With its glittering skyline of high-rise buildings, luxury resorts, and real estate, Dubai is the indubitable global emblem of UAE’s growth. However, it’s easy to forget that the foundation of these towering skyscrapers is the nearly half a million migrant construction workers employed here. Behind the opulence, their sweat and toil allow Dubai to stay aglitter.
However, all that glitters is not gold. For their struggles, these labourers make pitiful wages and make heartbreaking choices every day unimaginable to the more privileged.
Moved by their plight, 35-year-old real estate entrepreneur Inder Bhagnani founded the Feed-A-Labour initiative, an inspiring campaign honoring and repaying in kind the labourers who work relentlessly, often round the clock, to build the city whose towering greatness we remain in awe of.
As a man who earned much fortune and credibility in real estate, Inder feels strongly motivated to give back to those who make his vision a reality. To him, it’s a way of showing gratitude for everything he’s been blessed with. Over the past 400 weeks, the campaign has reached countless labourers, offering meals and snacks that help fuel their toil and grit, erecting the foundation of the UAE.
In this interview, Inder Bhagnani sheds light on Feed-A-Labour initiation and his admirable tenacity for philanthropy.
A Simple Question, An Impossible Answer
Back in 2014, Inder was at a café when he noticed a labourer walk in to buy himself a sandwich and tea. However, Inder noticed the worker cancel his order and opt only for a cup of tea instead. Intrigued, he inquired why the man changed his order instead of a bigger meal when he clearly had the money. The worker replied, “I had to choose between one sandwich and a cup of tea, or 4 cups of tea for the next four days with AED 4. The choice was simple.”
This conversation changed Inder’s worldview. Unwilling to sit idly by, Inder helped fellow friends of the labourer over the next few weeks, which turned out to be the stepping stones that eventually blossomed into the ‘Feed-A-Labour’ initiative. Through his efforts, Inder and others members of his community have fed half a million labourers around Dubai in about eight years.
Feed-A-Labour initiative doesn’t accept cash donations. Instead, it collects food and connects with construction sites and labour camps. The campaign feeds labourers at the same site for around three years until the work ends.
The Intangible Rewards
Inder recalls one of the most poignant moments when one labourer stood completely still, even after he had already received his food. When Inder approached the man to ask if he was okay, he burst into tears. Emotionally, he asked, “Who are you all? Why did you come here? Nobody has ever done this for us. Can I just hug you? I wanted to thank you for thinking of us. We do our job for so many years, every single day and to this moment, no one has ever come out here to visit us.” This was crystallized as an unforgettable memory, reminding him that his work was invaluable to those who led arduous lives in the Emirate, building towers of dreams.
More recently, Inder has been keen on incorporating the feedback he receives from the labourers, even adapting his donation of food items to what the labourers request. For example, he explains, “Back in January, we were giving out Laban Ups (buttermilk). It was slightly cold, so one labourer asked if it was possible to bring in biscuits in place of the buttermilk to couple with their evening tea.” The following week’s donation was inundated with so many biscuits that the labourers were left awestruck. For every little detail that Inder pays careful attention to, he is rewarded with blessings and unending gratitude from the workers.
Driven by Empathy
Inder and his team now plan to grow and scale-up donations to about 10,000 labourers and thus are looking to receive maximum contributions from their members. Having started their noble endeavor for change in Dubai, they hope for the drive to scale across the various Emirate states. Eventually, he plans on diving into healthcare.
Inder adds, “We’ve got a diverse range of people involved in the campaign between the ages of 8-55. We’re going slow, but the good thing is we are consistent. We do wish to grow, but we want to be consistent with our activities.”
For a real-estate businessperson, Inder is not obsessed with the bottom line. Instead, his purpose is clear – To give as he earns. Inder says, “It is a non-monetary business, where you get emotional satisfaction instead of something tangible.” Donors are required to take time out of their busy schedules and participate in appreciating the efforts of Dubai’s unseen, unsung heroes.
The primary focus of Feed-A-Labour isn’t the donation but the act of donating your presence to someone who can’t reciprocate in the same coin. Associating with this charity invokes selflessness and true empathy, both qualities that are desperately needed in the world today.
It thus begins to dawn clearer on us why the initiative refuses cash donations. Inder’s ethos are mighty apparent as he says, “Anyone can donate a couple of hundred dirhams, but to contribute to Feed-A-Labour, you must be physically present.”
Inder’s movement is admirable and a significant step in bridging the gap by putting ourselves in the shoes of the less fortunate. If you would like to join Inder’s noble cause, head over to the Facebook group and register to offer a meal and some time from the bottom of your heart.