Hi friends, it’s Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making the world a more equitable place! I have one more interview for you this week. Today I’m excited to cruise around Azerbaijan with Sara Rajabli, founder of BUTA Art & Sweets. Sara is working hard on UN SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities for women with mental and physical disabilities. Let’s see how she’s doing it!
Spiffy: Thank you for welcoming me here today, Sara! Can you tell us what challenges you are addressing?
Sara: Thanks so much for inviting me to speak with you, Spiffy! The challenges we are addressing are the employment problems of women with mental and physical disabilities.
Spiffy: What motivated you to provide a solution?
Sara: Since childhood, I recognized how women were discriminated against because of their gender. Women with special needs, unfortunately, suffered even more. I saw how people reacted when they saw people with special needs on the streets. I hate the word “disability”. I have never thought about these people as “disabled”. It is so comfortable and easy for most of us to ignore and be indifferent to the difficulty that people face. We even forget how much we can learn from each other despite our differences.
Spiffy: How is BUTA Art & Sweets helping to create a more equitable world?
Sara: BUTA Art & Sweets is a platform aimed at reducing unemployment among women with special needs through the sales of handmade vegan sweets, prepared by them, to individuals and companies. There are more than 290,000 women with special needs in Azerbaijan, and 95% of them are unemployed. Buta Art & Sweets addresses social exclusion by empowering these women through training programs that provide them with an additional income.
The preparation of vegan sweets by BUTA Art & Sweets women. (Photo courtesy of Sara Rajabli)
Spiffy: This sounds amazing, Sara! Can you tell me about a recent milestone that you’ve achieved?
Sara: We created the first free certification program on confectionery for women with special needs in Azerbaijan in cooperation with the Ministry of Education. The impact and results have been amazing! Thirteen women with special needs have officially been certified by the Ministry of Education. One woman became the first visually impaired woman in Azerbaijan to become an officially certified master of confectionery. We have provided 200 hours of free confectionery masterclasses, five women are employed by bakery houses, and eight women have increased their sales.
Spiffy: I’m curious if, as an entrepreneur, you’ve ever experienced failure? What did you learn?
Sara: When our project was launched, we applied every day to 30 companies. 90% of them rejected us. Those rejections showed us the importance of self-discipline and persistence in order to achieve our goals.
Spiffy: What is something unexpected you’ve learned from someone recently?
Sara: Recently I learned from a street dog the importance and power of enjoying the moment. We are so busy with our projects, so we don't notice miracles and beauties around us. We definitely need to learn a lot from animals.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Sara: Yes, Spiffy! Social business taught me that diversity is the best thing that can happen in teamwork, and every day I learn so much from these women. I think that if you want to solve any problem, it is not necessary that it should be directly connected to your past experiences. It is enough to be empathic. It is enough to just be a fellow human.
Spiffy: Thanks for sharing about your incredible work, Sara! It’s been an honor.
Sara Rajabli, the founder of BUTA Art & Sweets, is a 24-year-old social entrepreneur. She is also the founder of Social Business Youth Center and the first Azerbaijani social entrepreneur representing her country at the UN level. Sara is the first young social entrepreneur to be awarded by the President of Azerbaijan Republic, Winner of Global Startup Awards 2020, Diana Award winner 2021. (Nominated by Rainergy. First published on the Ladderworks website on September 3, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.