Dolls for orphans, ethical fashion making a difference

A growing number of social entrepreneurs in Dubai seek to bring positive change to communities  

At an NGO in one of India’s most poverty stricken states, women are working away; sewing naturally dyed organic cotton into rag dolls. The work helps empower them and contributes to paying for the education of the next generation of girls. That’s just one aspect of how Dubai-based Sahar Wahbeh’s company Dumyé is trying to bring about positive social change.

The social entrepreneurship model has been seeing an uptick in Dubai and the wider Arab Gulf region, where most governments are on an economic diversification drive to reduce reliance on hydrocarbons. A growing number of Middle Eastern youth are also seeking to tackle regional challenges through small businesses that are profitable, but also have a social impact.

Dumyé not only assists impoverished women, but is also based on a unique model. For every doll purchased, the company gifts another to an orphan or child in need. The dolls are environmentally-friendly, with their hair is entirely made of recycled plastic. This means every pound of fabric is using 10 plastic bottles taken out of a landfill.

“When you take a doll home to someone you love, a doll is gifted to an orphan in need to make their own,” says Wahbeh. “This is a wonderful way to show compassion for a child who has not be spoken for and a beautiful lesson in giving for the child receiving the doll.”

Then there is the sameness project, a Dubai-based group of social innovators working on online and offline projects to create what it calls moments of sameness. Its projects include Water for Workers, which brought together the emirate’s community to give away more than 120,000 cold bottles of water to workers who spend their day outside in the summer heat.

Jonny Kennaugh, project manager, says the group has facilitated “many beautiful human moments between strangers” and the experiences people have had through their projects were “powerful and memorable”.

“The sameness project was started as an empathy initiative, to create more of these moments and help people to look past all the things that separate us to see what makes us the same,” he says. 

The projects allow different brands or companies to increase their visibility by contributing positively to the communities where they operate simply through association.

The sameness project is now looking to expand beyond Dubai and complete projects in different countries and communities, according to Kennaugh. “Ultimately, our goal is to make empathy and the idea that we are all equal in our humanity a normal, integrated thing and help shape a world where it's more about the ‘we’ than the ‘I’,” he adds.

In the fashion world, Saudi-born entrepreneur Shahd AlShehail is trying to bring ethics into the clothing industry with her initiative JUST. Seeing more than 200 million people employed directly by the textile and apparel industry worldwide, AlShehail realised most of them lived on tiny wages and worked under terrible conditions that often resulted in catastrophes.

This is why she went on to cofound Dubai-based JUST, a social enterprise striving to make the fashion supply chain more transparent and socially-conscious by connecting designers and manufacturers to ethical, sustainable suppliers. On JUST’s website, consumers can type in a brand and find out how their clothes were made.  

“I think social entrepreneurship should be important for everyone, wherever you live in the world,” says AlShehail. “Today we live in an interconnected universe, one’s action in one place can directly impact another’s in a different place.”