x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Portrait of a nation: Emirati former banker who found caring to be the bottom line

Tariq Al Gurg, chief executive of Dubai Cares, spent most of his career in corporate banking. Now his heart belongs to Dubai Cares, where he says his work brings him "closer to God".

Tariq Al Gurg watches a pre-school performance during a field trip visit to a remote village in Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of his work with Dubai Cares. Razan Alzayani / The National
Tariq Al Gurg watches a pre-school performance during a field trip visit to a remote village in Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of his work with Dubai Cares. Razan Alzayani / The National

It is 2010. Tariq Al Gurg is stuck in the desert, miles from any kind of civilisation and his convoy of three Unicef and Dubai Cares vehicles has been reduced to one.

Returning from overseeing the building of a school in a remote part of Djibouti, the first car had broken down, and the second got stuck in the sand.

“It was so hot, no one knew what to do. We had lost two cars, miles from any help. But I had a plan,” the Emirati said. “This is where Dubai and the desert and the good old days came back to me.

“In my childhood I used to go every weekend to the desert with friends and family. I used to drive in the desert alone. I don’t get lost in the desert – I have a sense of direction from those days.”

After much toil, he got the car free and the Unicef convoy was moving again.

It was a far cry from his previous work in corporate banking.

Born in Dubai in 1974 to an Emirati father and Kuwaiti mother, Mr Al Gurg’s upbringing was one of travel and independence.

He would regularly go to Switzerland to attend summer schools and visit France with his family, who insisted he take French lessons whenever they were abroad.

“I saw the poverty life, too. I saw how Dubai gradually changed and got developed – and I saw the rich life,” he said.

“My generation is gifted in one thing, we saw the whole thing, poverty, the development and now how it is today.”

His parents were very open-minded and wanted him to lead an educated, independent life and he started to travel more and more by himself.

He went to HCT Dubai in 1993, graduated in 1996 and immediately joined the banking world.

“It wasn’t a choice. My father insisted I went into banking, and specifically the National Bank of Dubai,” said Mr Al Gurg.

“My father is an old-school guy who believes you get experience through work.”

Over 12 years he moved from being a mobile branch manager to the corporate and VIP banking sector.

“I stayed in corporate banking for another three or four years, and eventually I was made deputy general manager of corporate banking,.” he said.

“I was given a lot of job offers but I never wanted to move. I was really happy with the bank.”

One offer had more promise than most, but it was not destined to end well.

He took a position as chief executive of Meraas Property, a company with government links and great prospects.

“I accepted and joined, and six months later the financial crisis struck. Three months later I had left. I wanted to go back to the bank because that was my home,” he said.

Then in 2009 he got a call from the Government and was offered his present position as chief executive of Dubai Cares. At the time, the organisation had only been running for 18 months.

“I had a feeling that there was a lot already done but not a lot communicated to the public. I thought that it could grow,” he said.

He already had some experience with humanitarian work.

In 2005 he was a founding board member of the UAE Genetic Diseases Association.

“We did that through Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid’s leadership programme and because I already had that in me, in my blood. That is what pushed me towards Dubai Cares,” he said.

“My heart leaned towards that, more than the bank. It is something more humanitarian, something closer to God.”

Since then, he has never looked back.

Mr Al Gurg’s work for Dubai Cares has taken him around the globe to dozens of developing countries in need of support and he is never afraid to get his hands dirty.

“All countries to me are equal, they are all close to my heart. What I am learning is culture and how fathers, mothers and children view education,” he said.

“Dubai Cares is in my heart and will remain in my heart. If it is up to me, this is where I want to stay.”

You can read more about the work of Dubai Cares at www.dubaicares.ae.

ksinclair@thenational.ae