x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Leaders in the making: elite UAE students taught business basics

The Life: A young leaders programme run by Dunia Finance teaches a band of elite students with leadership potential how to polish their skills and establish their careers.

Sanjit Chakravarty listens to a session with Hind Al Mulla, the chief of engagement of KHDA. Antonie Robertson / The National
Sanjit Chakravarty listens to a session with Hind Al Mulla, the chief of engagement of KHDA. Antonie Robertson / The National

Sanjit Chakravarty's school term may be over, but for the past three weeks the 16-year-old has attended workshops with 37 other teenagers he had never met before.

Chosen by Dunia Finance, the American School of Dubai (ASD) student is one of 38 young bright things to join the company's first young leaders programme with both university students, as well as Year 11 and 12 high school students, learning how to create and market a business from scratch.

The programme, due to finish this week, is the brainchild of Rajeev Kakar, the managing director and chief executive of Dunia, who believes leadership values are inherent in everyone.

"Leadership is about not making catastrophic errors; it's OK to make mistakes but don't keep on making the mistakes," says Mr Kakar. "I may not have all the answers but I will know someone who does know the answer and it's that realisation that makes a leader.

"Good leaders have a good feel to them. Good leaders make things happen. Good leaders have their own styles. They create their own path. They help empower people, enable success and enrich lives."

The three week full-time course has been hosted free of charge by Dunia as part of its educationally altruistic attitude to the community - it recently ran a four- month English course for messengers and drivers to help those struggling with the language in the UAE.

For the young leaders programme, to ensure the highest calibre of student, there was a rigorous selection process that included academic records, interviews and left-field essay questions such as "Page 199 of your autobiography, how would it read?"

Sanjit says he is here because he wants the option of a different career path, his school ASD does not offer any business courses and the young leaders programme immerses him in an entrepreneurial environment that will allow him to choose between medicine or a business career. "I don't necessarily think I will become an entrepreneur but the range of the skills we have learnt from marketing to analytics to advertising can be applied across a spectrum of disciplines," he says.

"It's a lot harder than I thought it would be, convincing investors to back your product. Standing up to make a pitch, correctly presenting your idea is a lot of pressure."

Pressure was added by some of the more innovative training methods used to teach the group how to establish, grow and lead a company.

In one session, the students broke into groups and were asked to make a tent from a limited selection of raw materials: rods, cloth and blindfolds. The students also had to create, write and shoot adverts for their company's products.

Mariam Elsamny, Dunia's marketing, product and corporate affairs head - who has not one but two MBAs to her name - is the key coordinator of the programme, in which business leaders and entrepreneurs come in to coach the youngsters.

"We hope that we are planting the seeds of entrepreneurship in the kids on the course. This exposes them to the ideas that they don't have to grow up and be a boring banker," she says.

"You can do something different and that is a trend with the younger generation, you don't have to do a 9-6 job. They want to be creative and they want to set their own agenda.

It's important that they have that vision, otherwise ideas will dry up. But they also have to realise a business requires knowledge of finance, analytics, corporate governance, audits, CSR, marketing, sales, communication: These are the pillars of setting up a business and a business leader of the future has to have a strategic vision."

Someone that epitomises that spirit is Nemah Hussein, 18, from Yemen who has just graduated from Dubai International Academy and will be studying economics at Princeton University in September.

"As someone who constantly has ideas but who has no idea how to execute them this course was really interesting," she says. "After the first week I realised this was what I wanted to do.

"Some of the genius business ideas are figuring out solutions to mundane problems we face, figuring out what people need and convincing them that they need it and it is that granular attention to detail that I think I can lead people to an easier life."