The Emirati talks about his role at the Global Shapers Community and how he makes time to give back despite performing a plethora of other duties
You may have heard the expression: “Time and tide wait for no man”. For Omar Al Busaidy, the tides have been rough, but time certainly stands still. By day, the 31-year-old is the Accessibility, Chartered & Commercial Flights Manager for the Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority, and by nightfall, he’s an entrepreneur, part-time student and teacher, author and a Global Shaper at the World Economic Forum. That’s too many feathers for one cap, especially given the man’s age.
Omar credits his boss for his ability to juggle his many roles. “I have a very cool boss,” Omar says. “He understands that the more he puts me in an office, the more he kills my vibe. So, his only rule is that I get my work done on time. I like that kind of flexibility.” And who wouldn’t? Omar stresses on the importance of time management though. “Like everyone else, my job is my bread and butter,” he says. “It helps pay the bills, which is why I prioritise office work over everything else. As soon as I’m done, I make time for my various other duties.”
You could call Omar the Man of Steel. Not because, like Superman, he seems to have the time to work a day job while giving back to the people – although that wouldn’t be an incorrect analogy. His claim to the title is more literal, owing to the metal plates in his back, the result of a near- incapacitating bout of spinal tuberculosis in 2008. Born, brought up and educated in the UAE, Omar only began his philanthropic agenda after a bitter divorce. Unfortunately for him, it coincided with a time when he was unemployed. The close call with paralysis, unemployment and the divorce, caught him like a swift MMA combo that knocked the wind – and any fleeting sense of happiness – out of him. “As you can imagine, I was in a rough state,” Omar recalls. “At the time, all I wanted to do was run away from the negativity because it was burning a hole through me.”
The then 26-year-old sought to fill that gaping hole by giving back to people less fortunate than him. “I was reeling, unemployed for eight months in my own country. I realised that
the only way I was going to feel better, was by trying to do things for people who were in a worse situation, which is why I started volunteering at orphanages and old-age shelters. I thought of it as a calling – an SMS through pain, if you will. Working there really opened my eyes. It was my lowest point in life that brought me the most exposure. Life is funny like that.” It’s crazy to think how someone who has gone through so much can still look at the positive side of life. Although for Omar, those trials were just more of the same. As a boy, he didn’t have the best relationship with his father. His father was barely around to have one.
“I learned at a very early age that a fractured relationship like that affects a child’s development,” Omar says. “My mother tried hard, very hard, but a child needs both parents. One can never compensate for the absence of the other. When you don’t have that figure of authority, you can end up doing a lot of wrong things. And I did.” Undoubtedly, those experiences as a boy drew him towards younger people in need of help. Even his book, Just Read It, directly addresses the youth, asking them to not lose hope while educating them from the hard lessons life has taught him. Think of Omar as the cool, yet wise elder brother who wouldn’t want you to get into the kind of trouble he did, but is there to bail you out if you do.
“Look around you today,” Omar commands. “Terrorism and extremism is destroying the world. These things have nothing to do with poverty. There are many places over the world that are poor and don’t have these problems. No, these things happen because there is lack of hope and guidance. This makes kids do wrong things, which is why I focus on youth. If we can just look after them today, they will build a beautiful tomorrow.”
It’s this zeal and commitment towards helping adolescents that brought him to the attention of the Global Shapers Community, an initiative by the World Economic Forum. It is essentially a network of hubs developed and led by young people, primarily between the ages of 20-30, who are exceptional in their potential, achievements and drive to make a change in their communities. Each hub is comprised of a maximum of 25 people. The UAE is home to three hubs: Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah. Omar claims he didn’t even know about the Global Shapers Community’s existence until he got a phone call from them. “They just told me that they have been following my work and like what I’m doing,” Omar says. “They asked me to continue my work but under the umbrella of the community. We’re expected to compile a report every month and send it over to Switzerland so that they know what we’re doing here. The work I’ve done doesn’t even compare to the kind of work some of these people do. It’s incredible.”
As we know, social media trolls love taking on celebrities and activists. Considering his work and age, there’s a high chance Omar has a couple hundred trolls on his social media platforms. In life, you don’t get to 14.4K Instagram followers without a few who doubt and question everything you do. Omar, however, is unfazed by them. “There are people who get into philanthropy because they want to be seen doing good. It helps their clout,” says the blunt Emirati. “I encourage them because although they’re doing it just for the publicity, a lot of good comes from it. The people who follow these publicity-hungry people will try to emulate them, which means at most they will do what they can to help other people. At the very least, they will become aware of the problems in their society. I’m a big picture kind of guy.”
When asked whether more people outside the realms of social media should be educated on the problems within their society and how best to see them through, Omar says, “Not really. The truth is everyone has problems. We’ve just trained ourselves to hide behind facades of happiness. Nevertheless, I believe the UAE already does more than its fair share to help others. According to a new Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report, the UAE is the world’s top aid donor for a third consecutive year. Not many know this because news like this gets lost in the hullabaloo around the UAE being the destination of the world’s tallest building and all that. We prefer it this way. In Islam we follow a saying, “If you do something good with your right, your left hand should not know.’ Therefore, we will continue to work behind the scenes, silently helping those that need it.”
How very un-Superman like.