How do you make a difference in the world? How do you actually bring about a change for the better? How do you do good things?
We asked three UAE residents how they implemented their ideas for bringing change not only to their own lives but also to the lives of others.
- Tatiana Antonelli Abella is the founder of Goumbook, an information resource on how to live in a greener, more eco-conscious way.
- After losing her father to Parkinson’s Disease, Vonita Singh founded Movement Mantra, a workshop space for others afflicted by Parkinson’s and arthritis and for senior citizens to boost movement through dance, yoga and meditation.
- Shobhika Kalra suffers from a degenerative muscle disorder. She created Wings of Angelz, which aims to make the UAE more wheelchair-friendly.
Volunteers drive movements
“Volunteers are a fundamental part of any society,” says Antonelli Abella. So if you are motivated by a particular cause, there’s a good chance that there are others, very probably in your vicinity, who share your passion and are looking for help. Look around and see what’s already out there, start with them and work your way up.
“There are many online forums that will direct you to the social enterprises that require help.”
Don’t have a vision? Doesn’t matter
Even if you haven’t identified a cause that excites you, Antonelli Abella says simply joining a local NGO — any NGO — will give you valuable insight into how such organizations operate. Change does not come about overnight and nor does it happen simply because you will it to, so working with an NGO teaches you to manage expectations. It will also help you understand what does and does not stir you to action.
“An intern spent a year with us and in giving her expertise to Goumbook, she found her own calling,” says Antonelli Abella.
The cause must have staying power
Feeling that you are part of a bigger movement that inspires others is essential to keeping the momentum going and taking it to the next level.
“Facts and information are not good enough anymore,” says Antonelli Abella. “You need events and initiatives for people to get actively involved in so they get a return on their investment.”
Get an online audience
For driving forward any enterprise, whether it’s commercial or philanthropic, social media is key, says Singh.
“I have discovered an amazing community of people on Facebook who empower each other and share their experiences and speak openly about their struggles. It then becomes a safe space for dialogue.” Online engagement leads to offline activism which brings new relationships and new perspectives, she adds.
Social enterprises are built on community awareness and engagement, says Antonelli Abella.
“Follow groups and attend events. Show your interest to those already in the field. Be bold and speak to people at the top. Don’t be afraid of big titles like CEO — they appreciate it more than you think.”
Kalra says she felt “completely overshadowed” when she started her campaign on wheelchair accessibility but success came with patience, persistence and consistency.
“Everything works out. Keep building the momentum. It takes time, but now we have over 1,000 wheelchair ramps installed in Dubai.”
Perception makes all the difference
It would have been all too easy for Kalra to cut herself from the rest of the world because of her disability. Instead, she used her experience as a wheelchair user to help others and thereby helped herself.
“I could complain about a lot of things but I believe it’s how you look at things that makes them right or wrong. It’s about your perception.”
Tatiana Antonelli Abella, Vonita Singh and Shobhika Kalra took part in a panel discussion on ‘How to do good’ at the first Livehealthy.ae Festival, held on January 24-25, 2020 at Manarat Al Saadiyat, Abu Dhabi
Georgie Bradley is a British/Greek editor and journalist based in Dubai after being bred in Bahrain. She's been published by The Guardian UK, The Telegraph UK, BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post UK, Buro 24/7 and Harper's Bazaar Arabia. Most recently she was the deputy editor of Emirates Woman. You're most likely to find her in the aisle seat.