Innovation and the need to think simply

Innovation starts with the ability to ask a question

Innovation starts with the ability to ask a question

This week is a special one in the UAE – it’s officially Innovation Week and the country is full of activities extolling the virtues of innovation and all that this word entails (I admit, I’ve come to dislike this word, not because of what it stands for but rather its constant misuse).

As I’m a media junkie, two news pieces stuck out. The first was an effort by the Dubai Media Office to promote innovation through its Media Innovation Lab, a quarterly event that aims to promote a culture of innovation and creativity in media. To quote from Emirates 24/7, “the initiative seeks to share knowledge on media-related innovation among corporate communication and media professionals and media students. It is also in line with the UAE leadership’s directives to promote innovation in all sectors.”

The second is even more ambitious, and, quite literally, out of this world. I’ll let The National’s copy explain this innovation for you:

High school and university students from across the UAE have the chance to directly shape the future of space exploration.

Two competitions giving them the opportunity to watch their experiments blast off on a rocket to the International Space Station were announced on Tuesday at the launch of The National Space Programme in Abu Dhabi.

In the initial stages of the programme, The National, Abu Dhabi Media’s English-language newspaper, has linked up during Innovation Week with the UAE Space Agency, Boeing and other public and private organisations.

The National Space Programme contests are Genes in Space, challenging high school pupils to create a DNA analysis experiment, and the Satellite Launch project, in which a university team will build a satellite.

There’s a third strand I’d like to bring in here. I had the pleasure of talking to a university professor who teaches media here in the UAE. He was recalling the story of an occasion when the power failed at his academic institution. One of his students, a local, asked if she should cover the happening for the university student publication. He said yes and encouraged her to go and follow up with the operations department who look after issues relating to maintenance.

This student did just that and headed down to the operations department to understand more about the power cut. When she did meet someone, she asked what happened and explained why she was asking a question. And the response? “Why are you asking such questions? Who is your professor?”

While I love the ambitions of blasting into space or talking about creativity in the media, I’d love to see us put our feet on the ground and push for a climate where a question is welcomed, both from each of us as individuals as well as the media. As for the curious student, the brave lady did publish her story. She’s my innovator this week.

How did Facebook fail with its Safety Check in emerging markets?

There are some times you really shouldn’t be making a distinction. Last week two tragedies took place, the first in Beirut and the second in Paris.

Others have written, much more eloquently than myself, on the raw emotion they felt after the two acts of terrorism – Beiruti blogger Elie Fares was one of the first to write about his anguish at Lebanons’s suffering being ignored by the West.

What is telling with the decision to activate the Facebook Safety Check was a comment by Alex Schultz, Facebook’s VP for Growth, who said:

In the middle of a complex, uncertain situation affecting many people, Facebook became a place where people were sharing information and looking to understand the condition of their loved ones. We talked with our employees on the ground, who felt that there was a need to fill. So we made the decision to try something that we’ve never done before: activating Safety Check for something other than a natural disaster. There has to be a first time for trying something new, even in complex and sensitive times, and for us that was Paris.

While Facebook’s intentions were to help those in need, the appearance to many in emerging markets such as Africa and the Middle East was that of bias. In effect, it was as if a life in Paris was worth more than a life in Beirut, or in Kenya or in Nigeria. This was compounded by Facebook’s decision to provide users with the option to upload the French flag over their profile picture.

Schultz’s comments that it was a human decision to activate Safety Check for Paris lead me to lose this question. Who at Facebook should have put forward the idea to use this service anywhere or everywhere where there is a crisis? My answer would be the communications and policy teams.

Communications in particular is the function that should act as the bridge between the outside world and the corporation, the part of the business that brings the outside in. That’s why, for example, Comms leads on issues and crisis management. Comms should have a robust understanding of the different stakeholder groups and how they impact the organization.

However, my take on Comms goes further. Comms should act as the conscience of the organization, and the Comms team should be able to advise when something is not right ethically. Unfortunately, Facebook’s team missed this opportunity here and instead turned what should have been an opportunity to play a vital role in helping inform families and friends re the safety oftheir loved ones into an example of unintended double standards (this was compounded by the Safety Check being used for residents of a Western capital rather than an Arab or African one, which in the context of colonialism also doesn’t look good).

