When Nabila Muhammad Usman was a child, she heard the famous saying: "If you give a man a fish you will feed him once, but if you teach him how to fish then you will feed him for life." As an adult, she has striven to live by those words. The market researcher operates a non-profit recruitment consultancy whose only purpose is to help the unemployed find work. "I don't focus on money or making it," she said. "I just want to help people develop the skills they already have so that they need never ask for help again."
Through her website www.nabilausman.com, which she launched nine months ago, Miss Usman offers services such as writing CVs, training in basic information technology and English, and one-on-one confidence-building sessions. She says her work is aimed at young people looking to get their foot on the ladder in administration or human resources jobs, and at those who are less educated and "need a push in the right direction".
"I will help anyone I can, but the recruitment consultancy is not designed for high-level executives," she said. "I am still young, and I know I am limited in the amount of professional training I can give. Much of the time it is just about talking to people and encouraging them to have confidence in themselves. Talking is so simple, but it can be such a huge thing. It can change someone's life."
Miss Usman looks for candidates on job-search websites; they learn about her through word of mouth. She has about 12 enquiries a month and ends up helping approximately seven clients. She meets each individually to assess their needs and to ensure they are serious about finding work. "Mostly I find people are not reaching their full potential due to insecurity, laziness or lack of knowledge, so I ask them if they are ready to change their lives," she said.
Then Miss Usman may advise them on how to rewrite their CV or cover letter, enrol them in one of her bimonthly workshops, or offer to conduct a job search on their behalf. She does not take payment, but often, upon finding work, her clients will compensate her. "I never quote them a specific amount," she says. "It's up to them if they want to pay me or not and anything they do pay goes straight back into the website. I make sure I tell them exactly how their money is spent."
The only cash flow Miss Usman can rely on comes from the corporate services she offers. She sets out business plans, conducts market research or lays out corporate social responsibility initiatives for businesses. This work earns her approximately Dh12,000 (US$3,260) a month, most of which she puts back into her philanthropic work. "I strongly believe the key to a happy life is moderation - to be happy with what you have," she said. "I don't drive a big car, I don't wear a flashy abaya and I don't spend on expensive jewellery or bags. What makes me happy is helping others."
Miss Usman takes her philanthropic inspiration from her father, an Indian expatriate who moved to Ras al Khaimah in 1972. He started life in the UAE as a labourer, but after years of hard work he opened his own shop selling building supplies, and successfully supported his family of seven children. She says she finds her father's story "incredible", and she has many treasured childhood memories of him telling of his life in India during partition in 1947, a time of widespread disruption and suffering when millions were displaced.
"He and his mother, my grandmother, helped so many people during that era," she said. "They took people into the home, welcomed them into the family and helped with everything from food and clothing to finding work." Even after he moved to the UAE, Miss Usman's father carried on helping people whenever he could. Once he paid for the wedding of one of his older male relatives, sorting out the venue, paying for the dowry and arranging for all the guests.
"It wasn't something he did for recognition, he just wanted to see his relative happily married," she said. "I don't just take inspiration from him; I feel part of his generous nature is inside me. It is a personal commitment." Earlier this year a struggling family in Dubai heard of Miss Usman's work and came to her for help. A father of two young children was out of work, and he and his wife were facing eviction for missed rent payments. She collected donations from the community to help them and used her contacts to find the father work. Thanks to her intervention, the family kept their apartment.
For poorer families, Miss Usman is developing a section on her website called Talent Pool. She promotes the services of local craftsmen and women whose skills, she said, would otherwise go unnoticed by a large section of society. "There are so many people here with talents such as embroidery, carpentry, cookery and specialised childcare, but many of them lack the computer skills to know how to promote themselves on the internet or the confidence to see their skill as a source of income," she said. "As my website grows, I want it to act as a portal to put these types of people in touch with potential customers."
Miss Usman, who was born in Dubai, has six sisters and one brother, and lives at home with her father and four siblings. She spends her free time at home with family, but usually she is working on pursuing her goals. She is also seeking sponsorship from a business or corporation so she can turn her consultancy into a registered company. "It's not easy to do this kind of work, especially as I'm so young and many people do not take me seriously," she said. "But I am determined. I've always known I wanted to help others and I think this is the best way to do it."