Every year, more so in recent years, Qatar’s population has continued to increase. Today, Qatar’s population is over 2.2 million with over 60 nationalities living in the country. However, Qataris make up only 12% of the total population with 278,000 nationals, meaning expatriates make up 88% of Qatar’s population.
As one of the goals of Qatar National Vision 2030, the Government of Qatar has introduced Qatarisation, a strategic initiative or programme to provide employment for its citizens in the private and public sectors. Qatarisation targets positions that are integral to the business plans of private and public sector entities. The objective is to provide 50% or more of Qatari citizens with meaningful permanent employment.
As a result, in recent years Qatar has witnessed an increase of Qatari businesses run mainly by young nationals to promote not only their talents but also the country and its culture, filling the gap between locals and expatriates.
Aiming to do just that is Embrace Doha, which was established by Qatari Amal Shammari aimed at expatriates to educate them about Qatari culture. ‘How can we send the right message to expatriates?’ asked Al Shammari, wanting to erase the misconceptions expatriates in Qatar have of locals. ‘I realised there’s a gap between Qataris and expatriates,’ she said as a reason to why she established Embrace Doha. Being a graduate of the conservative and segregated Qatar University, Al Shammari only realised this gap after joining the mixed-gender envirnonmet of the oil and gas company, Oryx GTL where she currently works as a Senior Business Analyst.
Established in 2014, Embrace Doha is a registered business currently run mainly by Al Shammari and her colleague, Eman Al Dubaly. ‘I was hesitating if there’s a market for this business because it’s totally new. No one is doing it. I started participating in certain competitions to see if the judges would like the idea or if there is a need for it or not, because maybe it’s just me imagining expats need it,’ she said. Al Shammari pitched the idea of Embrace Doha in three different business idea competitions and won all three including the Qatar Business Incubation Center’s (QBIC) annual start-up competition. As a result, Embrace Doha is currently incubated by QBIC. ‘There are a few Qataris [in the country], we can’t deny that…sometimes people say it’s rare to find a Qatari. I think this kind of project can attract Qataris to represent themselves and their culture and at the same time, it gives expats the chance to speak with Qataris who can answer their questions, or just to have a Qatari friend that can give one the satisfaction of saying yeah I met a Qatari and I have a Qatari friend’, said Al Shammari.
Embrace Doha provides expatriates with Qatari Cultural Sessions where they create a complete Qatari environment and discuss Qatar’s traditions, history and geography, where attendees have to find cities and other locations on the country’s map. In addition, expatriates get the chance to try on Qatari attire. During Holy Month of Ramadan, Embrace Doha gives educational sessions on how to ‘Embrace Ramadan’. On the occasion of Qatar National Day, which is celebrated every 18 December, Embrace Doha participates with companies such as Katara, QBIC, The Youth Company and more to organise cultural activities.
One of Embrace Doha’s most successful and popular events is ‘How to Become Qatari in 3 Steps’. First step is ‘Hayak’; where you step into a majlis of a tent, get to experience Qatari hospitality with a cup of Arabic coffee and learn more about the story behind that beverage. Second, ‘Blaafya’, where you can enjoy a full traditional meal the Qatari way. Third, ‘Ekshakh’: dress up in Qatari traditional outfits and get photographed with a Polaroid camera, placed in a passport-like envelope as if receiving a Qatari passport. ‘We also bring a lot of Qatari projects to participate in events in our space. We ask them to come and sell their products whether its food, henna, clothes, so it’s like a Qatari corner,’ said Al Shammari.
Embrace Doha also provides ‘Business Protocol Sessions’. ‘We mix culture with business so we can approach oil and gas companies, banks and other companies full of expatriates who are really interested in protocol and etiquette when dealing with Arabs – what to do and what not to do. So instead of saying they wear thobes and abayas, you want to know why they’re wearing that and how to approach them, how to greet them and how to do business with them without offending anyone,’ Al Shammari explains. In addition, Embrace Doha provides custom-made cultural packages for companies across Qatar.
Being incubated by QBIC, Embrace Doha has not found a permanent location yet. Al Shammari is hoping to find office space at Souq Waqif to act as a cultural centre, giving tours at the souq. ‘Honestly, we don’t need more shisha or more food, we need a cultural centre where people can come and ask questions, and you can explain because when you enter Souq Waqif, you don’t know the history of the souq, why is it called Souq Waqif and why the building is the way it is. Mainly, people see restaurants and ice cream shops; there is no cultural side other than the building itself,’ said Al Shammari.
See the culture
Certified by the Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage, See My Culture shares similar goals to Embrace Doha. Established in 2013, See My Culture is a volunteer based non-for-profit initiative (with a large online presence), which aims to build bridges between locals and the international community in Qatar through various initiatives. The initiative holds cultural exchange programmes, Qatari kitchen workshops, breakfast meetups, mosque tours, exhibitions and photography workshops. ‘I created See My Culture last year to engage the community creatively in a dialogue; to bridge the gap between expatriates and nationals. But one of the main goals was to get the community involved in charity work too,’ said the founder of See My Culture, Qatari Khalid Al Hammadi, speaking to Just Here, a partner of See My Culture’s ‘Make Their Day’ campaign. In June 2014, at the height of summer when it’s hot and humid, See My Culture launched the ‘Make Their Day’ campaign to reach out to low-income migrants in Qatar. The campaign encouraged the community to make a difference in the lives of low-income workers in four simple steps:
- Say hello and greet them
- Ask about their life and family
- Say please and thank you
It also encouraged individuals within the community to distribute water bottles to those they see toiling in the sun under the slogan, ‘QR100: 100 water bottles help 100 people.’ Furthermore, See My Culture collaborates with companies as well as individuals within the community as Cultural Sponsors, helping get projects, events or ideas out across various social media platforms. They have collaborated with big companies like Vodafone and Katara.
