in 1992, the war in Bosnia had begun leading to 10’s of thousands of innocent and defenseless civilians being murdered just because of their ethnicity. The war ended in 1996 with the intervention of 60,000 NATO-lead peacekeepers as part of the Dayton Peace Accords.
It was in 1995 that Christopher finally decided to do something in response to the war in Bosnia. Throughout the war, in news reports, he had read about the horrors being perpetrated, but he also heard about a place called Tuzla, a city known for its tolerance, a place where people of different religions and different cultures maintained solidarity even when being torn at by a violent genocidal aggression not seen in Europe since World War II..
When Christopher read about what happened in Tuzla in May, 1995, he called the Bosnian Embassy in Washington, D.C. and said he wanted to help. He said he felt like he was offering his tea cup to the Titanic to help bail, but he had to do something. On May 25, those who opposed Tuzla’s stand for a multiethnic democratic country lobbed a high explosive artillery shell into a gathering of hundreds of young people at Kapija square in the center of Tuzla.
The perpetrators knew what they were doing since Kapija square is known as a gathering place of youth, and May 25 was national youth day. Over 70 young people were killed that day just because they chose to go out and enjoy their friendships in a city that refused to join the ultra-nationalism that was tearing apart their country.
In February 1996, Christopher attended a conference in Washington and met the Bosnian Ambassador to the United States Sven Alkalaj (now Bosnia’s Foreign Minister). Christopher then organized an event in his city of Newburyport, Ma. attended by over 200 people with Ambassador Alkalaj as the featured speaker. This lead to private donations and Christopher’s arrival in Tuzla the following winter.
What started as a private donor effort has now grown into two organizations: BILD -- Bosnia Initiatives for Local Development -- based in Tuzla, a city of 150,000 people in northeastern Bosnia, and SEEDS -- South East Europe Development Solutions -- based in Ithaca, New York, home of Cornell University. BILD’s role in this partnership is to implement local level development projects in Bosnia. SEEDS’ role is to raise funds and recruit human resources for those projects. Since 1996, this effort has helped implement over $1,000,000 worth of projects helping hundreds of people in northeastern Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The following bits and pieces of BILD’s history show how the people, projects, and partners currently part of BILD and SEEDS came together and are now contributing to Bosnia-Herzegovina one day becoming a stable prosperous member of the European Union.
Ozren Božanović, the Director of the automotive club TUZAMK, met Christopher the first winter he was in Tuzla (1996 - 1997). Through the years they collaborated on a number of projects including one through which excess UN vehicles were donated to TUZAMK, rehabilitated, and then provided for humanitarian projects. Through this project, TUZAMK has provided BILD with a Land Rover jeep at all times and a Passat station wagon when needed. Mr. Božanović became a de facto advisor to BILD projects, eventually joined BILD, and in 2006 was elected President of BILD’s Board of Directors.
In 1999, BILD started collaborating with Cornell University’s Bosnia Coordinating Committee. In the summers of 1999 and 2000, BILD hosted ESL volunteers from Cornell who taught at both the Electrical Engineering College and the English Department of Tuzla University. This relationship lead to meeting Toni Rosenbaum who is now an integral part of this effort.
In 2001, Toni Rosenbaum from Cornell University met BILD staff in Tuzla when her husband Prof. John Rosenbaum was a Fulbright Scholar at Tuzla University. Toni volunteered to consult BILD on project proposals including one that was successfully presented to the World Bank leading to a $135,000 grant..
Toni continued to consult BILD and help raise funds and donations from the United States. In 2005, Toni became a Board member of SEEDS and soon afterwards was elected Secretary/Treasurer of SEEDS. In 2009, both Toni and John Rosenbaum returned to Tuzla to teach at the Tuzla-Doboj Summer Institutes.
Another current SEEDS member who started contributing in 2001 is Muhidin Lelić who has consulted BILD regarding its education initiatives. A former professor at Tuzla University’s Electrical Engineering College, Muhidin moved to the United States in 1995 and met Mr. Bragdon in Ithaca, NY in 1999. In 2008, Muhidin joined SEEDS’ Working Group consulting BILD and SEEDS education projects with the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs. In 2009, Muhidin joined SEEDS’ Evaluation and Oversight Committee.
During the first four years of BILD programs, BILD staff conducted research and implemented pilot projects testing the potential of community service projects to create human and social capital. From those pilot projects, BILD has created an innovative development model called Nova Inicijativa (no-vah ee-neet-see-yah-tee-vah). The project model Nova Inicijativa creates income-generating activities at community organizations and the human and social capital essential to making the activities self-sustaining. In 2002, the project proposal Nova Inicijativa was a finalist in the World Bank’s Development Marketplace competition and received $135,000 from the bank’s Post Conflict Fund. Nova Inicijativa proved effective in creating self-sustaining income-generating activites. Nova Inicijativa also proved effective in cultivating human and social capital – productive relationships between people and organizations – not only for participant organizations but also for BILD itself. As the following shows, many of BILD’s current associate organizations and current staff members have come from implementing Nova Inicijativa.