Mark has said that Facebook’s policies will change and rightly so. Facebook is considered by many in emerging markets to be a tool for good, which is helping to promote positive change. It’d be a shame to see that opinion shift due to a lack of cultural awareness.

More media launches in the Gulf – Newsweek Middle East and Inc.

Who wouldn’t want to be a publisher in the Gulf right now? While the industry is losing money left, right and center in the US (and in Europe), the Gulf is seeing a glut of publication launches. The newest titles are Newsweek Middle East and Inc. Newsweek Middle East was launched recently by ARY Digital Network, a Pakistani television company. Their first issue was launched in English at the end of October and an Arabic edition is also in the pipeline. The website is The publication’s two front pages are below, along with a short video from their Twitter feed (the team have accounts on Facebook and on Instagram, and for those of you young uns out there, they are also running a Snapchat account under the name @NewsweekME).

The second publication, which is yet to launch is Inc. magazine, a monthly publication focusing on fast-growth companies. To be based in Qatar, the publication has been hiring journalists from Dubai publishers and should launch by the turn of the year in both English and Arabic.

While the launches of local editions for two global titles is to be welcomed, especially the Arabic-language editions, the question is if/when will this region suffer the same slowdown in terms of ad sales (Newsweek stopped publishing in the US for sometime in 2012 and 2013 and went fully digital for a year). With the Gulf becoming a global pioneer in terms of digital firsts among consumers (for example smartphone penetration, social media usage), will advertisers realize there’s more ROI to be had in advertising online rather than in print? Let’s wait and find out.

Local Insights – the UAE’s Media Coverage of the Conflict in Yemen

The conflict in Yemen and the UAE's involvement has helped to bring the community together, according to Emirati editors (image source:

The conflict in Yemen and the UAE’s involvement has helped to bring the community together, according to Emirati editors (image source:

I wanted to share a fascinating view into Arabic-language media opinions here in the UAE. This week saw the Emirati Media Forum here in Dubai. One of the topics up for discussion was the coverage of the conflict in Yemen. The conflict, which the UAE has been an active participant in since March of this year, has claimed the lives of approximately 70 Emirati combatants. The text below is from Gulf News and is a unique glimpse into how the conflict and those Emiratis who have died have helped to shape the Arabic-language media sector in the UAE and its coverage of the conflict.

The ability of Emiratis to transform tragedy into a sense of unity and national pride was the focal point of discussion at the second session at the Emirati Media Forum.

The session’s theme was ‘The UAE media’s responsible stance on the Yemen events’.

Mohammad Yousuf, president of the UAE Journalists Association, said the media was able to transform the sense of shock, tragedy and loss to positivity and pride.

Sami Al Riyami, Editor-in-Chief of Emarat Al Youm, said the Yemen war was a new experience for the UAE and for the people in the media sector.

“The news came as a shock to us too, as we are humans and Emiratis before we are media people. We were shaken by it as we were not used to seeing the bodies of our martyrs wrapped in the UAE flag — it’s an overwhelming sight. But we were able to turn the tragedy into love and pride for our country,” he said.

Explaining through various media channels why the UAE went to war, what the martyrs died for and what war entails helped in [achieving] this transformation, he said.

The media had no shortage of stories of heroism to write about, Al Riyami said, as the stories just presented themselves.

“It was not about scooping [from] other media outlets; we were all working together so we could get the information out to the people.” Al Riyami said.

In one instance, he said, one of their correspondents lost contact and they had no material to publish. Al Riyami said he called one of his contacts in another newspaper, who gave him the news material to fill the gap in coverage.

“It is our national duty, not a competition about who is getting exclusive content,” he said.

Ali Obaid Al Hameli, director of Dubai TV’s News Centre, said that with the loss of the first martyr on July 16 this year, media outlets felt a great sense of responsibility on how best to break this news to the people of the UAE and, more importantly, to the families of the martyrs.

“The UAE leaders’ engagement and stance and their heartfelt visits to the families of the martyrs and the wounded helped change people’s attitudes and made our job easier,” he said.

He said that they were shocked when they visited martyrs’ families, as the families were the ones consoling them and raising their spirits and not the other way round.

“Many of the families wished that they had more children — brothers and sons — to fight for the UAE,” Al Hamli said.

Abdul Hady Al Shaikh, executive director of Abu Dhabi TV, said that the media also shed light on the humanitarian efforts of the UAE in Yemen — and not just on the military intervention.

