It is important for governments and societies to build from the bottom up. A strong foundation is what leads to success in any aspect of life, whether it’s constructing a building or training for a sport. We have to learn to crawl before we can walk, and walk before we run. A good foundation, when it comes to the economy, means having diversity and strong, long term sustainable jobs.
Saudi Arabia has realized the truth to such an economic foundation, which is why the UAE cabinet endorsed the National Programme for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). This program will provide a major boost in support for SMEs across the country. The current success rate of SMEs sits between 25-30%, but analysts are predicting the new program could increase that rate to 50%.
The program is aimed at providing readily available expertise for SMEs and will help provide technical support through local and federal governments. With SMEs having access to more technology, expertise and tools they are more likely to make better decisions and have workers who are more productive and capable, all major boons for their respective sector.
This push is the latest step in the government’s effort to continue its diversification away from oil. For most Middle Eastern countries, oil has been the leading industry for economic output and has been what’s kept many of them afloat. This strategy has proven dangerous and unstable for the future though. The recent development of fracking technology has created renewed drilling and opened up locked away oil reserves across the U.S. This created an oil glut which has forced the prices of oil to drop and has reduced revenue for Middle Eastern countries.
The future also holds advancements and increasing implementation of green technology, which means the demand for oil in the long run, will eventually start to decline. Hussain Al Nowais has cares deeply about the success of the UAE future, thus he created the Khalifa Fund for Abu Dhabi which has been a smaller version of what the new National Programme will do.
The aim of the government is to bring the contribution of SMEs to 70% of non-oil based GDP by 2021. It will be interesting to see if other countries in the region follow the UAE’s diversification practices or stick to oil.
The Middle East is unfortunately not known for being a center of equality, particularly in regards to women’s rights. So when a group of Saudi Arabian women decided to set out and create their own group it proved to be a big deal. The three women who have created the group known as Qiyadiyat (meaning “female leaders” in Aerabic) are Su-ad Yousif, Bodour Al Tamimi and Laila Al Hassan. The three found they lacked a network of goal oriented women who are like minded. Thus they set out to create the group and have been met with great success so far.
The group has already had several “High Q” gatherings which sent out invites to high-profile educated women with LinkedIn and Instagram profiles. The aim of these gatherings besides establishing a network which women can tap into to improve their job prospects, is to help women break the stereotypes and teach them to push for better treatment within their companies. They say there is no reason for them to be held back on the career ladder due other people’s expectations or preconceived notions. This means women need to stand up and not let themselves be defined by family life anymore.
The gatherings have attracted a wide variety of high profile speakers from around the world. At one of the High Q sessions Sheryl Sandberg, a Facebook executive, gave a Ted talk and afterwards it was followed up by discussion on why so few women hold board positions and how this can be changed. Hussain al Nowais, another big name, showed up at one High Q session and encouraged all of them to continue his efforts and to join his network so that they could expand theirs. Sessions like these are helping people realize there are a lot of smart and talented Saudi women who are very capable of achieving great things. Holding them back will only prevent them from being able to contribute to the Saudi economy.
If Saudi women have the motivation, but cannot find the jobs they desire in Saudi Arabia they could begin looking abroad in Europe and America. This is negative for Saudi Arabia because it creates a brain drain. Qiyadiyat has proved itself as a successful program for women and the leaders have made sure to keep the sessions positive. This means not letting them turn into venting sessions about everything which frustrates them, but remaining positive and finding solutions.
The struggle for equality in the workplace and society for women has existed for a long time. While many countries in the west have made major strides there is still a ways to go. In other parts of the world the situation has not made as much progress. In Asia and the Middle East in particular we see men dominating a vast majority of the higher paying jobs and women often struggle to have a career equal to what the men have. However, women in some countries are beginning to step up and help those with the passion and education to network with the right people so they can make more progress.
In Abu Dhabi of the UAE a trio of women have come together to create the first female Emirati leadership group which helps women develop their careers. The name of the group is Qiyadiyat, meaning ‘female leaders’ in Arabic, was started by Su-ad Yousif – an economic analyst, Bodour Al Tamimi – co-founder of Bedashing Beauty Lounge and Laila Al Hassan – director of PR and communications at Abu Dhabi’s environment agency. The three originally met in college and afterwards have all found success in their respective fields.
As their careers developed, so did their friendship, but the trio noticed they had very few co-workers who were females. When they learned only 1.5% of board positions in the GCC are held by women they made the leap to start Qiyadiyat. The aim of the group is to create a platform for women with ambition to connect and network with like-minded people. Hussain Al Nowais and others have come to some of the first sessions of Qiyadiyat to encourage the women in pursuing their goals and to network with them. People are beginning to realize keeping skilled and intelligent women out of high level positions only hamstrings a company’s capabilities.
