SHE FACTOR: Service beyond the call of duty
Dr Saliha Afridi's clinic prioritises community needs
This entrepreneur does not run her business purely for a financial motive. She has made a commitment to serve the community and make the UAE a healthier place. Meet Dr Saliha Afridi, clinical psychologist and managing director of The Lighthouse Arabia (TLH), a community mental health clinic in Dubai.
"I have worked in places that I found to be uninspiring, demotivating and at times even toxic. I wanted to work in a place that had beautiful energy and one that I loved going into, where the team was supportive of each other, where we kept the community agenda front and centre, and we held ourselves to the highest professional development standards. I couldn't find such a place - so I created one. TLH was born as a result of me wanting to work consistently with my values," says Saliha.
While the clinic offers for-fee services, the whole team has given hundreds of hours for free to community education, community outreach, parenting education, corporate wellness and mental health education. "We all feel we are living out our life's purpose, not just providing a service that the community needs. We make sure everyone has opportunity and time to do something for the community for which they don't get paid. This is why we are different," she adds.
The clinic aims to spread the message about the importance of taking care of child and adult mental health. By making mental health information more accessible, the team wants to raise awareness for early detection and treatment.
Lighthouse Arabia also boasts of a unique work culture that applies the latest research in creating an environment with policies and ambience that will motivate, encourage and energise the team.
"For example, we make sure our clinicians take two days off in a row, every office has to have a window, we encourage vacations of at least two weeks, we expect people to only work with 25 clients out of a 40-hour week, we have flexible time and we discourage late night e-mails and report writing. We meet as a team and focus on fun and community building. We invest in developing our clinicians and they travel around the world to bring the latest research and knowledge to the team and to our community. This helps them stay engaged and curious," she elaborates.
The clinic opened seven years ago with just three people - two psychologists and a receptionist. Today, TLH has approximately 45 employees, which includes doctors, therapists and administrative staff.
Dr Saliha's first source of funding to set up the business was from her savings and the income that was generated through different mental health related projects that she conducted prior to starting TLH.
The services offered at the clinic are driven by what transpires in the community. "We have seen a sharp rise in mental health issues in children as well as in the corporate sector, so we are focusing a lot of energy in expanding our services for these groups," she adds.
For instance, Lighthouse Arabia was the only licensed facility in the UAE last year to deliver the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) programme, which allows people to be a first responder when they see someone experiencing difficulties such as depression, anxiety, suicide, etc. This year, the clinic is looking to train adolescents in MHFA services so they are able to help identify classmates who need support and treatment.
Dr Saliha says the UAE is very encouraging of expats starting up businesses here. "The UAE is a young country and a new frontier, so there are many opportunities for people to start their businesses. Whoever has the idea, the personal will [and the finances] to realise it [the business], it can happen in the UAE."
The entrepreneur, however, says the biggest challenge and barrier to entry in the UAE's startup ecosystem are the fees and charges that a company has to pay to set up.
"There was not a lot of clarity about how much the whole process would cost and we realised only through experience that each step required a lot more money than budgeted. There was also a lack of clarity about expectations, rules and regulations. It delayed us because the people in different organisations gave us contradicting information. This can delay the progress and most people are often stuck in one of these processes for quite some time, delaying their launch while they pay rent and other fees," she recalls.
Giving due credit to others for her success, Saliha says she did not get here alone and it was not just one person who helped her come so far. "It was my mother's prayers, my father's encouragement, my husband's support, my children's patience and my team's passion that has made The LightHouse successful," Dr Saliha continues.
She cannot stress enough the importance of having a team of superstars. "You are only as good as your team. If the people are unmotivated, incompetent, negative and toxic, the culture and the energy will also be that. Even one person can bring the whole team down, so spend a lot of time on the front end interviewing and seeing if there is a good fit between the team member and your culture," she remarks.
Dr Saliha adds that work-life balance does not exist, but life satisfaction does. She says entrepreneurs must be willing to go the distance for their work but always tend to personal priorities as well.
"There will inevitably be times when your business is going to ask way more of you and your personal life will not be in balance. However, there are people and things in your personal life that cannot be comprised. Write down those non-negotiable things and be ready to let go of the rest. Focus on the ones you love and focus on your work and be okay with things not being in balance as long as they are all being tended to," she concludes.
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