“We also wanted to show the Yemeni streets and people, not just coverage of our troops there,” he said.

On the topic of social media’s role, Al Riyami said it is every Emirati’s duty to offset rumours that surface on this platform, by giving correct information on the subject.

My first test drive – getting to grips with the family-oriented Chevrolet Traverse

As a new daddy, I’ve had to change my way of thinking. Now that I am responsible for a little one, I’ve been asked to rethink my ride. My workhorse car, a British-brand SUV, has served me well for over seven years. While it has traveled almost 280,000 kilometers (don’t ask) and has been dealer-serviced, my wife’s concern when it comes to my car (which I’ve worked hard over all of these years), boils down to the ‘what ifs’: what if the car breaks down with the little one in the back seat? What if the air conditioning stops working? What if a tire blows out?

With these things in mind, I started looking at cars in the market to get a better idea of what I should be buying. I wanted a car that would be safe for my daughter but still have lots of gadgets for me to play with. A good friend pointed me in the direction of General Motors and their Chevrolet brand. He also urged me to check out the Traverse and take it for a test drive. So I did just that.

No, this isn't me parking in Jebel Ali. But the Traverse handled itself well when I had to go off the tarmac

No, this isn’t me parking in Jebel Ali. But the Traverse handled itself well when I had to go off the tarmac

Right, let’s start with first impressions. I have a small yet sturdy SUV, but the Traverse’s roomy, spacious interior immediately blew me away. We had no issues fitting in the pram along with what felt like an endless array of grocery bags. In addition, we still had space left over for even more shopping bags, which is no mean feat if you know my wife. The space in the back was comfortable for both my daughter and wife, and because of all of the extra legroom they had –compared to my current car – I didn’t need to push my chair forward. When you’re six feet tall and you drive quite often, it’s good to not have to be cramped.

The Traverse has oodles of room in the back. The pram fitted in easily alongside all of the weekly shopping

The Traverse has oodles of room in the back. The pram fitted in easily alongside all of the weekly shopping

There were also many options at the back for anyone who sat there to play with, including rear seat entertainment systems, USB ports to charge smartphones, AUV jacks, and air conditioning controls (the air conditioning circulated well throughout the car, including at the back). My current car is so old that many of these functions are only available to me, so it’s nice to not be asked to change the A/C settings every couple of minutes. Instead, I could actually focus on the road (sorry darling). Our ISOfix car seat was also super easy to fit into the backseat, and the hooks for the ISOfix were simple to locate underneath the seat covers.

Now, let’s talk about daddy’s personal experience. As a ride, the Traverse was easy to handle; the car didn’t feel heavy or weighed down, especially when going into corners. I’d have liked a bit more oomph from the engine, but as a new daddy, I have to accept the fact that driving fast is no longer for me. There were also many additional features designed to offer driving support, some of which I loved. The alerts, including side blind zone and forward collision alerts were very helpful when trying to avoid unnecessary bumps while out and about (and parking, I will admit). What I loved even more was the lane departure warning system. I live in Abu Dhabi and I work in Dubai, so I have two long drives every day. That lane departure warning system helped me focus whilst on the road, making me a safer driver both for myself as well as others around me.

The Traverse's panel display was crisp and easy to use. The GPS handled Dubai's road network with ease.

The Traverse’s panel display was crisp and easy to use. The GPS handled Dubai’s road network with ease

And now for the gadgets! There’s so much to talk about here, including the obvious USB docking stations for my smartphone (the car is also Bluetooth-enabled) as well as a fully equipped central panel which included everything from a comprehensive GPS navigation system map – to help me get from point A to point B using the shortest and quietest route – to a host of radio and video options for both me and the passengers in the back.

Another great feature was the central panel, which is built into the wheel itself. I could control pretty much all of the tech stuff from the steering wheel, including the usual suspects such as the radio and audio functions as well as my actual phone (using voice commands, which I found to be very handy). This is a system called Chevrolet MyLink and is basically a touch-screen display that gives you easy access to all sorts of things (navigation, entertainment, phone apps, and even your contact list). I had everything at my fingertips, literally.

I enjoyed all of the tech in the Traverse and how its layout was convenient for me as a driver

I enjoyed all of the tech in the Traverse and how its layout was convenient for me as a driver

When I was driving to work by myself, I got to listen to some music via the Bose surround sound system. Let me tell you, the sound was crisp, loud, and very clear. This also made phone calls a joy (hands-free of course).

