We asked Iman Ben Chaibah about her inspirations, the challenges she faced and her hopes for the magazine.
I wanted a platform that gathers together lots of writers in one place and gives a platform to people who aren’t getting published in actual printed magazines. I wanted it to focus on Emiratis and have intelligent and thought-provoking content, as opposed to fashion and celebrity news and gossip. Generally the English publications don’t take on Emirati writers unless their name is already very well-known. That’s where Sail came in – to give them a chance, and provide an English platform to represent Emirati opinion.
I had worked in IT for eight years, and that background really helped a lot; it took just 10 days from having the idea to launch. We started very small: me, one other person and a third person to write a guest piece. Word spread, and we were soon taking on more people. We now have 32 members, all of them Emirati writers, editors and illustrators. We started without illustrations; that came later. I know that the magazine would not have got to where it is now without the artwork.
We’re trying to produce an intellectual product that makes you think, but no matter what you do, the fashion and celebrity publications will always dominate, so it’s always a struggle to try and capture the market. To read thoughtfully takes a lot of effort, and a lot of people just want an easy option, they think they don’t have the time.
They get a lot of criticism, people telling them they’re wasting their time writing. So initially it can be difficult for them to overcome that and have the confidence to continue. Sail allows them to stay in touch with other writers the whole time so it becomes like a family for them, where if they have a problem they can share it with the team. It’s like a support system for them.
Yes, that always makes me happy. I sometimes say to them it’s not that you don’t like reading, it’s just that you’ve never found something that you love reading. For example, my younger brother never used to like reading until we discovered that what he loved reading was the finance stuff. Since then I’ve seen his bookshelf grow!
We want to encourage more of the new generation to start writing, expressing, discussing and also get back into reading – not shallow reads, but thought-provoking material. Last year, one of the university professors, every week, would give his students articles from the magazine to read for their homework, and they would discuss it the following week. That’s a huge thing for the magazine, and I really hope we can get more universities to use the magazine in that way.
Firstly, it’s not easy. A lot of people will tell you it doesn’t make sense, it’s a waste of time, but if you truly believe in it you really have to fight for it and devote a lot of time to it. It’s a lot of commitment. If you don’t believe in it, you’ll quit on the first day!