May 19, 2022

On Wednesday, May 18, 2022, Sharjah City for Humanitarian Services (SCHS) organized a symposium entitled "Social Innovation and Improving the Quality of Services Provided to Persons with Disabilities". It aimed at providing new knowledge, sharing experiences, and presenting successful experiences of the role of social innovation in improving the quality of life for persons with disabilities.

The symposium also aimed to introduce the concept of social innovation and its tools more broadly and the extent to which people can harness it to meet the societal challenges facing persons with disabilities in moving towards comprehensive empowerment and full representation. In addition to spreading the culture of social innovation at all levels and highlighting the advanced tools and methodologies used in this field, both regionally and internationally.

At the beginning of the symposium, self-advocate Sheikha Al Qasimi, representative of self-advocates in the Middle East and North Africa region at Inclusion International, gave a speech. She spoke about the rights of persons with disabilities, as well as the most important societal challenges they face. She offered a quick overview of self-advocacy programs.

Introduction to Social Innovation

The symposium started with the first session on "Introduction to Social Innovation". Dr. Asma Al Darmaki, Director of the SCHS Branch in Kallba, moderated this session. Eng. Mohamed Othman Baloula, Deputy Director of the Innovation Center at Ajman University, was the keynote speaker. He emphasized the role of educational institutions in spreading a culture of innovation among students and members of society. He also spoke about their role in supporting student innovations that serve people with disabilities and the importance of partnership between institutions to implement these innovations.

In the same session, Professor Odeh Al-Jayousi at the Arabian Gulf University in the Kingdom of Bahrain explained the concept of social innovation. He also spoke about social innovation processes and the role of social innovation in sustainable development. He mentioned the role of the pandemic in accelerating the process of social innovation and the importance of using technology to support social innovations. He explained the role of innovation labs in generating innovations based on societal needs.

Dr. Melissa Mooney from the Department of Community Development in Abu Dhabi spoke about the department's role in leading social innovation locally, regionally and internationally. It also reviewed the most important tools commonly used in the field of social innovation and the way people use these tools to solve social challenges. She explained the difference between social innovation and other types of innovation.

The conclusion of the first session was with Ms. Sarah Al Raddadi, Founder of the Hands of Hope Foundation in Tunisia. She mentioned the most important societal challenges facing persons with disabilities and preventing them from accessing their well-deserved rights.

She also spoke about the role of Hands of Hope Foundation in using social innovation tools to analyze societal challenges facing persons with disabilities and to reach societal solutions. Sarah reviewed this matter through the work models that she attached in order to make persons with disabilities active members and contributors to society. In addition to finding solutions to employ persons with disabilities and invest their abilities.

Successful experiences in social innovation within the field of persons with disabilities

After a rich set of discussions and inquiries, Ms. Fatima Al Balushi launched the work of the second session, "Successful Experiences in Social Innovation in the Field of Persons with Disabilities". The beginning was with Ms. Mona Al-Hashimi from the Ma'an Community Contributions Authority in Abu Dhabi. Mona spoke about the authority's leading role in encouraging a culture of social innovation and supporting and adopting various community initiatives. In addition to the authority's role in supporting applications and initiatives that serve people with disabilities.

After that, Ms. Khawla Barley of the Special Olympics Foundation spoke about the Foundation's role in supporting the culture of inclusion of persons with disabilities in sports events. She also reviewed the Unified Champions Schools Program. The program aims to achieve inclusion through unified sports, inclusive youth leadership, and full participation activities for the school community, which Foundation organizes throughout the school year.

She also talked about the Unified Robots Competition, which is the largest competition of its kind for students of different abilities in the Middle East and North Africa region. Ms. Khawla talked about the support of the UAE Special Olympics for the culture of innovation among students and the adoption of their innovations that serve people with disabilities. It does this through the Youth Innovation Grants Initiative. Khawla also reviewed some of these innovations.

For her part, Ms. Khadija Jallouli from the "Hawkar" Foundation spoke about the company that she established based on her experience and need. She is a person with a physical disability. She uses a wheelchair, which often hinders her movement because the environment and buildings are not accessible. Hence, Ms. Khadija inspired the idea of the smart car. Khadija designed it to be an environment friendly car suitable to people with physical disability. Khadija reviewed the features of the car. It is suitable for all types of physical disabilities. It is light in weight and is not very expensive.

In conclusion, Ms. Amna Al-Amiri from the Masarat Center for Development and Empowerment of the SCHS discussed the goals and functions of the employment department at the Masarat Center. Amna also reviewed the department's statistics and the most important services provided by the center, including counseling sessions, professional guidance and assessment of professional tendencies. It also reviewed the services provided to other institutions, such as training workshops, consulting services, and the most important training programs offered by the department.

Ms. Maymoona Hussein Mansour, a Social Worker and in charge of the Social Work Department in SCHS, confirmed that social innovation is an effective tool for understanding complex social challenges and working to solve them jointly with all members of society. Through this symposium, SCHS seeks to raise awareness about the concept of social innovation, spread the culture of social innovation locally, identify best practices in this field, and highlight the most important used tools and methodologies. In addition to providing new knowledge and proposing new methods to address the societal challenges facing persons with disabilities and identifying the most important achievements in the field of social innovation locally and globally.

Given that the concept of "social innovation" is still new in our Arab World, SCHS decided to address this issue and research the possibility of recruiting social innovation tools to improve the quality of services provided to persons with disabilities.

The Head of Social Service Department in SCHS spoke about the societal challenges faced by persons with disabilities represented by inclusive education, employment and comprehensive empowerment. In the field of education, we can summarize the challenges in the readiness of some schools and the lack of curricula and programs for the inclusion of persons with disabilities in schools. In addition, most parents cannot afford the high cost of education.

She said, “As for the employment of persons with disabilities, they face many challenges. The most prominent of these are the proper involvement and presence in the labor market and the lack of sufficient awareness among some organizations regarding dealing with persons with disabilities. In addition to the lack of awareness of the various disabilities, which leads to the availability of a limited number of available job opportunities”.

One of the challenges faced by employees with intellectual disabilities is the lack of facilitation of information within the work environment, which contributes to the lack of knowledge and familiarity of employees with the followed procedures and manuals. In addition to the need to intensify educational, training and vocational rehabilitation programs of quality in the pre- and post-employment phase.