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This Macedonian startup bridges the gap between companies and people with disabilities

Best Online Assistant is a digital platform that offers vocational education and certified courses for digital skills, as well as jobs for people with physical disabilities, including remote work and full-time employment opportunities
Image credit: Elizabeta Jovanovska
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Being a voice for equality in the Balkans can prove particularly challenging, especially since there are lots of social spheres with many pressing issues. For Elizabeta Jovanovska, however, it is not an impossible mission.

Having more than 20 years of experience in the field of product sales and distribution, and training of sales agents, in 2017 Jovanovska founded the digital marketing agency Brand Solution, aiming to pave the way of digitalization for companies and organizations in North Macedonia. Meanwhile, Jovanovska was active as a volunteer for various projects and independently organized workshops for people with disabilities in various fields.

This Macedonian startup bridges the gap between companies and people with disabilities,

Like many marketing agencies nowadays, Jovanovska had trouble finding staff because digital marketers are one of the most sought after.  But, at one event she attended, she saw something that made her think about changing the approach.

“In 2020, I had the opportunity to participate in an exhibition and conference at the United Nations, where many people and wheelchair users came to visit our booth, and it was actually a moment of awakening,” Jovanovska tells The Recursive.

So, what does a digital marketer need? – a chair, computer, desire for continuous learning and working, and time.

“People with physical disabilities have it all and after several surveys and research I did the idea to connect the profession and my hobby – and Best Online Assistant was born,” she explains.

Marketplace and digital marketing training for people with disabilities

After working for a couple of years on creating the product, today Best Online Assistant is a digital platform that offers vocational education and certified courses for digital skills, as well as jobs for people with disabilities, including remote work and full-time employment opportunities

 “In the beginning, the idea was to create a marketplace where people with physical disabilities would provide digital services to companies. In the meantime, I became a certified digital skills trainer for marginalized groups and together with the first group of online assistants we created a Digital Marketers course completely tailored to the needs and knowledge of people with disabilities,” Jovanovska tells The Recursive.

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After the introduction of the first online assistants, many companies called Jovanovska to seek employment of people with disabilities, and thus there was also an opportunity to create a SaaS model, where people with different disabilities and job seekers would be able to join the platform and be employed by companies.

“In less than two years, we have created a solution for education, work from home and jobs for people with physical disabilities, which made us unique not only in the Balkans but also in Europe,” Jovanovska says, adding that people with physical disabilities were actively involved in every segment of the creation of this platform.

Difficult beginning and skepticism from society

At first, both companies and people with disabilities were skeptical about the project, Jovanovska reflects. While all sides were on the same page that this type of a platform is necessary, companies looked with reservations, and people with disabilities were very often active in temporary projects that did not benefit them in the long run.

“That was just a motive plus to strengthen the position of Best Online Assistant. After the promotion of the first 10 online assistants, we received support from the media, and at the same time recognition from the President of North Macedonia that we are really taking the right steps in solving the problem of vocational education, the opportunity to work from home and employ this group of our fellow citizens,” Jovanovska tells The Recursive.

This Macedonian startup bridges the gap between companies and people with disabilities,

This year, Brand Solution already has 40 students – people with physical disabilities who will be future certified Digital Marketers, and two more groups are planned by the end of 2022.

“In the service categories you can already find copywriters, project writers, translators, data entering, social media administrators, graphic design and the categories are constantly expanding, according to the talent that these people have,” Jovanovska explains.

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While the COVID-19 pandemic had a negative effect on many industries, it did manage to accelerate the process of companies accepting remote working as a process, which greatly benefits people with disabilities as well, Jovanovska adds.

Entering the European market and improving the platform

This year, Brand Solution is also presenting itself for the first time to investors, as it seeks to provide funds and enter the European market.

At the same time, for Jovanovska it is also encouraging that companies and society are “becoming aware that there is ability in the face of disability.”

“Companies are looking for staff and are informed about the opportunities and benefits of hiring a person with a disability. In the future, we have a plan to upgrade the platform with various tools for the needs of people with disabilities, which we always have the opportunity to see first because we are members of one of the largest European organizations for improving the lives of people with disabilities which organizes a conference every year promotion of innovations in the field,” Jovanovska tells The Recursive.

By promoting the abilities of people with disabilities, Jovanovska also want to help Macedonian society to finally get rid of prejudice and discrimination on various grounds, and to help these people have equal treatment as everyone else, to be valued equally and have the opportunity for a dignified life and progress.

“People with disabilities do not want to live and to be dependent on others, they want to be equal and have equal opportunities as everyone else. Fate may have played with them in different ways, but that gives none of us the right to see them differently from me, from you, or from my colleagues. Everyone has the right to a dignified life. We finally need to look at disability from a human rights perspective, and not a medical model,” Jovanovska points out.

This year, in addition to groups of students from North Macedonia, Brand Solution already signed a cooperation agreement with an association from Bulgaria, with which they will work on a pilot group and the online assistants will be promoted to Bulgarian companies.

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There are also offers for cooperation with Slovenia and Croatia according to Jovanovska, and in November the company will participate in the largest fair for home-based companies, British Business Show 2022 in London.

“Due to the mentality and needs of these markets, we will focus on improving the platform and the approach to the companies, because each country offers different benefits for the companies if they employ a person with a disability,” Jovanovska concludes.

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Bojan is The Recursive’s Western Balkans Editor, covering tech, innovation, and business for more than a decade. He’s currently exploring blockchain, Industry 4.0, AI, and is always open to covering diverse and exciting topics in the Western Balkans countries. His work has been featured in global media outlets such as Foreign Policy, WSJ, ZDNet, and Balkan Insight.