“As social entrepreneurs, we believe that businesses are a part of a community. In a world where more and more news about global issues are escalating, we seriously feel the need to think about how we can gear our business operations toward creating societal solutions.”
‘My Community… A City for Everyone’ was launched in November 2013 by HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of The Executive Council.
The initiative aims at turning Dubai into a disability-friendly city by the year 2020 through projects and initiatives that promote the participation and inclusion of persons with disabilities in the community.
A social enterprise inspired by this philosophy was created by Reem Saeed Al Ghaith.
Meeting and working with Reem is a humbling experience in itself. She is a passionate advocate, trainer and public speaker for social work particularly in the field of inclusion of people with cognitive disabilities within the community and workforce.
Reem completed her MBA from the University of Phoenix, United States of America and was also a student of Harvard Business School where she attended Executive Programs in both Corporate Social Responsibility & High Potentials Leadership Programs.
She headed the CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) division at Dubai Desert Group from 2008 to 2014, managing a social initiative called ‘Work Inclusion Program’ for individuals with intellectual disabilities. In 2015, she then successfully transformed this project into a sustainable model by finding an award winning business called Enable; UAE’s first social enterprise that empowers this demographic towards developing entrepreneurial skill sets and incubating them towards initiating their own start-ups.
What is Enable and how did the idea of starting it come about?
Enable is a brand that offers a range of quality home & garden products manufactured, assembled and run by employees with special needs. It was created as part of Dubai Desert Group’s CSR strategy, which was derived from the company’s main vision – ‘Enhancing lives is our passion.’ Desert Group has been committed since 2006 to the social cause that serves our country’s commitment; work inclusion for people with intellectual disabilities. Our strategy was to create job opportunities for PWDs (32 individuals are employed in Desert Group and 6 of them are now transferred to Enable). In 2015 we felt the concept of creating a social enterprise fits our vision perfectly. So we created ‘ENABLE’. Ultimately, we want all the 32 individuals with special needs employed by the company to run Enable independently. Enable is a commercial entity – a profit generating business that is used to tackle a social problem where all its profits are reinvested back into the company’s operations.
Why is Enable a special startup and how is it giving back to the society?
The goal apart from achieving financial sustainability for the group is to develop an entrepreneurial skill set for the employees where they become confident enough to use whatever they have learned to create their own start-ups. So, instead of waiting for a job they can use their skills to start their own small business and that’s our main objective. Although Enable operates under Desert Group Investments, none of the profits goes to Desert Group. 100% of ENABLE sales are used to fuel its retail operations with 15% of each product sold going back to the employee who created it.
How has it helped the employees who work for it?
Enable has helped develop entrepreneurial skills in our employees through basic retail training. A crucial part of their job training involves performance monitoring through behavioural rehabilitation. Therapists conduct daily group and one to one vocational sessions and occupational therapy with assertive corrective action program. We deal closely with parents and guardians to ensure continuity of the success of rehabilitation. We understand the impact of motivation on employee performances’ and therefore created the ‘employee of the month scheme’ based on the performance reports. Plus the program includes leisure activities and social events that add value and create a great impact on the teams’ performance. We have noted great change throughout the years in employees’ behavioral patterns.
Moreover, through our alliances, we make sure to better understand the influences which affect the employee’s development. We collaborated with Community Development Authority and a study was conducted to investigate the status of PWDs in the workforce within the U.A.E. The study was a result of collaborated efforts between CDA, the British University in Dubai and Desert Group. This case study report was conducted by a Doctorate student in order to evaluate the inclusion of people with disabilities in the workforce by examining both the benefits and liabilities of providing PWDs with equal employment opportunities and was eventually published in the Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities under the heading of (Employment of Young Adults with Disabilities in Dubai) – 2012.
In addition, when we first started, we researched various similar models of businesses globally and found that working in a green friendly environment could affect mental health in a positive manner. Luckily, we had the right facilities at Dubai Garden Center and the right mindset which was all that we needed at that time to start a successful journey.
What are the challenges you face while working with people with special needs.
The biggest challenge was creating a model that was simple and yet could easily be grasped by our employees. Our goal is to make them work independently and understand that the higher the quality of the products they create at Enable, the higher the chances of selling. In addition to that, an understanding towards the whole process of manufacturing, sourcing raw materials from suppliers, negotiating prices, merchandising and selling; all had to be taught to each individual.
What advice do you have for startup entrepreneurs?
Have an open mind and embrace differences and truly believe that we are all the same. Find out what exactly you are committed to and what is the impact you want to create through your work. Then set strategic targets that are focused on what you want to achieve. Simplicity, authenticity and ethical practices along with strong business strategies are key to successful responsible businesses.
How has Enable grown since you started?
We have achieved growth in distribution channels. We are selling at Dubai Garden Centre which was our first commercial retail unit and now we are at Aswaaq (Leading supermarket and community malls brand in the United Arab Emirates). Moreover, we have recently launched our online store www.enable.ae as an additional channel.
Our ultimate goal is to empower more Emiratis with special needs by enrolling them in this project and hopefully creating the first standalone retail unit fully operated and managed by PWDs in the UAE. That’s our ultimate dream.
The social enterprise has gained acknowledgement by local and international society by winning several respectable awards:
- Princess Haya Award 2017 – Best Institutional Initiative
- Gulf Sustainable Award 2016 – Best Community Development Award (Gulf Region)
- TAATHEER CSR MENA Award 2016 – Best Community Development Award
Any advice for people who would want to start working with people with special needs or hire them in their companies?
I believe that with proper guidance and support we can successfully deliver skill sets that can empower them and have them properly included within our society. It is crucial that we educate ourselves and engage with their community. We would then find that there is a lot of potential in each individual. Moreover, strategic partnerships with entities with expertise that help create better and relevant opportunities is a great way of scaling your business while including employees with special needs in your core team.
What is the best part of what you do?
The best part about being a part of an entity like Enable has been to see the employees gain the confidence to become independent and to see them generate revenue through their work.
“Enable, through extensive awareness and community engagement has sent out a clear message of how proper inclusion can be achieved by a structured rehab program.”