x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

The UAE must cash in on its greatest asset: its people

We need to flip the “cradle to the grave” welfare system on its head so that the people who are taking become the people giving, writes Khalid Al Ameri

At this year’s UAE Government Summit after Mariam Al Roumi, the Minister of Social Affairs, had proclaimed that “the culture of society is that they think social assistance is an acquired right”, I wondered for a moment if she would be applauded or be booed off stage for that comment.

In all seriousness, I assume a lot of heads were nodding in agreement, but her words did make me think about how a culture that has become accustomed to state support in pretty much all aspects of life would digest a comment like that?

Our leaders have always made a point of ensuring that the lives of citizens are lived with dignity, opportunity, safety and prosperity. But times have changed, the world around us is a different place, and the country our ancestors built is different from the country we live in today.

When a great source of wealth is discovered and you are trying to lift the people of that country out of poverty and hardship, a system that enhances the speed of transition into a healthy, educated and working society is understandable.

But when a country has undergone 42 years of development, offers countless employment, education and entrepreneurial opportunities to its citizens, you would think a slight shake up in the system would be in order, especially if people aren’t keeping up with the development of the nation and rely on the Government.

Now, just to make things perfectly clear, I am not against all means of Government support for its citizens, To some degree, that is what all governments are for.

But I am for a more focused approach on citizen support that creates a more productive society, offering support in areas such as world-class health care, top-notch education, and access to opportunity – in our specific case, we call this Emiratisation.

Indeed, if we are healthy, educated and are guaranteed first place in line for any job openings in new industries, what more do we need to sustain happy and healthy lives?

The inherent belief that the Government should take care of us when we are willing and able to work, reminds me of how much work our Government still has to do to change the attitudes and increase the productivity of its citizens.

What is interesting is that there are certain policy changes taking place in our country that show we are going to start to see a shift in the “giving” system we have all become so accustomed to.

Take mandatory military service for example, where all men have to undergo military training, while leaving it optional for women.

An important point to note is that the amount of time spent in military service is dependent on how far you travel in your education: two years for those who don’t finish secondary education and nine months for high school diploma holders. I can only imagine this policy will be continued right up to doctorate holders. One could easily argue that this system heavily favours better educated citizens by taking them out of their working lives for less time, because they bring value back to society through their public or private working roles.

But why shouldn’t we value higher the citizens who work hard and take advantage of the opportunities our leaders have blessed us with, and that give back to the country that has given us so much?

There is a great quote from a Japanese executive who stated that “in Japan the only resource we have is the hard work of our people”.

The quote struck a chord with me as I believe there comes a time in every country where the only thing that moves you forward or holds you back is the value that you bring to society – not your name, not your ethnic background, just the hard work and integrity you bring to the table each and every day.

The main thing that drives me and many of my fellow citizens forward in pursuit of growth, challenges and excellence is the need to give back.

We need to flip the “cradle to the grave” welfare system on its head so that the people who are taking become the people who are giving, and the Government starts to realise some return on its most prized resource: namely, the citizens of the United Arab Emirates.

Khalid Al Ameri is an MBA candidate at the Stanford Graduate School of Business

On Twitter: @KhalidAlAmeri