AUBG Recognizes Donors and Supporters at a Heart-Warming Ceremony

February 26, 2024 Dimana Doneva
AUBG Recognizes Donors and Supporters at a Heart-Warming Ceremony

The AUBG 2024 Donor Recognition Dinner brought together the university community to thank and celebrate the generous contributions of AUBG’s many donors and friends. At a heart-warming ceremony held in the Millennium Hotel in Sofia on Feb. 22, the university awarded its biggest supporters for the past year.

“We are gathered here tonight for just one purpose – to express our deepest gratitude to all of you for your generosity,” AUBG President Margee Ensign said in a welcoming address to the guests. “Individuals, businesses, foundations, alums, faculty, staff who’ve helped make the university possible, support our growth and development and increase our impact.”

Thanks to AUBG’s many supporters, the university has achieved remarkable results in the past year, including enrolling the largest class in history, President Ensign said. “95% of our incoming students are receiving some sort of financial aid all because of donors like you,” she said. “Many of these young people could not have enrolled at AUBG without your assistance.”

The America for Bulgaria Foundation, “whose generosity is unparalleled, has awarded AUBG another matching grant this year and [we aim] to not barely meet its goal but to exceed it,” the president said. 

The university is also continuing its financial support program for students from crisis zones, and is further strengthening its Center for Information, Democracy and Citizenship.

“Recent political developments in the world (…) brought attention back to the founding mission of this great university,” President Ensign said. “Indeed it was this mission that brought me to this unique university.”

Big Gallery Image

Big Gallery Image

Adopted during Bulgaria’s transition to democracy some 30 years ago, AUBG’s mission is to educate democratic and ethical leaders. 

“Clearly, AUBG’s education is having its intended impact,” the president said. “I’ve never met in my various presidencies around the world more accomplished and engaged alums. You are the leaders in this country and in this region in business, increasingly in government, in the non-profit sector. This is proof of the impact of AUBG’s education.” 


The first award for the evening – in the Alumni category – was presented to Georgi Zahariev (‘95), an angel investor and previously director at alumni-populated U.S.-based Dynamo Software. 

“Thank you for this honor,” the alumnus said. “I consider myself to be very fortunate to be part of the very first class at AUBG. The AUBG experience has been something that has profoundly influenced my life through the years and continues to do so to this day. Supporting AUBG is my modest way of contributing to a bright future, to the university, of course, but also to the country and the region, and beyond.”


The Donor Recognition Award in the Foundations category was awarded to the U.S. Russia Foundation for their continuous support for students during a time of war. 

“It is our privilege to be able to support your important work,” said Matthew Rojansky, the President and CEO of the U.S. Russia Foundation. “I am proud that our funds helped over 50 students in 2022 and 2023, covering various majors including Journalism, Economics, and Psychology. Our goal is not just to support the students’ education but also their potential to contribute to the end of this war and to a just and democratic future of Russia.” 

Board of Trustees

Alumnus and trustee Dobrin Staykov (‘96), Group CFO & Head of Capital Markets at Lion’s Head Investment, received the award in the Board of Trustees category. 

“I am from the second class which graduated in 1996,” he said. “These were really fun times and at the time it was a really opportunistic endeavor to join the university but it has paid off.”

After building a successful career first in accounting and banking and then in real estate, Staykov decided to dedicate more time to supporting AUBG and established his own scholarship at the university. 

“Why I do this: First of all, as we all know, particularly in these days it is important to give young people an opportunity, and a perspective, and critical thinking, which is really the opportunity that we had back in the 90s,” he said. “Second, I think as we are entering our 40s and our 50s, we are probably having a different perspective on re-engaging with university. And be it with financial resources or time we spend, we could contribute based on the experience that we had post university.” 

Big Gallery Image

Big Gallery Image

Big Gallery Image

Friends of AUBG

Scholar and human rights advocate Annie Pforzheimer, who supports Afghani students to study at AUBG, received the award in the Friends of AUBG category. 

“It is so important to support the kind of education that this university represents,” she said. “And particularly for young Afghan women who’d have no chance of receiving it in their home country. The future of these girls is brighter because AUBG exists.” 


