With the average age of the UAE total population just 27, the country’s younger members have a unique role to play in its development. Starting off with one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders, Vision speaks to a cross-section of some of the Emirates’ most successful young inhabitants about what it means to be young, gifted and Emirati – both at home and on the world stage
The Young Global Leader: Nabil Alyousuf
One prominent Emirati proud to fly the flag for the UAE as a Young Global Leader (YGL) until his tenure ends in 2013 is Nabil Alyousuf, Chairman of Dubai-based private equity firm Al Jal Capital. Given his years of experience in the private and public sector as the former Director General of the Executive Office of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, Alyousuf was a textbook candidate for the WEF programme. "I feel very proud to be part of such a select group at a global level," he says. "Proud too for being an Emirati because the UAE and the Arab world have talented, strong people capable of achieving great things and being recognised globally."
Alyousuf’s analytical and managerial skills came to the fore during his eight-year, high-profile career with the Government of Dubai where he was responsible for, among other things, leading the development of Dubai Strategy 2015. "I was lucky enough to work on many exciting and strategic projects for Dubai and it broadened my horizons – I saw the possibilities. I also witnessed the leadership style of HH Sheikh Mohammed and how he empowered young people, allowing them to work, take decisions and push things forward. It was a great environment for me to learn and achieve so many things."
There is a new generation of successful Emirati women, and it makes me very proud
The Media Commentator: Aida Al Busaidy
"Some countries have been around for centuries, but for us it’s a little different," smiles Aida Al Busaidy. "We’re only turning 40, but because the country has developed so fast it has required us to catch up as quickly as possible. We’re a young, small population and there are lots of opportunities, and we’re always being told to reach out and grab them."
A former Vice President in the communications department at Dubai Group, the global investment arm of government-owned Dubai Holding, Al Busaidy is today the Manager of Internal and Online Communications at Masdar. Also known as the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company, Masdar is building what will be the world’s first zero-carbon, zero-waste city. But it’s not just at Al Busaidy’s own place of work that she is determined to make a difference. An active member of the Young Arab Leaders network, as well as an in-demand newspaper columnist and a familiar face on UAE TV screens, Al Busaidy also posts regular updates on her blog, which focuses on elements of Emirati society as well as topics of a more international flavour.
Al Busaidy suggests, this generation of young Emiratis is busy attempting to emulate the achievements of the last. "The 20-somethings and 30-somethings are taking what they learned from their parents and grandparents, and aiming for another successful 40 years so that our kids are able to have the same opportunities," she says. "2011 is just the start for us."
The Financier: His Excellency Marwan Jassim Al Sarkal
"When you’re young people always expect you to fail because you don’t have enough experience," shrugs His Excellency Marwan Jassim Al Sarkal, a man whose first chief executive role came at the tender age of 25, and who has since transformed the face of tourism in Sharjah, the UAE’s third most populous emirate. "But in the UAE there is a chance to become successful at a young age if you are committed, have the right qualities and can inspire people to achieve great results. You really get the chance to show what you can do."
HE Al Sarkal has grasped that opportunity with both hands, building Al Qasba Development Authority, a tourism hotspot on the waterfront in Sharjah, into a popular tourist destination. A riot of colour and imagination, Al Qasba offers visitors a chance to explore a blend of ancient and modern traditions and cultures, as one might expect in an emirate known affectionately as the UAE’s ‘capital of culture’.
And HE Al Sarkal hasn’t stopped there: today he is also CEO of Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), the government body charged with creating new investment opportunities within the emirate. "Achieving success is all about how you work with people, how transparent you are, how well you treat people, and that is something that the Prophet (PBUH) has inspired in me."
The Entrepreneur: Muna Al Gurg
“I was brought up in a family where I had a lot of ambitious people around me,” says Muna Al Gurg, Director of Retail at the Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group, one of the UAE’s most successful conglomerates. "It is a great advantage, but also a big responsibility."
Happily, Al Gurg has so far exceeded all expectations. Today she oversees strategy and operational development across a host of global brands including United Colors of Benetton, Siemens and Unilever, having started her career at advertising giants Saatchi & Saatchi. And as a recipient of the respected Emirates Women’s Award in June 2010, she is a fierce advocate of providing opportunities for women to succeed in a business environment that has previously been dominated by men.
“There is a new generation of successful Emirati women, and it makes me very proud,” she says. “Myself, I am chairing an organisation that is predominately male-oriented at boardroom level. I am the Chairwoman, and that’s an achievement in a working world where men dominate the labour force.”
Al Gurg also finds time to play a number of important roles outside the family business. She is on the board of several non-profit organisations including the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre, is a fellow at the Aspen Institute’s Middle East programme, and as Chairwoman of Young Arab Leaders UAE, is also responsible for driving nationwide initiatives across education, entrepreneurship and youth development. "The youngest generation of Emiratis is very creative, very purpose-driven and very dedicated, and Young Arab Leaders gives us a chance to develop those traits," she says.
The Paralympian: Mohammed Khamis Khalaf
For Mohammed Khamis Khalaf – the first Emirati to win gold at the Paralympics – his rise through the weightlifting world began almost 20 years ago when the athlete, who suffered paralysis of the legs after contracting polio as a child, was living as a student in Abu Dhabi. A friend told him about Dubai Club for Special Sports, the state-of-the-art sporting facility in Al Qusais, although Khalaf admits he took some persuading to go along and take a look at the facilities. "I refused many times. I did not feel confident enough. But when my uncle moved to Dubai in 1991, I decided to join him.
"I was curious to see the club, because it sounded bizarre that a handicapped person could actually be an athlete. The day I tried it out, I got to see for the first time that a handicapped person doesn’t just do sport for fun. He can actually train hard and compete."
