There are no kangaroos in Austria

I’m currently in Austria as a guest of the Johannes Kepler University (JKU) in Linz. JKU is hosting the EERA Summer School 2016 where I am a tutor, facilitating sessions on research methodology for PhD students. The sessions are going well and there is excellent learning taking place for both the students and myself.

Today we had an away day in Salzburg where students attended sessions on quantitative and qualitative data analysis at the Federal Institute for Educational Research, Innovation & Development of the Austrian School System (BIFIE).  After a morning of intellectually challenging sessions, we had the afternoon off to explore Salzburg (and solve a problem like Maria! – worry not though, this won’t be a blog post with cheesy lines from The Sound of Music). However, I cannot resist mentioning one of my favourite things: the ‘No kangaroos in Austria’ souvenir slogan which made me giggle as I pictured hapless tourists perplexedly demanding to view these marsupials. I did ask if any zoo in the country had specially brought a kangaroo in, but was told that the seasonal European climes make it impossible for the roos to thrive.


image source: personal picture

Anyhow, back to my exploration of Salzburg. My colleagues and I strolled around the city admiring the various historic locations and quaint buildings. At one point we came across the designated UNESCO heritage site, Mirabell Palace and its luscious gardens.


image source: personal picture

The Palace was commissioned in the early 17th Century by the Prince-Archbishop Wolf Dietrich Raitenau for his Mistress Salome Alt (an eyebrow-raising story in itself). But  I digress.

Now I attach here the sign that was at the Garden entrance for your convenience. Allow me to explain: you see, I am used to such signs in public parks and gardens usually having one coherent message: either prohibitive or informative.



image source: personal picture (click on image for larger size to open in a new window)

So I quickly scanned the sign. (Please bear in mind that my colleagues and I had vowed not to use our map or translation apps during the course of our exploration of the city). The upper level cautions made sense (although I was saddened to see that juggling is prohibited). The middle level cautions were also easily construed by the diagonal red lines across them. The lower left one seemed to me like a wishbone, goggles and a paper being thrown in the bin. Although on second glance, I surmised that’s probably a banana peel and apple core, not wishbone and goggles. Anyhow, the red arrow made it clear that this particular caution was of an advisory nature. Now the last one on the lower right. No diagonal line and no arrow. Whatever is one supposed to make of it? Run when lightning hitting a tree is accompanied by UFOs in the distance? Or maybe don’t run when lightning hitting a tree is accompanied by UFOs in the distance?

My point is, as someone who has studied Special Educational Needs, I think it’s important  that public signs – whether they are informative, prohibitive, cautionary, or advisory – be clear and unambiguous in their message – even to those with vivid imaginations such as myself. Therefore, in the spirit of public service, I’ve taken the opportunity to make a little amendment to the sign. All that remains now is for the Salzburgian City Council to officially proclaim my genius!


image source: edited personal picture

Fortunately though, apart from this one instance, I am happy to report that all the other public signage was up to my irrational wacky nonsensical exacting standards; my favourite of course, being that there are no kangaroos in Austria. I am loving every moment of my trip and the warmth and hospitality of my Austrian hosts and the wider community here.

Have you had any experience of confusing public signage?  Please do share your stories below.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2016

Bombolulu, Kenya

I will shortly be travelling to Albania to attend a partner meeting about the EFESEIIS project, for which I am part of the Institute for Social Innovation and Impact‘s research team representing England. The project – about which we are collaborating with partners in nine other European countries – aims to develop an evolutionary theory and ecosystem of Social Entrepreneurship.

Whilst preparing for the meeting, I was reminded of a fabulous social enterprise that was a regular shopping spot during my formative years in Kenya. The Bombolulu Workshops and Cultural Centre were always a favoured destination during family holidays in the beach town of Mombasa. Created and managed by the Association for the Physically Disabled of Kenya (APDK), Bombolulu, as it is commonly referred to (named for the Mombasa suburb where the facilities are located), consists of  several workshops and a cultural centre. The facilities offer a range of goods and services that provide social and economic rehabilitation and empowerment of people with disabilities.  (Alas, I have no pictures from my last visit).

Since 1968, the artisans at Bombolulu have attempted to tackle poverty through the creation and trading in handicrafts, producing jewellery, clothes, carvings and other crafts of a high standard. Vocational training is also provided to those with physical disabilities, and the cultural centre houses mock-ups of traditional Kenyan homesteads which visitors are invited to tour.

Their motto of “Disability is not inability” was further demonstrated in 2004 when the Bombolulu School of Promise was created to provide education to the children living in the slums of Mombasa. If you are ever in the vicinity, I would highly recommend a trip to both locations: the School and the Workshops and Cultural Centre to witness first-hand how the lives of those from impoverished families or those living with disabilities, are being impacted for the better.

