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ReAble: Financial Inclusion and VR Education Solutions

Improving access to education and financial services via accessible VR content and mobile apps.

Photo of Emile Sawaya

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What problem does your innovation solve?

The lack of educational infrastructure (schools, teachers) in destabilized regions can be supplemented by introducing easily accessible educational apps and tools. For example, we are partnered with the Lebanese Ministry of Education to provide schools with educational VR content which can be shared without internet. We also provide services tailored toward helping the intellectually disabled (who are disproportionately affected by emergencies) access financial services and education.

Explain your innovation.

With the help of experts (psychologists, teachers) we have developed an app which allows people with intellectual disabilities to access financial services. We do this by determining what specifically prevents our users from utilizing financial services; then breaking down and simplifying those aspects of the banking process. The unique needs of our users are initially determined by a gamified assessment of key skills, these range from dexterity to literacy. Once the app is configured to manage these more apparent challenges, our dynamic user interface fine tunes the user experience by identifying any additional challenges, along with user preferences, and adjusting for them in real time. We have conducted intensive research to validate the problem, along with documenting the effects of financial illiteracy on this community, with assistance from Techstars. We have also run a pilot with Barclay’s Africa looking at our target market’s needs in regards to financial services. We are in the process of piloting our VR application with the Lebanese Ministry of Education. The idea is to provide educational content, in the case of our pilot that is local experts showing students important historical sites in Lebanon, which can be shared without an internet connection once downloaded. This is a quick and cheap method of distributing educational content to refugee communities; which is important since most countries’ educational systems cannot accommodate large numbers of new students

Who benefits?

Anyone affected by an intellectual disability (including family) stands to benefit from the ReAble app, regardless of socioeconomic status. The direct impact of our app will see our users gain access to banking services. This will be compounded by the numerous benefits of the banking service itself. There are many companies that stand to benefit from adapting our method of simplifying a service for the disabled to their industry. The app will launch in the EU, US, and MENA and will be offered in English, Arabic, and French. Our VR service is applicable to any displaced child at any grade level. We are in the process of piloting our VR here in Lebanon which has one of the largest concentrations of Syrian refugees in the world. There are ~250,000 refugees currently enrolled in Lebanese schools, and a roughly equal amount are not enrolled in school at all. Any reduction in the cost of education will see those resources reallocated, potentially increasing the education system's capacity.

How is your innovation unique?

The simple answer is that no other company is offering the service offered by our app; the closest comparison would be simple budgeting software designed for the intellectually disabled. Being said, we do have an innovative approach to human-centred design--utilizing the dynamic user interface described earlier. We are also excited by how scalable this technique is to other disabilities, such as Alzheimer's or even illiteracy. Furthermore, our service is to open up another service; one that will have major ramifications for our users' lives--access to banking services could help someone pursue entrepreneurial ambitions, or attend college, or any number of other benefits. The main innovations employed by our VR service are our low-cost production methods and making the experiences transferable without an internet connection, ensuring they are cheap and easy to disperse in emergency situations.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

First, we'd like to say that our interactions with IDEO at Techstars directly influenced our decision to implement a human-centered approach to development, and we hope to learn more from you on that front. ReAble app: How will increasing the number of users affect our service? (We are currently in beta) How will we gather quantitative data on our users' improvement for use in the iterative development of the app? What are the our optimal KPIs? VR: How will the VR technology evolve in the immediate future? To what degree will teachers be willing to adopt new technologies? Does this change by country? Do emergencies affect this? Similar concerns as the app in regards to gathering quantitative data and determining the best KPIs.

Tell us more about you.

We are a startup founded by Emile Sawaya and Paul Safi. Emile is CEO of ReAble; he was inspired to start the company by his younger brother who was diagnosed with autism several years ago. Paul is our COO; he has a degree in psychology from Carleton University, and is legally blind. Our CTO is Brad Constantinescu who has worked in software development & management for the past 10 years, with a track record in AI & data mining applications. We also have affiliations with Turkey.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Armed conflict
  • Prolonged displacement
  • Other (please specify in next question)

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

Our VR service would be best fit for helping refugees and displaced people in countries that are not equipped to handle an influx of new students. It would do this by providing inexpensive educational content that can be implemented quickly and is easily transferable. Our financial app would be useful in similar situations. Services for the disabled are often an unaffordable luxury in emergency situations; this app can just as easily be used by a refugee as by a citizen of a 1st world country.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

We recently signed for exclusive permission from the Ministry of Education to run our VR pilot in Lebanese public schools. Most of our initial expansion will take place in Lebanon; with the potential for opening similar initiatives in other countries managing large refugee populations. The app is universally applicable, and the barriers of offering it in new countries are minimal. We simply add a new currency and translate it which is easy since the app uses an intentionally simple vocabulary.

