Youth unemployment and the Future of Education in the GCC


Countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have made tremendous progress in the past decades, building cities at the forefront of innovation, becoming global leaders in select industries, and continuously expanding their global aspirations. However, even with decades of economic expansion and extensive investments in education, infrastructure projects, and economic diversification, high youth unemployment rates persist.

Experts acknowledge that youth unemployment is a complex phenomenon emanating from a multitude of converging factors. However, there is a wide agreement that one of the major factors in the GCC is due to the lack of alternative educational systems.

Our current world is evolving more rapidly than the capacity of any existing educational system. The challenge of learning is getting even harder for the next generations. According to one popular estimate, 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. 

In such a rapidly evolving employment landscape, the ability to anticipate and prepare for future skills requirements, job content and the aggregate effect on employment is increasingly critical for businesses, governments and individuals in order to fully seize the opportunities presented by these trends—and to mitigate undesirable outcomes.

The current educational system fails to provide young people with the skills necessary to build a generation trained to solve problems. This leads us to the question; what should the school of tomorrow look like? Here are some ideas:

  • Imagine students accessing multiple learning pathways in a school that will empower a new generation of environmental and social change makers.
  • Imagine students in a school where they learn to think like designers as they acquire complex skills and knowledge.
  • Imagine students conducting high-impact research alongside educators and experts in a school that builds community by saving the community.
  • Imagine students in a school that looks and feels like a research lab or design studio, where curiosity is cultivated to unlock endless discovery.
  • Imagine students in a school committed to unlocking their individual potential, creating new academic opportunities and connecting them around with local businesses.
  • Imagine students in a networked school, where educators and community professionals guide and support them along a uniquely designed learning path.
  • Imagine students in a school within the local museum, actively learning from the region's history while contributing to the revitalization of their own city.
  • Imagine students in a school at the forefront of emerging technologies, where the core of their learning experience integrates humanities, STEM (Science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and global citizenship.
  • Imagine students in a school that gives displaced and disconnected youth powerful pathways to college, career and life.
  • Imagine students in a school that engages them in local and global challenges while inspiring both social-emotional and academic growth.

Tackling these challenges needs the concerted effort of all stakeholders in society. While governments must create the enabling environment that promotes inclusive growth and employment, facilitates quality education and skills development, and provides safety nets for those that are marginalized, it is critical that business, civil society and the education and training sector are also engaged in identifying and implementing solutions.

I hope that this article will serve as a call to action to more stakeholders to join the momentum towards solutions to an issue that is critical to our future. Ultimately, its through collective actions that change can can occur and that unemployment disrupted.

What I Wish I Knew at Every Age

Creatives, including Lisa Congdon, Debbie Millman, Tina Roth Eisenberg, and Ken Done, share what they wish they had known during different decades of their careers.

When asked what we regret in our careers or life to date, it can be difficult to formulate a response. Not only is it tenuous at best to try to pinpoint the exact moment where we should have pursued this direction instead of that, seized one opportunity over another, or taken a risk over a guarantee, but each decision – whether later deemed good or bad – has led us to where we are today.

Regrets may be futile, yet there is a particular variety of wisdom that can only be gained in hindsight. As we move through each decade and navigate changes and challenges in our career and personal life, we begin to identify our supposed missteps – big and small. We begin to understand how our own doubts, insecurities, self-limitations or expectations may have been getting in the way all along, and take such insight into the decades ahead of us.

Without such experience, it can be difficult to gain such clarity around what we might be doing wrong or what might be holding us back in our work, side projects, relationships or health. But sometimes the experiences of others can help speed us along.

In an attempt to gather the lessons we can only gain through time, we’ve asked several creatives – including Lisa Congdon, Debbie Millman, Tina Roth Eisenberg and Ken Done – to reflect on what they wish they knew at every decade.

