x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Burj Khalifa resident's bid to rough it for a month in Dubai on just Dh1,000

The Life: Arif Mirza, a Dubai-based businessman, wants to come down from his Burj Khalifa apartment to live on streets to show how far Dh1,000 can take an enterprising person in Dubai.

Businessman Arif Mirza plans to leave his home in Burj Khalifa to live among street workers in Dubai for a month. Jaime Puebla / The National
Businessman Arif Mirza plans to leave his home in Burj Khalifa to live among street workers in Dubai for a month. Jaime Puebla / The National

From Arif Mirza's rarefied heights on the 35th floor of Burj Khalifa, the world beneath looks tiny.

But the Pakistani-Canadian businessman plans to come down from his ivory tower to live the life of someone who lands in Dubai with Dh1,000 (US$272) in his pocket and a dream of making it big.

The 37-year-old businessman's project is called "Streets of Gold" and he hopes it will shine a light on opportunities for the poor.

His plan is to last 33 days with only Dh1,000 to spend. He will start out as a scrap collector in the Al Ghusais neighbourhood and go up the ladder as opportunity presents itself.

At the end of the month he wants to invest in enterprising people he has met during the project.

A camera crew of at least three people will document his trail. The subsequent DVD would be distributed and downloaded for free under the banner of Mirza Productions.

He plans to start the project on March 25.

Mr Mirza, who says he earns Dh200,000 a month from various ventures - including as chief executive of the Web design and development company Allainet, chief executive of uniqueauction.com, and as a motivational speaker - was inspired after befriending a 23-year-old Pakistani scrap collector on a beach.

Mr Mirza would ask the employer of the scrap collector to give him a job, and would collect scrap on behalf of the younger man. The money he gets would go to create a pool of funds. This would fund a survival kit that would be handed out to at least 100 people after the project. It would contain a Nol card worth at least Dh20 to travel on Dubai's public transport, and provide mobile phone top-ups along with tips on healthy eating habits and where to buy nourishing food.

At the end of his first days on the streets, Mr Mirza plans to stay in a room with eight to 10 people and eat what they eat. He said he would figure out his budget as he went along, noting that people have many ways of coping with expenses on the streets.

Some people get free food at their shared accommodation for cooking, or free accommodation for work they do around the house. He wants to strike a similar deal to stretch his Dh1,000. And if people offer help, such as lunch at a restaurant for him and his crew, he would accept that.

Car washing is on his jobs list, too, but after a few days he plans to apply for jobs that offer better opportunity.

He would look for jobs through websites, newspapers and his Facebook page.

"Some people work through their own community, which supports them," he says.

Mr Mirza knows he starts out with an advantage. With his business connections, his gift of gab and fluency in English, it should not be hard to find better jobs and attract support.

So is this a publicity stunt?

Mr Mirza says it is something more.

"There are people who have been collecting scrap for 15-20 years," he says.

And at the same time, he says, there are others who came to Dubai with nothing but a suitcase, and who did not know English, yet have managed to flourish.

"People can lose everything and get down to the streets," he says. "Life can turn and give you any kind of hand; I want to show how you can turn it around."

The effectiveness of his project will depend, he says, on whether people are willing to listen.

Roaming the streets without his Bugatti will not be too hard, Mr Mirza says. But he does sound queasy when it comes to his imminent living conditions. "I have seen bathrooms where I can't even throw up," he says.

If he ends up in a room with 10 other men, he figures he will offer them some housekeeping advice.

"The idea is to bounce back in 33 days, not to make millions but be stable," Mr Mirza says. "Let's see what Dubai has to offer."