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Sara Rajabli

My story about inclusion of women with special needs

My name is Sara. I am a 21 y.o. Azerbaijani social entrepreneur, who is working on reducing of unemployment problem of women with special needs. Since early student years, I have been involved in volunteering activities at international events. I regularly checked the notice boards for announcements in my university, and found an opportunity to study in Germany for 6 months. I became one of the scholarship winners. I could not believe it, but it was a reality. So, what this program gave to me? First of all, a taste of independence. Being alone, I took responsibility for making decisions and solving problems. I had to manage my time effectively for all sorts of daily activities, as well as my financial recourses. Education in Germany inspired me to research a lot. I experienced the real student lifestyle and became inspired to become an entrepreneur in the future.

My life in Germany taught me to take the most ambitious, crazy, and “impossible” risks. I challenged myself, I overcame fear: during my mini European trip, many things happened to me, both positive and negative, which had a profound impact on me. Now, I understand the importance of leaving your comfort zone, trusting your own intuition and relying on the kind and friendly people around you. Most importantly, all the stereotypes I had about nations and people were broken completely. Once your stereotypes are broken, you become a global citizen and a change maker.

After coming back to Azerbaijan, I participated in local projects and obtained scholarships for conferences in various countries. I realized that if I could do it, others could too. I decided to find these people and share their experiences in one platform: Free to Travel. The main goal is to show that free travel is not only possible, but also able to change a person completely. The project helps me to inspire youth to make their dreams become a reality. Until now, it could share more than 60 stories of travelers from more than 40 countries and organize free events about youth opportunities, receiving more than 1000 applications and more than 250 participants.

Another my experience with education abroad is linked to participation in an Erasmus+ training course “Young European Social Entrepreneurs network”, which was organized by YPIDA in March 2017 in Istanbul. 28 participants from 12 countries took part and represented their organizations and cultures. As a result, we developed pitch models of projects to apply for a “Key Action 2” Erasmus+ grant. Next chance of connecting with people and learning by doing was related to Erasmus+ training course about social entrepreneurship in Mullsjo city of Sweden.

Thanks to such projects and people, I became a social entrepreneur by launching BUTA Art & Sweets platform, which is working on solution of unemployment problem of women with special needs. Our main mission is to solve their unemployment problem by giving them opportunity to have a business from sales of homemade sweets.

In 9 months without any external investments, experience of working with people with special needs and sales of sweets we could involve more than 15 women with special needs by empowering them through education and business, enlarge our menu to 23 types of sweets, cooperate successfully with more than 30 international and local companies, organizations and event organizers(including AIESEC, USAID, Nizami Ganjavi International Center, Fairmont Hotel Baku, Yunus Social Business Center, U.S. Embassy, National Youth Council etc.), represent our products at large scale events in Russia, France, Hungary and Bahrain. As the first social business project from Azerbaijan, we have been selected for “Yunus & Youth” Social Entrepreneurship Fellowship Program 2018 and currently we participate at their acceleration and mentorship program. Through different events we tried to show our heroes in order to break stereotypes in mind of local people that “disability” is only in our minds. People, who didn’t believe in existence of this project because of our team members, now are expressing their gratitude for being role models despite all physical, psychological and emotional challenges.

We also have been involved in various charity programs, trying to connect our women with children, who are fighting for their lives. Currently we are trying to help a 6 y.o. girl, who is fighting with

cancer, by donating incomes from our sales. You can find here about donations here.

Those women have been interviewed by BBC and local media channels and we saw how much we can learn from them instead of isolating ourselves from them. Our story was featured on official EEAS website.

Just imagine reactions of those women, who have been thinking about being useless to our society, after telling them, that their sweets are represented at high level events and tried by presidents of countries.

After gaining such success for short time just with 85 Euro bootstrapping, I decided to share my experience of launching social business in Azerbaijan. Here is another platform appeared : Social Business Youth Center, aiming to promote and enlighten social entrepreneurship in Azerbaijan through non-formal education tools. With 0 budget, we could organize in 2 months 7 events with 500+ applications and 140+ participants, involving speakers from Deloitte Azerbaijan, Camping Azerbaijan, Berkeley University etc.

Here is the end of my story… Story of a young girl, who just wants to change reality through breaking stereotypes about underprivileged group of people, from whom we can learn much more that we ever imagine.

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