Social entrepreneurship needs to be promoted to boost SMEs

April 20th, 2015 | by MuslimScience
Social entrepreneurship needs to be promoted to boost SMEs
by ELHAM POURMOHAMMADI  for Times of Oman
Muscat: Social entrepreneurship is a ‘premature’ concept in Oman which needs be promoted to support small and medium enterprises (SMEs) operating in this area, says the founder of Oman’s first assistive technology centre for the disabled.

Aisha Baabood, executive director and founder of White Hands Centre for Assistive Technology and Rehabilitation, used to teach at Sultan Qaboos University for 10 years and has now dedicated herself to the centre, which she says is the first of its kind in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region.

As a mother of a disabled child, Baabood wanted to bring something new to the Sultanate to improve the quality of the lives of the disabled and maximise their participation in the society.

Therefore, she took the initiative and established the White Hands centre, which integrates assistive technology in education, rehabilitation and vocational training.

Assistive technology

Assistive technology includes tools, software, hardware and methodologies that enable the disabled to perform their tasks more easily, she said on the sidelines of the recent opening ceremony of new offices of Zubair Small Enterprises Centre (Zubair SEC) at Bait Al Zubair in Muscat.

Switches, trackballs, large keys keyboards, portable alarms, memory device for Alzheimer patients, epilepsy alarm, braille reader, book sense and magnifier are examples of assistive technology tools.

Social SMEs

Baabood has dealt with many issues in the process of establishing her business but says that the main challenge that she has faced is the fact that still the business community has a poor understanding of social SMEs.  Some people do not understand that an SME does not necessarily have to be fully commercial and can be social and commercial at the same time, she said.

She feels the seriousness of the problem whenever she fails in her efforts to find an investor or a partner to support her centre in the context of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative.

“They do not see me as a social entrepreneur and see me only as commercial entrepreneur,” said Baabood, who won Omantel SME Award for Community Contribution in 2014 and Al Zubair SME Entrepreneurship Award in 2015.

According to the national census in 2010, there are 62,506 disabled people in Oman, she noted, adding that employers should not turn a blind eye to people with disabilities.

Baabood started the centre in 2014 with a capital of over OMR135,000 and the support of a philanthropist who sponsored her training and W.J. Towell Group which helped her with the entire set-up of the centre, and believes that more of such supportive institutes are required in this field.

Lack of qualified Omanis

Another challenge facing her business is that there are no Omanis qualified in modern assistive technology or related fields.

“I am the only Omani who is certified as an Irlen syndrome (visual-perceptual problem) screener so I have to hire experts from Europe and the operational expenses go high,” she said, urging the Ministry of Higher Education to introduce courses in these areas to support the market based on the latest technologies available.
White Hands services

Baabood, who is specialised in international education and curriculum development, said that the centre provides a wide range of services to disabled people of all ages including psychological tests, speech therapy, psychotherapy, reflex therapy, Irlen screening and diagnosing, home services for severely disabled and elderly and training as well as research and consultation.

The centre collaborates with experts and institutes from Cyprus, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Oman, Spain, the UK and the United States.

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Social entrepreneurship needs to be promoted to boost SMEs




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