In 2003, “Progres”, an organization dedicated to helping university students with special needs, successfully participated in Nova Inicijativa providing volunteers for community service projects and establishing a self-sustaining computer center called STARnet.
The Director of STARnet, Osman Salihović, created the software, system administration, and contributed to a culture of transparency and accountability at STARnet thereby making the center self-sustaining. Since 2003, Osman has been consulting BILD on all matters concerning information technology.
Today STARnet is an associate organization of BILD. STARnet provides for all of BILD’s information technology needs and provides unlimited computer usage to BILD staff, international guests, and the teachers of the Tuzla Summer Institute.
One volunteer from Progres who demonstrated dedication, integrity, and a strong work ethic during her participation in Nova Inicijativa’s community service projects is Ivana Knežević. Ivana became a BILD staff member in 2003. In 2007, Ivana became BILD’s Lead Project Coordinator in charge of all BILD projects with the full authority of the Executive Director when necessary.
During the first year of Nova Inicijativa in 2003, Rešida Osmanović joined BILD after being recruited from one of Tuzla’s most successful businesses. Rešida is now an expert on both for-profit and non-profit accounting laws. As BILD’s Head Accountant, her skills suit BILD’s projects that bring together public-private partnerships and focus on income-generating activities.
Rešida trains and supervises staff in BILD’s exceptionally strict and transparent bookkeeping practices. Rešida also does pro bono work consulting student university organizations in proper bookkeeping.
Also through Nova Inicijativa, BILD gained a long standing member. Before joining BILD, Selma Veseljević participated in Nova Inicijativa in 2003 when she was a journalist for a student newspaper sponsored by BILD. Especially in 2004 when BILD was involved in a challenging, successful effort against corruption and ever since then, Selma Veseljević has been a stalwart contributor to BILD, translating for meetings and news conferences, and contributing towards projects especially in the area of higher education. In 2006, Selma became an assistant professor at the English Department of Tuzla University. In 2008, Selma was elected to BILD’s Board of Directors.
In addition to acquiring dedicated staff and volunteers, BILD has established a number of partnerships through Nova Inicijativa thereby expanding our collective capacity to implement effective projects.
Feniks, an organization dedicated to helping people recovering from trauma, participated in Nova Inicijativa earning a range of equipment for their organization: computers, a copier, wood working tools, and a rototiller for their agricultural programs. In 2005, BILD donated a Kia van to Feniks which Feniks in return provides to BILD with a driver when needed. The van is essential to our projects in eastern Bosnia and for hosting teachers at the Tuzla Summer Institute. One member of Feniks, Alija Muratović, who has worked with BILD since 2006 is now also an official member of BILD and one of the coordinators of our project empowering women in eastern Bosnia.
Prijateljice, an umbrella organization for women’s associations, participated in Nova Inicijativa in 2003 earning a new well, pumping equipment, and Kirby rug-cleaning equipment for their car wash and laundry service. In 2004, Prijateljice introduced BILD to women’s associations in Zvornik which lead to our on-going program helping women returning to the pre-war homes. Prijateljice contributes staff to our project “Creating Sustainable Income and Empowering Women in Eastern Bosnia” which received a $24,000 grant from the Soros Foundation in 2010.
Through Nova Inicijativa’s community service projects, BILD can see who truly possesses a strong work ethic and shares BILD’s values of honesty, commitment, and respect. Emina Jašarević, a top performing volunteer from the community organization Flamenko, joined BILD in January of 2004 becoming BILD’s Lead Project Coordinator the following summer.
Emina was BILD’s “engine room” throughout her tenure until the spring of 2007 at which time she helped recruit Ivana Knežević as her successor. That spring, Emina Jašarević became Emina Temović marrying Dragan Temović, and moved to Germany from which she continues to consult BILD projects. During Emina’s tenure, she was instrumental in helping cultivate BILD’s relationships with international guests.
One international guest who joined BILD for the summer of 2003 was Doug Mitarotonda from Cornell University’s Engineers for a Sustainable World. Doug grabbed the reins of his volunteer experience and went far beyond the call of duty. Not only did Doug teach computer classes as part of his planned internship, but on his own initiative, started a new relationship with and started an entirely new computer course at the local high school run by the Islamic Society: the Behram-begova Medresa. This relationship continues to this day as the Behram-begova Medresa hosts the Tuzla Summer Institute. Doug visited Tuzla a second time the following year, continued to consult BILD projects, and, in 2006, became the President of SEEDS.