Alumni-led Payhawk, which is Bulgaria’s first unicorn, was awarded in the Corporations category. Nikolay Pohlupkov (‘19), principal product manager at the fintech company, accepted the award. 

“I am extremely humbled and honored to be here as an AUBG alumnus to represent Payhawk and Hristo [Borisov (‘10), CEO of Payhawk], who is also an esteemed AUBG alumnus,” Pohlupkov said. After joining Payhawk, I felt something very strange – the same energy, the same zeal, the same people that were in AUBG. (…) So this award is not only a testament to Payhawk’s financial support but it also indicates that we feel very invested because this bond is built on shared values and a common vision of the future.” 

There are over 20 AUBG alumni at the company at the moment and the number is only growing, Pohlupkov said. “Most of us are invested not only financially but also from a mentorship perspective with the community.” 


AUBG awarded professor Orlin Stoytchev, who established the Alexander Ganchev Memorial Student Award, with the Donor Recognition Award in the Faculty category. 

“For 27 years AUBG has supported me in following my dreams and aspirations,” he said. “The opportunity to meet and interact with wonderful, bright and interesting colleagues and students has given me an intellectual challenge and it has provided me with an excellent working environment.” 

The Alexander Ganchev Memorial Student Award, which honors the legacy of beloved professor and distinguished mathematician and physicist Alexander Ganchev (1955-2022), will be awarded yearly to the best student in mathematics and science. 

“Alexander Ganchev and I in a sense were like professional twin brothers,” professor Stoytchev said. “We studied together in the English Language School in Sofia, then we were in the physics department of Sofia University, then we were part of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, then we both obtained our PhDs from the mathematics department of Virginia Tech and then we ended up in AUBG. So when Alexander Ganchev passed away about a little bit more than a year ago, I thought to myself: ‘What would be a better way to honor his name and his legacy than to give back to the family, and that is to the young part of the family – our students.’” 

Big Gallery Image

Big Gallery Image

Lasting Legacy

Kosovar alumnus Dardan Sejdiu (‘03), who joined AUBG in 1999 – two months after the Kosovo War – received the Donor Recognition Award in the Lasting Legacy category. 

“It is a profound honor to stand here in front of you, but not only as a recipient of this award but also as a testament to the transformative journey that AUBG facilitates for countless individuals across the region, including myself,” said the alumnus, who is CEO of distribution and logistics company DLS and an environmental sustainability advocate. “I really have to express my deepest gratitude to AUBG for this recognition. I feel quite privileged and honored to be awarded in such a meaningful category and not only as a personal honor but very much as a reflection of the values and the resilience that AUBG instills in its students.” 

Sejdiu studied at AUBG on a full scholarship provided by the U.S. Government. “The opportunity to come study here at that time was not only an escape from a post-war situation but I think it was a rebirth for many of us who came to AUBG in 1999. AUBG is for me one of the beacons of hope in the region.” 

The alumnus acknowledged the importance of donor support, saying it “ignites dreams, fosters resilience, and shapes individuals who will go on to make meaningful contributions not only for the countries where they live in but also for the global society.” 

Panitza Visionary Award

The ceremony culminated with the Dimi & Yvonne Panitza Visionary Award, which was awarded to Nellie and Robert Gipson, who have generously supported AUBG for 24 years. 

“It is such a precious recognition because Bob and I had the chance to know both Dimi and Yvonne,” Nellie Gipson said. “We are very happy to have known Dimi and Yvonne so we are very touched by this award.”

“Nellie and I are both blessed with great education that was enabled by family members and people we didn’t even know,” Bob Gipson said. “It is a gift which has enabled us to have the blessings that we’ve had and we give to AUBG and others in part in gratitude for that. It is our privilege and our honor to support AUBG.” 

The Donor Recognition Dinner featured musical performances by Voice of Bulgaria finalist and current student Dimitrina Germanova and the university’s Broadway Performance Club, which will this year stage the Heathers musical. 

Which initiative would you like to support?

Explore initiatives