Nour Al Hassan moved to the UAE where she founded Ureed after setting up Tarjama in Jordan to provide English and Arabic translation
Jordanian's copywriting firm is the last word
Nour Al Hassan is good at solving problems.
So in 2008, when she struggled to find decent translators while she was working with an NGO in Jordan, she knew what to do.
“We had a lot of documents that needed to be translated from English into Arabic,” says Ms Al Hassan, who originally trained as a lawyer.
“The outcome was disappointing, unfortunately, due to a lack of resources and companies which were able to take this [work] on.”
So she set up her own copywriting company – Tarjama, to plug the gap.
The company, which was initially based in Amman, Jordan, provided website and brochure material in English and Arabic for both local and regional clients. Some of her biggest customers worked in the real estate sector in the UAE, where business was booming at the time. She later moved here, where she expanded the business by acquiring a translation company.
But then another problem arose.
“Unfortunately a lot of companies need a massive amount of content to be translated all at once. Agencies can’t supply enough [translators] because of a lack of resources,” says Ms Al Hassan, who is from Jordan.
“And even if you have enough resources the price will always be high.”
Tarjama had a large network of freelancers who had been working for the company for a while. And pretty soon she realised that they could match this supply with the obvious demand. So she did, and the idea for Ureed – a platform which connects businesses to freelance translators – was born.
“We thought of the Uber model for cars and we said okay we are going to have Ureed for words,” she says.
Ureed has joined a growing industry in the UAE, where it is estimated that 100,000 licensed freelancers operate, according to experts.
And business is booming. Some months Ureed records growth of 50 per cent, although on average it is around 30 per cent, Ms Al Hassan says.
Other freelancing sites are also growing.
“We have noticed that large companies are becoming more interested in hiring freelancers particularly across creative and digital services. The cost savings that can be achieved are too big to ignore,” says Loulou Khazen Baz, the founder of Nabbesh, the region’s first freelancing platform, which launched in 2012.
Nabbesh now has almost 120,000 registered freelancers who have a wide spectrum of skills from technology and digital, to design, marketing, photography and animation, translation and writing and more.
Ureed currently has 4,500 freelancers registered on the platform – all of whom have been carefully vetted to ensure their quality. Legal translators are asked to take a legal test, and ecommerce translators take an ecommerce test, and so on. Their work is rated by both Ureed and previous clients.
More than half - 55 per cent - are female.
And that is no surprise, says Helen McGuire, co-founder and managing director of Hopscotch, a recruitment company for skilled women.
“Flexibility is really the key message here,” she says.
“Many of our clients work with us as it’s very hard to find talent that can and do work on a freelance basis. And many women are perfectly placed to do just that, but [they are] often not found on traditional networks if they’ve taken a break.”
Freelancing offers women the opportunity to work remotely, which is ideal if you have young children and cannot be in the office at times, or have to plan around nursery or school holidays, she says.
Leann Mango, 20, who was born in the US but raised in Jordan, is a freelance translator registered with Ureed. She is not a mother, but being a freelancer does give her the flexibility she needs to work while she is studying translation, English, Arabic and German at college in Jordan.
“My teacher referred me to one of the employers at Ureed and they decided to take me in,” says Ms Mango.
“At first they told me to write a blog and they wanted to see if I could take up the responsibility of being a freelancer. Thankfully I passed the test. Now I’m working as a freelancer.”
She says she would not rule out a full-time position after she graduates, if she found the right opportunity, but her goal for now is to remain a freelancer because of the flexibility it offers.
Translation, English literature and content all appeal to women, which may explain why Ureed has so many female freelancers, says Ms Al Hassan.
Because not all freelance platforms have had the same success. Ms Baz says that it has always surprised her how few female freelancers are listed on Nabbesh. Around 35 per cent of the platform’s freelancers are women.
“This number has been very consistent across the years,” she says.
“It is always surprising that the number is not bigger considering that women would benefit tremendously from the gig economy. But I suppose it is a reflection of the current status of the workforce where men outnumber women and women’s participation rates in this region are among the lowest in the world.”
But experts say that could change if women are offered more flexible ways of working.
Research by Hopscotch found that 98 per cent of women would go back to work tomorrow, if they were offered more flexible working hours, says Ms McGuire.
“And freelancing is really the absolute epitome of that kind of flexibility, allowing you to pick and choose where, when and how you work,” she adds.