Enable is a social enterprise for Emirati men managed by Reem Al Ghaith
As I arrived at Dubai Garden Centre, I inhaled the fresh air, walked around the premises and reminisced the days my mother lugged me out for plant shopping on a Friday morning. I must admit, I was never interested as a young child, mainly because I don’t have a green thumb. Don’t get me wrong, I love receiving a bouquet and styling up my living room corner with an orchid, but I can never keep them alive for the duration expected. My bonsai lives true to this, and I’ve been told it’s the simplest plant to maintain.
As I wander leisurely, I set my eyes on succulents displayed at a gorgeous retro wooden cart. They weren’t just any imported plants though. These beauties were created in the UAE by Emirati men with disabilities.My trip to the Dubai Garden Centre was to meet with Reem Al Ghaith, General Manager of Enable; a home and garden social enterprise. Conceptualised in 2004, Enable was created by Reem’s father who identified an opportunity to source employment for people with disabilities. The Emirati-native wasn’t handed over the company on a platter though. The MBA graduate initially worked in marketing and administration – with the Ministry – and took on the General Manager’s position two years after the business came to fruition. “My father wanted to bridge the gap with this idea and source employment for his company. He and his partner worked with the Ministry of Community Affairs, at that time, and tried it out with a few special needs centres.” The project went live in 2006.
Currently, Enable (a sister company of Dubai Garden Centre) work exclusively with Dubai Rehabilitation Centre, to source employees. Many of them have been at the company since the beginning, and at that point, were chosen through a random selection process – recommended by the teachers. It hasn’t always been a smooth journey though. Reem recalls improvising remarkably. Since the company has a plantation nursery in Khawaneej, with plenty of trees, plants and tasks, setting up the employees there was a smart move. “We began Enable and hired an in-house therapist to make sure they are protected, and can communicate with everyone else. All the employees were classmates, so they were familiar with each other,” she says. Once in the environment, it was time for them to understand the daily routine, get comfortable with the previous employees, and learn how to grasp each situation and task that came their way.“The initiative came with a good intention; however, it wasn’t systemised. There’s no shame in saying that. We always wanted it to work, invested a lot and tried our best. Thankfully, it just took off from there.” Now in its twelfth operational year, Enable employs 25 men. While they would like to scale, the process does take a bit of time – from hiring to training. “Everyone is individual with their level of capabilities and we require that. In 2008, we worked with them for two years to sought out their needs and requirements to make the job work, performance wise. We kept evaluating the program, to see what the company really wanted from there. At the end of the day it is not a charity, it’s a social enterprise and we do need to see returns, because each employee gets a monthly salary,” says Reem.
The programme that they created is monitored through each stage, from potting soil to retail. “The last level is when they cater to sales, so they are ready with all the knowledge of the plants, and can communicate with the clients. Khawaneej is accessible to all residential areas, so we have walk-in clients and the employees sell from there,” says Reem. It’s great to see that the enterprise isn’t just gathering donations. Actually, they don’t accept donations. Instead, they work with corporate companies to create giveaways, and retail from the outlet in Khawaneej, Dubai Garden Centre, Aswaq Umm Suqeim, and Carrefour Festival City – Reem’s favourite point of sale as the employees get to connect with buyers from the dedicated store.
But, why succulents? “The way it came about was through Pinterest. We felt succulents were perfect because they are durable and pretty, and caters to people’s lifestyles – not many people have time to maintain a plant. These can be watered every two weeks and will still look as beautiful,” she says with a barrel of laughs. All arrangements were re-created multiple times with the employees, so that they understood where each element needed to be placed. “We saw them changing a few things after a while, and getting creative with the plants. That was great and we encouraged it.”A few of the Enable employees are bilingual (they speak Hindi), and are taken along to bargain with suppliers for plants, stones and accessories, since each employee makes 15 per cent commission from their creation, when sold. We have a big celebration when there’s a sale, where the employee has the cheque handed over to him. This motivates the others to do better the following month. As we speak of the enterprises’ journey to date, Reem says, “It’s been a long one, but we have had a few milestones. This model is now self-sustained. Previously, we invested in CSR projects but now we converted this into a financial unit, plus we help these employees with their future – whether skill wise or financially.” Her main KPI, however, is to transport all Emirati disabled men into Enable. Reem understands this is a challenge but is positive she will reach that stage. “The parents are very encouraging as they see the growth and transition in their child.”
Currently, Enable only employs men as the nurseries are quite labour-intensive and male-oriented, which is a bit of a challenge for Emirati women. Nonetheless, they are in discussions about a specific programme for them. We touch upon the topic of getting through the door and where UAE stands with regards to awareness of such social enterprises. “I think the UAE is reinforcing it very strongly, trying their best to include it wherever possible, with the My Community initiative. From my perspective, when dealing with clients and customers they are very much aware. They understand the needs to include these employees and ways to empower them, but it’s a work in progress. It’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction,” she says. They also partner with numerous corporates for advocacy, and companies who are aware of participation in the social cause of inclusion. To keep the concept fun and trendy, they recently partnered with National Bank of Fujairah to create a succulent plant truck. “We do engaging pop-ups, live workshops at government offices and take our truck to parks and even the Dubai Beach Canteen. Awareness is a big part of Enable.”