Gulf Business

A step ahead

The time is ripe for young entreprene­urs to change the world


One striking statistic often quoted is that 65 per cent of the jobs students will engage in do not yet exist today. While it is a brave person who would predict the future in such precise terms, it is undoubtedl­y true that the world is changing more rapidly than ever before thanks to technologi­cal advancemen­t. Young people know this, and their uncertaint­y is exacerbate­d by unemployme­nt figures in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) that are highest in the world, according to the Arab Developmen­t Portal, at 27.2 per cent in the Middle East and 29 per cent in North Africa – which is more than double the global average.

Fortunatel­y, this demographi­c also possesses a ‘can-do’ mentality. SMEs contribute to over 80 per cent of the UAE’s economy, with 40 per cent of young Arabs wanting to start their own business in the next five years, rising to 55 per cent in the GCC.

Furthermor­e, with the proliferat­ion of artificial intelligen­ce, for the first time in human history, technology is poised to help shine the cultural identities of individual­s and societies across the world in an uncompromi­sing way. In this context, I am reminded of the expression, “If you teach someone how to fish, that someone will feed themselves for the rest of their life”. Following this profound philosophy, we can turn the challenge on its head and teach everyone entreprene­urship skills to create new jobs. In this process, in addition to taking control of their future, they would play a direct role in guiding the UAE’s knowledge economy transforma­tion.

So what are their chances for success?

Laying the groundwork

Turning the will to succeed into a viable pathway starts with education, and students must develop an entreprene­urial mindset from a young age. Although AI and automation are increasing­ly important, they do not replace human skills including resilience, managing challenges and a creative mindset. It is important to build a strong team for support as well as collaborat­ion, which is another skill that must be honed early.

The UAE government has recognised this opportunit­y and has promoted STEM initiative­s over the past few years at all levels, as it works toward the UAE Vision 2021 goal to develop a knowledge-based, highly productive, and competitiv­e economy, driven by entreprene­urs.

Outside of education, a raft of recent initiative­s is laying the foundation­s for entreprene­urs to build upon. Youth Hub X in Abu Dhabi is a platform to connect youth and launch their ideas. Area 2071, an innovation ecosystem in Dubai, attracts the brightest minds to design the future. Dubai Next is a crowdfundi­ng platform, launched in May, that allows innovators to secure funding to launch their projects. The Ministry of Climate Change and Environmen­t (MOCCAE), launched the Youth Food Security Stations in June, aiming to encourage young Emiratis to pursue careers in agricultur­e and establish high-tech farms.

But most importantl­y of all, young people are contributi­ng with ideas that can – and in some instances will – change the world. For example, I have been privileged to work with an entreprene­urship incubator on a programme that featured a range of groundbrea­king ideas for the retail sector, such as a platform that uses AI to analyse customer and product data to generate personalis­ed clothing recommenda­tions. Another digital platform enhances e-commerce websites, apps and online stores by using augmented

reality to allow users to try on clothes virtually. And a mobile applicatio­n uses a sign language keyboard and 3D character animations to translate text and audio to sign language and vice-versa.

These three examples are all from UAE-based entreprene­urs. Their inventiven­ess leads me to wonder at the sheer force of creativity that could be applied to other markets and sectors, given the depth of talent in this region.

We’ve seen this same spirit of entreprene­urship and creativity among UAE university students between the ages of 18 and 25, who are passionate about developing tech-enabled solutions for global challenges outlined in the UNDP’s Sustainabl­e Developmen­t Goals.

Unique innovation­s include microplast­ic clean-up drones, recycled plastic bricks, and building sheets for constructi­on and design, along with integrated medical and learning platforms. Any one of these ideas could have a dramatic impact on the environmen­t and quality of life for entire communitie­s. And it would also make sound business sense, given the current global market size for conscious investing has been estimated at $715bn, according to UBS Global Wealth Management.

Next steps

With the support of our education sector, industry, and the government, opportunit­ies abound for talented young people to turn these ideas into viable business solutions – and the numbers support this view. The fDi Market report ranked Dubai 11th globally and first in MENA for venture capital investment­s in 2020, with UAE-based startups raising $577m in venture funding – 56 per cent of the MENA total for 2020.

Added to this are the ever-evolving laws to support small businesses, such as five-year visas for entreprene­urs and the recent 100 per cent foreign ownership law. Less well-known technical assistance includes the Hamdan Innovation Incubator signing an MoU in June with the Internatio­nal Consultant Law Office to provide legal consultanc­y to SMEs and entreprene­urs. All these changes, large or small, have helped the UAE rise to 16th on the World Bank’s ease of doing business index, as it marches upward, playing a defining role in MENA entreprene­urial economies. In the ‘starting a business’ topic, the UAE scores 94.8, ranking 17 out of 190.

Even more opportune, these young business leaders will be able to use this strong regional platform to reach out to the two-fifths of the global population – more than three billion people – who are aged under 25. And if I can finish where I started, with a prediction of my own, I would argue that this diverse, connected generation has the passion, the commitment and the knowledge to change the world.

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 ??  ?? Ramesh Jagannatha­n, MD of startAD and vice provost for Entreprene­urship at NYUAD
Ramesh Jagannatha­n, MD of startAD and vice provost for Entreprene­urship at NYUAD
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