At the Business Park Sofia, you will find yourself amongst the top of Bulgaria’s intellectual capital. They are walking around, dressed up as young professionals, priding the batches of their companies: Hewlett-Packard, IBM, C3I. They spend their days at the telephone or at a computer working as telemarketeers, “support specialists” or IT specialists, while many are trained as geographers, lingüists, chemists, doctors or artists. However, as a heart surgeon or a professor in lingüistics, they would earn a salary that would not suffice to make a living and that would be at least two times less than when they spend their days on the telephone for a foreign outsourcing company. Instead of doing this that they have chosen for and have been trained for, an important part of Bulgaria’s intellectual top is forced to take up “a bullshit job“.
Bulgaria has become one of the top destinations for outsourcing. With its cultural proximity to Western businesses and the average high level of education, and the country’s fixed and extremely low tax rate of 10%, the country has become a true paradise for Western multinationals who look for growing opportunities by means of lowering their production or service costs. According to the standard literature on outsourcing, the benefits for the host country are manyfold. From knowledge transfer, to highering the economic standard through competitive salaries and its pressure on domestic wages, and the outflow of capital from the outsourcing companies to local companies for secondary needs, outsourcing is said to bring but positive effects to the host country.
It is true, the locals who work in these companies, earn large amounts of money in comparison to their peers who work for local businesses and institutions. A Bulgarian heart surgeon makes average 700 leva (350 euro), while the person who is helping you fixing the problems with your internet connection makes around 1300 leva (650 euro). The latter have acquired the standard of living that many are probably still dreaming of since Communism fell. They are the lucky ones in comparison to their less educated peers who are forced to emigrate to Western Europe in search for seasonal and low payed jobs in order to maintain their families at home. Why then do I worry when I observe all these high educated young people wasting their time at the telephone?
I am worried because I do not believe development has only to do with higher salaries. I am worried because I see a lot of potential being wasted. I am worried because I see that outsourcing means but enslaving the people from developing countries for salaries that make the owners chuckle and their bank accounts grow. I am worried because I am wondering what will become of all these people – after having spent ten years on the telephone – when these companies will move on to the next outsourcing heaven. I am worried because the employers are not at all interested in the development of their employees. I am worried because all the kids at school only want to learn IT and English. I am worried that no one will be left to attend me at the hospitals in ten years.
Foto: Vihren Georgiev
In a country in which the political elite is highly corrupted with close ties to the mafia and the so-called top intellectual capital is wasting its time at the telephone in a place as remote as the Sofia business park: Who will be our teachers, geographers, lingüists, artists, economists, doctors and politicians of tomorrow? The ghost of outsourcing will be that of the lack of expertise in the fields that really matter for a country that is still climbing up the ladder of development.
This is the first article in what will be a series on the sociocultural effects of outsourcing in Bulgaria.