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This Start Up is Harnessing The Healing Power of Virtual Reality

Business

It's an unfortunate reality. Everyone either has been, or knows someone who has been affected by cancer or another serious illness. Most of us can relate to the hardships of watching a loved one suffer from the emotional ups and downs of this difficult journey. However, if entrepreneur Diane Jooris has anything to do with it, there may be a way to lessen the pain. Based on new research into the healing power of virtual reality, her company, Oncomfort, is designed to help alleviate the anxieties of medical procedures and treatments.


According to CNN, "immersive virtual reality systems are starting to be developed for use by patients during painful procedures, such as dental procedures or changing burns dressings. Addiction in the digital age. The idea is that by placing oneself in this highly immersive virtual world, we are distracted from the painful experience."

Jooris is a wife and a mother of three with a master's degree in clinical psychology and a specialization in hypnosis. Jooris is also a forward-thinking health entrepreneur who is looking to technology to help ease the pain of long-term care.

“I've always been extremely impressed by the impacts that the mind can have on the body and what we can do only by turning our thoughts and our minds in a different direction," she says.

“We won't close the door for anyone… we are there for everybody."

Jooris has been working with medical patients as a volunteer, mental health professional and researcher for the past twenty years. In the last four years she has been working as a specialist at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. It was also four years ago that Jooris' sister was diagnosed with cancer.

Soon Jooris witnessed first-hand the exhaustion and physiological effects of cancer treatment, which when combined make it difficult for patients to get the emotional support they need. It was then that the idea of Oncomfort was first born.

Through her specialties in hypnosis, Jooris knew the effect that the hypnosis techniques can have on patients. Unfortunately, that is quite often too limited for patients such as Jooris' sister who aren't able to get to a doctor's office. After experimenting with hypnosis audio recordings, Jooris realized that there needed to be another component--virtual reality.

“You need to have something that compensates and counterbalances [a real live person]."

With virtual reality, the patient is fully immersed into a situation that is removed from whatever procedure they are going through. The main goal is to put the patient through a state of disassociation through a “different" environment. While listening solely to an audio, 15% of people don't have the skills to come up with a visual on their own, which is why the virtual reality itself is so important.

While in Houston, Jooris was introduced to Joowon Kim, a previous founder of virtual reality game company. Together, the two identified the needs of both doctors and patients, and then created a prototype to ship to doctors in different countries. After receiving feedback from the doctors, they adapted the prototype to try on patients, where they received even more feedback. It's this ongoing process that keeps the product thoroughly improving.

“Passion is major, and if you have a vision, and your main goal is genuine… I think you are able to make things happen."

Jooris says that she was with one patient who was smiling while on the operating table, and the patient said, “This is wonderful--I'm swimming with dolphins!" The limits of virtual reality are essentially endless. Without any invasive procedures or medications, these people are able to be both pain and anxiety free. Even though there is a lot of competition in the field, Oncomfort is the only product running in five different languages, offering opportunities for global use.

"Beyond studies of distraction, we are also starting to see other examples of how virtual reality could be used, and even incorporated into cognitive behavioral approaches to chronic pain management," according to CNN. "For example, virtual games have been used as a means of delivering exposure-based behavioral treatments for pain, in which a patient is placed in different virtual situations that they might otherwise avoid."

Starting a company is not easy work, especially one so heavily involved with both scientific and psychological research. Jooris says that you have to be part human and part octopus for such a task. You must have arms everywhere--you need to be able to handle finances, go through legal contracts, find voices, take part of competitions, and so much more because you want to be able to grow your company; and that is exactly what Jooris is doing.

Jooris and Kim are hoping that within six more months, the company and product will be more widely distributed throughout multiple countries and more well known. Oncomfort isn't only limited to oncology patients, either. The goal is to have it available for anyone who needs it, whether it be through other medical procedures or even dealing with regular stress.

And her final advice for everybody? Stay motivated. Choose your battles, and know your priorities--the rest will come afterwards.

7min read
Culture

The Middle East And North Africa Are Brimming With Untapped Female Potential

Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.


A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.

To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.

The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.

In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.

Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")

The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."

This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.

Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.

She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."

Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.

"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei

While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.

Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.

The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."

This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.

Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.