Nurturing future Emirati leaders

Omar Al Busaidy and Khalid Al Ameri, co-founders of Global Possibilities, outline how they intend to help develop a unique UAE working culture.

One of the many interesting things about the Ruler of Dubai, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, is his presence on social media. Something he referred to in one of his tweets as ‘an open parliament’.

Through daily communication with his citizens, and launching a national brainstorm sessions to, for example, find new ideas for health and education, has helped this tech-savvy leader adapt social media for governance.

HH Sheikh Mohammed has 4.82 million followers on Twitter, nearly 2.9 million on Facebook, and more than one million followers on Instagram.

“Why is HH Sheikh Mohammed on social media?” asks Omar Al Busaidy, the author of motivational book Just Read It.

“Why does he do what he does and why does he go to certain places?”

It’s been a central question of his many lectures and motivational talks on entrepreneurship delivered at universities across the UAE. A year ago, the 29-year-old Emirati summarised his thoughts on how to foster entrepreneurial spirit among Emiratis in his first book.

“Everything in the book is about social and emotional intelligence, which is referred to as the attitude of an entrepreneur,” Al Busaidy says.

“There’s nothing in the book that you probably didn’t learn at home, at school, or in your religion. All I did with the content is that I ‘Omarised’ it.”

Instilling a greater leaning towards entrepreneurship has been high on the agenda of the UAE’s leadership, with a number of programmes being put in place to support the entrepreneurial endeavours of the local population.

Similarly, with the increasing number of Emirati graduates slowly outpacing the number of available public sector jobs, the focus of the Emiratisation programme, an initiative of the UAE government to provide meaningful employment to its citizens, has shifted to increasing the number of Emirati employees in the private sector.

The process has brought a number of hurdles to recruiters who often state that the local youth still prefers shorter working hours, holiday entitlements, higher salaries and other benefits associated with government jobs.

However, a recent survey dispelled this stereotype by stating that young Emiratis are most motivated by ‘helping the country’. The Maximizing Emirati Talent report by Oxford Strategic Consulting revealed this is the main reason why most of them apply for public sector vacancies.

The question that arises is what else can young Emiratis do at this transition point of the UAE’s labour market and what are the possibilities that lie ahead of them?

‘Endless,’ is a marketing slogan of Global Possibilities, a start-up co-founded by Al Busaidy and Khalid Al Ameri, an Emirati social columnist, motivational speaker and youth coach.

“Take it, own it and get the job done,” Al Busaidy continues, discussing their approach to grooming the country’s future leaders. “That’s what our leadership is saying when they do different activities. Not for us to go on Instagram and praise them, but because they are setting an example that you have to take the initiative to do certain things.

“If the country is striving to become number one, you as a person first have to become number one because you are building this city and this country for the generations to come.

“If we don’t talk about these things now, it will be a challenge later on. We need to build the same characteristics that our leaders have had to put us where we are today.

“We are trying to develop this character, this ideal character that people around the world will be talking about.”

Al Ameri has a slightly different way of explaining this idea, pointing to challenges caused by the constant influx of foreign workers and generational differences in the workplace.

“I’m talking about a problem that I see: that there’s no UAE work culture,” he says.

“The issue with that is because you have all these demographics here, we’ve just been seeing what works and adapting to whatever culture there is.

“We don’t think it’s a problem per se, but what we think is that there has to be a sort of re-integration of culture in these corporations to engage the new age Millennials that are coming into the workforce.”

The clash between the generations has been underway in the workforce worldwide.

The technology boom has allowed Millennials, the generation born after 1980, to follow different interests and develop multiple careers, something unthinkable to their parents.

Similarly, Generation Z, the generation born after 1995 whose oldest members are now high school graduates seeking internship opportunities or entry-level jobs, will go a step further in the evolution of entrepreneurial mindset.

Often described as a tech savvy, connected and self-educated group, they are expected to be more focused on working for themselves.

Integrating these fast learners, who get distracted easily and require instant gratification since they don’t know about the world without Facebook’s ‘like’ button, into the workplace will require a new level of understanding.

The Emirati co-founders’ career paths have brought them to the same conclusion which inspired them to take the entrepreneurial plunge together.

“What Omar and I bring to the table is that we feel that we’ve got one foot in each industry. So we have one foot in the professional industry, and we have one foot in the education industry,” Al Ameri explains.

In addition to publishing a book and giving talks on entrepreneurship, Al Busaidy is also a senior manager of Manchester City FC at Tourism & Culture Authority Abu Dhabi, and one of 26 Abu Dhabi Global Shapers with the World Economic Forum.

Not minding the workload, he is also the chair of the UAE Working Group at AmCham Abu Dhabi.

Al Ameri’s experience includes sailing on oil tankers and gas carriers, working on investment projects at Mubadala Development Company, co-founding an F&B start-up in Abu Dhabi, mentoring budding entrepreneurs at Flat6Labs, being a Careem Captain, inspiring people with his regular blog posts, and soon publishing his first book.

“So what we are seeing is that our legs have started to stretch,” Al Ameri adds. “We felt that when speaking to companies, they want to do one thing. But when speaking to the youth, who are coming into the workforce, they have a different mindset.

“So what we want to do is to bring a holistic approach to creating this identity that Omar is talking about.”

