x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

A two-pronged approach to a career

The Life: Upon graduation, Hussain Yousif Sajwani plans to work a government job during the morning before tending to his own small business later in the day. A group called Injaz-UAE aims to help him.

Hussain Yousif Sajwani speaks at his team's presentation. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Hussain Yousif Sajwani speaks at his team's presentation. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Like many of his classmates at Dubai Mens' College, Hussain Yousif Sajwani has his sights set on a public sector job once he graduates.

Yet the 21-year-old is also the only student in a class of about 30 peers who has considered starting a private business of his own.

"I'm thinking when I graduate I want to have a job that is morning to afternoon - maybe the police," Mr Sajwani says.

"But, also, I am thinking the most important thing for me is to create a business. From morning to 2pm or 3pm my regular job; then I go to my business."

During a so-called innovation day-camp hosted by Injaz-UAE, a group that links students in the emirates with private sector volunteers, Mr Sajwani and his classmates presented various business ideas in front of their peers.

His concept, which involved a mobile truck capable of fixing consumer electronic devices, came in second place to a business pitch that would consolidate wedding services such as making invitations and cakes into a one-stop shop.

But finding an overall winner is not the only goal of the programme.

"You have these students in the education system - bright, and diamonds in the rough," says Sulaf Saleh Al Zu'bi, the chief executive of Injaz-UAE.

While some of these individuals aspire to launch and run their own ventures somewhere in the emirates, "they're not exposed to mentors or have the means to get there," adds Ms Al Zu'bi.

That is where Injaz tries to provide the right stepping stones. The group encourages students to present business concepts that may be suitable for incubation, by providing them entrepreneurial education and mentorship opportunities with industry experts.

Mr Sajwani has been asked to consider being mentored by professionals who might know more about how he could convert his pitch into a working business model. Promising ideas, and dedicated students or graduates behind them, might then receive incubation support from groups such as the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, which provides loans, grants and small-business training to UAE Nationals.

"We are trying to bridge [students] to the next level, and get them to go into incubation," says Ms Al Zu'bi. "For that to happen, you need a filtering programme," she adds. "Not everyone is cut out to be an entrepreneur."

Ms Al Zu'bi says Injaz, locally, has reached about 13,000 students since 2005. In the past few months alone, the group has worked with more than 500 volunteers, who often share their experiences with students of pursuing their own business or working within the private sector.

On Thursday, Mohamed Al Hammadi, the branch manager of Mashreq on Al Salam Street in Abu Dhabi, joined Injaz for the second time at an innovation day-camp. As he mingled with students in Mr Sajwani's class, Mr Al Hammadi spoke about how he started as a bank teller before building a career that now has him managing his own branch.

"The bank, being private sector, supported me - guided me through a lot of trainings and mentoring," Mr Sajwani told the class. "I started at the beginning and from scratch I built up my career."

Mr Al Hammadi also spoke to the students about being Emirati and how it is sometimes "better for them to think of establishing a business and being a leader in the company instead of being a follower."

"Sometimes UAE Nationals feel afraid and think of sitting in any government job," Mr Al Hammadi added. "They feel this is secure and the best for them in the future, which is wrong of course."

Mr Sajwani agrees.

For about two years, he says he and his uncle imported crashed cars from the US then repaired and sold them throughout the UAE. While they started the business together, Mr Sajwani says, it shut in 2010 after his uncle began another job.

Today, Mr Sajwani is looking for a new venture to launch upon graduation, although many of his peers do not seem too concerned about life after university.

"They don't think about getting a job or making a business," he says.

"They're just focused on finishing school. For me, I'm focused on both: finishing college and starting the small business."

nparmar@thenational.ae