Iva is a co-founder and CEO of JAMBA – Careers for All, an organisation providing training and facilitating labour market integration for people with disabilities in Austria, Bulgaria and Hungary.
Iva's entrepreneurial journey
Iva’s entrepreneurial journey began 8 years ago when she was still a student. Her strong desire to constantly challenge herself, and her courage in doing so, drew her to entrepreneurialism, despite having had no previous experience.
In the first years, Iva focused purely on business, but she felt she should do more. She therefore used her free time to volunteer in various social initiatives and NGOs. She says “I always wanted to do something meaningful, spending my time doing good and inspiring others to do the same. I experienced many ups and downs, challenges, moments of uncertainty, and losses of motivation. But, there were also many, many moments of great happiness, support, inspiration and success shared with the wonderful people I worked with.”
Iva continues, “Five years ago, I met Joana Koleva – a wonderful person with a similar vision and values – and I am infinitely grateful for that. We volunteered together, working with people with hearing impairments. This showed us that job market inclusion is one of the biggest challenges for people with disabilities, and that the solution to this problem is a prerequisite to increasing the economic welfare of the people as a whole.”
Their experience in this field has shown Iva and Joana how exceptional people with disabilities are, and how much potential they have. It also made them aware that the biggest challenge for integration is the lack of equal access to quality education, adapted professional training, and therefore, inclusion in the job market.
All this led to the idea for the creation of JAMBA, whose mission is to support clients in attaining key skills and competencies in different professional fields through training and internships. As a next step, JAMBA supports their inclusion in the job market and even their career advancement.
Iva says that social entrepreneurship is a great example of how people can work to solve problems in a sustainable way. JAMBA’s team sees huge potential in several aspects. In the first place, there are over 1 billion people with disabilities globally, which means that 1 in 7 people have a disability. Yet in countries like Bulgaria and Hungary, people with disabilities are not included in society, and may spend most of their lives at home because there is no accessible infrastructure. They represent a huge amount of untapped human capital. At the same time, the multibillion-dollar Human Resources sector is constantly hungry for motivated, loyal and experienced talents, while experiencing constant staff turnover.
JAMBA’s work has been pioneering, with no other similar organisation providing these services in Bulgaria and Hungary. The market in Austria looks a little different, with more advanced social and economic development, and with public and private organisations developing similar activities. At the same time, there is a huge demand for talent in the IT and AI industry in Austria, and this is where JAMBA saw an incredible opportunity and decided to go for it. They adapted their services to the local market and shifted their focus to the IT and AI sectors.
The biggest challenge for JAMBA’s development in Austria so far is to reach people with disabilities who are not included in society, and who are mostly not active through programs and activities of any other organisation. Limitations related to mobility, age, background, and place of residence also hinder people with disabilities in their own development. They may be less open and more afraid to step out of their comfort zone. JAMBA wants to show and prove that they are here to help in their educational path, capacity building, career and business development.
Iva says, “Our wonderful team in Austria is very active and constantly communicates with representatives of the non-governmental sector, business and the public sector. We believe that it is very important for all stakeholders to work together to achieve results. We are happy to receive support from organisations working with the different groups of people with disabilities, and that in a short period of time we have been able to find great partners who support our activities and believe in our mission.”
Iva says that the greatest recognition for their work came when JAMBA was selected as one of the Zero Project Awardees 2021 and joined the Zero Project–Impact Transfer program, organised by Essl Foundation and Ashoka. They were selected because of the positive evaluation of their project and to provide opportunities to meet similar organisations worldwide.
The past four years have been a great success, and Iva is especially grateful to the team in Bulgaria, Austria, and Sári Pásztor, with whom they started to develop the activities of JAMBA in Hungary. Without these people, their dedication, creativity and positive energy, none of this would have been possible.
Iva adds that their team is very proud that in a short period of time – since JAMBA’s establishment in Austria in 2020 – they managed to organise online Data Annotation training for 12 international people with disabilities. Some of them are already applying the knowledge they gained through the training by working on other projects. JAMBA is currently organising a joint series of online meet-ups together with the Artificial Intelligence for Development Agency, AIDA, called ‘brAInstorm talks’. The team also launched an awareness campaign for International Day of People with Disabilities (December 2020) that presented the stories of seven ambassadors who overcame barriers to succeed in their professional careers.
A successful crowdfunding campaign followed in which over 100 Agents of Change (NGOs, private sector, philanthropists) supported the campaign. Money raised will help Jamba expand their job-oriented online & offline training program for people with disabilities.
In 2021, JAMBA team is planning to start its own IT Academy program, a one-of-a-kind comprehensive education and training program designed for people with disabilities preparing them for careers in growing industry.
“The goal is to change attitudes in other companies, breaking stereotypes and prejudices that people with disabilities cannot successfully integrate into the labour market. Our goal is for the business to be more committed to the topic of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, to start actively looking for and hiring long term candidates with disabilities, and to pay them fair wages (at least a minimum wage or higher and a full package of social benefits). We want to break the perception of employing people with disabilities as an act of charity. We are all equal, we all have qualities and potential and it is time to open our minds and treat everyone equally. Last but not least, we are planning to organise a Career Fair event and charity run Run2Gether,” says Iva.
Advice for prospective entrepreneurs
Iva was born in Bulgaria where she finished her studies and started her first professional experience. Almost her entire professional career has been related to entrepreneurship. Iva has moved to Austria in 2019 and has been living there since.