THE BLOG

Bringing Entrepreneurial Thinking to the UAE

23/03/2015 11:39 GMT | Updated 20/05/2015 10:59 BST

A chance meeting with a visiting government minister of Kenya last week outlined to me just how much of a global meeting point the United Arab Emirates really is.

I was sitting in the offices of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, overlooking the Dubai Creek where trade between the emirate and the rest of the world began over 100 years ago. The original business of pearl fishing has long gone but dhows still cluster around the creek.

The government minister was leading a delegation from Kenya, exploring trade links with the UAE, and I was pleased to be able to tell her that we had our own Kenyan delegation with us - part, in fact, of a delegation of young entrepreneurs, volunteer business mentors and entrepreneurship experts from 11 countries. We were in the country for the final of our Young Entrepreneur Awards, hosted by the Dubai Chamber in partnership with Barclays.

The UAE, just 44 years old as a nation, is known as a global connecting point, a place to do business and as one of the world's leading producers of oil and gas. But it is not particularly known as a centre for entrepreneurship.

But that, too, may be changing.

The UAE has second largest economy in the Arab world, but the minority Emirati population, which numbers just 1.4 million (far less than the 8 million expatriate population) does not play a full part in this growing economy. There is persistent unemployment among Emiratis - particularly young Emiratis, and particularly in the northern Emirates, outside of the main centres of Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Most Emiratis are employed in the public sector, and have traditionally been opposed to private sector employment, viewing it as unstable and less prestigious than working for the government. Yet with a growing youth population, and a need to find ways for Emiratis to get more integrated into the UAE's economic growth, private sector employment is a must for the Emirati population. And alongside that, the most senior levels in government have recognised that entrepreneurship is crucial for the UAE, as a tool to stimulate innovation, underpin continued growth and diversify the economy away from natural resources.

In the words of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoun, Ruler of Dubai, whose words I heard repeated regularly during my four days in the country, entrepreneurship is the shortest route to a bright future.

So it was against this backdrop that we signed a partnership with the Dubai Chamber of Commerce to support the growth of Tejar Dubai, a programme which supports young Emirati entrepreneurs as they start and expand their business.

Tejar Dubai is providing targeted, and from what we saw extremely effective, support for ambitious Emiratis. One example entrepreneur who has benefited from Tejar Dubai's support is Randa Al Himyari, who with the backing of the programme is now the founder of not just one but four businesses, including Dubai based nursery business Petit Bout Chou.

The highlight of our four days in the UAE was the awards final where Hong Kong entrepreneur Viola Lam was crowned as our Young Entrepreneur of the Year, in recognition of her teaching institute which is helping children develop maths skills.

But in addition, our delegation made connections across the country, from interacting with Emirati students at the Sharjah Higher College of Technology, learning from UAE entrepreneurs such as sports club founder Anas Bukhash at an event hosted by Accenture, and discussing partnerships at the high-tech incubator In5 in Dubai with Lamia Tabbaa-Bibi, owner of children's Arabic-language content company Little Thinking Minds.

From these events it is clear that the entrepreneurial buzz is taking hold in the UAE, both with the Emirati population and the non-Emirati population.

The first half decade or so of its existence has seen immense change in the United Arab Emirates. With the support of talented young entrepreneurs such as those that we met last week, the future certainly does look even brighter.