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Humans · Economy

Finding commonality in diverse Dubai

May 27th, 2016
in:Humans, Economy
by:Vanessa Ellingham
located in:United Arab Emirates
tags:Dubai, labour, labour rights, migrant rights, The Sameness Project, United Arab Emirates

A social innovation project in working to bring Dubai’s incredibly diverse population together through a series of activities focusing on what humans have in common, rather than what divides them.

The Sameness Project aims to create ‘moments of sameness’ between diverse groups, showing what common humanity exists between people of all kinds.

The human-focused, non-political group has been working to show support to Dubai’s taxi drivers, housekeepers and labourers, giving thanks to the people who help make the city function for everyone else.

In their own words, “it’s not a new idea, it’s a repackaging of the human race’s best idea: that people are all worth the same amount.”

In a nation where 85 percent of the population are migrants, there are plenty of divisions to be traversed.

In 2013, the United Arab Emirates had the fifth-largest proportion of migrants of any country in the world with 7.8 million migrants out of a total population of 9.2 million, according to United Nations estimates.

With immigrants, particularly from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, comprising over 90 percent of the country’s private workforce, the UAE attracts both low- and high-skilled migrants due to its economic attractiveness, relative political stability, and modern infrastructure.

Dubai’s status as a popular destination for temporary labour migrants has brought social and economic diversity. But with that come both challenges and opportunities.

Moments of Sameness

Since its inception five years ago, Sameness Project has produced a variety of activities and events, ranging from giving an origami gift to a stranger to providing very necessary services to workers, such as drinking water on hot days and training in the alleviation of back pain.

Some projects have been individual and online, like the initiative that asked locals to download and print out an origami activity, have some fun with it and then gift the finished product to a stranger.

Water for Workers began four years ago when a few friends got together to hand out about 30 bottles of cold water to manual labourers working outdoors in intense heat. By last year the event had grown to attract 700 volunteers who showed up to distribute 120,000 bottles of donated water to labourers around the city.

Activities like this draw attention to labourers’ working conditions in Dubai, which have been condemned by human rights authorities in the past. But they also work to educate locals about what a labourer’s life looks like, and how easy it can be to reach out to someone from a different culture or social class.

Acknowledgement of the workers who might otherwise go ignored in public spaces is another key concept of the Sameness Project, which has extended to another activity called We’ve Got Your Back.

The group arranged for health and fitness instructors to teach stretches for preventing and alleviating back pain to 800 taxi drivers and 600 cleaners who would not normally be afforded this level of care, despite the physical nature of their work.

Co-founder Jonny Kennaugh said: „The key for us is the interactions, the conversations, explaining that this is just people looking out for them and acknowledging the tough job they do.”

Meanwhile, the Soles and Stories project saw domestic workers decorating plain pairs of shoes which were then auctioned off to wealthy buyers, perhaps even those who employ domestic workers themselves, with 100% of the proceeds going back to the artists.

One of the Sameness Project’s flagship activities is open to almost anyone at all. The Conversation Chair invites you to take a rest in a public place while members of the public select one of the conversation starters written on helium balloons tied to the chair. A connection with a stranger is formed instantly.

Where to next?

The Sameeness Project is funded in two ways: firstly, they engage corporate sponsorship for specific activities, like PepsiCo on the Water for Workers project.

“The second” explains Kennaugh, “is what we call the Sameness Project collective. It’s a fund that companies pay into annually that helps keep all our projects and ourselves going. So rather than one company sponsoring one project, a group of 10 companies pays a fraction of what they would to sponsor one project, and the cumulative amount is enough to run everything.”

“It’s our way of building sameness into our financial model as it lets corporates join hands to do good.”

As for what’s next, Kennaugh says it’s “just keep growing the projects we have and creating new projects. We’re always looking at social issues or stories that pop up in the media and thinking of ways to bring an element of sameness into them.”

“We’re also keen to get some of our projects happening overseas, so we’re in talks with a few people to have things like The Conversation Chair pop up in different locations.”

All images: The Sameness Project

Article written by:
Vanessa Ellingham
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