Expats who turned adversity into opportunity Image Credit: S

Dubai: The COVID-19 pandemic has put people under severe financial stress the world over. Whether it is job loss or a salary cut, several people’s incomes have taken a beating. However, there are some who have turned this crisis into an opportunity. Their survival instincts have taken over and helped them make the most of the current challenging times. Gulf News meets a few of them.

Madan Kumar Viruthagiri, 32, Indian

From construction engineer to fashion entrepreneur

Indian expatriate Madan Kumar Viruthagiri, 32, has changed the course of his career and how! From working as a construction engineer for decades to starting a business amid the pandemic — that too from the confines of his home — Viruthagiri has come a long way.

“The pandemic had hit the world hard. It was lockdown everywhere in the world. And I was sitting at home, starting a new venture," he said.

Madan Kumar Viruthagiri has embraced a digital transformation Image Credit: Supplied

Viruthagiri said that just before the pandemic, he was focused on building a platform that would digitise all kinds of approval workflows in the construction industry. “After a couple of failed attempts, we were able to finally launch a solution. Last year, like all other major industries, the construction industry too had to go through a slump and the majority of the projects in our focused segment came to a complete halt. One of the biggest lessons came from having to change my line of business."

It was one of those days in the middle of the national sterilisation drive when he was discussing his future with his wife, who owns a women-only online fashion aggregator. "I learnt from her about her journey and how her customers were happy with the services she was offering. I went through her collections, the vendors she had. I did some deep-diving." Today, he has incorporated all that he learnt in his new business.

“Be like an ant, keep working hard, without waiting for results. Do not sit and wait for a miracle to happen. Do not get disappointed with yourself easily. Keep pushing your limits with the resources you have in hand. At some point of time you will see the results seeping in,” he said.

Sonia Weymuller, founding partner of Venturesouq, who assists people like Viruthagiri in setting up new ventures, said: “Through TiE Hustle, we believe in reaching out to the underserved and untapped pool of talent in UAE. We give them access to the right people and the knowledge that they may need in order to move forward with their respective entrepreneurial journeys."

She said when the pandemic struck, she made sure she pivoted to a virtual working environment. "Some of the areas we managed to cover included freelancing, issues of legality around social commerce, pitching one’s business to investors and through all these mainly catering to those who had either lost their jobs or were fearful of losing their jobs.”

Iman Suguitan, 43, Filipina

From hotel supplies to digital branding

Filipina Iman Suguitan saw the downturn as an opportunity. She had dabbled in other professions earlier, but the downturn made her turn from being a hotel supplier to a digital brand expert. “The pandemic really hit the hospitality industry hard and as a luxury hotel supplier, my business went from bad to worse by the middle of last year. I did not want to lay off my staff just like that. They have been with me for years and this included staff who were experts in IT, e-commerce and design (graphic and industrial), and also my logistics and administration teams.

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By capitalising on the experience of an old and established business, Iman Suguitan created a brand new business Image Credit: Supplied

She said when the national sterilisation drive was declared in the UAE last March, all her projects came to a complete halt. Payments were not being made either. It was then that she felt that she needed to do something quickly. "We had the experience of branding, having designed many aspects in hotels. So I had my designers. I had the team with me. I thought let me build an idea-to-market branding agency that will help people connect the dots, from an idea and all the way up until they land it to the customer.”

So Suguitan decided to go digital and that was how Nuqt Idea House was born.

“Within two months we finished the branding of Nuqt — which means dots or points in Arabic — and we held our first webinar in June 2020 to invite people to find out who we were. By the end of 2020, we had worked on three brands and were in the middle of finishing our assignment with the fourth,” she said.

By capitalising on the experience of an old and established business, Suguitan and her team created a brand new business and so far, she claims, the going has been good.

