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Project Akshar "Alphabets" How SmartLife graduated Dubai"s laborers from blue-collar to white-collar

It is often said that when you give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, but when you teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

In the same spirit as that, here is a meaningful and inspiring story about how SmartLife, an NGO for blue-collar labourers, in affiliation with the Community Development Authority in Dubai, helped thousands of labourers graduate from blue-collar to white-collar, and as a result, improved their status and quality of life.

Update: At the recently concluded Dubai Lynx Festival of Creatiivity 2015 organized by Cannes Lions, this has won the first-ever Grand Prix for Good, 8 Gold and 6 Silver with an esteemed international jury headed by David Lubars and team.

Brand: SmartLife
Agency: FP7/DXB (Part of McCann Worldgroup)
Idea: Project Akshar (Alphabets)

In Dubai, learning English will help its many labourers get better jobs and salaries.

But with average monthly salaries of $220, and a hard life of 12-hour work shifts, they neither have the money nor time to educate themselves.

SmartLife, an NGO for Dubai"s labourers wanted to help improve their status and quality of life.

We created Project Akshar (Alphabets), where we set out to graduate Dubai"s labourers from blue-collar to white-collar.

We first launched free English classes.

And to encourage labourers to register and enroll, we first needed to show them how easy it is to learn English.

So, using effective visual learning techniques, we took words that are useful to them, wrote their English phonetic pronunciations in the Hindi script, and combined them with their visual representation, to create words that teach them English through their own language.

We then placed hundreds of words like these, designed to look like school notepads, across their daily journey, across Dubai. And we gave them a number at the back for registrations.

We turned Dubai into a blackboard for them. Labour camps became Educational camps. Transport buses became School buses. Construction sites became Learning sites. Mundane routines became Inspiring journeys.

We extended their learning across channels by creating: Learning flashcards, an Interactive karaoke song, Print ads in vernacular media, Bus shelter ads around labour camps.

They picked up English words across all touch points. Each word brought them closer to learning the English language.

In the spirit of free English classes, we shared a number they could give a missed call on and SmartLife called them back to enroll them.

We created a special edition book to generate funds for the project.

And a social media app triggered contributions of new words for the project from Hindi-speaking audiences across relevant markets.

Project Akshar (Alphabets) is transforming their lives of labour into lives of learning.
(1) 5000+ students have graduated thus far in the project.
(2) 28% have cleared job interviews for white-collar jobs.
(3) 12% launched businesses back home.
(4) 23% got promoted to white-collar jobs, from their existing blue-collar job in the same companies.
(5) 37% got higher salaries; including certain workers graduating from 800 AED ($220) per month to 8000 AED ($2200) per month in just 12 months.
(6) Project Akshar (Alphabets) has also been invited to be a part of the Dubai Government’s ‘Happy Dubai’ initiative.
(7) All costs were pro bono ($0) courtesy SmartLife’s partners.
(8) SmartLife generated unprecedented earned media for its brand worth $230,000 across TV, Press, Radio and Social Media. Among many others, we were endorsed by Timeout, Dubai One, The National, Gulf News, XPRESS,, Dubai Municipality, Emirates 24/7, GEMS Winchester School, City 7, Dubai Media Inc, Manorama News,, Khaleej Times, Gulf Madhyam daily.

VIA «Project Akshar "Alphabets" How SmartLife graduated Dubai's laborers from blue-collar to white-collar» by Jane Storm


Project Akshar "Alphabets" How SmartLife graduated Dubai"s laborers from blue-collar to white-collar {Public Awareness}