Facebook recently celebrated its birthday with a small media gathering at its Middle East headquarters in Dubai. The date, February 4th, is referred to as “Friends Day” to pay homage to the 1.18 billion friends who connect on the social media site daily. A casual discussion led by Jonathan Labin, Head of Facebook MENA, Ari Kesisoglu, Regional Director at Facebook MENA and Ashraf Zeitoon, Head of Policy at Facebook MENA covered topics like company’s status worldwide, its presence in the region and future plans. Guests were also treated to a guided tour of the office which has more than doubled in size since it opened. It was exciting to go behind the scenes of where the world’s largest online community is maintained. Here’s your sneak peek.

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L to R: Jonathan Labin, Head of Facebook MENA, Ari Kesisoglu, Regional Director at Facebook MENA and Ashraf Zeitoon, Head of Policy at Facebook MENA

Regional Focus 

Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more connected consequently, the MENA community has grown steadily since 2015. With over 120 million people in the region who use the platform each month – 83% of whom come back daily – it was a no-brainer to open an office here. Ari Kesisoglu gave some insight as to how people in the region use their time on Facebook. The verdict – videos. Both video consumption and video creation are increasing across the region and its a natural progression that makes sense. Good devices plus good connectivity, both of which are regional characteristics, yields a better video experience.

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The region is also known to have one of the highest smartphone penetration rates globally and this trend extends to Facebook too, as 110 million active users access the site through mobile devices in MENA. (I’m one of them.) To convey just how powerful mobile users are, Ashraf declared, “every person with a 4G [or] 3G connection and a smartphone has more power than Ronald Reagan in 1980, and that was the President of the most powerful country in the world”. That power, combined with Facebook, has ignited social change and garnered awareness in epic proportions. For example, “8 million people on Facebook used 35,000 groups to support refugees”, said  Labin during his opening remarks. Remember the ALS ice bucket challenge? It started on Facebook with a single video post and resulted in what’s considered the world’s largest medical donation campaign in history. They raised $220 million in just a few months. Movements like this can start anywhere – even here.

A Look Inside

The team that started with two people and two desks is now large enough to require an entire floor of their office building. The open air concept and minimal decor is complemented by 360 degree views of Dubai. Johnathan, who showed us around, noted that there are no offices in the entire space; everyone, regardless of title, has the same accommodations. Meeting rooms can be reserved when privacy is required. The space and the culture of the office is best described as casual – no stuffy shirt and tie combos or muted colors. Instead the team wore denim styled with blazers amid walls covered by graphic, colorful art and faux turf. Motivational mantras of the startup world like ‘FAIL HARDER’, painted on a black background in bold, capital white letters caught my attention as we walked through. And, there are regional touches too. A mural by a local artist covers a wall in the presentation room and the conference room names are locally curated. Try reserving Shawarma or Habibi for an important meeting with a straight face. Facebook, which acquired Instagram in 2012, has a well appointed photo area outfitted with seating, a selfie wall and a Polaroid camera similar to Instagram’s famed logo. Needless to say, my visit ended with a photo shoot full of laughter, fun and shameless selfies. Happy Birthday Facebook!

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Selfie fun with Aby Sam Thomas, Managing Editor or Entrepreneur Magazine Middle East

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