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Design Diary: Design with conscience

By creatively empowering communities in need, design initiatives in the region are paying it forward

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As one of the Middle East’s most promising economies, the regional design industry understands that for its sustainable growth, it is important to lift up creative communities across the wider region.

It was with this intent that the Fatima Bint Mohammad bin Zayed Initiative (FBMI) was established in 2010. The social enterprise aimed at harnessing the traditional skills of Afghans to produce beautiful hand-knotted carpets, embroidered furniture and local handicrafts at fair market wages has to date employed more than 4,000.

Seventy per cent of those craftspeople are women, out of which 35 per cent are widows. FBMI also provides each of them and their families free access to health-care services. From its showrooms in the UAE and a wholesale division in London, Zuleya, the retail division of FBMI ensures that these products are marketed and sold internationally. It is estimated that FBMI has benefited more than 25,000 people in Afghanistan through its employment initiatives and social services since its inception.

Another initiative committed to the betterment of communities in need is 81 Design. Founded by the mother-daughter duo Nesrine and Nadine Y Maalouf, the project empowers women — especially those who have been affected by the unrest in the region — through design and art. The project that took two years to get off the ground focuses on refuge women, teaching and building on their skills and confidence at a workshop in Lebanon.

Besides empowering women refugees by providing them with jobs based on their skill set, the enterprise is also a platform for artists to share their expertise and add value to the thriving art scene in the Middle East. Each project curated by 81 Designs collaborates with an artist from the region.

Asked why they have decided to bring the concept to the UAE, Nadine who was born in Beirut, lived in Riyadh, Florida, Montreal and New York before settling in the UAE, said: “UAE is my home and has become a hub for Middle Eastern art.” Underscoring her commitment to social betterment of the community, she continued: “Our vision is to empower as many skilled artisan women refugees as possible by giving them hope, renewed sense of purpose in life, and a sustainable future. Currently, we employ ten Palestinian women refugees based in South Lebanon.”

Set to launch at the 11th edition of Art Dubai, 81 Designs’ first project will be held in collaboration with internationally acclaimed artist eL Seed, who is renowned for his larger-than-life spray painting murals and mixes traditional Arabic calligraphy and graffiti to express thoughts. His select artworks, recreated by women refugees, will be exhibited at the Middle East’s premier art fair.

Aiming to preserve ancient techniques by using them to interpret modern designs, each tapestry is handmade using methods passed down from one generation to another.

“Launching 81 Designs at an international platform such as Art Dubai that will surely help us reach out to a greater segment of the community gives us immense pleasure. Collaborating with eL Seed, who shares the same vision to bring people and humanity together, will play a vital role in strengthening our cause and raising awareness on enduring challenges that are happening in this part of the world,” Nadine added.