Man in Dubai aims to trade up from Dh1 coin to a Palm Jumeirah villa

The communications professional launched his social experiment in February to see how far a dirham can go

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Isaac Banks, a Dubai-based communications professional, is attempting to barter his way up from a Dh1 coin to a villa on Palm Jumeirah within one year.

Mr Banks, 33, from New Zealand, launched The 1 Dirham Project in late February as a social experiment to see how far a dirham can go.

“The goal is to go from a Dh1 coin all the way to a house on Palm Jumeirah. This is through a series of trades for all manner of services and goods,” he said.

Mr Banks was inspired by Canadian blogger Kyle MacDonald, who, in 2005, traded a red paper clip all the way up to a house over the course of 14 trades in one year.

Mr MacDonald, from Montreal, made his first trade, a red paper clip for a fish-shaped pen, on July 14, 2005. He reached his goal of trading up to a house with the 14th transaction by bartering a movie role for a home in the small town of Kipling, in Saskatchewan province, Canada.

The venture led him to trade up from a doorknob, to a camping stove, a generator, a snowmobile and a recording contract.

Mr MacDonald got the idea from a child’s game called Bigger and Better. He created a website for the project and promised to visit potential traders wherever they lived.

Palm Jumeirah villas are the most expensive properties in Dubai at Dh2,776 per square foot, according to property consultancy CBRE.

The increase in wealthy buyer demand pushed luxury home prices up by 44 per cent in prime areas such as Emirates Hills, Jumeirah Bay Island and Palm Jumeirah last year, Knight Frank said.

So far, Mr Banks has completed five trades: for the Dh1 coin, he received a Dubai keychain, which he swapped for a Paw Patrol backpack, a Ted Baker laptop bag, a signed Mercedes F1 hat with Lewis Hamilton and George Russell’s signatures, and now a jukebox.

“The trigger to launch the project was part of my quest to take myself out of my comfort zone,” said Mr Banks.

“Also, the trigger was to have a bit of fun, a lot of laughs and to meet some great people along the way.

“It’s a lofty goal, however, I believe it’s achievable. I’ve chosen this as I want the project to remain fresh and I don’t want to get bored with it.

Mr Banks said he had been offered some outrageous trades.

“I’ve got a Dh70,000 camel waiting for me, a Ferrari, as well as a couple of Rolexes from a pretty decent watch collection,” he said.

“I met a famous singer while in Bahrain, who said they would be happy to trade a contract for a part in a music video.”

Mr Banks bases his decision to trade up on the ease of the transaction and its strategic value, such as opening up a new network to continue his social experiment.

“I also want to make sure that the person who I trade with is getting value from the trade,” he said.

“So far, one of the hardest things to trade was the Paw Patrol backpack because my audience didn’t identify with it.”

Mr Banks has been trading with acquaintances but he is about to close his first barter with a stranger.

The biggest challenge in the experiment has been to promote the trades, he said.

“I’ve been promoting through Facebook Marketplace and Instagram. However, the traction has been a bit slower than expected,” said Mr Banks.

“I’ve also tried to promote on some other Facebook groups. However, while many people believe this is a fantastic social experiment, many moderators believe it is self-promotion — which really dents the reach of the experiment.”

Updated: April 14, 2022, 6:44 AM