During the US military’s contribution to peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, BILD established an on-going relationship with US soldiers that continue to this day. During SFOR 12, the 12th rotation of US peacekeepers, Christopher met COL Walter Lord, a Civil Affairs officer, while touring the city with the Mayor of Tuzla. This chance meeting lead to a series of successful outreach projects through which National Guard soldiers contributed their civilian skills to BILD-sponsored workshops teaching information technology and business management.
Also during SFOR 12, BILD helped establish relations between US Army chaplains and Mufti Husein Kavazović of the Tuzla Muftiate. In 2003, during SFOR 13, the next rotation of peacekeepers, Command Chaplain COL Ronald Lee Cobb energetically cultivated these new relationships and contributed to interfaith drug rehabilitation programs managed by the Islamic Communtiy. At the end of his rotation, he introduced BILD representatives to Command Chaplain LTC Alan Johnson of SFOR 14. Today, now retired, Dr. Ronald Lee Cobb is Chairman of SEEDS’ Evaluation and Oversight Committee, and a regular donor to BILD projects. Chaplain Johnson has also maintained a connection to this effort since his deployment and is an annual contributor to BILD projects.
During SFOR 14, Chaplain Johnson and the Deputy Command Chaplain MAJ Jenkins were instrumental in expanding these new relationships with religious leaders to include Tuzla’s Catholic and Serbian Orthodox leaders. LTC Johnson and MAJ Jenkins’ efforts culminated in a BILD-sponsored interfaith dinner in early 2004 attended by Head Imam of Tuzla Amir Karić, Fran Zdravko of the Catholic Church, and Father Niko of the Serbian Orthodox church. These relationships continue to bear fruit as Imam Amir Karić is now a candidate for Cornell University’s visiting scholar program and, along with Father Niko and Fran Zdravko, helps recruit a multi-ethnic group of students for the Tuzla Summer Institute.
In 2005, Sebastian Huber was hosted by BILD while he helped Tuzla University join InterSystems’ Academic Programme “Caché Campus” which included a week of teaching at the faculty of Engineering Sebastian‘s visit was a result of Intersystems CEO Terry Ragon making a goodwill visit to BILD the previous year.
Sebastian continued to give advice to BILD and, in 2007, returned to Tuzla to celebrate Emina Jasarevic’s wedding. In 2009, Sebastian volunteered to teach a business course at the Tuzla Summer Institute. Sebastian became TSI’s European Representative and returned to the Tuzla Summer Institute in 2010 with two colleagues: Petra Siegfanz and Sabine Welte.
Petra and Sebastian taught an intensive course on entrepreneurship and Sabine taught workshops on professional development. Sabine returned to Switzerland where she has held a fundraiser for BILD and Sebastian and Petra are now on SEEDS’ Advisory Council for fundraising. In 2010, Sebastian received the Tuzla Summer Institute’s Annual Award.
During one of the last rotations of US soldiers, at a Thanksgiving party in 2005, SGT. Louis Ponticas made an impromptu $1,000 donation saying he wanted to help the women’s associations in eastern Bosnia. Emina Jašarević called the women’s association Prijateljice to find out how to best help with SGT. Ponticas’ donation. They said baby chickens and chicken food would help the families establish a sustainable source of income. Soon after SGT. Ponticas’ donation, COL Denny Peeples from the US Air Force visited the women’s associations in Zvornik, and in partnership with his wife, decided to cancel his family’s summer vacation and donate $4000 to help pay for baby chickens and chicken food. Thus was born one of BILD’s most successful projects, known as “the Chicken Project” until 2010 when the project received $24,000 from the Soros Foundation and became “Creating Sustainable Income and Empowering Women in Eastern Bosnia”. Since February of 2006, BILD has delivered over 27,000 baby chickens and 93,000 kilograms of chicken food to over 250 families through 6 women’s associations in eastern Bosnia. With the local investment of time and resources raising the chicks, the total value of the full grown chickens through this project from 2006 to 2010 is $192,000.
These fruitful relationships with US peacekeepers continue to this day with many of the soldiers who served in Bosnia continuing to keep in touch sometimes donating to BILD projects sometimes visiting Bosnia after retirement. BILD is especially thankful to LTC Eric Ebb, Deputy Command Chaplain of SFOR 15, who first met BILD staff at the 2004 interfaith dinner hosted by BILD, Chaplain Johnson, and Chaplain Jenkins. Chaplain Ebb is now a monthly donor to BILD’s projects and has joined SEEDS’ Evaluation and Oversight Committee.
In 2006, Christopher was a speaker at the colloquium series of the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs (CIPA). The speaking engagement was quite successful as Christopher then met Thomas O’Toole of CIPA which lead to an on-going collaboration between SEEDS, BILD, and CIPA. CIPA sends master’s students to Tuzla each summer who help BILD research, develop, and implement projects.
