‘We had a very good, heated discussion,’ explains 27-year-old Muhammad Atif, founder of The Involve Project, a new Dubai-based community group which held its first meeting at the end of June. He’s referring to a discussion at that particular meeting, where a 20-strong cross-section of the city’s population met to discuss Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. It’s clear they’ve attracted a feisty, opinionated group, and Atif couldn’t be more pleased. To be clear, The Involve Project shouldn’t be confused with a book club; the point of the discussion was not to dissect ex-mountaineer Mortenson’s writing abilities, but rather his motives and alleged mishandling of monies as he worked to build 170 schools across Afghanistan and rural Pakistan. ‘It’s a very interesting book, but there is controversy surrounding the work done by the author, and the accusations against him, so we had a good discussion about fund-raising practices, and the general difficulties someone might face in fundraising,’ Atif explains.
From now on, The Involve Project will host a get-together on the last Saturday of every month to talk about social and humanitarian issues, both local and international. They’ve only done one so far, but already Atif is feeling very optimistic. ‘The first meeting exceeded my expectations, especially in terms of the quality of the crowd that turned up – we had a very good mix of people from different backgrounds. We had people from the mountaineering community, the social sector, people doing non-profit activities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and of course a lot of people who were just curious and wanted to know more about the issue,’ he reveals.
Though Atif’s aim is to make sure each session has a solid focus on a particular issue, he is determined that the topics, books and films discussed are accessible, and that the group does not only appeal to ‘elitist intelligence,’ as he puts it. They want to be inclusive. ‘Everyone should be able to take part in the discussion, whatever it is, whether we’re covering charity, environment, banking reforms – anything, though we won’t be discussing politics,’ he concludes.
Though the group won’t be taking action together on any of the issues, he hopes to inspire participants to make a positive difference to their environment, and has also suggested that it could act as a think-tank, or support network for another of his initiatives, a fund-raising group called Action for Relief. The Involve Project also aims to help connect the right people. ‘It’s a place for people in Dubai to find collaborators for projects, and we saw that happening at our first event. There were people who have resources they want used for good causes, and people looking for resources to use.’
Next time the group meets, on Saturday July 28, the discussion will focus on themes presented by the book The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. It’s the real life story of Malawian Kamkwamba, who one day found a book called Using Energy, and decided to build the windmills which he had read about inside. He was later awarded a GO Ingenuity Award by the non-profit GO Campaign, which recognises inventors and artists and helps promote their innovations among youngsters in developing countries. Kamkwamba has since become a symbol of the importance of determination, education and innovation for youth in Malawi.
After summer, regular movie screenings will be introduced, along with talks from guest speakers on a wide variety of topics. ‘In Dubai, if you’re interested in art, you go to a gallery; if fashion is your thing, you go to a designer’s launch; if it’s music, you go to a concert... We want to create a place where people who are passionate about real-life issues can come together and share their experiences,’ he explains. But be prepared to be challenged on your opinions, as The Involve Project may be inclusive, but it makes no promises to be a love-in – heated exchange is the name of the game. And as the city sets into a long, lazy summer, that might just be something we could do with a bit more of. The Involve Project’s next meeting takes place on Saturday July 28. 5pm-8pm, Caffe Nero, DIFC. For more information visit www.facebook.com/theinvolveproject