Similar to See My Culture, another online social initiative that deals with promoting Qatari culture and respect is the well-known ‘Reflect Your Respect’. Previously known as ‘One of Us’, ‘Reflect Your Respect’ launched in 2012 as an online campaign to encourage men and women to dress more modestly in public places in Qatar. Launched by locals, the slogan simply calles for expatriates to ‘respect’ local cultural values by covering their shoulders, midriffs and knees.
Today, ‘Reflect Your Respect’ distributes leaflets in public parks and malls to make people aware of the message of the campaign. To avoid offending people, the group hands out chocolates, flowers and shawls along with the leaflets. The campaign’s organisers argue that this call for modest attire is enshrined in Qatari law. They point to Article 57 in the Qatari Constitution, which states that ‘abiding by public order and morality, observing national traditions and established customs is a duty of all who reside in the State of Qatar or enter its territory.’
Joining other local enterprises to promote tolerance, equality and collaboration in the society is the recently established Qatar Together. Created jointly by Qataris and expats, it aims to highlight successful individuals who can serve as inspiring examples for the development of Qatari society. By encouraging these examples, Qatar Together aims to contribute towards Qatar National Vision 2030 vision. In addition, their mission is to create harmony among the different parts of Qatari society as the country undergoes the rapid changes.
Presenting local talent
One of the members of Qatar Together, Maryam Al Subaiey founded Q.Talent, a business run by Qataris for Qataris. Al Subaiey established Q.Talent ‘to break the stereotype that there are no talented Qataris. Living abroad for a long time, I went through all the wrong ideas and stereotypes that people can have about what it means to be Qatari…there are a lot of talented Qataris but they don’t really know how to develop their talents and they don’t know where to find the opportunities that enables them to use their talent. I saw that there are a lot of companies and organisations seeking Qatari talent but they don’t know how to find them. So I thought that I should be this bridge between the talent and the companies,’ she explains. Al Subaiey pitched the idea of Q.Talent at the 2014 Qatar National Business Plan Competition (Al Fikra), which is an educational and coaching programme designed for Qatari led start-ups, and won first place, winning QR140,000 to start the business and incubation by Enterprise Qatar.
Today. Q.Talent has both an online and offline shop, promoting Qatari talent within the local creative industry. At Katara where Q.Talent’s shop is located, there are over 26 Qatari talents. However, on their website, there are more. The website has three services online. The first is a ‘recruitment service’ where talent can upload their profile and companies can upload their job openings. Then Q.Talent acts as a recruitment matchmaker, matching the talent to the available job. The website also has an ‘eMarket’, which is the main attribute of the Q.Talent website, where talents can post their products, which are available for sale. Last but not least, the website also includes an ‘events section’, which is an open calendar where people are allowed to post their events for free. ‘We’re really taking baby steps because the creative industry is still new in Qatar and no one understands what the creative industry is. It has huge potential to grow and it can be a source of income for the country,’ said Al Subaiey.
Today, Q.Talent has a database of over 200 Qataris who are in the creative fields of art and culture, fashion, design, architecture, TV and film, theatre, technology (gaming) and sports. The most common talents at Q.Talent are photographers, illustrators and fashion designers. Qataris who wish to present their products at the Q.Talent shop at Katara are not charged for it. ‘If it sells then I take a percentage but if it doesn’t, I don’t charge for anything. I try to support as much as I can without taking advantage. I felt like a lot of people appreciate that. Almost everyone said that finally we have a hub where we are embraced and we feel welcomed and it’s not costing us anything. If anything, it’s helping them to promote their product and talent and it’s only for Qataris,’ explains Al Subaiey. Although Q.Talent provides services only for Qataris including children of Qatari mothers, the business will soon provide services for expatriates who were born in Qatar.
With Q.Talent, Al Subaiey hopes to establish a talent institution. ‘A place that provides vocational education as a second option for people who weren’t able to go to university, or for people who are interested in a career change, or for people who have a talent and want to develop it into a profession,’ she explains. The purpose of the institute is to provide talents with proper education and certificates ‘so they can make a living out of it,’ said Al Subaiey. In addition, she hopes to expand the Q.Talent store. ‘I want it to be a mix of a boutique and a Virgin Megastore for talented Qataris. I have a certain vision for how I want the store to be. The one in Katara is just a start for us. If I have the means and resources, and the people who believe in me, I’ll be able to achieve it inshallah,’ she explains.
Qatar’s local businesses and enterprises including Embrace Doha, Q.Talent, Qatar Together, See My Culture, Reflect Your Respect are now in the spotlight. Supporting Qatar National Vision 2030, all these recently established businesses share the goal of promoting Qatar and its culture with their talents, one way or another.
Embrace Doha embracedoha.com; @EmbraceDoha
Q.Talent qtalent.com; @qtalent
See My Culture seemyculture.com; @SeeMyCulture
Qatar Together qatartogether.com; @QatarTogether.
Reflect Your Respect @reflect_respect, @reflect_your_respect
Author: Ola Diab
This article has been extracted from the ‘Special Features’ section from the Marhaba Information Guide Issue No 62 Spring/Summer 2015. Grab the latest Marhaba issue from the nearest supermarket or bookstore near you.
Copyright © Marhaba Information Guide. Reproduction of material from Marhaba Information Guide’s book or website without written permission is strictly prohibited. Using Marhaba Information Guide’s material without authorisation constitutes as plagiarism as well as copyright infringement.