The UAE is at the forefront of the Middle East push to develop social networking websites designed to help expatriate arrivals make friends and organise social events, according to a Dubai-based internet entrepreneur.
The high expat population and transitory nature of much of the workforce in the UAE means many arrivals can find themselves struggling to find a circle of friends.
But the networking website www.socialcirclesuae.com, aims to help match arrivals with existing residents who share the same interests.
Rachel Morton, founder of Social Circles, said the UAE was the first Middle Eastern country to experiment with this type of socialising. “Back in 2008 when the crash hit, a lot of people left the country so I came up with the idea with a friend that I met through a networking website in the UAE,” she said.
The women were both single and ready to mingle. “We were thinking about how to meet people without having to go to a bar. We checked the internet, the newspapers but nobody was organising any events,” Ms Morton said.
Coming from the United States, she was used to networking organisations. “Here, people tend to stay in their little bubble but I love meeting people. I’ll walk up to anyone and just say ‘Hi’,” she said.
“I wanted to make new friends and have a social life. It’s important not to feel restricted. You want to go somewhere but you have no one to go with and the majority of people would rather stay home because going anywhere alone is rather intimidating.”
Social integration has become crucial in a country where the majority of the population is non-native. “People are logging on and joining [Social Circles] every day,” Ms Morton, 33, said. “The feedback has been extremely positive and people keep telling me how this country needs something like this.”
On Rali Kettani’s site, LinkExpats.com, 800 of the 4,000 members are expatriates who live in the UAE.
Indians, the largest expatriate community in the Emirates with 1.75 million residents, make up nearly 300 of those members.
“I thought about creating LinkExpats.com so members could share tips on where to find rent, discuss cultural differences as well as interact with other people from the same nationality,” said Mr Kettani, a 29-year-old Moroccan. “And with such a large expat community in the UAE, it can only be very successful.”
Priya Patel, a 29-year-old New Zealander, expressed a desire for more Abu Dhabi activities as most are based in Dubai.
“It’s a shame that for me, living in Abu Dhabi, I’d love to see more things happening here,” she said.
“Social Circles is a great forum to get to know a range of people outside your circle of friends and explore more of the city you live in,” she said. “There is a personal benefit for me, which is why I would love to see more events in Abu Dhabi.”
Ms Morton said the friendships made on her website were important and “they last a lifetime in an environment that can be a lonely place away from family”.
Rami Sibai, a 32 year-old from Lebanon, moved to Jebel Ali in 2008 and noticed a difference in his social life once he started using Social Circles. “It gives you options and no pressure to utilise them.”