According to the figures from Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority, the number of pupils in private schools was estimated at 273,599 for the 2016/17 school year. In a study, it was revealed that around 3.2% of the total student population in Dubai have some kind of disability. This equates to over 8755 students for the 2016/17 school year.
In various parts of the world people with disabilities are referred to in different ways, preferring to use language that focuses on a person’s abilities. In Dubai the power of language is wielded in a positive manner, referring to disabled people as “people of determination.” Known to have copious amounts of determination herself, Jean Winter, an angel investor, and serial entrepreneur, was touched when Australian Paralympian swimmer Jessica Smith reached out to her about a book, which would spark something more.
How it started: Reaching out
Offering to be an angel investor to women-owned businesses that are badly affected by COVID, Jean Winter extended an open invitation to a female business group, stating that: “I’m offering to help one or two businesses. As a fellow female, write to me, this is my email, tell me your story. And if our business ethos and values align, I may invest in your business. And I promise I’ll reply back to every single one of you that writes to me.” Expecting a low response rate, Jean was surprised to have received close to 100 emails calling for help. “And for the next two, three weeks, I stayed up to three, four in the morning to reply to every single one,” Jean recalls. It was during this time that she would get to know Jessica Smith on a deeper level. The pair have met several times, pre-COVID, at formal events.
Jessica Smith, Australia’s Paralympian swimmer, had reached out seeking sponsorship for a series of books she wrote. Having to deal with body image issues while growing up, Smith wrote a series of three books aimed at normalizing disability. “She wanted to teach the kids and people in Dubai how to deal with people of determination in a normal way, because they are humans like us,” the angel investor recalls. Smith’s cause resonated with Jean Winter who agreed to help with the cost of publishing the books.
Seeing a potential beyond the sponsorship of books for the purpose of education and instilling empathy, the first seeds of a new venture started to germinate, with Jessica Smith as the face of Touch.
Creating a Tribe With Three Pillars
With a business model based on giving back to the community, Touch is set to launch alongside Jessica Smith’s book series. “Let’s help all the people of determination in Dubai, let’s give them a platform where we can help tell their stories. We can help tell their stories in so many ways, through more books, through their speeches, through their stories, and if some of them are too shy, we will tell the story for them,” founder Jean Winter remarked. She continues, “Because why is it only successful people that get to tell their stories? I think that people of determination have more stories to tell than us, they go through more adversities.”
Based on three distinct pillars of representation, growth, and community outreach Touch aims to become a truly inclusive talent agency. “Pillar one is where we represent all the creatives, all the talent, whether they can speak or do something,” the founder explains. This platform wants to advocate that people of determination receive fair compensation just like everyone else.
Pillar two is mentorship programs aimed at personal growth and the development of talents. Here, the founder explains, is where the same people who are not able to tell their own stories, will receive mentorship to develop their skills in order to enable them to tell their own stories. In addition to mentoring key areas in which talents need help, Touch is looking to create a program with Dubai’s biggest autism center, Sanad Village, and also start an inclusive educational program with Gems Wellington International School in Dubai.
The third and final pillar to creating the tribe that is Touch lies in community outreach. “Touch is only asking for her Talents to give their time in return for representation by the agency. To pledge their time to give back to the wider community. Time is our most valuable asset in giving back. ” Jean continues, “My only request is that all our people come together twice a year to give back to the community as the Touch Family.”
Jessica Smith on Fostering Tolerance
“Tolerance is about being patient, understanding, and accepting of what’s different. It’s freedom from prejudice, bigotry, and discrimination,” the former Australian Paralympian Jessica Smith said as part of a talk she gave on behalf of the embassy of Australia at Le Royal Meridien in Abu Dhabi. “I’ve been searching for tolerance my entire life, but for many years, I was looking in the wrong places.”
Recalling how adults would speak about her as a young child, Smith said: “Imagine being a young child hearing the murmurs of adults talking about you but not to you, using words to describe you such as ‘disabled’ and ‘different’ and phrases such as ‘she will struggle’, ‘life will be hard’ … not very optimistic. But I believed it.”
Using her experience, Smith wanted to help educate children about diversity and body image. In the “Little Miss Jessica” book series she explores and shares the various challenges she faced. As part of her Year of Tolerance talks, Smith noted that: “Diversity and disability or people of determination are people we are all going to come into contact with… It’s important we learn how to be understanding and accepting of all abilities at a young age.”
A Future of True Inclusion
When we take a look at the unique business model of Touch, we are faced with the question: What is true inclusion? The answer may lie in the ethos that lies in Touch’s foundations. As a talent agency that strives to represent all voices equally. Jean Winter shared her experience: “The very fact that the love and support that I’ve gotten from friends around the world has really been a huge and humbling experience for me. Why? Because the business has been active less than a month, but the outpouring of support, in terms of, you know, training facilities, mentorships…has been amazing. People see that this is a platform for inclusiveness. They see our vision, and they are stepping in on so many capacities, people volunteering their help as translators, for example, as mentors, as volunteers. It’s truly amazing.”
With the support of the schools and other key organizations behind Touch, the future is looking kinder already.