The company’s long term aims are to help women realize they need to decide their careers for themselves instead of allowing family to define it for them. They also hope businesses looking for strong and intelligent women will come to Qiyadiyat looking to network with the group. This will create a successful platform which is well known, thereby helping both women and businesses come together to find each other and create productive high-caliber relationships. The group now holds a session every two months and is planning to increase the frequency so that there are more options which will work for women who are busy and have difficult schedules.
Countries and companies have at least one thing in common when it comes to devising ways to improve upon both. The answer is reinvestment; for example investing in the country’s infrastructure makes transportation and other necessary services more reliable and faster. This helps businesses and citizens alike making everything more efficient and productive. For businesses reinvestment means keeping all of your workers ‘ skills and the company’s systems up-to-date. It also means funding research in various sectors that could yield improvements and benefits down the road. Countries and companies which do this successfully will see economic improvement and long lasting benefits.
One place in the world where this fundamental fact of investment is catching on is Abu Dhabi in the UAE. Hussain Al Nowais, the chairman of Waha Capital an investment company, recently announced that the company intends to invest over US$1 billion in energy and other important assets in the UAE and the Gulf region. Hussain Al Nowais said they are evaluating a number of deals however he didn’t offer any clues to how many deals Waha would confirm this year.
Waha Capital recently posted amazing record net profits in the fourth quarter of 2014 at Dh142 million from 2013’s 4th quarter Dh75.6 million. A majority of this 88 percent increase came from the company’s dividends in the NY-listed airline leasing company AerCap. In May of 2014 Waha Capital created a new branch which would develop and oversee its future investments in the energy sector for North Africa and the Middle East. The company has already invested Dh274 million in the Dubai-based oil and gas company – National Petroleum Services. That gave Waha Capital a 20% stake in the company and they also have a 25% in Dunia Finance.
These investments being made by Hussain Al Nowais and Waha Capital demonstrate the understanding required for helping transform the Middle East. The region is continuing to face many tumultuous conflicts and one of the underlying reasons behind all of this is economic instability. The UAE is one of the few places that has found stability and success and this is partly due to their economic stability. The country has also come to the realization that it must diversify away from oil in order to protect its economy from the ups and downs in the cost of this natural resource. This has helped to strengthen the country over the last year despite the drop in the price of oil per barrel. Hopefully this investment and action will spur others in the region to follow this role model.
Egypt recently held their “Egypt the Future” conference in the middle of March. The conference was held in Sharm el Sheikh at the Red Sea Resort. The aim of this conference was very straight forward, Abdel Fattah El Sisi, president of Egypt, needed to convince foreign investors that Egypt is a good place to invest now. His aim was to attract at least $60 billion in foreign investment. This meant he needed to convince attendees that Egypt is now stable economically, politically and currency wise. If these factors still feel too weak and investors fear another Arab Spring then Egypt won’t be able to attract the investment it needs to restore its infrastructure and lift people out of debt.
The country is currently suffering from inflation in the double digits, rampant youth unemployment and a power grid that is unstable and lacking enough electricity during peak energy use times such as the summer. The conference saw numerous high profile delegations from corporations such as Siemens, BP and GE. There were also contingents from countries such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The UAE has been one of Egypt’s biggest supporters and has been very avid about its support for Egypt.
The Senaat’s chairman Hussain Al Nowais has already pledged support for Egypt in numerous manners. The Senaat will provide $200 million loan that will support small businesses and micro industries. Hussain Al Nowais’ Khalifa Fund is also assisting with the construction of clean coal fired power plants to help re-stabilize the country’s power demands. The UAE sees the importance of returning Egypt to a stable economic power in the region capable of contributing to the region in a positive manner. The IMF is also attending the conference in order to discuss with other attendees and provide information.
Having attracted enough aid, it appears as though the country may be successful in turning its economy around and reducing poverty. The government has gone to great lengths to attract investment as well. Normally a great deal of red tape blocks investment, but recent laws have slashed away great swaths of that red tape in order to make foreign investments quicker and easier. These efforts will hopefully provide the country with a fertile setting that creates an economic recovery. Raising millions out of poverty will reduce the welfare demand on the state and make the country more independent.
Egypt’s recovery since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011 has been dogged and filled with instability. They’ve experienced rolling power blackouts and have not been able to secure aid to help lift the country’s poor out of poverty in a meaningful way. However, over the last six months or so all of this has begun to change. The Abu Dhabi based Khalifa Fund has pledged to support Egypt with a $200 million loan. This loan will provide major job opportunity and will help raise people in Egypt out of poverty and off of state welfare.