I wish I knew in my twenties…

To stop worrying about other people…
 “We spend a lot of time in our twenties trying to please other people or worrying if we are doing the right thing. There is something about getting older that just makes you think to hell with that, I’m going to do what I want to do because what have I got to lose? That was definitely my experience – I quit my job to be an artist, and I owed it to myself to try.” – Lisa Congdon, illustrator and author, Portland, Oregon

That there’s no rush…
“The pressure to do things quickly or have success happen right away is ingrained in our culture of instant-gratification, but really your real life is so long. There are so many things that you can do and there is no reason to panic when you are in your 20s. Sure, you only live once, but you also have this long life ahead of you.” – L.C.

You can create the world you want…
“I really wish I realized sooner that I needed to be an active participant in creating the world I wanted. I was floating and going with whatever came my way – I wasn’t very active about thinking about what type of person I wanted to be, or what environment I wanted to work in. My daughter was my biggest career catalyst, and I wish I had that wake-up call earlier. It never occurred to me that you could start companies sooner – when your life is so much easier and you have fewer responsibilities.”  ­– Tina Roth Eisenberg, designer and founder of CreativeMornings and Tattly, New York City

That careers are never linear…
“I used to think my career would be very linear, but even in the almost eight years since I graduated, I’ve worked at a branding studio, done illustration and product design, worked in-house for several large brands, and now as a freelancer. And I don’t necessarily want to be a graphic designer forever.” – Ben Wagner, independent designer and art director, New York City

No one has it all figured out…
“Acknowledge that no one has it all figured out – even your mentors, bosses, or design heroes – and that’s okay. The important thing to remember is to keep creating. Spend more time and energy on making your best work, and less on comparing yourself to others.” – B.W.

To stop being so hard on myself…
“I wish I knew not to be so hard on myself and not to beat myself up so much. I wish I knew not to take everything so seriously in terms of my worth and my value. I wish I had spoken up more and stuck up for myself.” – Debbie Millman, writer, educator, designer and host of Design Matters, New York City

Skills are more important than grades…
“At least as a creative, the skills you acquire in school are more valuable than the grades. I wish I tried to learn more while I still had access to those resources in a safe and nurturing space.” – Adam J. Kurtz, artist and author, New York City

Not to worry so much…
“Shit isn’t real yet when you’re in your 20s. Your early 20s problems will feel really insignificant soon. Try a bunch of stuff, be a little reckless, smoke weed one time, kiss someone nice, stop trying to be cool – it’s not working, it never works – and generally let yourself live.” – A.J.K. 

Everything will be okay…
“I do wish I could tell my younger, confused, insecure, lost, and angsty twenty-something-self that everything will work out okay. I will meet the perfect person that I can share my life, passion, and work with, and that I will someday get to do something I love everyday with people that I love and respect, that I will get to create beautiful things that inspire people in their everyday lives.” – Angie Myung, co-founder of Poketo, Los Angeles

“If I were to see myself in my twenties, I might say hey, things are going to be okay. Do what you love, work hard. Know that creativity is everything in life. Even in business, creativity is the driver. It’s really what makes you whole, in that inspiration and that creativity.” – Ted Vadakan, co-founder of Poketo, Los Angeles

It’s probably not the worst decision ever…
“When I left New York to come to Australia [after falling in love with Melbourne], I think there was a lot of fear in that. When I was retouching images of dog food or working as a kitchen hand, I definitely felt I had made the worst decision ever, but it’s so hard to be in touch with those feelings now, when I couldn’t imagine life any other way! All will be revealed in the fullness of time.” – Jeremy Wortsman, Director of Jacky Winter, Melbourne, Australia

I wish I knew in my thirties…

The difference between empathy and compassion…
“One of the biggest things that I did learn, is that there’s a fine line between empathy and compassion.  In certain lines of work, you don’t want too much empathy. Like an emergency room worker for example. You want them to feel for the patient in one sense, but not so much that they can’t do their job. This isn’t to say at all that we face life or death experience, but understanding how we work as a business and as individuals has been a massive learning curve, as it’s the humanity in our line of work that give it it’s value.” J.W.

