The need to connect with his community drove 23-year-old Emirati Saleh Al Braik to create the website Thinkup.ae that allows young talent from across the GCC to showcase their efforts.
The initiative was launched with a teaser campaign through Twitter, followed by the opening of the site on September 4, this year. So far, there are 85 registered members who have made a commitment to contribute to the website, while there are 2,400 Twitter followers and 700 Facebook fans of the initiative.
"I came back to the UAE and was proud to see to how rapidly it had developed while I was away. At the same time, I felt so disconnected from my community," Al Braik said. He had just returned to Dubai after completing his undergraduate studies in finance at the University of Essex in the UK.
"I couldn't stop wondering about where the talented people of my generation were, and how could I meet them, listen to their thoughts and find out what they were interested in."
It was 2009, a boom time for social networking in the region, especially Twitter — a forum that Al Braik found gave him a sense of belonging, as soon as he joined.
He said: "I was suddenly surrounded by this group of young men and women from backgrounds just like mine, were raised just like me, had similar interests, shared the same jokes and were just as passionate as I was. They inspired me.
"I felt connected to those individuals, who were mostly between the ages of 13 and 28. I started Tweeting to inspire them, to make them laugh, to share with them my thoughts and ideas, and they were extremely positive and responsive. By April 2009, I had more than 16,000 followers from all over the Gulf."
Through his Twitter interactions, Al Braik started to spot hidden talent. He noticed that many of his online friends were photographers, artists, designers, writers and videographers.
He also noticed that only a few, if any, of those talented friends were confident enough to showcase their work to the community and get the recognition they deserved.
He said: "In my opinion, we as Khaleejis tend to be shy and humble about what we are good at, and I strongly felt that with my ‘virtual' friends."
That urged Al Braik to look at creating a social platform, a place where all his friends could gather and bring their ideas, express themselves and share their work.
Since he was targeting a huge group of individuals from all over the GCC and he was working full time in a finance job, Al Braik knew from the beginning that establishing a physical hub was almost impossible. It was then the idea occurred to him — a website that could serve as a virtual social hub.
He started by sharing his idea with a small group, mostly his cousins and very close friends from different countries in the Gulf. When it was enthusiastically welcomed, he decided to put it into action. It was the beginning of ThinkupGCC, the banner under which Thinkup.ae was launched. He then started forming teams across the GCC, and chose a main contact person in every country, who represented and promoted the initiative and searched for talent in his or her community.
"Putting this huge thing together has been a challenge. I was depending on a huge group of people that I had never met. Their work and contributions were going to make this virtual hub go live. Also, there was the challenge of this being a non-profit project. I had no sponsors at all, and the whole website was built and designed by volunteers."
The site has eight sections or ‘pillars'. The first pillar, ThinkBig, features people who excel in their fields, and would inspire the youth.
Then there is ThinkHelp, which focuses on individuals who do things for the goodwill of the community.
The third pillar, ThinkSmart, aims at shedding light on school and university student projects, which need volunteers or sponsorship.
Then there is WeThink, a space where writers and columnists can express their opinions and thoughts about social issues that concern them, through articles they post and which are updated regularly.
Thinkskills, the most interactive section of the website, is where the talent is showcased. Videos are posted, wherein artists and designers share their work and talk about it, and sport lovers display their passion and talent on the field.
The sixth pillar, ThinkBrave, features the stories of bravery by young GCC nationals.
For the philanthropists who organise charity and community development events, there's ThinkEvent, where they can raise awareness and the social support that they need. The last pillar, IThink, is the fun section, where ThinkUpGCC team share their behind the scenes photos and videos.
"The launch was a success, and I hope that it will only get better. It's time for my GCC national brothers and sisters to speak up and show the world how capable, smart and talented they are." Al Braik concluded.