Ivan Dimov, CEO of The Steps
The Steps started as an initiative of Single Step Foundation two years ago – how many steps have you walked in that period so far?
As the saying goes “a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step”. Establishing the Foundation and providing comprehensive support services for the LGBTI community in Bulgaria was our first step, after which we focused on our social enterprise – The Steps. Being an avid marathon runner, I will take the metaphor a step further: although running is seemingly a very solitary sport, along the way you draw inspiration and energy from the support and help of many people, as in our case: despite all the difficulties associated with the creation of The Steps – funding, renovation, launch in the uncertain environment of Covid restrictions, we knew we were on the right track because of our many partners, friends and customers who believed in us from the very beginning.
The Foundation is unique not only in the support it provides, but also in its business model. Where does The Steps fit into it? What is the synergy between the foundation and your space now, what new ideas will continue and expand it?
From the very inception of the Foundation, we have been looking for a way to ensure our sustainability, i.e. to rely not only on grants and projects, like a significant portion of the NGO sector. The Foundation is the sole owner of the company that owns and operates The Steps, with the idea that 100% of the profits of the business are reinvested in the Foundation, and thus we can control the future of the Foundation and the impact of its activities. We have numerous ideas on how to grow our business, but we also want to hear from you; contact us because some of our most successful events to date have always been done in partnerships.
What were the biggest challenges, difficulties and prejudices you had to deal with? Did you manage to keep your idea on track without deviating from the chosen direction?
Every new business faces challenges in the start-up phase and in its growth period. I don’t want to focus on them, as well as on the provocations by far-right groups and individuals, because they are not what drives us. I would like to thank the hundreds of people who made personal donations for the creation of The Steps, as well as America for Bulgaria Foundation, UniCredit, Dreilinden Foundation and global companies such as Google and Facebook, who appreciated the innovation and the scale of our project. And from here on, our success depends on the execution of our business plan and attracting and servicing numerous customers and partners, like any business.
What is The Steps today – a social enterprise, a modern multifunctional space, a cause supporting other causes? How does it differ from other similar venues in the country?
Well, it’s everything that you listed. As a customer, supporting us by having a cup of coffee or a cocktail, coming to a party or a performance, opening of an exhibit or organizing your corporate, cultural, community, etc. event with us, you are actually investing in a social cause, which makes us unique in the sector. More and more large companies in Bulgaria emphasize on social engagement, and not only because it is imposed “from the top”, but because their employees also demand it. There is no other multifunctional venue in Sofia which offers this opportunity.
In our conflicted and divisive modern day, at The Steps you create an inclusive environment for people with different ideas. How do you do that?
The Steps is an inclusive place that aims to promote dialogue even on difficult topics like ours. But the most important thing remains what we offer our customers: a cozy and modern atmosphere in our bistro, attention to their needs, state-of-the-art equipment in our multifunctional hall and a diverse calendar of events to attract members of our community, allies, as well as large corporations, other NGOs, socially-engaged young people. In the last few years, we saw how extremely important human contact and dialogue without prejudice are. The Steps is that place to gather, make friends and engage people with different ideas, people who are responsible and accept the differences between them.
What events of a diverse nature – culture, meetings, discussions and others – have The Steps already hosted? What possibilities for such appearances does the space provide?
It is difficult for me to pick just a few from the hundreds of events we have hosted so far. As a multifunctional venue, The Steps provides the opportunity for hosting corporate events and cocktails, performances, exhibits, parties, conferences, community events, coworking, private events, film screenings, private events on our large terrace – the possibilities are endless. And our own calendar is filled with a range of interesting events, such as Drag Bingo, “Cocktail and Cinema”, acoustic evenings, debuting young artists, themed parties, public discussions.
The main mission of Single Step Foundation is to provide support and motivation to young LGBTI people in Bulgaria in order to overcome the difficulties they face on a daily basis. How does The Steps further this goal? In what way, through what activities and formats do you support causes promoting human rights?
Besides ensuring the financial independence and sustainability of the Foundation and creating a space for dialogue without prejudice, The Steps is also a community center, a “safe space” for LGBTI people. We organize numerous events for our community as well as give a forum to young LGBTI artists. We are actively reaching out to all other NGOs that share our values and strive to help create a better and dignified life for everyone in our country.