To round it off, I’ll admit that, prior to this experience, I had never thought of the Chevrolet Traverse as a viable option. Having stepped into the car and sat behind the wheel on my own as well as with the family, I have to say, I’m impressed. The car comes with a host of options to keep everyone in the family happy all the while offering a safe and smooth ride (thanks to side airbags and the industry’s first front center side air bag). And that to me is the most important factor to consider when choosing my next car.

As for the price? The car I was driving, a Traverse LT AWD, starts from 125,764 AED. Needless to say, it’s well worth your while.

McDonalds Saudi and the Saudi national who was arrested – a lesson in virality and crisis comms

Last week Saudi’s social media space was alive with chatter and calls for a boycott. But this wasn’t for a global cause, a political issue, or a case of consumer activism. It wasn’t even about the color of a dress or the shenanigans of a Kardashian. Instead, it was about a Saudi national who tweeted a complaint about the drink he’d been served at a McDonalds restaurant and the rapidly escalating series of events which got him put in jail.

I’m going to try to keep this story as simple as possible for factual reasons.

A young Saudi national Abdulrahman bin Jumah was at a McDonalds outlet in Jeddah on the 19th of October and ordered a meal, which included a coke. Inside the cup, he claimed he found a cockroach. He then shared the image on social media to his followers (which I assume would have been less than the 3,216 followers he has now). As Abdulrahman deleted his Tweets, here’s an alleged image from another Saudi Twitter account who retweeted the Tweet.

This was the initial tweet from Abdulrahman on the 19th of October with the alleged cockroach in the cup

This was the initial tweet from Abdulrahman on the 19th of October with the alleged cockroach in the cup

Abdulrahman tweeted his experience and contacted the local municipality online at their Twitter account @JeddahAmanah. The municipality took swift action and closed the branch in question the day after on the 20th.

Simple enough? You’d think so (and restaurant closures are a fairly common occurrence in Saudi as you can see from this tweet announcing the closure of a KFC outlet in Jeddah. I cannot comment as to whether a restaurant closure would be common for McDonalds Saudi).

After a day however (I’m assuming here the 21st), the branch reopened and Abdulrahman tweeted his thoughts on the issue, namely that he was surprised that the branch could open so soon, and that he wasn’t looking for compensation but rather an apology for the experience. Again, these are screen shots as the original tweets were deleted.

Abdulrahman tweeted his surprise at how the restaurant could have opened so soon after its closure for an alleged health violation

Abdulrahman tweeted his surprise at how the restaurant could have opened so soon after its closure for an alleged health violation

Now this is where it gets murky as later on in the day Abdulrahman was accused of defamation by McDonalds Saudi Arabia. He tweeted his experiences as he was first accused of defamation…

Abdulrahman shared on Twitter the news that McDonalds had made an allegation of defamation against him. Defamation is a criminal offense in Saudi Arabia

Abdulrahman shared on Twitter the news that McDonalds Saudi had made an allegation of defamation against him. Defamation is a criminal offense in Saudi Arabia

And then arrested by the police. Defamation is a criminal rather than a civil offense in Saudi Arabia. After the below tweet Abdulrahman’s timeline supposedly goes quiet.

The Saudi at the center of the allegation was even tweeting as he was being held by police for defamation

The Saudi at the center of the allegation was even tweeting as he was being held by police for defamation

On the 22nd Abdulrahman tweeted an apology, four times, writing that the bug was not in the cup and that he was sorry for using social media when making the allegations against McDonalds Saudi. The second time he used two hashtags, McDonalds arrests the national and we are all Abdulrahman Jumah (ماكدونالدز_تعاقب_مواطن #كلنا_عبدالرحمن_جمعه#)

McDonalds Saudi also put out a statement online in response to many in Saudi who have come out to ask about the allegations or who have supported Abdulrahman stating that the case was caused by an intention to gain financially from the allegation that he’d made and that, following the apology, McDonalds Saudi had dropped the case.

McDonalds issued a statement

McDonalds issued a statement that the allegation was false and the case is now closed

Abdulrahman deleted all of the story’s tweets, except those in which he makes an apology.

