This week Olivia had the pleasure of speaking to Kosovan consultant and entrepreneur, Arta Istrefi-Jahja, about her life, work and recent consultancy with some of our team at IMA International.
If I am honest, the words 'role model', 'inspirational', 'passionate' and 'dedicated' came to mind when I met with Arta.
She is driven and passionate about helping people, in particular providing education and inspiration for younger generations and those who have limited access to education, something her parents taught her from a young age that she feels is now part of her “genetics”. Her father would often say "without education you are just another person with another opinion" - wise words Arta has been influenced by throughout her life, perhaps a reason behind her love of learning and teaching, and that she carries with her in her PhD and in her future goal of becoming a lecturer (more about that later).
It seems education was something highly valued in her family and something Arta wants to use to help her support those who don't have the same access to education that she did. This idea has grown with her and provided motivation for founding the Women Entrepreneurs Kosovo Community, a space where she can facilitate collaboration between women with different backgrounds and skills.
Passionate about combining business and academia, Arta has years of experience working in the private sector and worked as political advisor to the Minister of Trade and Industry, as well as with different international donor organisations in Kosovo. After working in this sector, she missed the research part of her life and found academic fulfilment in her PhD, which she is currently doing.
Since starting her PhD, Arta also started new work with the Swiss Entrepreneurship Program as a facilitator helping companies grow through training. She is also responsible for the Kosovo Market, a global project which supports entrepreneurs in 8 different countries, mainly with capacity building.
Throughout all her recent ventures, she relates back to what she is doing in her PhD – the importance of combining business and academia, something she actively thinks about. Her family's devotion to academia will always remain a big part of Arta’s life, but another part of Arta "wanted to see the world, meet people and be successful." She is a people-person at heart (an aspect of her personality that is easy to see) so she wanted to work in sectors where she could use her people skills to build invaluable relationships.
In the past, Arta had the opportunity to work with local and international companies in consultancy. Whilst exploring the idea of working internationally during the pandemic, she very happily came across Chris, IMA’s director. Of course, for such an interesting person, you would expect an interesting story behind her meeting Chris and working with IMA – well there is! After putting her CV out to the world, it landed in Chris’ inbox. He receives 10-20 CVs a week, and Arta’s happened to be one of the CVs Chris followed up on because, well, she is such an interesting person! A week later they met online and realised their common values for capacity development of people, teams and organisations. The next step was agreeing to look out for opportunities to work on together, and within a month, IMA were asked to bid for a capacity development project in Kosovo – and we had the perfect CV!
Her people skills, previous work experience and enthusiasm was a perfect match for IMA and she started working on a project financed by Helvetas in Kosovo, where some of the IMA team and Arta delivered remote training on critical thinking, Theory of Change, and data analysis.
Arta spoke honestly and enthusiastically of her experience working with the IMA team: “I learned a lot from Richard and Leigh because they have an immense experience in training in different countries”. She began to explain to me the importance of Theory of Change and went on to say, “...All these theories... [Richard and Leigh] also implement in practice” which Arta believes “makes it more unique”.
For Arta, she spoke of this approach to training as a “rare combination” of experience in academia, and direct experience of implementing what is taught in practice, something she values highly, and is the reason she felt herself and IMA had a “perfect match”, which we could not agree with more!
She explained that she thought the way our training was delivered was most engaging for participants as it included a lot of different exercises – not just teaching and listening - engaging participants differently. Arta loved the way the training was facilitated: short introduction, followed by practical examples that the participants have to engage in, so they understand them in detail.
She also spoke enthusiastically of the “lightbulb moments” she saw when participants would really engage in and understand the training. Discussions were encouraged throughout, and an importance placed on the exercises, which Arta said she found to be a very practical and useful approach. She feels that often, “attending a training is seen as just ticking a box that you have done it...but the learning is so important”, so for her, it was a great pleasure to hear after the training in Kosovo, that the whole team thought the training was worth it!
We are always looking for ways IMA can improve our services and communication, so I was pleased to hear Arta say: “Honestly, I don’t think so because we had a very professional collaboration...I wasn’t missing any information”. The only “misunderstanding” turned out “in a positive way”. Arta said her “expectations were that [she] would be engaged even more with the training” and that she would be “delivering the training fully on [her] own”, but then she quickly realised it would be shared between herself, Leigh, and Richard, relieved to know the training would be a team effort!
Supporting women entrepreneurs is a passion and dedication Arta has had for 10 years now. She believes strongly that when women are successful and more importantly, happy, they are able to feel like the best version of themselves. Although this is a long goal for many, for others it is something very out of reach. Arta was explaining to me that “working with different marginalised groups of women made [her] understand how important it is to support them…they see themselves as a sacrifice for new generations”, but they need to “feel alive and feel that they are worth it…be able to earn their own money”. For Arta, this “is the highest impact that [she] considers that [she] makes to someone’s life”. In her experience, women are more comfortable in settings where they can talk with other women, which is why she founded The Women Entrepreneurs Kosovo Community. In this community, Arta facilitates support given from successful women mainly in tech industries to marginalised women with limited opportunities, helping all women to grow together and improve their happiness and quality of life.
As a young woman myself, I found this exciting and inspiring to hear. Arta is one of many women marking the way forward for younger generations of men and women to support one another and create equal opportunities for all. After a long but topical discussion about hope for a fairer future for all and a hope for unity between women, we began to talk about Arta’s future ambition in teaching.
If you haven’t already understood that education is important to Arta, you will now. She explains that her understanding of the privilege of having access to education came from her parents’ generation: “For older generations in Kosovo, education was the key to freedom”, and as a result of “being raised from a family where you all the time think about education…[teaching] comes naturally”.
She continued: “for me…I love to read and to learn all the time, but if that remains with me only then I’m not that fulfilled, not that happy, so I would like to spread this knowledge with younger generations…hopefully they will get more and more inspired to learn more and to educate themselves…this is more or less the goal of me hopefully becoming a lecturer one day."
I can say with certainty that I think a lecture given by Arta would not be one to miss! She has so much knowledge and experience to share and is a true inspiration for younger generations. I wish her the best of luck with her goal of teaching!
Passion and a love of what you do is something I think is so important for achieving great things. I was deep in thought about this, when Arta started to talk about how a lot of what she has achieved in her life was influenced by understanding the importance of family: “I lost my mum when I was six and I lost my father when I was twenty-six and I guess the power of not having them physically in my life was stronger than perhaps other people who have parents”, “doing for other people, giving back…teaching and learning…was inherited from them”.
After speaking of the influence of family in providing encouragement, we continued discussing the importance of loving what you do. She explains, "I was able to continue my passion by always investing in myself". I was immediately in agreement with Arta - this is such an important message!
She carried on to say..."It’s very important to do what you want and to feel passionate about that, because we send out energy on a daily basis, so it’s better to send a positive one". Imagine what the world would be like if we all sent out more positivity energy!
Raise your hand if you’ve been inspired, encouraged or amazed...I’m raising mine!
I would like to say a big thank you to Arta Istrefi-Jahja for agreeing to talk to me about her life, achievements, ambitions, and thoughts on the world. I certainly have learnt a lot, and I hope you all have too!
We look forward to working with Arta in the future and sharing more stories.
If you are a consultant passionate about working with people and would like to build new relationships, maybe you would also be a good match for IMA!
If you would be interested in working with us, get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
I hope you enjoyed reading and look out for more conversations with our consultants!