Saif Saeed, a 26-year-old Emirati florist, greets his customers with a welcoming smile. He keeps fit with karate and swimming, and by playing with his 9-year-old son. Saeed also happens to have learning disabilities – but he does not let that define him or his life.
The UAE government officially refers to people with special needs as “the determined ones”, which is an apt description of Saeed and four other men who run the newest shop to open in Dubai’s trendy d3 design district. They sell decorative pot plants, gift baskets and bouquets, backed by Enable, a social enterprise offshoot of the Desert Group of horticultural and landscape companies.
“We integrate these determined members of society and give them a livelihood,” says the group’s chief executive, Michael Mascarenhas. “Like any of our staff, they get trained and they get a salary. We are all equal, period. It gives them a purpose in life so they are not a burden to their family or to society.”
Desert Group began employing and training people with special needs in 2003 at their nursery at Dubai Garden Centre on Sheikh Zayed Road. The company now employs 32 such men, five of whom were hand-picked to run the d3 pop-up store, which was launched last week.
Working alongside sales and marketing expert Saeed is Abdullah Hareb, who has Down syndrome and specialises in potting the plants, and Abdulahh Yousef Abdulah, a keen gardener who would like to open his own business one day.
“When I make the bouquets, I feels proud and that makes me happy,” he says.
The men are overseen by Enable’s senior therapist, Ibrahim Ali Mohamed Ali, from Egypt.
“Our target is that this store will be just as professionally run as one that you might find in any mall,” he says.
Enable provides a range of decorative botanical products to organisations such as Dewa, Jumeirah at Etihad Towers, Dubai Dry Docks and many of the restaurants in d3.
“We’re nurturing our staff to develop an entrepreneurial spirit in them,” says Mascarenhas. “They, ‘the determined ones’, are able to prepare these beautiful desktop decorative pieces, and each is labelled with their picture and names. For each sale they make, they get 15 per cent of the proceeds. The profits, if any, are retained by the unit and I hope that one day, we will have a women’s wing, too – the first of its kind in the Mena region.”
The shop is set to close on July 31, but “we are really hoping it will get extended to become more permanent”, says Mascarenhas.
Sponsors include the chief executive of Tecom, Amina Rostamani, and the chief operating officer of d3, Mohammad Saeed Al Shehhi.
Saeed, who has been working for Enable since 2006, says the job provides income and a sense of purpose.
“I am very proud of myself,” he says. “The other staff at Enable are like brothers to me. If I wasn’t here working, I would be at home – I am glad to be here.”