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UAE’s change makers

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How do you bring about change? By making it happen.

Beyond the talk, and the analyses, taking up a challenge and providing solutions for it is the most effective way of contributing to the world. Expo 2020 Dubai’s Expo Live programme is doing just that. A partnership endeavour that harnesses $100 million to help improve people’s lives and preserve the planet. Till date, the Expo Live partnership has benefitted 120 grantees from across the globe.

Expo Live comprises two aspects: the Innovation Impact Grant Programme (IIGP) and the University Innovation Programme. In the former, four cycles have been completed to date; 120 grantees from 65 countries have secured funding, guidance and exposure; more than 11,000 applications have been received from 184 countries.

Gulf News brings you the success stories of Expo Live’s impact on social enterprises and how it is helping them put their efforts where their vision is.

NorthStart (Cycle Four, IIGP): Because everyone deserves meaningful employment

What is it: An employment and training provider for People of Determination in the UAE.

Mission: Increase workforce inclusion levels; enable long-term skilled deployment for this segment of society.

“Being disabled is just an extension of being human.” Rich Hadnum, founder, NorthStart

When Rich Hadnum, as a autistic spectrum support worker in the UK with experience in the support field after university took up his first shift in the job, it turned out to be an eye-opener. “I chose to do this job; I was trained to do this job. I remember going to my first shift and I was petrified when I met the first person of determination,” says Hadnum. The reason? “People don’t have day-today interactions [with them] so you don’t know what to expect.”

It is an observation that still carries relevance. And if inclusivity is to be a reality and not a novelty, individuals with disabilities must become the norm in workplaces. That in turn means we all need to be in an environment where your co-worker could very naturally be a person of determination.

It’s a mission that drives Hadnum and his company, which he founded in xxx with three friends.

“There are two sides to what we do,” explains Hadnum. “There’s no mapping of the (PoD) candidates in the UAE so the first thing we did was research projects and go out into the community. When it comes to building relationships, it’s really family, old school [type of approach].”

Their incessant efforts at getting to meet and know people of determination – going to social events, volunteering, melding with the community – helped them build a database of both Emirati and expatriate candidates across the full sphere of disabilities.

The next step, the equally crucial one, was to then build a bridge with clients or employers, structured on the principles of recruitment best practices, says Hadnum.

“We don’t want clients to hire because it’s a disabled person. We want them to hire because they are right for the job,” he says.

Clients, he believes, need to “feel in control”.

“The candidates are short-listed, 4-5 for every role; we advocate during the recruitment interview process, provide the onsite support for the first two weeks,. We know each and every candidate in our database personally, so when they walk through the door on their first day of work, they walk in with someone familiar; so we start to bring down the fear and put people on an even platform,” says Hadnum.

There is also a pre-deployment process that is done through a series of socialisations.

The true asset of inclusivity for socio-economic growth is only now being feted. A wealth of research points to that fact.

“Even if you want to make [hiring People of Determination] about Return on Investment … Accenture released a report in 2019 called Getting to Equal and they have proven that firms that align with diversity are three times more likely to get shareholders’ returns,” says Hadnum.

“In this economy, companies are looking for the edge and this is a great way to get the edge.”

The mind shift, says Hadnum, is about going from simply talking about strategy to actually getting things done. “Nobody is budgeted for [hiring] People of Determination. And when they do, they [are expected] to be a non-profit.”

Organisations, he says, must take their role more seriously.

“Being disabled is just an extension of being human,” says Hadnum. “We have a person with Aspergers who works in a gym. We have a person with Downs Syndrome in front of house in a hotel. He’s bi-lingual, very outgoing … it’s important for people to see People of Determination in roles they are good at.”

How does he see the future? The UAE, he says, has the appetite to make the changes. “What I love about the UAE is that it can go to world class in a very short time.”

On the Expo Live grant, Hadnum says, “The whole process educated us and helped us grow in confidence.”


Completing the circle of empowerment

Patrick Hall, who works in a Front of House role at Turf Café, Abu Dhbai

“When we were approached about this opportunity from NorthStart, our family was so excited about the possibilities for our son Patrick. Patrick is an extremely creative autistic young man who is a quick learner and eager to try new things. Like many 18-years-olds, he wants to work and earn wages, which will allow him to put his plans into action and save for his future. NorthStart conducted a professional interview with Patrick, creating a safe and inviting environment for him to share his thoughts and ideas.