Once a shy young boy, Khalaf has grown into a fine ambassador for the sport, as well as an important voice in the fight to ensure that athletes with disabilities are granted ample facilities and opportunities to shine. He considers Dubai Club for Special Sports to be one of the very best such facilities in the world; the club has changed significantly since he joined back in 1991, as have attitudes to disability: "Many other parents now encourage their children to participate in sports because they notice how proud the community is of us and what we are achieving. Attitudes are slowly changing, but it will take time."
The Lawyer: Lubna Qassim
It is hard to find ways to describe Lubna Qassim’s incommensurable ability to work, learn, and aspire, but perhaps it is best encapsulated in her motto: "To live a lifetime in every heartbeat I take." It couldn’t be more true. The young lady with a feline grace seems, like cats, to have nine lives. Except – she lives them all at once.
"I was appointed to set up and head the Economic Legislations Department at the UAE Ministry of Economy and streamline the drafting process of the economic laws and regulations within the Ministry."
As such, Qassim’s key responsibilities include the "review and draft of all the economic laws of the UAE". Her objective? "To strengthen the competitiveness of the UAE in the global market." It sounds like a huge responsibility to rest on such young shoulders. But there’s more: "I was elected in June 2009 as the UAE Alliances Director to sit on the committee of the British Business Group, and to carry the public diplomacy role to foster the UAE-UK business relationship."
Qassim is also a fellow at the Dubai School of Government, sits on the Global Economic Symposium (GES) Fellows’ Advisory Committee, and contributes to the establishment of the GES Youth Ministry of the Kiel Institute for the World Economy. She sits on the boards of Injaz UAE, the business education organisation, and the UAE Chartered Institute of Securities and Investments (CISI).
The lawyer also boasts a large collection of ‘firsts’: she was the first UAE national to have read law in England and to obtain a LLB with Honours from England; the first to successfully complete the Legal Practice Course (the English solicitor’s exams) with a distinction; the first to have worked at the House of Lords in the UK.
The Serial Entrepreneurs: Rashid and Ahmed bin Shabib
Only 28 years old, Ahmed and Rashid Bin Shabib are serial entrepreneurs. They have founded several local companies. Among them Brownbook, billed as ‘an urban guide to the Middle East’; and Shelter, an office space for start-ups. Where does all this drive come from?
"Dubai’s not changed that much. It was a small fisherman’s village. But it has always been a port, open to the rest of the world. The vision for the city has always been the same. Yes the landscape has changed, the infrastructures... We as individuals are taking part in the next level of development for society, what they call ‘soft infrastructures’."
Asked if being twins has created ‘healthy’ competition between them, the brothers struggle to respond but they are clear about where they inherited their entrepreneurial genes from. They show pictures of their grandfather, the UAE’s first Minister of Telecommunication, with the Ruler of Dubai. Pride, entrepreneurship and a desire to engage with the world are evidently family traits. "Our family has been in Dubai for a long time. We can trace it back to 1865. We are privileged to be amongst a leadership society and have a clear understanding of what Dubai is."
The Sports Entrepreneur : Anas Bukhash
Few real football fans get the opportunity to work in the sport. But for Dubai-born Anas Bukhash, the dream has become a reality as a Managing Partner of an exciting grassroots initiative, Ahdaaf Sports Club.
While honing his entrepreneurial and business talent working for ADNOC (Abu Dhabi National Oil Company) and Dubai Properties Group, in parallel he teamed with three other UAE nationals, Mustafa and Yousuf Al Hashimi, and Fahad Kazim, to launch a sports project. Ahdaaf Sports Club (www.ahdaaf.ae) opened as the first UAE indoor sporting facility with top-grade Astroturf football fields in 2009.
“The Club has four [fields] in Al Quoz, and four outdoor in Al Warqa’a. It also manages Al Noor Training Centre for Special Needs, a multi-sports facility in Al Barsha. “All of my partners are passionate about what we are doing,” he says. “There were no top-notch facilities for a kick-around – not for the corporate market, nor for school kids or for youths.”
“We have big plans for the future. We are obviously looking to expand in the UAE in 2012, but we are also looking at proposals from two other GCC countries. The thing is that we want to maintain our management, and consistency. To be good long-term, we need to keep the controls in place, so we have to be picky.”
The Artist: Noor Al Suwaidi
Noor Al Suwaidi sounds like her art. Fresh, bold, wholesome: a kaleidoscope of contrasts and experiences. Her voice – like her paint strokes – is warm, yet determined, with the typical ‘mid-East-meets -mid-West’ accent of Emirati contemporaries. Here’s an artist firmly grounded in the UAE... and the world.
“I am often asked how art is perceived in the UAE or how I would describe the Emirati art scene. But I don’t think there’s a specific view of an art scene by nationality. Everyone who’s lived in the UAE has contributed to create an art scene – in the last six years in particular. Dubai is an amazing place that gathers people from all over the world. As to whom was the pioneer of this and the first to do that... it’s not a nationality thing. It’s happened organically. I don’t like separating Emirati nationals. Everyone has contributed to this place, it was a group effort.”
Born in Abu Dhabi, the artist – whose colourful canvases, best described as ‘figurative abstraction’, sell at Christie’s – studied Visual Communication at the American University of Sharjah. She then headed to the US, graduating with a BA in Studio Art from the American University, Washington DC.
Al Suwaidi says the Gulf art scene is buzzing. Art Dubai, the contemporary art event, is growing in popularity. Some cutting-edge fairs like MinD (Made in Dubai) are emerging. The industrial area of Al Quoz harbours an increasing number of galleries. She expects all this creative energy to spread to the entire Gulf region. “We’re going to have more artists coming out of countries like Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. We’re also going to see more male artists. It’s nice to have a network of artists across all borders. We have a lot in common: we’re very passionate about what we do.”