The students behind the new Emirati sign-language app, Efhamni, have received a major boost in their plan to support the UAE deaf community, with a $7,000 award to scale their social enterprise from the Coca-Cola Foundation and INJAZ Al-Arab. The award follows the recent announcement of winners in the Ripples of Happiness university competition, a community initiative under which the innovation was developed.
The team of students from Canadian University Dubai (CUD) was the only group to represent the UAE in the region-wide initiative, and secured second place overall in the six-week program, attracting funding equivalent to more than AED 25,000 to help further develop and mainstream their app.
The technology was created in association with the UAE Deaf Association and the Kalimati Speech and Communication Center. It specifically aims to support Emiratization among hearing impaired citizens, helping them to access better education and employment opportunities by teaching them, their family, friends and colleagues, how to communicate effectively through Emirati sign language.
The app was unveiled to over 100 stakeholders at a recent public launch event. Speaking at the event, member of the Efhamni project management team, Craig Muyambo, said, “Our aim is to contribute to the UAE in two ways: by preserving its history through the Emirati language, heritage and dialect, and by building its future by engaging all sectors of society in a single community, connected by a common language.”
The financial boost comes as a result of the interest and impact the team generated for the app during the Ripples of Happiness competition. Sulaf Saleh Al Zu’bi, CEO of INJAZ UAE, said, “It was an inspiring journey giving students the opportunity to create and discover their talents applied in this program and remarkable software application. The Efhamni app can touch many hearts, helping engage people with hearing disabilities more easily, and making the use of sign language for the community around them more mainstream.”
Facilitated by Mr. Mohsin Harris of INJAZ UAE, the team received intensive mentoring support from two volunteers from the business community. Ms. Sveccha Kumar and Mr. Youshey Zakiuddin brought their experience of corporate social responsibility initiatives at telecoms firm, du, to help the students to identify and address a distinct community need.
The team also benefitted from the ongoing support of CUD Assistant Professor, Jeanette Teh, who said, “I am extremely proud of how much the students have accomplished in a short amount of time and how hard they have worked. Through this project, they have learned the importance of teamwork, planning, research, communication, and even diplomacy, all of which will help them in their future careers. It has been an incredible journey, full of challenging lessons, not just for the students, but also for us the mentors.
“I would like to thank INJAZ Al Arab and Coca-Cola Foundation for organizing this wonderful competition, which has taught our students so much about launching a socially responsible business, but perhaps, more importantly, that they can make a difference.”
The team has already held discussions with the UAE Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research around how the app can help in promoting access to education among the deaf community. Nérimel Bessa, another member of the Efhamni project management team said, “We are excited to embark upon this social enterprise and with the award from the Coca-Cola Foundation and INJAZ Al Arab, we can start to empower the deaf community by employing members to support in the ongoing development of the app.”
In addition to the community benefits that the app is expected to generate, the process has also been a rewarding experience for the entire team involved, and for the student behind the technology itself, engineering major, Omar Sharif Zakaria, it has opened the door to an exciting new project.
Omar said, “Based on my work on Efhamni I have been approached by one of Dubai’s leading real estate developers to work on the creation of an app that will give them a new platform to engage with their customers.”
Omar plans to take on the new project, while continuing to offer his free time to support the continual development of Efhamni. As for the enterprise itself, Nérimel concluded, “We know that we will need a lot more support along the way – both technically and financially – but this award has given us a great platform to move forward with our aim to make Emirati sign-language a mainstream form of communication for citizens and residents of the UAE, and also to provide a gateway for visitors to the country to learn the Arabic language.”