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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 16 August 2018

NYU Abu Dhabi student reaches out to young entrepreneurs via online magazine

Mohamed Amine Belardi spends his waking hours juggling a full academic schedule and pursuing numerous business and marketing projects.
Mohamed Amine Belarbi is the co-founder Gulf Elite, an online magazine that caters to the young and aspiring in the Middle East. Sammy Dallal / The National
Mohamed Amine Belarbi is the co-founder Gulf Elite, an online magazine that caters to the young and aspiring in the Middle East. Sammy Dallal / The National
ABU DHABI // It all started with a 2am text message from a student in Abu Dhabi to another in Stockholm.

“Yo, let's start a magazine,” it read.

The text came from Mohamed Amine Belarbi, a self-described serial entrepreneur who spends his waking hours juggling a full academic schedule at New York University Abu Dhabi and pursuing numerous business and marketing projects.

“When I came here, I saw there was so much passion for entrepreneurship, but there is a lack of a common place or common platform where people can read about this,” said Mr Belarbi, a Moroccan who went to high school in Norway before moving to Abu Dhabi on a full scholarship.

“So I thought, let's start something of our own. I contacted my friend, my co-founder in Sweden, and said let's just try it as a trial, just for fun.”

The debut edition of the Gulf Elite was launched from Mr Belarbi's dormitory room in August. He designed its 34 pages and published them as a PDF available through a free online reader called ISSUU (issuu.com/gulfelite).

The articles, written by Mr Belarbi, co-founder Ibrahim Naji and student contributors, offered advice to aspiring young entrepreneurs in articles such as The CEO of You: The why and how of personal branding, and even fashion tips in You Are What You Wear: The clothing items you should pick carefully if you want to be taken seriously.

Mr Naji, a 19-year-old Swedish-born Palestinian, said: “But unlike any other magazine, we have combined a very informal approach to formal topics, which would appeal much more to the younger generation, Generation Y.

“With that being said, our goal is to inspire. Our goal is to innovate. Our goal is to spread the mentality that nothing is impossible, no matter what colour, shape or size you have.”

By the end of its first month, the PDF version of the magazine attracted more than 20,000 unique visitors, said Mr Belarbi.

“We said, well, this stands for something,” the 20-year-old Moroccan said. “If so many people liked it, then we should continue.”

But the reaction was not all good. The online magazine was criticised by student-run campus newspaper The Gazelle as being sexist. An opinion piece, written by contributor Olivia Bergen, argued that the magazine was too male-centric and even misogynistic. Its dress-for-success feature focused on menswear, for example. A profile of a Stockholm School of Economics student who was named female economist of the year dwelled on her high heels and good looks.

“Though I admire the entrepreneurial spirit behind Gulf Elite, I am disappointed in its execution,” Ms Bergen wrote in The Gazelle. “I expect better from my peers at NYUAD that contribute to this publication, and I hope that, going forward, they will focus more on its inspirational and informative content and less on stereotyping and sexualising.”

Mr Belarbi addressed the allegations in an opinion piece also run in the campus newspaper. He argued the opinions published in Gulf Elite were those of the writer and not of the magazine. Mr Belarbi also said he recognised his staff was dominated by men. He also increased efforts to recruit women writers and feature more stories about women, and even enrolled in a feminism and gender class.

Gulf Elite has now published its seventh issue and its monthly unique visits are up to 30,000, according to Mr Belarbi. But, he admits, “we are not journalists”.

“We are trying to differentiate ourselves from sounding like a newspaper,” he said. “This is what makes us unique and so appealing to our readers – we are a publication you have fun while reading.”

rpennington@thenationa.ae

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