Abu Dhabi: When British homemaker Freya Jaffar moved to Abu Dhabi a decade ago, she felt frustrated at the lack of accurate information about the city, its lifestyle and community sevices.
She wasn’t satisfied with the answers she found on websites and longed for real feedback from people living in the city. She wanted to reach out to people, and this led to the inception of the Facebook group Abu Dhabi Q&A in 2012. She roped in her friend Sadaf Sharif to help her with the administrative tasks.
Little did she know that the group would go on to become a hugely popular social media platform for the expat community in the UAE capital. The group which celebrates its fifth birthday this year has more than 40,000 members. It has become the one-stop forum for finding friends, getting solutions or recommendations, including venting your frustrations and even having fun. A member describes the group as the virtual equivalent of Dr Phil, Starbucks and Walmart rolled into one.
Honest and reliable
Jaffar is humbled by the popularity of the group and attributes it to the proficiency of the members. “Most groups have infrequent posts, are loaded with ads and you’d be lucky to get a response to your need. Our members are like family – eager to help and supportive. People are surprised, shocked even, at how quickly they get responses. On an average we receive 3,500-plus requests per month. It takes a fair bit of housekeeping to keep the group in order. We conduct events, do altruistic campaigns and try to provide solutions for people with problems,” she said.
What makes the group different is its basic premise of putting members first. “Firstly, we know our ‘why’ – our purpose is to help. Our decisions are focused on ensuring that we deliver the best experience for them. Second, we have earned the trust of our members. Their support and enthusiasm for making the community their own is what really sets us apart,” said Jaffar.
Managing the heavy group traffic are four admins. They inspect every single joining request and scrutinise profiles to ensure that they haven’t been created with an intent to spam or cause disruption to the community.
“So much goes on below the surface with respect to the administration but the real prize is in seeing the forum grow organically. The admin team posts a few ‘anonymous’ requests on behalf of community members here and there, but generally there is a healthy ‘back and forth’ within the group. Members ask questions, share thoughts and the community at large is eager to help. We have grown from a simple idea to something that’s taken on a life of its own in a very short time,” said Jawad Sartaj, an admin.
For Jaffar, the moments that stand out are when the whole community rallies for one in need. Once they had a member request a special feeding tube for her ill father. She was flying out the next morning to see him and felt helpless because her search had proven futile up to that point. “Community members ran around Abu Dhabi late at night, and found her what she needed. Strangers helping strangers in a moment of need is what makes this group worthwhile,” she said.
Manzer Qayyum, another admin and a retired pilot, spearheads the group’s wheelchair service which provides mobility support to needy community members without charge.
Recently it launched the #givingback initiative in line with the UAE’s Year of Giving. “We partner with likeminded brands to offer exclusive offers and promotions to the group. Recently, Abu Dhabi Mall presented our members with five Dh1,000 vouchers as a way of appreciating the service of our community,” said Jaffar.