Abu Dhabi: An Abu Dhabi-based startup is working to place more than 100 people of determination across the region in equal-paying and progressive jobs this year.
The startup, ImInclusive, connects people of determination with inclusive employers and also provide free upskilling, interview preparations and learning pathways for candidates.
Started by 27-year-old Pakistani expatriate Hafsa Qadeer, the startup has already gained much industry recognition and is looking to further its reach over the coming months.
Inspiration behind ImInclusive
Qadeer was deeply impacted by the journey of her brother Ahmed, 18, who lives with spina bifida, a birth defect that can lead to varying degrees of disability. She began ImInclusive with him.
“My brother was born with spina bifida and I watched him undergo surgery after surgery even as a baby. It changed the way I viewed the world and although I didn’t think this was what I was going to be doing, I felt like there was always a bigger purpose,” Qadeer told Gulf News.
After a stint at the Special Olympic World Games in Abu Dhabi in 2019, Qadeer developed the app and pitched it as part of an incubator programme by the Authority of Social Contribution — Ma’an, social innovation unit of the Department of Community Development.
Many hidden talents
“I had a pitch and more than half of it involved my brother playing the piano to demonstrate to the authority that people of determination are talented. It convinced them and we received the grant to get our project going,” Qadeer said.
ImInclusive today includes a database of more than 600 people of determination from across the Middle East and North Africa. It is itself staffed largely by people of determination. More importantly, Qadeer has also seen a major shift among companies to be more inclusive.
“When you look at the development plans of countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, inclusion is a big part. Now is the right time for companies to adopt these policies. Otherwise, there will be a lack of skill in the market. Besides, 15 per cent of the global population comprises people of determination, and including them is a matter of social justice,” Qadeer said.
Through her initiative, the social entrepreneur has also noted a positive shift among employers.
“Executives at some of the top companies know that work places of the future will be inclusive, which is exactly in line with the directives of the UAE government. For instance, we recently placed a person with visual impairment in the hospitality industry. One day, she got in touch to say that she was facing some difficulty at a task because the numbers she had to read on the job were not clear to her. Our accessibility executive immediately procured a magnifying glass to help her out, but when we spoke to the employer, they said they could simply redesign the task list,” Qadeer said.
Free training opportunities
For its part, the mentorship and upskilling ImInclusive provides also goes a long way in settling people of determination into their roles. In addition, the startup also offers various trainings for employers that accommodate people of determination, including language classes and information on making buildings more accessible.
To support its operations, ImInclusive has received a number of grants, including from Companies Creating Change Accelerator.
Seeing the potential
Qadeer said she hoped that over the next few years, more and more people would see the leadership potential of people with determination and work to support it.
“By working with more employers, we are looking at creating a chain of social support across the region. Personally, I feel deeply privileged to be able to contribute to this effort. After all, if we help change a hundred lives today, it will grow into a million lives tomorrow,” she said.
At the moment, Ahmed is himself one of the trainees at ImInclusive, and Qadeer is sure he will chart his own path.
Price McCarthy, a 22-year-old Ghanaian-Nigerian with vision impairment, is one of the people of determination placed by ImInclusive as a research intern at Companies Creating Change. “ImInclusive helped ease my job search by providing career mentorship and kickstarting the hiring process by sending my resume to companies that they had found compatible with my interests. I also received an opportunity to attend seminars on the job, which helped deepen my knowledge of the impact investment field,” she said.
She has been working with the company for more than a year and says that the job gives her a sense of independence and agency.
“I think the biggest challenge that people of determination face when job searching is having employers believe in their abilities to perform the job efficiently. Most employers are sceptical about hiring them because they correlate special needs with poor work performance, which is a totally flawed logic. There is also the issue of finding a workplace that is accessible or willing to put in accessibility features to make working easier for people with disabilities. Luckily, I’ve been blessed with a workplace that puts my accessibility needs as a priority,” she said.