Malini Agarwal isn't your typical 30-year-old Indian. The disc jockey for Radio One in Mumbai grew up partly in Germany, Greece, Lebanon, Somalia, and Bulgaria because her father was a diplomat. Being multinational got into her blood. Now she is the spiritual leader of a global tribe of young people called Friday Club, with 300 members in Mumbai, Bangalore, Hong Kong, Toronto, London, and New York. The club chapters organize Friday night gatherings at pubs and nightclubs. "I'm part of a global family," says Agarwal. "It's a melting pot. We're young, ambitious, driven, and open-minded."
Friday Club members come in all stripes. Among them are lawyers, financial analysts, physicists, nongovernmental organization types, aspiring actors, and advertising folks. About 70% are Indian, but they come from all sorts of other countries, as well: the U.S., Canada, Britain, Russia, Australia, Israel, Singapore, Greece, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Germany, to name a few. The club gives them a safe, familiar group to hang out with whether they're in their hometown or globetrotting for business or pleasure.
Agarwal's network is just one example of a growing phenomenon: People spread around the world are linking up in cyberspace and the real world to meet and share their common interests. Other such networks include Mobile Monday, a community of mobile industry entrepreneurs and power users who gather anywhere from Helsinki to Shanghai for networking and business development; and BarCamp, open-source software developers who hold intensive technology discussions in more than 30 cities.
ALL ABOUT SAFE SOCIALIZING.
A recent gathering of the Friday Club provides a glimpse into the borderless nature of these global digital citizens. Agarwal is dressed in a denim skirt, form-fitting top, and high-heeled black boots as she stands in the Splash nightclub in the hip Bali Hill section of Mumbai. With European techno music throbbing the air, she puffs on a Vogue cigarette and sips from a can of Red Bull.
The club is all about safe socializing. Agarwal and six friends organized it two years ago as a way for like-minded young adults to meet and make friends. Anybody who attends must be invited by somebody who's already a member. "This gives everybody one degree of separation," says Agarwal. "If a friend brings a friend, we assume he is all right." Moderators appointed by Agarwal are on hand at all club events to make sure everybody behaves.
The global reach of the club is especially appealing for expatriates. Rebecca Webster, 27, a publicist for a Toronto music recording company, got involved when she lived with a friend in Mumbai for two months. When she returned to Toronto, Agarwal urged her to set up a Friday Club chapter there, which she did. "The international aspect is quite intriguing," she says. "Any one of us who visits Mumbai, for instance, has an immediate circle of 200 friends who are Friday Club members as well."
The group uses all manner of Web 2.0 services to keep in touch—Yahoo Groups for e-mail, a wiki for planning, a group blog, and a photo Web site for posting snapshots of their latest mixers. The Web is the glue that holds them together and the feeder channel for new members.
Agarwal has a commercial edge. It was she who sought out sponsorships from and Party Smart, an herbal hangover preventative. She also arranged for cover-charge discounts at nightclubs. But rather than seeking to profit from her club, she's motivated by a mix of generosity, idealism, and a hearty appreciation of a good party. She ended one of her interviews with BusinessWeek on a supremely optimistic note: "We need to connect to people, and, by doing so, it's like we're creating a new country that stretches across the globe."
By Steve Hamm