“Technology gives us the power to influence our surroundings”... How Innovation Leads to a Better Life

Sunday 7 November 202103:56 pm
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In Palestine, a large percentage of the population is suffering from deteriorating mental health. The reasons are numerous, and they’re easy to predict. However, the problem is doubled for Palestinian women. “Although they are nearly twice as likely to suffer from mental health disorders than men, yet the therapy services they receive are much less than expected or required.”

This fact is revealed by the data in psychiatric clinics, which show that two-thirds of the patients are men. This proves that women face obstacles that prevent them from accessing therapy services. The problem is further evidenced by the statements of some women who admitted that they have to go behind their husbands’ backs to receive therapy, or that the husband is interfering and preventing them from taking some medications.

“HAKINI”... Online Therapy Support

This demonstrates the importance of innovative solutions to problems, offered by projects such as the HAKINI platform, which aims to increase the availability of mental health services by connecting users with mental health professionals based on their needs, and providing them with “online therapy sessions”, in addition to guidance for self-help.

The abovementioned reality is further explained to Raseef22 by Sondos Mleitat, the project owner, and the co-founder and CEO of HAKINI. She talks about the platform targeting women because they are “the most affected category”, which is reflected by the figures, as 75% of the platform’s users are women.

The platform, however, is not made exclusively for women. Its idea stemmed from the lack of access to mental health services for citizens in Palestine, where it has 0.41 psychiatrists per 100,000 people, compared to the global median of 1.3 psychiatrists per 100,000.

Numerous issues prevent Palestinians from accessing mental health services. These range from the difficulty of reaching a doctor or specialist who meets their needs, the high cost of psychotherapy in the long-term and its inefficiency in the short-term, the stigma associated with seeking psychological medical help, as well as the lack of respect for privacy and the long waiting lists.

Mleitat says, “HAKINI is the first platform in the Arab world that seeks to provide a self-help service, as it provides users with several exercises as well as guidance, through a self-help guidance service that helps the person to become his own therapist, through interactive materials based on the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy, at an affordable price.”

The platform provides its users with psychological support “at any time”, on an “on-going basis”, and “in the long term” through several frameworks, including “online sessions with qualified licensed specialists”, according to the needs of the platform’s users, which are determined after answering a few questions to primarily assess their psychological condition.

Mleitat explains that the platform suggests to each woman three specialists to choose from and book a session with.

One of the platform’s features is that it simplifies medical content, as it publishes specialized content on its website and social media accounts in a simplified and appropriate manner that suits the Arab culture, to be better capable of raising awareness of mental health issues.

Empowering domestic violence survivors economically; providing online mental health services; integrating people with disabilities into society… How can innovation improve the quality of life?

What supports the project’s continuity and sustainability is that the platform’s services are “paid”. However, it provides the choice of “Sponsorship”, meaning that one person or more can pay for the services on behalf of another person who is unable to secure the amount.

Since its launch about a year and a half ago, the platform has served “thousands of users” and added “500 content units, reaching one and a half million people.”

Economic Empowerment for Domestic Violence Survivors

According to the statistics of the World Health Organization (WHO), around 35% of women in Egypt are exposed to domestic violence annually. Murders of women by family men have increased and risen in light of COVID-19, during the quarantine period while citizens were staying longer at home. Moreover, women are now shouldering more financial burdens, which led to an increase in psychological, social, and physical problems.

This fact led the Egyptian Youth Council, a non-profit youth organization that seeks to support all Egyptian youth, to launch the Economic Empowerment for Survivors of Domestic Violence project.

About the project, the director of the research unit in the council, Mai Ajlan, tells Raseef22, “It aims to reintegrate survivors of domestic violence into society and empower them economically by training them in household trades, such as plumbing, electricity, carpentry, carving, and repairing household appliances, and marketing their work through an electronic application that shows a map with their location.”

She explains that one of the project’s tasks is also “connecting” government entities, the private sector, and civil society with the aim of “providing adequate housing that serves as an in-house vocational school to rehabilitate the survivor psychologically, physically, and professionally.” She further noted that there was “previous work and partnership” with some of those parties, which “guarantees” their response and cooperation to achieve the objectives of the project and ensure its implementation.

The project’s aim goes beyond this point, as it follows the survivor’s case until she achieves “financial independence” and finds suitable housing, after which she continues to train new survivors, who in turn eventually replace her. Ajlan explains that the survivor’s achievement of “the beginning of a dignified and stable life” is the main goal; a process “that will be carried out in cooperation with partner associations”

The project intends to develop a mobile application that specifies the locations of the survivors and their professions. She says, "It will serve as a maintenance center for household trades, where all the workers will be survivors of domestic violence who have gone through rehabilitation at various levels. Through it, the service is requested by booking via the site map to ensure the safety of the survivors during their work.”

Since 2016, the Egyptian Youth Council has been working on the case of economic empowerment of female breadwinners and refugees, but its efforts to financially empower survivors and abused women began only recently, in light of the increase in female victims of domestic violence during quarantine.

