Breathing life into the “What Women Want” series, we have three young, bright women from diverse backgrounds, brought together over one dream. They wanted a meaningful contribution to society and Integreat Center in Dubai is the brainchild of that dream. The center is the first of its kinds special needs center in Dubai that caters to the needs of young adults between the ages of 16 and 25 years.
I caught up with one of the founders, Nikita Patel, and it was very impressive to see such a wise head on young shoulders. Read on to know more and maybe even get inspired!
Hey Nikita! Thank You for getting in touch. Can you tell us a little more about yourselves?
Hello everyone! Thank You for having us! Well, we are three young women who conceptualized and created Integreat Center, a novel special needs center in Dubai. Ayukta and Kiran Thakur are sisters who grew up in Japan and as for me, I was born and raised in Dubai. Graduating from the USA from various disciplines, our common goal of filling a gap and creating something impactful in the special needs space brought us together. Ayukta is a special needs educator by profession and Kiran and I both have business backgrounds.
So a Dubai Girl! Lovely! So how did the center start? What was the idea behind it all?
We conceptualized Integreat Center on paper over two years ago and we are now grateful and proud to manage the first holistic special needs center in Dubai for young adults specifically between the ages of 16 and 25 years. After the age of 18 there are very limited opportunities for young adults with special needs to develop their skills further. We have developed programs designed to teach our students key life skills and vocational training. Our students learn skills such as personal care, safety, money management, and job readiness, among other key daily living skills. Our goal is to ensure that our students are independent to the best of their abilities and integrated into the workforce and society.
We advocate for the inclusion of individuals with special needs and work with families and other stakeholders to create a safe, supportive and vibrant community. As part of our advocacy, we host international visiting speakers and experts to provide professional development to the education community at large; all of our workshops are open to any individual who wants to learn in Dubai.
Sounds like a lot of work! How do you keep going?
The simple remainder of seeing our student’s progress makes all the challenges completely worth it. Knowing that if Integreat Center was not around, some of our students would have no place to develop their skills and nurture their talents further definitely pushes us to improve each day.
So far parents and students alike have been very encouraging and happy with our programs and services. This is definitely the most motivating – to get direct feedback that Integreat Center’s methods and programs are setting a quality benchmark and already showing results.
How nice! Any difficulties along the way??
It took us two years to manifest our idea and one of the biggest challenges was the fact that nothing like our Center had been created previously in Dubai. We learned from and took best practices from other similar organizations around the world, however adapting it to the local context was difficult. We had to ensure all of our resources and curricula were age-appropriate as well as relevant in the cultural context of Dubai and relevant to the student and their families we cater to. Regardless of gender, the issues we faced starting up would have remained. It is part and parcel of setting a precedent and building something the market has not yet seen.
More than this, the fact that we are young, all three under 30, posed its own set of unique challenges. These were challenges that certainly pushed us and continue to push us to prove ourselves. We definitely had to, especially initially, garner tremendous trust, respect and comfort from parents. At the end of the day, we are responsible for people’s kids and their education – a responsibility we do not take lightly at all. We continue to operate in a very professional yet personalized manner which we has helped us gain the credibility we need as a Center.
True that! Future plans?
We definitely strive to perfect the Integreat model in the near future so we can expand into a much larger institution, catering to more and more students. Eventually, we would love to create Integreat Center with an Arabic curriculum and language of instruction as well. We have already been requested to start the Center in India as well as in other countries in the Middle East. We also hope to be an integral part of shaping and contributing to Dubai being the most inclusive city.
Amen to that! Last words? Any advice to women in the same situation as you and looking to start something different?
Yes! We want to give a shoutout to our incredibly dedicated team – the Integreat Team – without whom the Center would not run the way it does. The Integreat Team consists of educators and administrators who are driven by the desire the ensure that students with special needs and given the same high quality education and sheer amount of opportunities as their mainstream peers. Each day, they deliver on their commitment with pride and enthusiasm.
To other women who are thinking of starting their own ventures – we would definitely recommend having a minimum of one or two others who you start out with. In hindsight, the reason we came as far as we did is through the constant motivation from each other as well as the fact that we each brought a unique skill set to the table which was critical when setting up the Center as we complemented each other’s abilities and fortés. It’s great to share both ups and downs with others who are equally as invested in the shares long term vision. Good Luck!
And Best Wishes to you too Nikita! With aims and dreams such as these you cant help but wish them the very best!