My reason for blogging about Bombolulu today is that, whilst I am looking forward to learning about socially entrepreneurial initiatives around Europe at my meeting, I am also proud to highlight but just one such fabulous and well-established enterprise that exists in developing countries such as mine.

Do you know of any other exemplary social enterprises? I’d love to learn about them, so please do comment below.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015

What matters to you?

Since 2011, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has undertaken research within OECD member countries which compared wellbeing across the world. The Better Life Index, which resulted from the project, depicts the results in the form of ‘flowers’ in which each flower depicts a country, and each petal represents a topic. Although visually very appealing, one should approach the data with caution, because it is based on voluntarily-submitted data, which means the participants are self-selected. Therefore, the results indicated in the Better Life Index are not necessarily representative of the views of the global population, and indeed, could be argued to represent mainly those with an internet connection.

Nevertheless, the OECD has extracted further data from the Better Life Index study, and developed an interactive map illustrating ‘What matters most to people around the world.’ Among those in OECD countries that have used the tool, health narrowly beats general life satisfaction as the topic people identify as most important to them. Although interesting to browse through, I’d argue two caveats whilst looking at the map: firstly, some of the terms used to define the parameters are rather vague, for instance, “life satisfaction”; and secondly, the number of respondents varies greatly from country to country.

The ‘What Matters to you?’ map makes for a thought-provoking point of reference when one considers that later this year in September 2015, the UN will meet to finalise the new framework for global development priorities 2015-2030. This week the ‘zero draft of the outcome document‘ was published of 17 goals and 169 targets. The accompanying image on the left (which you can click on for larger legible version) illustrates a more user-friendly summary of the overall framework. On a personal note, I am disappointed to see no mention made of the educational needs of those with disabilities and/or those living in war-ravaged countries. I fear the danger of a whole generation of children growing up amongst strife, not being given educational opportunities in any form, so as to enable them to break to vicious cycle of poverty or the state of civic unrest within which they live.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with the results depicted in OECD research? Do you think UN goals and targets reflect global (not just OECD member countries’) priorities? Do you think that 17 targets and 169 goals are enough to meet the needs of over 7 billion people? What matters to you?

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015

Lessons from my physical disability

Growing up, I often heard what is purported to be an American-Indian saying, “Never criticise a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.” Regardless of the veracity of its origins, the empathetic notions that are meant to be derived from it were made patently manifest to me after I experienced near-labour-levels of pain broke fractured mangled mutilated dismembered pulverised seriously injured two of my toes some days ago. (note to self: play down the degree of severity incase mother reads this blog)

I shan’t bore you with the technicalities of the incident, suffice to say that I was saved from going into shock on the spot because my dear friend who accompanied me to the Accident and Emergency Unit at the Hospital could not stop giggling at the incredulity of the situation. What’s that saying about a true friend being someone who sits with you and laughs whilst you have visions of needing reconstructive toe surgery as you almost faint from the pain of a crushed foot – yes, I’m looking reproachfully at you Ms. LOL-A. (What a coincidentally apt acronym of your name!)

Anyhow, so back to the purpose of this blogpost. What an eye-opening few days I’ve had. Now, although my doctoral studies have been about the support given to children with special educational needs and disabilities, actually having a disability – albeit a temporary one – has afforded me a first-hand insight into the daily travails faced by those whose physical mobility is impacted to some degree.


image source: National Council for the Development and Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities (CONADIS)

The time taken hobbling between offices, for instance, has doubled. As has my planning in terms of the accessibility options available within various buildings. I now have to think twice before making multiple trips to and from the printer in my office, and have also been constrained by my inability to dash up the stairs to pick up a notepad from my desk whilst en route to a training session directly after a meeting at a different location. All these examples have led me to reflect on just how much allowance we make for those with physical disabilities during our day-to-day activities. Working in a higher education institution, I am aware of expectations for instance, where students sometimes have a mere 30 minutes between lectures, during which time they are expected to not only buy lunch from the bustling campus cafeteria, but also move speedily between lecture locations, which could be from one end of campus to the other.

My doctoral  research afforded me an insight into support levels for those with disabilities, but my first-hand experiences of disability have afforded me the empathy that is so critical when it comes to planning for provisions and initiatives which take into account those who are “differently-abled”.  This website has some useful practical tools and tips that we can implement in our daily lives.

To conclude, on a light-hearted note, I can finally say that I achieved one of the items on my bucket-list: I literally brought traffic to a standstill this morning, as the drivers waited patiently for me to hobble across the road. Granted it wasn’t because of my stunning beauty – but hey, my attractiveness played some part in it, right? You can’t blame a girl for trying!

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015