Key takeaways from the Nabbesh Freelance Summit Dubai

We just held our first Freelance Summit in Dubai and were thrilled to engage with a full house at Shelter. The reasoning behind this gathering was fairly simple.  We know from our data that there is a big demand for different ways of working, our 14,000 registered users and over 250 job postings a month are testament to that, but we know there’s a big untapped market out there that can be addressed by starting an offline dialogue between the various stakeholders.


That’s why we built an agenda bringing together freelancers to talk about their insights and advice, employers to talk about what they look for and common pitfalls to avoid, a law firm to tell us exactly what is legal regarding freelance and part time work and a business setup consultancy that told us how to incorporate freelancing activities into a proper registered business.  We even had a session talking about how freelancing can help achieve the UAE’s 2021 vision of a knowledge based economy!

Trevor gulf stat

The event was really successful, and there was definitely an appetite to hear more.  Nabbesh is hard at work building some great product features on the platform to make the experience even easier, but we also want to help people get the information they need.  We’ll be doing more events in the future based on the conversations we started last night, and of course your feedback.


Let’s give you some highlights from the night:

We talked about the enhanced profile builder called Canvas which allows people to demonstrate their skills by linking to all their best work around the web.  Have a look at the profile below to see how much more engaging they are.

If you’ve already got a profile on Nabbesh, now is the time to use this tool to stand out from the crowd.



We also had some sneak peeks of upcoming product features. Want to be the first to test them out? Get on our mailing list!

The question on everybody’s mind was, is freelancing really legal?  How can I do it properly? Sara Khoja, Partner at Clyde & Co gave a helpful and succinct talk on what is now possible.  Some key takeaways:

  • You can hold a full time job and do work on the side with a “part time work permit” so long as you hold the necessary No Objection Certificates from your existing employer
  • Expats are able to act as official work sponsors for their dependents meaning that housewives and students can now take up part time work (with permissions from husbands / fathers)

There was a general consensus that freelancing was a good way to transition from being employed full time to becoming your own boss.  Thanks to the laws in the UAE allowing part time work, we should see more people take up freelancing in their spare time to build up their reputation in the market.

Another surprising piece of news from Creative Zone was that it is possible to incorporate your freelance activities into a proper business in the UAE, allowing you to have a corporate bank account and the ability to invoice in a company name as opposed to your personal name. Offering various license options, Creative Zone are happy to provide you with a free consultation to help you understand these options and advise on the best possible solution as per your requirements. If you want more on this, ping us in the form below with your Nabbesh profile URL and the subject “Freelance Business Licence”


Many people think that freelancing as a work pattern is nothing but a pipe dream, available for only a few people, or those lucky enough to have a skill which is so rare that they can command extremely high prices for it.  Fortunately we had freelancers on the panel to dispel this myth. A few tips from them:


  • It’s a competitive marketplace, you need to be proactive and show why you’re better than others
  • Talk to peers and network with others in the industry to ascertain benchmark rates
  • Start small and build your reputation through delivering quality work

The employer panel was equally fascinating as we heard exactly what it is that employers look for and we got a glimpse into the skills that are highly in demand right now:


  • Have a sense of accountability, prove that you take the job as seriously as a full time employee
  • Demonstrating your work with an up to date portfolio means you have a better chance of standing out (top tip: use the Canvas profile builder to get employers to notice you quicker!)
  • Deliver good consistent work and aim to build reputation with your employer no matter what the project is

Some industry insights as to what’s missing in the market:

  • Arabic Content Development
  • Analytics
  • English writers who follow Arabic culture
  • Good Arabic screenplay writers, producers and directors

So you heard it here first! If you’re reading this and you’ve got these skills, or you know someone who does, get signed up on as soon as possible.

We’d like to thank The Shelter, Clyde & Co, Creative Zone and all our panelists for making the event a success.

We’ll continue doing these sessions to make sure everyone is empowered with the knowledge they need to freelance successfully.  All you have to do is bring your skills to the platform.  Whether you’re an individual or a business, hit us up in the form below to tell us more about what you want to know. – where talent meets opportunity.

Freelance Summit Agenda


The Shelter, Al Quoz, Dubai

Freelance Summit Agenda

6.30 – 7.00     Welcome and Seating

7.00 – 7.05     Audience Brief and Agenda

7.05 – 7.15     Nabbesh Introduction

7.15 – 7.30     Developing a Knowledge Economy in the UAE: The Importance of Freelancers

(Trevor McFarlane, Gulfstat )

7.30 – 7.45     Freelancer Panel – insights, experience and advice

7.45 – 8.00     Presentation by Sara Khoja, Partner at Clyde & Co; What does the law say     regarding licenses, permits and freelancing?

8.00 – 8.15     Break

8.15 – 8.30     Creative Zone – Business Licensing Options

8.30 – 8.45     Employer Panel – what they look for in freelancers, their experience and advice

8.45 – 9.00     Wrap up

Freelancers –           Nigel Holt, Marianne Bassil, Shelina Jokhiya, Swati Randev Verma

Employers –             Sharif Maghraby (MBC, twofour54)

                                 Nick Gonzalez (

                                 Joe Akkawi (Paz Marketing)

                                 Faisal al Yafai (The National)

Moderators – Alexandra Tohme, David Haddad

About the speakers:

Trevor McFarlane is Research Director for the Middle East and Africa at Gulfstat, an independent research group and data provider. He was previously the Economist Intelligence Unit’s Senior Editor for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.  Trevor regularly speaks and moderates at conferences, presents to senior executives and hosts Dubai Eye’s Business Breakfast Radio Show as well as continuing his role as a contributing editor to The Economist.

