RESEARCH POLICY

Ras Al Khaimah 2017 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr. Natasha Ridge, Executive Director of the Sheikh Saud Bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, on the foundation's work in social research, applications of its findings, and upcoming projects in the pipeline.

Dr. Natasha Ridge
BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Natasha Ridge is Executive Director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research. Prior to this, she was the Acting Director of Research at the Dubai School of government. She has a number of publications, including Education and the Reverse Gender Divide in the Gulf States: Embracing the Global, Ignoring the Local. Ridge holds a doctorate of education in international education policy from Columbia University and a master’s in international and community development from Deakin University. She is a founding board member and former president of the Gulf Comparative Education Society.

Although education was the initial focus of the foundation, you are now reaching into other areas such as urban planning and development or health. What sparked this transition into other areas?

Urban development, public health, and education are our three main focus areas, meaning that we touch upon the social aspect of research. One of the first linkages we created in our foundation was between education and health. We noticed a lack of real support in areas like depression, health, and wellbeing. Our mission is to improve social outcomes relating to those things. With urban development, a company approached us wanting to map the communities in Ras Al Khaimah. Since we found it interesting, we decided to go forward and it went quite well. There was no other research at that time on Ras Al Khaimah town, the city, and its livability. That linked back to education in respect to how the schools are based in the communities, and what kind of environment the communities are nurturing. We are interested in the use of public space and how these focus areas all work together.

What were the most interesting findings of your research last year?

We had a great medical health scholar on a Fulbright scholarship come in, and he was looking at medical tourism. The most interesting finding was the large amount of money that the UAE spent on sending patients abroad for health treatment, and in parallel to that how much is spent on bringing patients here for medical treatment. Another interesting study has been the development of space and the types of space worth preserving in Ras Al Khaimah. In education we are conducting a large study examining the impact of fathers' involvement in children's education levels and self-esteem. Those are just three examples but there are many others.

Has any of this research resulted in practical implementation of the findings?

The research we have conducted on male school dropouts has resulted in a pilot program in schools to help teenage boys. We also work with the local correctional facility because many of these at-risk boys actually end up in prison. Since then, we have been approached by a number of juvenile detention centers to help start establish similar programs for other young offenders. Having a dedicated focus on research in the area has promoted an increase in scholars approaching us to do more research on different topics, giving us leverage with organizations involving tourism and the municipality. While our work may not always have a direct impact on policy, it is working to address more and more local needs.

In what areas will the foundation focus its research for 2016?

We are going to look at the philanthropic sector across the region and how they operate. We also have a doctoral student coming to study art movements in the UAE and conduct research, which represents a larger emphasis on arts and culture. We also have our 5th annual fine arts festival, which showcases close to 100 artists from the region. Before this, there was not a place for people to gather together, and this event has attracted a lot of sponsorships from local businesses and has been a positive environment for the arts community. We have also awarded grants for research on nursery and early childhood education in Ras Al Khaimah, and another one looking at mangroves and some of the environmental impacts of development on the mangroves. These studies involve both physical and social issues. There is also a study in conjunction with the University of Sydney that will look at breast cancer and Emirati women. All of the previous work in this field has been normalized on US and Western populations but not on women in this region. They have done a lot of work at hospitals, and we will be working more on the awareness campaign and trying to pilot some studies for alternatives.