Since completing an MBA at Stanford University and returning to the UAE in 2014, Al Ameri has presented more than 50 talks on how to live a better life, manage relationships, and do the work they love. He addressed a range of audiences: academic and corporate, large and small.

“My most impactful work is with the third and fourth year university students and [young people who are in their] first and second year in the workforce, and the whole ecosystem around them. I feel that is the niche we sort of shine with,” he says.

“So I would say that we focus on Emirati Millennials and people who want to engage with Emirati Millennials.”

Global Possibilities is based on a mission to empower youth, students and entrepreneurs with the skills, knowledge and understanding required to create a unique UAE work culture. It takes Emirati culture and tradition, as well as diverse demographics, into consideration.

“A lot of companies want to engage people, but here’s the problem that we saw: no one has a local angle,” Al Amery explains.

“So we are trying to build that bridge. On one side to inspire and motivate Emirati Millennials to be proactive in society, in the community, in the workforce, in line with the mission and vision of this country.

“But on the other side, the reality of the matter is that we are only nine or 10 percent of the population. So we have all other nationalities that live here, have families here, are part of this ecosystem, and need to be engaged and integrated to give value.

“So we motivate and inspire both to come together.”

The duo plan to target different age groups with their foundational workshops. The Good Citizen Workshop for young Emirati pupils will explain how to be impactful citizens in their communities. A workshop for final year high school students will discuss how to choose universities. A workshop for final year university students will show them how to start and manage their careers. And a workshop on entrepreneurship, as well as a Cultural Understanding Workshop, will be open to all age groups.

As rare Emirati motivational speakers, the co-founders are not only starting a new business, but also defining the local personal-improvement industry.

Far from a crowd, they share the new sector only with two other Emiratis who act as consultants on Emirati culture, and etiquette and protocol respectively.

Being pioneers of the sector allows them to set the local industry standards as different from the lucrative engagements and never-ending self-help products of their Western counterparts.

“Very personal. That’s the sort of approach that we take to our workshops. Very culturally framed and experience-oriented approach,” Al Ameri explains.

His preference not to speak in motivational nuggets, but with clarity based on personal experience is already known to the readers of his columns, published in The National, and The Gulf Today newspapers.

The 31-year-old Emirati plans to publish the lessons he has learnt in his first book by the end of the year.

“I’m not better or more knowledgeable, I’m just a person living my life, trying to grow, making mistakes, and I feel that the world grows and we all grow when we share our mistakes with each other,” Al Ameri says.

“It humanises me and people immediately feel connected to me.”

Al Busaidy shares the same fondness for honesty, with his book Just Read It containing many of the pearls of wisdom he has collected during his two careers – as a government official and an entrepreneur.

Among the book’s catchy sub-titles are Pray, the Best Medicine for Fear, Miscommunication is the Mother of All Screw-Ups, and Go to it; it Won’t Come to You.

In the same, less-formal manner, he talks about his entrepreneurial highs and lows.

In 2004, after spotting that the UAE’s booming advertising market had room for one more advertising agency, Al Busaidy launched his first venture, Loopface Marketing.

Only six months later, he had to shut down, but not without learning how to manage cashflow. Two years later, he partnered in an ill-fated women’s fashion boutique located behind the Mall of the Emirates in Al Barsha.

“It was about a very bad location and not having the exclusivity for the brands from the US,” he says.

“If somebody can sell it for a little less than you and at a better location, you’re finished. It’s just a small thing, but sometimes we don’t think about those kind of details.”

The next time he decided to take the entrepreneur mantle, a lesson on how to deal with unexpected business circumstances came with it. Connections ME, a business development consultancy offering the ‘3 E’ model – Energetic, Experienced, Emirati – closed its doors a year after opening due to the pressures of the 2008 financial crisis.

While talking about that business, Al Busaidy gives an Emirati view on the myth that there are nothing but benefits for Emiratis through the required 51 percent of local ownership of UAE-based companies.

“Once I was a local sponsor for a company, and it’s a headache,” he says. “It was a real headache because everything is on the Emirati. He has to sign off for their visas, he has to sign off for this and that, so many things.

“And actually the foreign partner doesn’t do anything. And what a lot of people don’t understand is that I didn’t take 51 percent of the profit or of anything. No, you cannot do that.

“And also, because I have 51 percent it’s not like I have an executive decision to kick you out. I cannot do that. There are laws in this country.

“And a lot of people don’t know that if the expat partner does something wrong, I go to court, not him. It was a headache.

“There are a lot of people who say a lot of things, and this is one of the reasons why I go out and give these talks to show that we are not [like that].”

Four years later, his perpetual quest for entrepreneurial perfection finally led him to success. W Gents Salon, a male grooming salon in Jumeirah Lake Towers, he says, is the passion of his partner Wael Al Haj.

“The success with this, if I can define it, is just that it’s one thing that lasted,” Al Busaidy says.

“If you ask me is it a passion? It’s not my passion. It’s my partner’s thing, I only supported it, and it works.

“But the success for me from this experience is knowing what I want and what I should be doing.”

With the possibilities being endless, the co-founders say that going international is already on their radar, and that a number of Emiratis have already expressed interest to join them and present Emirati views on various topics.

“Emiratis would want to get inspired by seeing that and the expat community would want to understand,” Al Ameri concludes.

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