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Dr. Adi Zief-Balteriski of The Kumbaya App: “Why now is actually a time to be hopeful about the future”

I think this process of the corona crisis is like grieving. We grieve for the world that we had before that we will never have again. It’s not that COVID-19 won’t go away but the world that we had will not look the same. There is too much impact on sectors and people’s lives at […]

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I think this process of the corona crisis is like grieving. We grieve for the world that we had before that we will never have again. It’s not that COVID-19 won’t go away but the world that we had will not look the same. There is too much impact on sectors and people’s lives at the moment and people are too afraid to grieve this change. Every time that people need to feel grief there is a natural tendency to avoid it, so psychologically, you don’t want to avoid those negative emotions. There are many things that you should be hopeful about for the future since it’s a time to make positive changes in your life.


As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Adi Zief-Balteriski.

Dr. Adi Zief-Balteriski is a co-founder and the Chief Behavioral Officer of the Kumbaya App. She applies her expertise as a behavioral science specialist and product lead in the field of community, wellness, technology and consumer behavior, to enhance the gig marketplace app that connects teens with parents who need care services. She is also a researcher in the field of well-being, human computing interaction and technology and presents her work at universities and organizations in the Bay Area.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I didn’t start as an entrepreneur. Before I founded Kumbaya App with my co-founder Chen Levanon, I was on track to become a lawyer but eventually became a psychologist. I was always very interested in people, the human mind, and relationships and was drawn to psychology and studying human behavior. I enjoyed making an impact on people’s lives on a higher scale by pointing out the positives and helping people see opportunities in a different light. I quickly realized that it was my passion and enrolled in a Ph.D. program for clinical psychology, which put me in the path of opening my own private practice and consulting business for consumer and wellbeing products.

As my business practice grew, I found my calling at the crossroads of psychology, consulting and technology. After working several years as a consultant for startup founders in the Bay Area, I shifted my focus towards the tech world. I began working on products at startups focused on the well-being of individuals and communities, including a smart journal app based on artificial intelligence for GenZ students. I worked as a product manager being part of the entire product lifecycle from ideation to launch.

When I met my co-founder, Chen, two years ago at a networking event, we talked a lot about our reality as professional women and parents, and how hard it is to raise kids while working. Combined with my first-hand experience serving as a teen and young adult psychologist, I realized that teens want to enter the workforce at a young age and be independent, but have difficulty doing so because of their demanding academic load and a shortfall of flexible job opportunities. We began to brainstorm and outline a mobile application that solves the childcare problems for parents and safely connects nearly 30 million GenZ teens with virtual and in-person care-related job opportunities. I felt like this was something really valuable, where I could help millions, and have been working on building the company and Kumbaya App’s exposure ever since.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The book is called 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. It’s by Yuval Noah Harari which is an author that I’m very connected to and am very appreciative of his writing and research style. It depicts a horror story about the future and how technology such as AI will take over jobs and freewill, showing you things you don’t want to see over those that you do. But it also presents ways to make technology work with you and not against you.

This is one of my biggest passions: working on using technology for the betterment of society instead of looking at it as an end all against humans. My goal is to help technology make people more creative and open-minded. As an entrepreneur, this book gives you a ton of ideas for startups by inspiring and grounding you to see the power of technology. It makes you more conscious of its impacts — both negative and positive — and how to look at technology ethically so you don’t use it negatively. It’s a great screening for what the present and future look like. It’s an amazing book and I highly recommend it.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.

I think this process of the corona crisis is like grieving. We grieve for the world that we had before that we will never have again. It’s not that COVID-19 won’t go away but the world that we had will not look the same. There is too much impact on sectors and people’s lives at the moment and people are too afraid to grieve this change. Every time that people need to feel grief there is a natural tendency to avoid it, so psychologically, you don’t want to avoid those negative emotions. There are many things that you should be hopeful about for the future since it’s a time to make positive changes in your life.

  1. Connect back to the core: You shouldn’t avoid negative emotions. By avoiding them, it doesn’t mean that it’s going away. It’s better to face your emotions and be sad and angry. This last stage of grieving is acceptance. Once you reach the phase of acceptance the faster you will get to the other side. Although it’s a very scary time right now, it’s good to see the positives that can come out of the pandemic.
  2. It’s a time to reflect and make changes: Put the effort in things that you can control. You are in a global pandemic and although there is nothing you can do about it, you can focus on things that you can control, such as wearing a mask, washing your hands, and practicing social distancing.
  3. The opportunity to learn new working and life skills: By staying at home, it gives more flexibility for how you use your time. Instead the time once spent for your commute pre-COVID, now allows you to do other things such as a new hobby, or even watching an extra episode of your favorite TV show.
  4. Appreciation of human connection and interaction: Before the pandemic started many people took for granted their interactions with others. Now that everyone is being asked to stay at home and social distance, it gives you an appreciation for the relationships you have with people. For me, I’ve appreciated the chance to spend more time with my kids and family.
  5. Better self-care habits: The elimination of commutes and the introduction of new schedules while working from home, presents the opportunity for people to work better self-care habits into their daily routines. In my case, I never used to work out and now I do spinning every day. Pre-COVID, I would always come home at 8 pm, see my kids and say goodnight. I have enjoyed being able to have time for myself and my kids.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

  1. Identify if anyone is in real need like a relative or friend.
  2. Be aware and identify warning signs. Either they are in a bad mood or may even not be talking too much and distant.
  3. Text them and give words of encouragement such as “you’re amazing” or validate their feelings by saying that you understand how they feel. This makes them understand that they are not outsiders and that others are right beside them going through the same emotions.
  4. Offer support by either listening or doing small things for them such as giving a call or sending them flowers.
  5. If someone is in real need, there is no shame in telling them to go see a mental health professional.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

I highly suggest seeing a therapist. COVID-19 has caused a shift to online platforms and now more therapists are available virtually. People can do their sessions from the comfort of their homes.

I also recommend reading self-help books. Meditation is another wonderful tool to be in the present. To alleviate feelings of anxiety you must learn to live your life in the now. There are also Facebook groups where if you join, you can feel validated for your situation. It’s very important to see that many others are in your shoes because being anxious can be an isolating experience.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“If your dreams don’t scare you, they are too small” — Richard Branson

I’ve lived by this quote throughout my journey in life, especially during my professional path and while I reinvent myself. I always try to dream big and cope with the fears as they come my way but overcome those fears to grow professionally and personally.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’m in that movement right now. My passion and drive are to make an impact on people’s lives by providing a technology that is more community-oriented and helps both teenagers and parents.

The Kumbaya App I’ve created with my co-founder, Chen, assists teens in the search for gigs that allow them to make their own schedule. Through the app, teens can safely find gig opportunities through their parents’ network, including their address book and other social and communication platforms, and, in turn, the app allows parents to hire trusted teens for gig work virtually or in-person. For example, while sheltering in place, a Palo Alto parent employed two teens to earn cash by having them babysit her kids and lead arts & crafts sessions (with slime tutorials!) online. They kept her kids entertained which helped her focus on her job while working from home.

What is the best way for our readers to follow you online?

Your readers can follow the Kumbaya App on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn

and YouTube. My Twitter is @Dradibalteriski.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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