When Antoniya Mihaylova first joined a national business group, her decision to go with the Canadian Business Council (CBC) in Dubai was admittedly based on a more personal reason.
"I chose the Canadian one because I want to emigrate to Canada one day," says Ms Mihaylova, who is originally from Bulgaria and is among the 40 per cent of CBC members who are not from Canada.
Yet Ms Mihaylova, who is the business development manager for the Royal Club resort on Palm Jumeirah, has since found that getting access to more than 350 professionals linked through the CBC has also helped build up her network of contacts and boosted business at her hotel.
"I meet a lot of people who need hotel accommodations for their clients, employees, guests or relatives, so this [membership] has supported my business and my work in a way," she says.
National business councils have long tried to promote economic as well as social ties between professionals from far-flung countries and the UAE, often through casual networking sessions.
But as more individuals and companies look to enter the lucrative market of the Gulf or expand existing businesses here, they are increasingly expecting to attend high-profile events to talk about trends in trade at their councils.
The Russian Business Council in Dubai and Northern Emirates, which was launched last year, recently hosted a round table with the top brass from the airline flydubai to discuss how businesses from Russia could extend their reach to newer global markets such as the UAE.
Last month, the CBC co-hosted an event for its members during the Gitex technology exhibition.
It was an opportune time for the businessmen behind Netsweeper, an Ontario company that focuses on online security, to hear from - and try to mingle with - executives from the local telecommunications company Etisalat and Research In Motion, which manufacturers the BlackBerry smartphone.
Foreign business councils in the Emirates often work closely with their countries' embassies or other government entities, including local chambers of commerce.
Executives at these councils say they regularly facilitate introductions for small and big businesses abroad that hope to extend their operations into this part of the world.
"[One company] basically started by asking people like me did we know anybody who would be helpful?" says David Macadam, the chairman of the CBC and the head of retail at the property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle in the Middle East and North Africa. "We say 'sure' and give them names, and when it gets further along and they've started to do due diligence [we've] opened discussions with different groups."
However, unlike entities formally linked to a government, the councils typically operate independently and normally rely on membership fees to help cover operating costs.
"They are like two faces of the same coin, but with different backgrounds and targets," explains Piero Ricotti, the president of the Italian Industry & Commerce Office in the UAE.
Councils charge an annual membership fee that can range from Dh500 (US$136) to Dh9,000, plus sometimes a joining fee, depending on whether admission is for an individual or corporation. Some, including the CBC, have built up their ranks by admitting foreigners who sometimes hail from well beyond the borders of the country that a council represents.
The British Business Group in Dubai, which has about 2,500 members, admits individuals from any country as long as they have "a business connection to the UK", says Jonathon Davidson, the group's chairman and chief executive, who is a managing partner of Davidson & Co Legal Consultants in Dubai.
At their core, business councils aim to help in expanding the private sector. Many provide access to local experts who can help to explain how the business culture may be different here in the UAE from at home.
"We know a lot of how business is done here," says Peter Harradine, who has been in the Emirates for more than 30 years and has been president of the Swiss Business Council for the past decade.
Mr Harradine says his group provides guidance to companies based in Switzerland that are trying to set up here.
Among the tips: do not to be surprised if a meeting does not start on time, and be prepared to wait longer than the standard 30 days for product or service payments.
"For most companies it's an absolute eye-opener," Mr Harradine says. "The system is different."
But companies are not alone in finding business councils to be helpful. Some government-funded agencies that assist companies to get established in the region are pursuing closer ties with the councils as well.
The New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) economic development agency has taken an interest in the Middle East Initiative for New Zealand, a group run by business leaders in the region with branches in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
"They receive encouragement and support, because from our perspective they are some interesting networks that we can connect into," says Steve Jones, NZTE's trade commissioner for the Middle East, Africa and Pakistan. "But, also, they provide a very convenient vehicle for some of the new companies coming into the region."