Entrepreneurship is not only about business, it’s about vision and passion and it constitutes a powerful tool to trigger positive change in the society. The question constantly swirling in the head of the entrepeneur is: “how can I make the world better?” More sustainable, more efficient or more equal? What kind of tool is needed?
We interviewed Ni Komang Ayu Suriani, Founder and CEO of Diffago, socio tech platform for sustained empowerment of People with Disabilities in Indonesia.
Can you tell us more about Diffago? How did it start?
“Five years ago, in 2013, I was involved as a founding team to create DNetwork, an online job network for people with disabilities in Indonesia. I started the project with the founder from Barcelona, at that time we were pioneers in our work, there was no job network for people with disabilities in Indonesia. After five years, I realized that there were more issues we had to target. When we talk about employment we address a very complex topic: we talk about education, mobility, accessibility, access to information, etc. Meanwhile, DNetwork was focused only in connecting people to an employer and it could not provide the additional services that were needed.
This is why I decided to create Diffago at the beginning of this year, a comprehensive tool that offered more services and opportunities. Diffago’s work aims at helping people with disabilities achieve their maximum potential and reach economic independence. Diffago is a comprehensive all-solution platform service that tackles many issues: to help provide appropriate mobility aids, like prosthetic legs and wheelchairs; to support education for young people, especially higher education like university; finally to offer training in terms of professionalism and work ethics. Through DNetwork I have developed an extensive professional network, but we also receive new collaborations and partnerships from people that already got a job thanks to us in the past. We collaborate with the government as well, we work with the manpower department in Jakarta, Bandung and we just signed an agreement with Denpasar.”
What are the main difficulties that people with disabilities face in Indonesia?
“We are talking about mobility, education and employment. Each one of these areas present challenges. What is mobility and what it implies is often not fully understood: many organizations provide free mobility aids, but not all understand the importance of doing it properly. The design of mobility aids, like prosthetic legs and arms, changes according to weight, height, gender, type of work: it’s about comfort as well as mobility, it’s a part of you. Not everyone understands it, we can say in fact that another challenge we face is a lack of education about disability and what it implies. In Indonesia accessibility in public areas is lacking, I mean, even for people with two functioning legs is difficult to walk! As a result, it is not common to see people with disabilities going around. I have been travelling recently to Honolulu: when you walk around in the streets you see people with wheelchairs, with prostheses, with visibility impairments. You see them and you realize they are part of the community. Indonesians are not aware of how many people with disabilities are living in their cities, because they don’t see them.”
Of course, if you can not access the public space, how can you live the life of the community you belong to?
“Exactly, if you can not go anywhere, you just stay at home. Accessibility impacts everything else: education, career, sociability. If I think back again to Honolulu, people with disabilities there can choose to attend the university that best suits their interests, education is accessible to them in its full spectrum of possibilities. In Indonesia, universities are not easily accessible and education impacts work as well: when you apply for a job, the employer will look at your education and the certifications that you acquired. Many employers then would want to hire people with only some kind of disabilities, they require people that are not blind, not deaf, and so on. There are many obstacles we are facing in our work.”
What are the challenges you are facing as a young enterprise?
“One challenge we are facing as an enterprise is to get impact investors. In contrast to other areas in which social enterprise can prosper and find profit, in disability issues there are not possibilities for huge profit and growth. Therefore it is difficult to find people willing to invest in it. A second difficulty is that disability is a very complex issue, wide and multifaceted, and we must try to provide a comprehensive service. And finally, I am currently the only one of the team 100% focused on Diffago and work proceeds slowly: as I told you we are working with three different cities and I have to go there every months.”
What are your plans for the future?
“In this moment, Diffago is still moving its first steps but when it will be fully implemented I think it will be very impactful. We don’t want to do things that other organizations do, we want to give tools and make more impact.”
What is your advice for future entrepreneurs?
“Being and entrepreneur is not easy, you have to be at the same time creative and careful. My advice is to keep going: the challenges are many, when we started we had a lot to learn, but as long as your vision is strong you will make it. So keep going, even if the challenges are many and progress is slow.”