Dani Hakim, 37, Briton

From a marketing consultant to a social entrepreneur

British expatriate Dani Hakim, 37, Cofounder of Safe Space, used to work as a marketing consultant for a private company. But she suddenly found herself without an income last March. She then mustered the courage to venture into entrepreneurship. “As a freelance marketing consultant, I was left jobless. Trying not to panic, I used this downtime to entirely focus on my other passion — Safe Space. My aim was to transform our weekly community meet-up initiative, formed in early 2019, into a social enterprise. By April 2020, we were helping businesses with tools and resources to maintain employee mental wellbeing.”

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Dani Hakim and her team: Raring to go Image Credit: Supplied

Hakim said the new company offered a six-week programme. She and her cofounders collaborated with local and international mental health experts to deliver daily, free drop-in sessions for community members who were going through an emotional roller coaster.

“Along with my cofounders — Helen Hope, 36, and Leanne Sherlock, 35 — we formed an online virtual support hub, creating uplifting content through anonymous Safe Spaces for organisations and our local followers. The key was to stick to your goals,” she said.

Talah Al Tamimi, 37, Saudi national

Health coach introduces Face Yoga online

Saudi expatriate Talah Al Tamimi, 37, health coach, Conscious Living Lifestyle Coaching, said she helps clients make lifestyle changes for better health and wellbeing.

“At the time when coronavirus first struck, I ran a weight-loss as well as a gut health programme. My coaching is mainly done one a one-to-one basis. The pandemic made me rethink the way I ran my business. I used to see clients face to face, but that was no longer an option," she recalled.

"When the pandemic first hit I panicked. How would I run my business without physically meeting my clients? That was the overriding concern. So, I rescheduled all my meetings to Zoom and found that it was, and it still is, more efficient for myself and my clients. I save a lot of time and effort. I also took advantage of being at home to learn a new skill. I became a certified Face Yoga instructor and currently run group sessions on Zoom,” she added.

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Talah Al Tamimi took advantage of staying at home to learn a new skill Image Credit: Supplied

Al Tamimi said the pandemic actually gave her an opportunity to explore other passions such as Face Yoga, as well as the flexibility of continuing to help her clients from the comfort of her home.

“Don’t give up on your dreams and goals. The pandemic has been hard, but stay strong in all your endeavours,” she advises.

Fahmi AlShawwa, 45, Palestinian-Canadian

From 3D printing to PPE gear business

Palestinian-Canadian expatriate Fahmi AlShawwa has changed the course of his business completely just to survive in the market. “I founded the company in 2016 with a focus on providing additive manufacturing and 3D printing services. We were one of the first companies to feel the hit from the pandemic. Our Kuwait-based clients informed us that they were closing down due to coronavirus. That was around the end of February 2020. By early March, most of our projects were either cancelled or put on hold indefinitely," he said.

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Fahmi AlShawwa has changed the course of his work completely Image Credit: Supplied

"I didn't sleep for two days, wondering how would we survive with no projects and no cash flow. I called my team for a brainstorm. We came out of that room with a clear direction. By August last year, we had built a new service that we called ‘Digital Inventory Solution’. We worked with clients to replace their physical warehouses with virtual warehouses and we then produced spare parts on demand, using industrial 3D printing. Our revenues grew by 400 per cent in 2020 itself. We doubled our team from 18 to 35 and hired more engineers.”

The pandemic, he said, had strengthened him as a person. “It brought the best out of me.”

How to convert a crisis into an opportunity

Meghna Khan, head career and life coach, MK Counselling Services, has laid down the tips on how to turn a crisis into an opportunity:

1. Accept the reality.

2. Calm your mind during any adversity as only then you will be able to think straight.

3. Make a list of your strengths and weaknesses.

4. Look for opportunities where your strengths lie.

5. Weigh your finance options.

6. Take a chance with a career move if you have the financial backing.

7. Be patient with your career moves as having a job is better than not having one.

8. Work hard and learn everyday.

9. Keep adding skills to your job.

10. Last, but not the least, believe in yourself. That is the key to achieving success, no matter how harsh the downturn may have hit you.