In November of last year the Khalifa Fund agreed to the loan which will be focused on development of the microfinance sector and aims to promote women entrepreneurship, thereby reducing poverty. Hussain Al Nowais and many others have been saying for a long time now that promoting women in the economy is critical to reducing poverty and achieving the desired results as quickly as possible.
The loan is planned to benefit over 200,000 enterprises and eventually create more than 200,000 jobs for Egyptian citizens. As it stands currently, roughly 60% of youth and women are below the poverty line in Egypt. Raising them out of poverty and providing them with opportunity can reignite the Egyptian economy and give it the boost to return to the region as a central player, economically. Other groups are stepping up to aid Egypt as well such as the KBBO group, UAE firm Dana Gas and Islamic Trade Finance Corporation.
These investments in Egypt will provide the necessary funding required to help establish new factories and infrastructure which can then hire workers and provide them with real living wages. A number of investments are also happening for the construction of clean coal fired power plants in order to restore the nation’s energy grid to a more stable and reliable level. Recent black out waves have plagued the country, particularly in the summer, making it difficult for business and companies to work reliably. As these deals are implemented and funding begins to flow, Egypt will begin to find normalcy again and be able to positively contribute to the region.
Waha Capital’s net profit sky-rocketed during 2014 from Dh 306.4 million at the end of 2013 to Dh 1.73 billion at the end of 2014. That’s a whopping 465 percent increase in just one year. The primary factor contributing to this record annual profit is because of the dividends from the New York-listed airline leasing company AerCap. As a result of this tremendous success the board suggested a cash dividend of 25 fils per share. This was a 100% increase from 2013 dividends and applauded by analysts. National Bank of Abu Dhabi’s senior analyst Sanyalak Manibhandu said, “The dividend payment is something that everyone will appreciate coming through, and will boost confidence in management”.
One member of the management team had this to say about the growth, “Waha Capital has delivered an exceptional year, in which we have produced a 51% return on equity”. All of these positive developments bode well for the future of emirates holdings. As the company continues to see growth it will be in an advantageous position to make the most of future investment opportunities that arise.
Currently the company is in the midst of a buy-back program which has so far acquired 30.2 million shares. The program will end later this year on October 19th. As a result of the recent success the company is planning to invest another Dh 3.2 billion into growing its infrastructure, healthcare and energy portfolio. Hussain al Nowais has spoken extensively before this about the importance of investment in emirates holdings and the positive influences and culture it will develop.
Waha Capital decided to demonstrate this by creating a new unit in May to put its future energy sector investments into. It has invested itself up to a 20.15% stake in the Dubai oil and gas company, National Petroleum Services. The company’s customer base continues to grow currently with over 164,000 clients now. Without a doubt this is one of the top U.A.E. companies to keep an eye on in the near future.
Hussain al Nowais has announced the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development (KFED) will be launching its program online and will be expanding it this year. The Khalifa Fund’s aim is to foster the growth of a new generation of Emirati entrepreneurs by cultivating an enriching culture of investment amongst young people. The fund will also provide supporting services to small and medium sized businesses that are developing in the Emirate. This support for SME’s should provide them with the fertile ground necessary for competitive growth. The culture this creates will hopefully be one of sustainable growth and innovation that contributes to Abu Dhabi’s economic and social development.
During the discussion titled “From Investment to Innovation” Hussain al Nowais discussed how he hopes the Khalifa Fund will help emirates holdings by partnering with education, development and investment institutions. Currently the Fund is developing frameworks for those SMEs which will go into incubation and what the best course of action is. The Khalifa Fund hopes to help bring all of Abu Dhabi and the U.A.E.’s systems online within the next two years or so to help it keep up with their rapid growth.
Hussain Al Nowais emphasized the need for government to build and strengthen the knowledge capital to facilitate the process of transition to a knowledge-based economy through coping with the development, growth and investment center and continuing in the development of human capital and the development of the curricula of the education and support of information and communication technology sector. Also, increase the investments in infrastructure either through investment in optical fibers or increase number of receiving towers in order to increase the coverage and internet speed.
Abu Dhabi has made a particularly strong effort in developing electronic technologies in order to improve the quality of government services provided and improve the exchange of information electronically. So far the government has over 1,200 of its services available electronically has launched over 52 government applications. These are the underpinnings according to Hussain al Nowais that are necessary for creating a stronger emirates holding along with political stability, religious tolerance and freedom of expression.
There are already 514 companies registered for the Khalifa Fund and benefitting from either or both the financial and non-financial services. This Fund’s aim is to create a gateway that will help push the U.A.E. farther forward and make it an information and science capital in the Middle East. Since the Fund’s launch in 2013 it has added over 1,500 pieces of content in English and Arabic regarding research and has created numerous success stories out of small and medium enterprises.