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Fahda Al Awaji
Bunyan Charity founded by 64 Saudi women provides home micro-loans and skills training to help marginalised women develop their own businesses
The battle to create meaningful jobs and provide affordable homes is a challenge faced by many countries around the world with young, fast growing populations.
In a country like Saudi Arabia where 65 percent of the population is under 29 years old and a reliance on state subsidies is prevalent, the issue is particularly acute. According to the National Transformation Program 2020 published June 2016 unemployment among Saudis stood at 11.6 percent.
While the country is taking bold strides to implement reforms ushered in by its Vision 2030 to shift the economy away from oil dependency and state support to a knowledge based economy based on education and training, there remains a pressing need to support the more disadvantaged in society.
As a result, there has been a rise in the number of charitable institutions in the Kingdom which act as bridges to those less privileged by helping to set them on a path to financial independence.
Bunyan is one charity which has helped over 1,800 families in the country transform their standards of living by providing skills training in a cooperative culture to create jobs and income, while also disbursing micro-finance loans to provide homes for disadvantaged families.
Founder Nada Al Bawardi is a 15 year veteran of championing charitable giving, but six years ago her philosophy changed from one of philanthropic donations to individuals to one of providing skills training and business support to deliver a sustainable path to financial independence, rather than perpetual dependence on hand-outs..
In partnership with 63 other Saudi women, Nada founded Bunyan Charity. Since its inception, the charity has worked to provide interest-free loans to purchase or renovate housing while, at the same time, each family member is expected to participate in technical training to equip them with the skills necessary to build their own businesses.
The charity holds a broad range of regular training courses including IT and English language skills, food processing, catering, garment production and knitting, in order to provide employment opportunities. Job opportunities are then identified by the charity, in coordination with various government or civil sector departments.
Bunyan has also partnered with the Ministry of Education, and a number of universities across the Kingdom, to provide less-privileged students with access to public school and tertiary education.
One of the charity’s profitable businesses is Bunyan Chefs which provides contract catering services to several well-established Saudi food brands. The profits from sales are then used to pay employee wages and help to sustain the charity.
Khairiah Al Hindi is one of the women that has benefitted from Bunyan’s activities. A talented cook, she secured a full-time position on the charity’s cooking program and she has been instrumental in developing Bunyan Chef’s successful outside catering business which is marketed through Instagram.
Another cook Ayesha Al Shehri commented: “Bunyan has provided my family and me with housing, training and education. Through its support I’ve gained the confidence to follow my ambitions, and I hope to use recent legislation that allows women to set up their own food truck to found my own business.”
While the 1,800 families which Bunyan has assisted to date to become financially independent is testament to the charity’s success, there is still much to be done.
Bunyan board member Amal Al Sawary said: “I hope that traditional arbitrary donations which are given away without any concern for specific cases, and which more often than not do not benefit those most in need or provide a sustainable future for individuals, are a thing of the past.
“Instead, charities like Bunyan have proved that we not only help those who need support most, but also provide them with a home and a skill to develop their own businesses and become truly financially independent.”
Indeed, that concept is reflected in the name “Bunyan” itself which has a special meaning in Arabic. Bunyan means the step-by-step development of a solid building, and the word was used by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) to describe the support between people which is as strong as the bricks in a building.
Eight smart young Saudis solve national problem by creating the ‘LinkedIn’ of blood bank donation at MiSK Foundation hackathon
Smart app effectively matches blood donors with recipients to enhance medical care and reduce expired blood bank stock
In Saudi Arabia, like many countries around the world, many blood donations are wasted because there is no simple, effective system to match blood donors with recipients.
Demand is high with a bag of donor blood being used every two seconds and, while red blood cells may be stored for up to 42 days, leucocytes or white blood cells have a short shelf life of between three and six days so efficient distribution becomes critical.
As a result of high demand and an ineffective distribution system to match the appropriate donor blood group with recipients, there is a shortage of 67,000 bags of plasma every year in the Kingdom.
Now there is a simple, smart application in commercial development to securely, quickly and efficiently match blood donors with recipients. The app has been called the LinkedIn of blood bank donation.
It was developed as a result of a hackathon organised by the Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Foundation (MiSK) in November 2016 which challenged young, tech savvy entrepreneurs to crack some of the most pressing medical problems through applied technology.
The app is the brainchild of team leader Mazen Rukayni, a recent software engineering graduate from King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, who had his initial idea rejected as a research project to complete his degree course.
When Mazen heard about the MiSK Hackathon – an event attracting over 400 young entrepreneurs and simultaneously taking place over 48 hours in Riyadh and London – he immediately saw an opportunity to put together a team to bring his idea to life.
“It’s quite depressing seeing messages every day on social media from people asking for donations of a specific blood group to assist family members in urgent need,” said Mazen. “The MiSK Hackathon was my opportunity to put together a team of individuals to build a solution.”
Mazen knew that he needed three key skills to form a balanced team. In addition to his software engineering skills, he recruited three friends with backgrounds in business development, mobile application development and biochemistry.
Arriving at the hackathon venue early, Mazen started talking to other participants and quickly found four other individuals with entirely complementary skills whom he recruited to the team.
Team Limitless was formed comprising eight young Saudis: Tareq Sangorah, Salman Alarifi, Monira Alhasan, Ibrahim Khalifa, Ahmed Isam, Faten Bader, and Riham Alobeidan, in addition to Mazen who between them include a biochemist at King Faisal Hospital, two medical doctors, two app developers, and two business development specialists.
Over the two days of the hackathon, the team developed the business case for the app based on market data, and applied their knowledge of blood bank services in the Kingdom and the conditions for storing and distributing plasma, before working through the night to code the initial beta version of the app.
The idea immediately caught the attention of Ministry of Health officials at the event and negotiations started immediately for the ministry to sponsor Team Limitless team to take the app to commercial development.
“The key to the success of the app was the integration between doctors and the Ministry of Health to ensure that data was collated from trusted sources. The result is a secure app which not only matches and ranks immediate demand for blood, but also provides a dashboard of all cities in Saudi Arabia and forecasts demand for the next five years,” said Mazen.
The app also features an exchange platform between local health authorities to avoid expiration of blood, reducing wasted donor blood and helping to save more lives.
How it works
- Doctors accredited by the Ministry of Health register with the app.
- Blood donors download the app.
- Doctors upload patient requirements to the app including blood type and whether the need is standard, urgent or critical.
- The alert is pushed to app users in the specific geographic vicinity or city who can immediately see visually on the mobile dashboard whether they are appropriate to donate.
- Donor visits doctor who updates the app.
The Ministry of Health has also received support from ride-hailing apps Uber and Careem who provide registered donors with free transport to and from the donor clinic.
Currently Team Limitless is testing the app which is expected to be released by June 2017 with the Ministry of Health dashboard to follow by the end of the year.
The team has received funding from the Ministry of Health for computers and testbed equipment, and to cover the salaries of two application developers. The Mohammed bin Salman Incubator is also providing office space and mentoring by senior business consultants.