Saturday, May 11, 2013

Freelance Summit I

Freelance facilitation hub and "virtual skills marketplace" Nabbesh hosted a Freelance Summit at workspace/venue Shelter this Wednesday. I went there a little early to work, hoping to get a head-start on seating, but the strong turnout and surprisingly punctual start meant I was barely able to squeeze in by the time I popped a look downstairs.

Alexandra Tohme welcomed attendees and introduced CEO Loulou Khazen Baz.

Khazen Baz introduced the concepts of and avenues for freelancing.

Trevor McFarlane of Gulfstat presented in brief about the role of freelancers in developing a knowledge economy in the Middle East. He spoke about the advantages of having freelancers participating in the economy, by seeding the next generation of start-ups and supporting existing businesses. He talked about the need to support freelancing through measures such as identifying potential areas in which it may be required, clarifying and codifying laws to make it easier to access, etc, ending with the example of "Chilecon Valley" to illustrate how a skilled migrant labor force can be welcomed and incubated.

The first of two panel sessions of the evening commenced, consisting of Nigel Holt, Shelina Jokhiya, Swati Randev Verma, and Samantha Wood a.k.a. Foodiva, moderated by Tohme. They discussed various topics, ranging from cost estimation to negotiation to their individual experiences with freelancing.

It was up to Sara Khoja of the Clyde & Co law firm to inject sobriety into the evening with a run-through of isues like permissions, restrictions and the like. Apparently, it's not just sponsored employees who need permits to freelance, but non-working dependents as well. NOCs too. Two clients at a time, at most. On the positive side, the rules are federal, and the employer is the one who is responsible for organizing the permits.

After the break, MD Steve Mayne of Creative Zone presented with extreme brevity the different types of licenses required for businesses to operate in the UAE, and how his company serves clients in procuring them. He explained a few ways in which certain licenses could be used to permit full-time freelancing at minimal fixed cost.

The employer panel followed, moderated by David Haddad, and consisting of Sharif Maghraby (MBC, twofour54), Nick Gonzalez (, Joe Akkawi (Paz Marketing) and Faisal al Yafai (The National). The topics discussed were the need for specific skills like Arabic content and cultural awareness, the need for people who understand metrics, and the willingness to develop promising talent by offering repeat business. There was a little debate going on about whether to freelance on the side or full-time.

I learned a lot from this summit, especially with regard to regulations and relationship management. I did feel that the panels were dominated by people in content-driven businesses and skill sets. I think the relationship and process dynamics involved in sourcing work out to freelancers is significantly different for technology-centered jobs compared to relatively contained content-centered jobs. So, in the next Freelance Summit, I hope to see more panels and speaker lineups which include employers and freelancers involved in technology.

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