Image Credit: Niño Jose Heredia/©Gulf News


Want to learn salsa but can’t afford to pay for a professional dance course? Well, now you have a solution to this problem: list down all the skills you excel at. Maybe you make a mean mutton biryani or are extremely adept at Photoshop. That might just be enough to get you those salsa lessons.

Websites in the UAE, and across the world, are now allowing people to pay in skill instead of cash. Wepul.com was a website started by two Dubai residents Sebastian Ritter and Mark James.

Ritter and James, who worked at the same company in 2011, went out for lunch just like any other day. But they soon started talking about some very specific problems.

“I wanted to learn how to ride a skateboard and how to set up a fish tank,” Mark James told Gulf News.

“I had gone on YouTube and had watched quite a few videos of school children skateboarding and they didn’t really have the answer to that. I also didn’t need a marine biologist to help set up my fish tank. These were the two main problems that I was trying to solve.”

Sebastian, on the other hand, was planning to set up his own company and while he had experience in his own area of expertise, he didn’t quite know anything about the rest of the business.

The two then decided to offer their own skills within their network in order to get help for the specific things they needed. That was the start of wepul.com, a website that was also built on the same philosophy of sharing time and skills.

“We had two close friends help us build the actual website in exchange for us helping them or simply the interesting experience of being a part of the project. We also spoke to a few social media marketing people and they, again, offered their services for free,” Sebastian said.

Sebastian Ritter (left) and Mark James started wepul.com, a website where residents can barter existing skills for ones they’d like to learn. Courtesy: Ritter and James

A testimonial on the website by one of the users sums up just how enriching such an experience can be.

“Over the last three weeks, I learned to roller skate in Dubai Marina with Andy, Salsa with Ludmilla in Jumeirah Beach Residence, get basic golf and squash lessons with Dieter and learned three chords on the guitar and a melody on the piano with Helena. And it didn’t cost me a buck.”

Another website that will soon be offering residents a chance to “connect and share” is CoshCosh.

Dubai resident Danni Thomas had an epiphany when he heard his wife ask his two children to share the remote control.

“After the age of five, we stop sharing,” Thomas told Gulf News.

“That’s what set me thinking – why not have a small community where we share – little things like toys or musical instruments. Let’s just go beyond materialistic things, and let’s see if we can share time. Taking someone’s pet for a walk. Caring for a friend’s garden or babysitting.”

Thomas pitched the idea to his network of friends and the idea received such encouragement that he is already in the process of launching the website, which too was built on the concept it promotes – sharing of skills.

“We are also approaching schools to talk to children and have received a very positive response. A couple of schools have already asked us to speak during the assembly about the virtue of sharing and start other related events.”

Readers Gulf News spoke with said such websites fill a much-needed gap in community life. For Dubai resident Fareed Mansour it offers a chance to share his undying love for dancing with anyone passionate to learn.

“My parents are professional dancers, I’ve been dancing since I was six years old. It’s my undying passion,” he told Gulf News.

As someone who has already been offering dancing and choreography lessons to anyone asking for help, such websites are simply a means for Mansour to reach more people who might share his interest. In return, he hopes someone might just help him get better at photography. That exchange, however, is not a deal breaker for Mansour who is happy to offer his skills for free.

“Lots of people teach and charge for it, I go a little beyond that. If tomorrow somebody can enjoy a dance because I taught them then there is no greater pleasure for me,” he said.

Another UAE resident, Anjum Shaikh is an advertising professional and karting champion, who has won several national and corporate championships.

“Sharing is more human, it makes a better community as well. I can share my racing knowledge, give classes or share my advertising expertise to people who want. In return, if I want some information about engineering, for example, someone could help me out,” he said.

However, the end goal for him was not just the skill exchange, it was filling the gap between people.

“Take a small residential community within Dubai, for example. How many people know each other? We do smile at each other but I have no clue what my neighbour does. May be there’s a doctor or surgeon but I don’t know. By signing up for such a website you’ll know your community.”

— The writer is a freelance journalist with Gulf News