"Embrace your idea and make it your mission"
What is your Social Business about?
The mission of the Listen Up Foundation is to provide various social services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing people in Bulgaria focused on equal access to information, education and career opportunities. Instead of treating Deaf people as helpless and incapable, we would like to give them equal chance to become socially involved and active and to participate fully in Bulgarian social and professional life, to contribute to the society. We plan to do this by developing a platform and services for equal access:
- Online platform for video sign language interpreting (launched in May 2016);
- Online speech-to-text services aimed at education and social events;
- Live caption services;
- Information campaigns aimed at both the deaf community and the wide public promoting the deaf culture, as well as changing the social stereotypes and misconceptions about deafness.
The business model is based on Listen Up to be the first provider of equal access services for the Deaf to the business and institutions, who have already showed strong demand for such type of services as well as more awareness for the Deaf access living definitions.
How did it all start?
Two years ago I came back from Canada where I lived for 3 years. Countries like Canada have implemented policies focused on the Deaf and Hard of Hearing people and this overturned my perceptions about equality, multiculturalism and tolerance. When I came back to Bulgaria, I wanted to see all these things done here. I made contact with the Bulgarian Union of the Deaf, joint the Deaf community and realized that the Bulgarian policy is based on helping the deaf people as people who are incapable and incapacitated. I was very disappointed by this and came up to the decision to work for and change it. It was then when I started the popular Listen Up campaign, and a few months later established the Foundation with the same name. I dedicated my work and time to this cause and now we have a very enthusiastic team of young people at the Foundation.
We work on several key and socially significant projects. The first one is focused on the development of an online platform for video relay sign language interpretation services which has been recently launched in May 2016 and now it is in its pilot phase. Currently, we are also working on implementing the next two new features of the platform:
- Speech-to-text reporting for educational purposes as well as for social events;
- Provision of closed captions on demand for TV media - in Bulgaria there are none of these ever.
For me it is very important, alongside these projects, to work towards changing the common attitudes not only in the hearing society, but also in the Deaf community.
Why did you participate in the StarteryCEE programme?
This was a great opportunity for networking and exchange of ideas in the field of social entrepreneurship. Sharing our experiences and challenges was very beneficial, especially about entrepreneurship in Central and Eastern Europe, as many of us share similar problems in the region with respect to social issues, economical circumstances, volunteerism, governmental policies.
What did you take away from the StarteryCEE programme?
It was an amazing experience meeting great people with great minds and brave ideas for social impact. It was an inspirational experience to see the enthusiasm of these people and so many ideas that can bring positive change in our society. I find especially helpful the first-hand information about good practices for running a social business - from the early stages of shaping the idea, through the planning process and the practical process. I appreciate also the practical advice and training in order to build and improve social business skills which I believe are essential for building a successful organisation, as well as building a good team enthusiastic about the idea, the vision.
What happened since last year, when you participated in the Startery CEE?
We have reached an important milestone in our social venture: in May 2016 Listen Up launched the online platform for equal access which currently offers video sign language interpreting and soon will also provide speech-to-text reporting services and captioning on demand. We are actively involved with the Deaf community, promoting our services but also working towards raising awareness within the community, improving the conditions of their life, supporting them in widening their opportunities by more inclusive education and social inclusiveness.
What are your plans for the future?
We focus on providing systemic and sustainable social change through the use of information and communication technologies which evolved rapidly in recent years and offer great opportunities for providing equal access. We intend to establish Listen Up as the leader in providing equal access services to the Deaf in the region - by developing, implementing and improving innovative services, but also, equally important, by continuously changing the misconceptions in the society regarding Deaf people. We believe that working within the Deaf community will also help to raise awareness within the community, to promote better education and provide wider career opportunities. Our goal is to bring long-lasting social impact - social inclusiveness for the deaf community, change in attitudes and governmental policies.
Would you and if yes why, motivate somebody from the CEE region to participate in the Startery CEE?
I would recommend the programme to any social entrepreneur and especially in the CEE region because a lot of us face many challenges here, especially in Eastern Europe - many social issues, lack of government support, financial difficulties, volunteerism is not well established, etc. etc. Sharing experiences and supporting each other is invaluable. In many countries there is only limited or no support at all for social ventures, no source of information or a way to gain practical knowledge of how to build and run a social business. Moreover, there are many related ideas in various countries in the region, and entrepreneurs can develop partnerships or a support network.
What is your message for an early stage social entrepreneur?
Embrace your idea and make it your mission. Be open to other people, you need supporters and people who feel the same, you need to build a strong team of people you trust. There are many enthusiastic people out there, find the right ones for your team. There will be challenges, but you need to learn to see challenges as opportunities. Be prepared that it is hard work.
Don’t give up! Believe it! Live it!
I would like to share that I am very optimistic about bringing social change in Bulgaria through running social business - I meet many young people, I can see their enthusiasm to bring social change, many people in Bulgaria are becoming more and more aware of social problems and participate actively in the search for solutions - this gives me faith that our society is changing in a positive direction and is embracing the changes to which I want to contribute.
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