In March 2008, CIPA and SEEDS hosted Mufti Husein Kavazovic from the Tuzla Muftiate. At the end of Mufti Kavazovic’s talk as part of CIPA’s colloquium series, the idea of starting an institute in Tuzla through a collaboration between CIPA, SEEDS, and BILD was born. In the summer of 2008, CIPA conducted a feasibility study in Tuzla from which came the concept of the Tuzla-Doboj Summer Institutes which is a four week intensive professional education program teaching practical skills that help people succeed in their academic, business, and civic careers. In the fall of 2008, under the tutelage of Prof. David B. Lewis of CIPA, a group of master’s students created a project proposal for the Tuzla Summer Institute which lead to the successful inaugural session of the Tuzla Summer Institute from July 6 to July 30, 2009. As a result of this collaboration with CIPA , through 2009 and 2010, TSI has educated 292 participants in business management, information technology, English, and teaching methodology.
In 2007, Amel Dervišević became the manager of STARnet when Osman Salihović began working in the Middle East. Amel and volunteers from STARnet were instrumental in helping BILD’s projects, for example, providing all of the technical assistance necessary for establishing a new computer center at the Tuzla Deaf Association in the summer of 2008. While Amel also began work abroad – in Asia – he remains an avid supporter of BILD, returns to Tuzla every few months, and contributed to hosting the faculty of the Tuzla Summer Institute in 2010.
As part of the collaboration between SEEDS, BILD, and the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs, Belma Pobrić spent the summer of 2007 in Tuzla helping BILD further develop our programs. In the fall of 2007, Belma wrote an article about her experiences which was published in the CIPA newsletter.
In 2008, Belma continued her contributions to BILD/SEEDS translating during Mufti Husein Kavazovic’s visit to Cornell University and writing a consultancy paper to assist BILD in operationalizing its concept of social capital as part of its development model Nova Inicijativa.
In the summer of 2008, Belma graduated from CIPA and moved to Sarajevo to begin her career as a university professor. In August 2008, Belma was elected to BILD’s Board of Directors.
As demonstrated by the above, BILD has had the good fortune of attracting dedicated people who are helping implement practical projects in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Of course, the above history is not complete both because there are many more people who have contributed to BILD and many who are now joining this effort. Dijana Zeherović and Azra Pjanić have joined BILD to help manage BILD’s projects in eastern Bosnia.
Each year people are joining the effort through the Tuzla Summer Institute (TSI). Daniel Bell, Lillian Aoki, Ruslan Abdulganiyev, Stevie Lin Thacker, and Katherine Cole from Cornell University and Amherst College joined the Tuzla Summer Institute faculty in 2009 and 2010 and now are all ambassadors of TSI helping BILD and SEEDS recruit the next generation of TSI teachers.
Throughout BILD’s history, dedicated, hardworking , honest and fine individuals have made their impact, helping build this effort while their own roles have evolved. Some became friends of BILD and remain loyal supporters, others started as volunteers and became staff members, and others started as friends or volunteers and became board members of BILD or SEEDS.
Perhaps you would like to join us. It is what we do now during these precious years of peace that will determine the future.
The unfortunate truth is that the conflict that caused the war in Bosnia has not been resolved. 15 years after the signing of the Dayton Peace Accords, the peace process has stalled. Endemic nationalism, corruption, and economic stagnation are at the brink of pulling the country apart. People are openly talking about the possibility of armed conflict once again.
But there is a fortunate truth also.
The truth is that we at BILD and SEEDS with our partners have found a way to truly empower people such that we can help overcome the rampant corruption and ethno-nationalism that is currently crippling Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Tuzla Summer Institute gives people the opportunity to acquire truly marketable skills needed in today’s global economy. Our projects in eastern Bosnia give people returning to their pre-war homes hope and the means to create sustainable sources of income. The project model Nova Inicijativa truly empowers people, giving people the opportunity to prove themselves, to bond with honest hard working people who together can establish organizations and businesses free of corruption and nationalism. Nova Inicijativa has the potential to reach across the dividing lines of Bosnia-Herzegovina and link reasonable people who want to find a peaceful and practical way forward.
As part of the overall effort to overcome these forces pulling Bosnia towards renewed conflict, we must now expand BILD’s projects. We must cut through skepticism, mobilize both people and resources, and create tangible opportunities to reject nationalism and corruption and rather work together to improve lives and communities in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Part of the fortunate truth is, whatever your capacity in time and resources, you can make a significant difference in our effort to help Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The lifeblood of this effort has been and will always be the spirit of private donors and volunteers who make daily, monthly, or yearly contributions of time and resources. You can learn more about BILD by visiting the pages of this website.You can learn more about how you can help by visiting the Join Us page. You can donate on line or by check by clicking here, or you can contact us directly.
Again, it is what we do now during these precious years of peace that will determine the future.