Last month I met the Abu Dhabi division manager of one of the UAE's largest luxury brand representative corporations. He proved to be a pleasant European, but what I really admire about him is the fact he is personally on the hunt to find young Emirati entrepreneurs to help them achieve their objectives. He wants to provide professional consulting, or possibly collaborate with them in initiatives that would serve the Emirati community.
This is one of his ways of giving back to the Emirati community that he says has provided him with so much.
While the meeting's initial agenda was to discuss the opportunity of me giving university lectures on entrepreneurship and its challenges in the country, we somehow drifted off topic and talked about the UAE's private sector and the important role of Emiratis to help build its strength and push it forward.
Tilting on a leather sofa, the manager smiled and asked me what would my reaction be if I walked in to a luxury brand boutique such as Gucci, or Louis Vuitton, and saw an Emirati brand representative or a boutique manager there.
I instantly responded and said I would be thrilled, and as much as I love to see Emiratis as chief executives of major corporations, I would feel the same way if I saw them working at any role as long as they were contributing to the UAE's economy.
He then went on to discuss his company's initiative to employ Emiratis at corporate level, as well as in the sales division, and encourage them to be brand representatives at its luxury brand boutiques.
I applauded the organisation's effort to recruit Emiratis, helping to achieve the Government's vision of increasing the number of nationals in the private sector, as well as providing an encouraging environment for them. It sounded great to me, and so I asked him what seemed to be the problem.
Recruiting Emiratis was not a problem at the corporate level, he replied, but the sales division provided a challenge. He gave an example of the challenges they face.
A few months ago, the corporation hired a young Emirati man to be a brand's representative at one of its flagship luxury brand fashion boutiques. While he was excited about his new role, and encouraged by many fellow nationals who thought it was great to see an Emirati representative for a change, he was nonetheless discouraged by a few Emirati customers at the boutique who told him that he should be ashamed of himself for accepting such a job, and that he should have aimed higher.
The young man quit his job after just a few weeks.
I cannot say that I was not stunned at the story.
Seeing an Emirati working in the retail sector may be a strange scene to some fellow nationals, especially to those of this generation. Thankfully we are blessed to be living in a rich country where we are provided with many scholarship opportunities to pursue university degrees that lead us to good job positions, supported by our Government. Many of us did not need to consider the retail sector as an option.
And if we wanted to pursue our entrepreneurship passions, the Government pampers us with numerous funding options to choose from. But let us not forget, that as much as our role is important in government-sector organisations, its significance in the private sector is just the same.
In May, The National reported fewer than 10 per cent of 225,000 working Emiratis hold jobs in the private sector, and that they account for about 20,000 of the four million private-sector employees. To me that number is alarming.
The Government is doing a good job encouraging nationals to join the private sector, such as through its Absher initiative that provides Emiratis working in the private sector with incentives such as discounts and offers on fuel, travel and accommodation.
As great as that all sounds, fellow Emiratis should also support and encourage each other in order to achieve our Government's objective. And even though we are blessed to be living at a time of prosperity with multitude of great job opportunities to choose from, our ancestors pursued many humble careers such as fishing and farming.
As the old Arabic saying goes: "There is no shame in earning a living in a decent way".
Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati writer and fashion designer