x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Emirati future requires us to reclaim our entrepreneurial past

As Emiratis, we must draw from our pre-oil past, and once again harness our entrepreneurial spirit to better build our future.

Bani Yas students showcase an advertising campaign as part of an entrepreneurship training session. Silvia Razgova / The National
Bani Yas students showcase an advertising campaign as part of an entrepreneurship training session. Silvia Razgova / The National

The UAE is no stranger to the economic gains of entrepreneurship. Before oil, the thriving pearl industry was the only source of wealth, prompting people to seek alternative income through creative business ventures.

An entrepreneurial approach was embedded in the psyche of our people and this has served us well, acting as a cornerstone of growth and innovation.

Then oil was found in the 1950s. The discovery was revolutionary, spearheading the UAE's formation and transforming it into one of the world's most resource-rich nations. It was a game-changer, spawning leaps in our economic development.

An economy built on a lucrative oil and gas sector quickly meant a significant rise in job creation for nationals. Industries were being created and positions needed to be filled. This led to a stark decline in entrepreneurial endeavours and a shift in mindsets among nationals - we moved from enterprising individuals to job seekers.

Today, the country has emerged as an indisputable global economic hub. And with nationals comprising 13.3 per cent of the population, it is more imperative than ever to cultivate a new wave of Emirati pioneers - first, because of the beneficial effects of entrepreneurship on our economy, and second to help meet the rising demand for youth employment.

On the economic front, the process of entrepreneurship has the potential to generate technological advances, truly groundbreaking products or services and rare commercial opportunities - laying the foundation for a domestic-led and diversified economy.

Entrepreneurs innovate and their actions trigger a far-reaching ripple effect that can enhance a country's capital formation, employment rate and development.

Further fostering an entrepreneurial environment is especially appealing to governments in the Arab world as they look to decrease their reliance on natural resources and transition to a knowledge-based economy. The UAE's demographic dichotomy makes the importance of entrepreneurial activities among nationals even more pertinent, to ensure we remain at the forefront of our nation's economic development and help to spearhead home-grown innovations.

Also, a start-up generation would mean we no longer needed to scramble for jobs. Instead, we could be creating them.

As Emiratis, we must draw from our pre-oil past, and once again harness our entrepreneurial spirit to better build our future.

But this hopeful vision raises questions. Are there enough UAE-based initiatives that encourage entrepreneurship? How can we inspire our youth to create jobs? And who is responsible for sowing the seeds of entrepreneurship?

Entrepreneurship stems from a strong behavioural trait - one punctuated with qualities such as perseverance, rational thinking, ambition and high initiative.

If such attributes were instilled in Emiratis from an early age - through academic programmes or within the family unit - they would eventually manifest in our business life.

In recent years, the Government has acknowledged the significance of youth engagement and launched projects that encourage the next generation to participate in the entrepreneurial realm.

In fact, from November 20-22, Dubai will be hosting the inaugural Middle East Forum for Small and Medium Enterprises.

The event aims to spur entrepreneurship among the region's youth by bringing together aspiring innovators with established investors and policymakers. In line with such initiatives, we, as Emiratis, also need to come together - through a shared vision for our nation - to raise awareness of UAE-based resources, especially among youth.

Solely by joining forces to improve the entrepreneurial ecosystem - and help young people to integrate into it - can we fully empower them to aim high and achieve their true potential.

Ahmad bin Byat is the chairman of du, the chief executive of Dubai Holding, the director general of the Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone Authority, and a member of the board of trustees of the Dubai School of Government