My UAE: Iman Ben Chaibah is rewriting the future

A profile of the Emirati magazine founder and editor-in-chief Iman Ben Chaibah.

Iman Ben Chaibah, the founder and editor-in-chief of Sail, which focuses on Emirati issues. Jaime Puebla / The National
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‘We all know a lot of writers from across the world, we all know Gabriel García Márquez and Paulo Coelho, but I don’t think people from across the world could name a particular Emirati writer.”

Iman Ben Chaibah, the founder and editor-in-chief of Sail magazine, knows what she is talking about. Not only does she have more contact with Emirati writers and readers than most, but also it was precisely with this issue in mind that she established Sail, a monthly online magazine written for Emiratis by Emiratis. Sail describes its remit as community, culture and creativity, but its main role is to act as an online platform for the discussion. Sail provides advice, explores issues facing parents and teenagers, and examines the experiences of young Emiratis at home, in education and at work. There’s also a strong emphasis on self-improvement and self-help. In establishing Sail, Ben Chaibah not only identified a gap in the local publishing market – one dominated by fashion and lifestyle titles – but also a real need.

“Sail is about giving a voice to Emiratis, about developing that voice and making sure that it is representative, but it’s also about trying to grow the culture of reading and writing here as well. We want to encourage people not to be intimated by writing.”

Ben Chaibah started Sail with a friend while she was working as a project manager in IT. Four years later, the self-funded e-magazine has more than 30 contributors, including editors, writers and ­illustrators.

Ben Chaibah measures Sail’s success in terms of its endurance and a readership in the thousands that extends throughout the UAE and the Emirati diaspora to non-Emirati readers who are keen to read about a different side to life in the UAE.

Last month, the British Council’s Young Creative Entrepreneur (YCE) programme nominated Ben Chaibah as the UAE’s YCE Digital Entrepreneur of the Year for 2014. As part of that, Ben Chaibah went to London with a group of seven other digital publishers from around the world to discuss the future of their industry. Ben Chaibah is optimistic. “We hope to expand into different dimensions, but you’ll have to stay tuned.”

My favourite book

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. The book has this way of teaching you to slow down and to really appreciate your life, rather than simply running through it, and to try and appreciate the people you have around you.

A mantra to live by

This comes from a book, The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz. One of the main things I took from it was to always do your best. If you don’t, you’ll always have that regret eating away at you later on if things didn’t go well. You’ll regret that you didn’t try harder, that you didn’t give it one more day, that you didn’t get up that hour earlier, that you didn’t use all of your energy. If you do your best, you’ll never have that regret eating away at you.

My favourite place to work

I have two: the Pavilion Downtown and Hugo Cafe in the Palm Strip Mall in Jumeirah. The Pavilion has great Wi-Fi and it has a workplace-like feel to it, whereas Hugo’s has a very homely atmosphere.

My favourite neighbourhood

It has to be Downtown Dubai. It’s very dear to my heart because I’ve really seen the place grow, since it was first announced to when the buildings started to go up. When I look at how beautiful it is, even in the centre of Dubai, you start to think that anything is possible.

My inspiration

Oprah Winfrey. Hers wasn’t exactly an easy journey. She wasn’t given things on a plate and she really had to struggle, but she persisted through it and look at her now. She has her own TV and radio shows, her own magazine. She’s built her own empire.

I always read

O, The Oprah Magazine and the Harvard Business Review. I always read them because I benchmark my own magazine against them in terms of the quality of the work, the strategies they pursue and their content.

My favourite way to relax

Even though I spend so much of my life reading with the magazine, I still love it. At the end of the day, I love fiction. It relaxes me by taking me to a different world.

My favourite place to relax

The Dubai Ladies Club on Jumeirah Beach. It’s a safe and private environment where I can completely relax.

Favourite gallery

I love Tashkeel and the galleries in Bastakiya. I love the Tashkeel because they really harbour new talent in the region, whether those people are Emirati or not, and lots of the new and upcoming artists have learnt about the craft of art in Tashkeel.

My favourite food

Breakfast. Anything with croissant and eggs.

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