Without knowing the facts in the case, it’s hard to know what really happened. Did Abdulrahman really find a cockroach in his drink or was it a case of extortion? However, Saudis on Twitter have not been kind to McDonalds Saudi and their involvement of the police. The hashtags used by Jumah are replete with angry responses to McDonalds Saudi. The case has also made the national media, albeit indirectly.

Makkah Daily's Abdullah Bin Jaber parodied the story in typical fashion by lampooning McDonalds for their actions

Makkah Daily’s Abdullah Bin Jaber parodied the story in typical fashion by lampooning McDonalds Saudi for their actions

McDonalds Saudi certainly acted quickly in terms of responding to the crisis, but did they respond in the right way? Has the issue done more damage than it otherwise would have thanks to the actions of McDonalds Saudi, or were they right in involving the police when they did due to their belief that they were being blackmailed?

What are your thoughts? What lessons can we take from this case? I’d love to hear from you.

PS Saudi social media personality Omar Hussein has also talked about the issue. For you Arabic-language speakers out there you can see his Facebook video below.

The Gulf’s push to improve its image – why actions speak louder than words

The Gulf's foreign ministers have worked hard to change perceptions of the region abroad. But is there a simpler solution?

The Gulf’s foreign ministers have worked hard to change perceptions of the region abroad. But is there a simpler solution?

I love a good read, especially fiction. But when living in the Gulf, fact can often feel more surreal than fiction. Last week the UAE’s English language daily Gulf News reported on efforts by the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council to improve its image abroad, most notably in Europe and the US. To quote from the newspaper:

Foreign media officials in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have stressed the need to formulate a common media strategy that will reflect the positive image of the six member countries abroad.

The officials, who were holding a meeting in the Qatari capital Doha, reviewed plans and suggestions for future actions in their communication drive with the international community.

The GCC, established in 1981, comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“The participants discussed several issues related to the progress of their work, including a common strategy to rectify the distorted image that some Western media have about the countries in the region,” Ahmad Al Buainain, the head of the foreign media department at Qatar News Agency (QNA) said.

“The meeting also discussed several papers and new ideas regarding the way forward for the GCC foreign media in European and Asian countries in order to convey the realities on the ground, he said, quoted by QNA.

Plans include holding seminars and meetings with research centres or organizing events at international functions in Europe and in which the GCC countries are participating, he added.

“This new drive is a continuation of the activities conducted by the foreign media officials at past events,” he said.

Ahmed Mussa Al Dhabyan, the head of media cooperation at the GCC Secretariat General, said that the GCC foreign media officials sought to build on their successful experience and formulate a new strategy that matched the latest developments in the communication field.

“The world has gone beyond the global village concept and has now become a single house,” he said. “The GCC has a significant political and economic weight and it has a special standing internationally, and therefore it needs to have a foreign media presence that matches its stature,” he said.

Earlier this month, reports surfaced from Washington D.C. that Saudi was hiring a variety of lobbying groups to bolster its public image in the US. Clearly, the Gulf cares about its reputation abroad, especially when the region’s governments see what they feel to be negative coverage.

On his Facebook account, political commentator (and Sharjah royal family member) Sultan Al-Qassemi gave his take on the article in the Gulf news with a list of suggestions to improve the Gulf’s image abroad.

1- Release activists.
2- Suspend capital punishment.
3- Allow political participation.
4- Eliminate Kafeel (sponsorship) system
5- Expand women’s rights.
6- Enact environmental protection.
7- Broaden citizen’s rights.
8- Bolster freedom of expression (yes within “limits”)

I’d make it even simpler. As any good and ethical public relations practitioner will tell you, your actions speak louder than your words. If the region is serious about tackling any negative perceptions or reputation issues abroad, then behaviour which is contradictory to accepted human norms in regions outside of the Gulf (read the West) must be tackled, and free(r) access should be given to the media. With social media and the internet, it is so much harder to hide anything or to spin information or events. Take for example the leaking of documents from Saudi’s Foreign Ministry recently.

The best way to been seen in a positive light is not more seminars or meetings in European capitals with research centers. Instead, one must behave in a positive light, followed by encouraging the media, both local and international, to report without bias.

While I’ve been in this region long enough to know better, I am still an optimist at heart. And I still believe we are capable of change for the better, as this region is magical in so many ways. However, a word of note. If my face turns shades of blue or purple, do please remind me to breathe.