Sara Khoja is Partner, Employment & Incentives at Clyde & CoSara provides advice on all aspects of employment law, including recruitment, termination, terms and conditions of employment (benefits, bonuses, and remuneration), and the application of quotas and training requirements for the employment of nationals in various AGCC countries.  She has contributed UAE chapters to the International Labour and Employment Compliance Handbook (published by Kluwer Law International and the IBA); Corporate Immigration (published by the Oxford University Press) and Compensating Mobile Executives (published by Taxmann).

Sharif Maghraby has worked as a director and producer with MBC, and was responsible for acquiring and negotiating international content formats such as Who wants to be a Millionaire, Fear Factor, and Biggest Loser amongst others. He has experience working with TV, VOD, IPTV and mobile content.  Sharif worked as the Managing Director of Comedy Central Studios with TwoFour54.  He is also the author of a book, “The seven gates of Phi”  He has managed a team of full-time and part-time staff including producers, directors, content development executives, writers and post-production supervisors and has developed and produced many new programs and concepts for the region.

Nick Gonzalez is the co founder of Nervora represents regional advertising for word-class digital publications in the MENA region reaching millions of readers of well-known global brands such as Conde Nast (e.g. Wired, Vogue, GQ, etc.), CBS Interactive, Hearst Media, Viacom, and Gawker Media.  Previously Nick was the first employee at and joined founder Michael Arrington to cover the burgeoning startup scene in the SF Bay Area. Nick wore several hats to keep TechCrunch running in the early days, including writing, researching, and managing the original TechCrunch website.

Joe Akkawi is the Founder and Owner of PAZ Marketing Management and Bambinoz PR providing clients with Public Relations, Events Management, Social Media and Media Buying consultancy in the Middle East and North Africa. Joe is also the TV Anchor on SkyNews Arabia doing weekly reviews and stories revolving around technology launches and advancements. Previously Joe’s experience was developing online web experiences and communication strategies with some of the Middle East’s top advertising and communications agencies including Leo Burnett, Grey Worldwide, Impact BBDO and Flip Media.

Faisal al Yafai is an award-winning journalist and essayist. He is chief columnist, features writer and editor for The National newspaper.  His journalism and essays have been featured in The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The American Prospect and many other global magazines and newspapers. He is the editor of a collection of essays Women, Islam and Western Liberalism, published by Civitas in London. He conducted undercover investigations into radical and suspected terrorist organisations in the post-9/11 era. He has since reported from countries across the Middle East, Eastern Europe and South-East Asia. Faisal was awarded prestigious Churchill Fellowship, taking a journey to explore feminism across the Arab and Islamic worlds, from Morocco in the east to the furthest tip of Indonesia. His book on the future of feminism in the Middle East is forthcoming from I.B. Tauris, London.


Nabbesh on DubaiEye

Nabbesh was interviewed on DubaiEye 103.8FM today alongside Sara Khoja, partner at Clyde & Co to talk about the legalities of freelancing in the UAE and how to get started. The below is a summary of the discussion:

It’s no secret that unemployment is high in the region with a need to create 100 million jobs by 2020.  Particular risk segments are women and youth.   Certain countries have extremely low participation rates for example Saudi.  To enable participation in the workforce, Nabbesh offers the opportunity to find and apply for freelance and part time jobs.  With over 12,000 registered users and growing, its clear that a gap is being filled.

In the UAE, many people are here because their partner is here on full time work, they want to be proactive in working but often have certain restraints that prevent them from working full time in an office for most of the day.  Family and cultural considerations are often not taken into account.  Many of these people are highly educated with experience in other parts of the world and are finding ways to work through Nabbesh. Typically people are not fully aware of the jurisdiction surrounding non full time work.  Since December 2010 however there has been a move by the government to allow various types of work permits, freelance licenses, part time work permits and more.  The best way to get started is to think about how you want to work, for example fully self employed or part time, and this will determine the type of license you need.

SME’s are responsible for the majority of business in the region, and we see that trend on Nabbesh.  Many of the employers looking for talent have financial and time restraints where they either need to fill a job urgently for a particular campaign or they don’t have the budget for a full time person. Nabbesh has been quite successful in fulfilling posts within a very short time frame, in some cases as little as 24 hours.

For people who are looking to transition into freelance (people already on their spouses visa) or students who have graduated you can get part time work permits from the ministry of labour for 3 months up to a year.  If you already employed you can do work part time in the UAE but you would need a no objection certificate from the employer.

If someone is coming to the end of their job here in the UAE and looking for freelance – what should they do to ensure they can stay here?  Firstly the employer is under duty to cancel the work permit and residency visa, and the individual has 30 days to find another sponsor or leave the country.  Within that period they need to register as a freelancer, many freezones have freelance licences, they don’t require a huge capital investment.  The other way is to secure a part time job with an organization and work that way until you figure out what you want to do.  Many part time positions are advertised on Nabbesh and can be found easily using the search functions.  For employers they should have evidence of the freelancers being properly licensed, if not, the company would be potentially liable for employing people unlawfully and could be fined.

A recent Employee retention survey done for the MENA region showed that  55% of respondents wanted to leave their jobs immediately.  Freelancing will play a more important role moving forward as it gives people the opportunity to work on things they love, not on things they have to do to get by.  These days, where job security isn’t as tight as before, freelancing is a good way to maintain your income and keep your skills up to speed.  We recently wrote about what employers are most affected by, and being out of work for 6 months or longer was the most decisive factor for employers to pass over a candidate for potential employment.

In short, the opportunities for freelancers are growing daily.  We are making it easier for both individuals and employers to meet and do business more efficiently.  To find out more and to keep up with the conversation follow #freelancesummit on Twitter, and join us at the first Freelance Summit in Dubai at The Shelter, May 8th.

Got questions? Let us know!