What distinguishes the council’s new project is its “sustainability”, as it provides an opportunity to learn and practice professional trades for members of the targeted group, while rehabilitating them psychologically, physically, and socially, and it even prepares them to become “expert trainers” in their professions. The application further facilitates access to them and evaluation of their work, which will help in ensuring a decent life for them.

ACCESSIBLE JORDAN

Persons with disabilities in Jordan represent 11.2% of the Kingdom’s total population aged five years and above. However, their rights are lacking and they are often subjected to a stereotypical and unfair view, as government spending on their required services is low, and the institutions concerned with their affairs are few.

This reality is what prompted the establishment of ACCESSIBLE JORDAN. It seeks to integrate persons with disabilities into local community in several ways, including providing consultations and supervising the implementation of construction projects that take into account international principles and standards and help involve people with disabilities in public life, and implement training programs to raise awareness regarding how to deal with people with disabilities and integrate them into society.

The CEO of the company, Hekam Qusous, tells Raseef22 that ACCESSIBLE JORDAN’s largest goal is “to achieve a productive and inclusive society that refrains from casting a negative view of the persons with disabilities.”

Currently, the company raises specialized awareness through social media, focuses on health terminology and the “etiquette for dealing with people with disabilities”, and organizes training courses for school students.

Furthermore, the company, which was founded in 2017 by activist Aya Aghabi, has developed an application to show the places adapted to receive people with disabilities in Jordan. It also contributed to the implementation of over 15 construction projects, provided over 20 agencies in Jordan with advisory and training services, and contributed, through its website and application, to the classification and evaluation of the environmental preparation of over 33,000 sites.

ACCESSIBLE JORDAN, HAKINI in Palestine, and Economic Empowerment for Domestic Violence Survivors in Egypt, three iValues innovating projects that improve lives in these countries

Innovation in the Field of Quality of Life

HAKINI, ACCESSIBLE JORDAN, and the Economic Empowerment for Domestic Violence Survivors are among the 25 projects that have reached the final stage of the iValues ​​competition out of 280 projects submitted this year. iValues is a project launched for the first time by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, a German foundation. Its objective is to “Rethink Politics in the MENA Region” in cooperation with the “Innovation in Politics Institute” in Germany.

The 25 competing projects are divided into five categories: “Democracy and Community”, “Human Rights”, “Regional Development”, “Quality of Life” and “Economy and Jobs”. For each category, a project wins and its team gets support according to its needs, with the possibility of providing training to the team, as needed.

In addition to these three projects, two other projects compete in the category of innovation in the field of quality of life: "MARTHA EDU", a project that provides deaf children in Jordan with educational care, aimed at addressing the illiteracy crisis among this group, which reached up to 80%. The other one is "SPICA TECH”, an academy in Lebanon to teach kids and teens video game production, as well as a LAB to help game designers and developers to produce and publish their games.

This year, the winning projects will be announced during a ceremony hosted in the Jordanian capital, Amman, on October 26.

Yara Asmar, Regional Strategy Manager at FNF MENA, tells Raseef22 that the iValues-2021 competition is an initiative to bring together perspectives between the region’s innovators and general policy makers, noting that "the region is in dire need of an update in its approach of general policies and democratic action.”

She explains that there are three criteria for evaluating the initiatives/projects nominated and choosing the best, which are “The availability of innovation and the project’s feasibility, its benefit to society and its ability to improve people’s conditions, as well as the project’s sustainability."

Dirk Kunze. Regional Director at FNF MENA, stresses that “Innovation in itself is something that one cannot achieve on their own. A wise man once said: You can invent on your own, but you can never innovate alone. Innovation requires a collective effort to bring about change, in the sense of understanding each other’s challenges and cooperating with one other,” adding to Raseef22, "This can be seen through the submitted projects: all of them were developed either as a result of a societal creative process or to address issues in the community that affect many people.”

On the importance of innovation in improving the quality of life, Asmar says, “Through the available technology, we can influence our surroundings to improve the quality of life. For example, COVID-19 contributed to the development of our approach to technology and innovation and their impact on the development of educational systems, the health system, and the means of communication and transportation.”

“Through the available technology, we can influence our surroundings to improve the quality of life”

If the Egyptian Youth Council project wins, Ajlan says that they will start developing the proposed application immediately, to ensure the continuity of the project and easy access to female workers, in addition to organizing psychological support sessions and preparing a place that offers psychological rehabilitation for survivors as part of integrating them into society.

According to Mleitat, the HAKINI developers indicate that any received support will “help provide our services to more Palestinian women by devoting counseling sessions and enriching the platform with informational content on everything related to the issue of mental health and how to maintain and improve it.”

Mleitat does not rule out expanding the platform’s efforts to demand improved policies and laws related to mental health, and launching campaigns to reduce stigma and raise awareness of everything related to mental health services.

As for Qusous, she says that supporting the ACCESSIBLE JORDAN project will help it expand, enabling it to raise awareness of the challenges faced by people with disabilities in the country, through awareness campaigns, exposing stereotypes related to disability, and developing a specialized training program to promote the culture of acceptance within children and implement it in all schools of the kingdom.

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