It started as a discussion group hosted by the British ambassador for UK businessmen. But the British Business Group (BBG) soon developed a momentum separate from the embassy.
"As the number of people grew in Abu Dhabi, it became rather impractical to continue that existing arrangement," says Peter Michelmore, a BBG committee member.
"Also, there was a sense that organisations on that scale should be licensed and registered and so it could be more effective as a group."
BBG became an official entity in the mid-1990s, and today the group, which has just turned 20, has around 350 members.
"The amazing thing is through 20 years of regional conflicts, recessions, housing booms and busts the central idea that you can work together and make something better has carried on," says Richard Oliver, the BBG chairman and managing director of HSBC Abu Dhabi.
The group held a lunch to celebrate the milestone on Wednesday in Abu Dhabi when BBG's only honorary member, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, was presented with a mould of his handshake with Mr Michelmore, a former chairman of the group. The gift was for all his support during the years.
"The British Business Group in Abu Dhabi has always put in my mind an arresting observation by one of Britain's former citizens, the American Benjamin Franklin," said Sheikh Nahyan.
"Franklin said, 'All mankind is divided into three classes: those that are immovable; those that are movable; and those that move.'
"You are those who move. You have been a positive, productive, dynamic force in the past 20 of the United Arab Emirates' 40 years."
British business is at the "front and centre" of everything the group does, says Mr Oliver. But its aims are not entirely selfish.
"It's not just British business for the sake of British business.
"There is actually, funnily enough, a degree of altruism involved on the part of Britain here and the BBG," says Mr Michelmore.
"You are raising the profile of the UAE in the UK, raising the profile of the UK here and doing it for a broad spread of reasons."
BBG hosts regular lunches, breakfasts, and dinners for members, many of whom join for the networking opportunities it offers.
"Someone like Peter [Michelmore] can give three or four helpful names to somebody, where you might otherwise get 10 very unhelpful names," says Mr Oliver.
Chris Gilbert, the managing director of Gemaco Interiors, signed up in 1993.
"I joined for the networking [opportunities] and to be part of the British Community," he says, adding that being a member helped him drum up trade.
And it is not only open to British businessmen and women. People of other nationalities who work for a British company or an organisation that represents British goods and services are also welcome.
BBG works closely with the embassy, but has its own voice.
"It is very important that we should be slightly apart because the message needs to come from two directions, from the embassy and us. It resonates more effectively," says Mr Michelmore.
The embassy tends to focus on big contracts, but BBG has a wider spectrum of interests, such supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
"If you look at the number of SMEs joining, our membership is now as high as it has ever been. In spite of the slowdown, the mercantile spirit is very much alive and well," says Mr Michelmore.