“They also worked directly with the management at Turf Cafe to present a formal contract, get his labour card, as well as the other documentation necessary for Patrick to start work. Patrick really enjoys working at Turf Cafe. He is acquiring new skills, gaining more confidence, expanding his pallet for new flavors and learning to navigate public transportation. We are all thrilled for this opportunity and are so grateful for the partnership of NorthStart and Turf Cafe!”

Alson Monteiro who works as a Gym Assistant at Zabeel House, Dubai

“NorthStart have helped me to become independent and mentally tough – this has helped me to enjoy my work”


The Expo 2020 Dubai Global Optimism Outlook survey’s results on inclusivity reveal that a majority of people in the world believe that it would be the most effective way to unlock opportunity in 2050.

Middle East (50 per cent)

Western and Eastern Europe (42 per cent)

Asia (51 per cent)

North America (51 per cent)

South America (66 per cent)

Africa (55 per cent)


TeachMeNow and EdTech Solutions (Cycle Three, IIGP):

What is it: A UAE-based education solutions provider.

Mission: To universalise access to knowledge by connecting teachers, mentors and experts to those who want to learn. Its vision is to make learning accessible to everyone, no matter where they are in the world.

You want to improve your conversational French? At a click of the mouse, you can browse the global education marketplace and choose a French native who can take you beyond Bonjour and Sil vous plait. On the other hand, if you want to learn the history of France, a professor from France will take you through the paces. All of this sitting in your home in UAE. It’s exactly the outcome that Thea Myhrvold, CEO and Founder of TeachMeNow and EdTech Solutions is enabling with TeachMeNow, her education solutions platform that earned her the Expo Live grant.

Myhrvold launched one of the first game-based apps for high school students in 2012, which was an online version of the games she used to make for her students. It was the start of a journey that led to TeachMeNow in 2015.

It’s all about universalising education, she says. “Anything you need in a virtual classroom, is there. It connects students and teachers for live classes. You can be anywhere in the world, and you can connect to the right mentor, tutor or expert for your needs. All the payment is automatically done in this classroom. Our first ever class happened between a student in Saudi Arabia learning from a professor in Venezuela.”

With Norwegian and Arab heritage, Myhrvold says it was important for her to create a global impact from and for the region with her platforms. “Education, as a whole is changing. Even after you have graduated from university, you need to keep learning. Technology has disrupted everything.”

Micro-learning and blended learning are here; they need to be addressed, she says.

Proud to be selected by Expo Live, she says it has been a great accelerator. “[Expo Live] helped us realise [that] our software technology was very powerful to empower other learning initiatives and other NGOs and social enterprises.”

For example, the Expo Live cycle helped her collaborate with another winning innovator, Incluyame. “They are one of the largest job search platforms in Latin America. What I didn’t know was that 70 per cent of people in Latin America with disabilities are unemployed. It’s among the highest rates in the world.”

Through her platform, she worked on a Spanish version for Incluyame and “we have been training job candidates on CV writing, career mentorship, financial inclusion and capacitating them to get back into work. Thanks, to Expo we have done some amazing collaboration.”

The global classroom, she says, offers economic and cultural opportunities. “I myself am learning Arabic on this platform and my teacher is Russian, a Ph.D in Arabic. I tested many teachers and liked her methodology. So the platform allows for that choice, that personalised element in learning.”

Mvhrvold says she is also proud to work with the 1 Million Arab Coders Initiative of His Highness Shaikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoun, Vice President and Prime Minster of UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

With 60,000 active users, 1.8 million interactions (searches/requests) and covering 250 cities in the world, TeachMeNow, says Mvhrvold, is on a mission to make knowledge accessible and “it’s really exciting to be a part of the journey.”


Sixty-two per cent of all respondents to the Global Optimism Outlook Survey cited knowledge gathering, learning and access to education would be the most effective way to unlock opportunity in the year 2050:

Middle East (55 per cent)

Western and Eastern Europe (61 per cent)

Asia (61 per cent)

North America (63 per cent)

South America (68 per cent)

Africa (72 per cent)

Richard Hadnum says the UAE has the appetite to make the changes.
Image Credit: Gabriela Maj

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The post UAE’s change makers appeared first on The Wealth Land.


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