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

We are in close communication with several elements of the Lebanese government including the Ministry of Education as well as the PM's office, who has supported us publicly. We have been endorsed by the Central Bank of Lebanon. The former Minister of Telecommunications, Nicolas Sehnaoui, is on our board of advisers. We work with the majority of special needs centres in Lebanon and the American University of Beirut. We also collaborate with Berytech, and are members of the Techstars accelerator.

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

One of our founders, Emile, has 8 years experience developing apps in multiple sectors. His aunt, Suha Tutunji, is head of the Juseer education program which manages schools helping Syrian refugees, she is a close adviser for both projects. Our CTO is head of a major AI consultancy and development company with over 5 years of experience, employing dozens of PhDs. We have a strategic partnership with his company, giving us access to world-class developers at a considerably reduced cost. ...etc.

Innovation Maturity

  • Existing Prototype or Pilot: I have tested a part of my solution with users and am iterating.

Organization Status

  • We are a registered for-profit company (including social enterprises).

Organization Location

Based out of Beirut, Lebanon with a team operating in six different countries. Emile: Lebanon Paul: Lebanon/Canada/UAE ... etc.

Website (New Website)

How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

We worked directly with educators and challenged students to refine the learning experience. We made sure to keep the students engaged through story-telling while observing their reactions, speed, and accuracy. We noted potential factors and changes to make by observing implicit communication. We turned most actions into a game to make sure we would able to work with them for prolonged periods of time without agitating test participants.

Who will implement this Idea?

Emile Sawaya - CEO -Emile is based in Lebanon and will be leading the project with Rana Sawaya from CARE as well as a group of dedicated volunteers that will follow up on each school. We are working directly with the Public schools and Ministry of Education directly to enable them to implement the project directly in the classroom. Brad Constantinescu - CTO Brad has been doing project based software development & management for the past 10 years, with a track record in AI & Data Mining applications. He is the current President and CTO of Stone Soup Technologies, a US so

What challenges do your end-users face? (1) What is the biggest challenge that your end-users face on a day-to-day, individual level? (2) What is the biggest systems-level challenge that affects your end-users?

Displaced girls and people with disabilities daily face discrimination due to the cultural bias against women and the stigma surrounding special needs in our culture. The ramifications are wide, including social, personal and financial vulnerability. Their communities live in a near sustenance level - and they daily need to decide who gets what. Tragically, these girls and people with special needs are always the first to get left behind. They are daily exposed to horrific vulnerabilities and tragedies... By providing them with tools that are tangible and meet the pressing social and cultural needs, ReAble , alongside its partners can advocate their cause and provide succinct, culturally sensitive opportunities . The ReAble two-tiered approach will tangibly challenge the idea that th

How is your organization considering sustainable growth in order to continue making an impact over time?

B2C Business Model Our consumer application, the ReAble Wallet, assists with cash transactions by ensuring they receive the proper amount of change and notifies the parent/guardian of the transaction in real time. -One month free trial -50USD charged annually -Referrals 1 month per referral 6 limit -Aggressive marketing strategy through events, endorsements, government deals, online marketing (social media, adwords, website) -Option to add VR educational modules (included VR headsets) -Initial market: EU, SA, GCC, US, Canada ,Lebanon

Tell us about your vision for this project: (1) share one sentence about the impact that you would like to see from this project in five years and (2) what is the biggest question/hurdle you need to address to get there?

We envision Syrian refugees with intellectual challenges gaining employment, and the capacity to independently transact and save up for a more stable future. This will reduce the burden on the already under resourced special needs centres in Lebanon which provide vocational training to this vulnerable community. Financial literacy should not be a bottleneck to the livelihood and opportunities afforded to these displaced people. Although this system or solution will be used by the general populac

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) outcomes for this project?

Our program will teach the skills necessary to be financially literate and self-reliant by consulting with professional educators and social workers to establish SMART learning outcomes. These can be tweaked to the needs of each specific community. These learning outcomes and skills will be assessed between modules and at the end of every session to ensure the transfer of knowledge, skills and application. Assessments will include observation in real time, day-to day interactions.

What is the timeline for your project Idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

Within 9 months we will have our first full round of lessons, assessments, and feedback mechanisms, which would have been distributed to initial partners. By 12 months, we would begin automating our feedback and refinement process to create alterations without our direct observations. By 18 months we will establish distribution networks on a national scale. By 24 months we will rework the content to scale to other cultures. By 30 months, we expect to license a full solution to governments worldw

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Between $100,000 and $500,000 USD

How many of your team’s paid, full-time staff are currently based in the location where the beneficiaries of your proposed Idea live?

  • Under 5 paid, full-time staff

Is your organization registered in the country that you intend to implement your Idea in?

  • We are a registered entity, but not in the country in which we plan to implement our Idea.

How long have you and your colleagues been working on this Idea together?

  • More than 2 years

What do you need the most support with for your innovation?

  • Program/Service Design
  • Product Design
  • Communications / Marketing / Graphic Design
  • Organizational Design


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