That mistakes always count for something…
“I could talk for hours about our failures trying to expand into new areas by solving problems that we only imagined existed, or disasters hiring the wrong type of employee or not putting aside money for tax, but those are lessons you have to directly experience to really learn from, as each business is so unique. At the end of the day, the business itself is your biggest teacher.” – J.W.

To take care of myself…
“I recently had spinal surgery for a herniated disc, and it was one of the most agonizing experiences I had ever been through, and while I was in the midst of the experience I was feeling lots of regret. Regret that I didn’t exercise enough, or eat right. That I sat too much at work or in the car. It took nearly two years to fully recover, but in that time I became so much stronger, and I now know my body on a whole new level.” – J.W.

No experience is wasted…
“I had a career in education before I turned to art, so I thought I was throwing all this experience away to go do this other thing. But the good news is if you are going to change careers later in life or do something new, anything you’ve done before is going to contribute to you doing a better job at that new thing because you have all this life and work experience.” – L.C.

I wish I knew in my forties…

Aging is life affirming, not scary…
“It didn’t take me long to realize you know what, it’s actually affirming to turn forty. You’re always learning and that’s the key – it never ceases.” – T.V.

You can’t control everything, but you can adapt…
“You can’t control everything. My uncle used to say to me, that we are like grass; it bends, but it doesn’t break. Even in turbulent times or uncertain times, it’s good for people to adapt, to embrace spontaneity and go with the flow and bend like grass, but not break. Be open to change and accept it with grace.” – T.V.

How to balance trust and being accountable…
“There was one instance with Poketo where we maybe put too much trust in a person and we didn’t get what we needed. While I always see the good side of people, at the same time you need to be accountable for whatever needs to get done and not just solely relying on someone else. To grow as a business, you need to find a balance between being the captain of your ship and being able to trust your crew.” – T.V.

Compromise, compromise, compromise…
“For Angie and me, Poketo is like our baby. It’s something that we’ve been doing since we first started dating and there are difficulties in growing something together. There will always be disagreements, but what we’ve learned is to talk it out and come to a compromise. We need to be in sync to execute something new, so it’s never one-sided.” – T.V.

I wish I knew in my fifties…

To savor…
“Savor every day. Savor every day. Keep experimenting. If you want to do something, do it.”– D.M.

  20. You set your own rules… 

“Now I’m approaching my fifties, I wish I knew earlier that you set your own rules. Part of why I worked so hard for so many years was this pressure to keep up. But I realized that was a pressure I was putting on myself – no one else was telling me that I had to work that hard or take on that many projects at once. We invent our own rules and we have control, which is pretty cool if you can orient yourself to it in a healthy way.” – L.C.

I wish I knew in my sixties…

To have patience and perseverance…
“Even the things I’m unhappy about in my life have allowed me to persevere and to be patient. I now know that things will take a lot longer than you think they will to achieve. If you don’t have patience or perseverance, you’re not going to be able to work.” – Maira Kalman, illustrator and artist, New York City

Wisdom takes time…
“Things get murky and confusing at any age. But you can’t have the kind of perceptions at twenty-five that you have at sixty-five, and I don’t think it would even be good to have that kind of wisdom – it might prevent you from doing all the stupid things that you should be doing!” – M.K.

I wish I knew in my seventies…

Every age has highs and lows…
“There are hills and valleys, some deeper than others, some higher than others. In your mid-twenties you’re convinced that you know everything. By your 30s and 40s you’re beginning to understand that this may not be so. For me, the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s have been filled with the desire to become a better artist.” – Ken Done, painter and designer, Sydney, Australia

You can be 77-years-young…
“I’m surprised to find myself with the chronological age of 77 when really I feel as if I’m still somewhere between the ages of fourteen and twenty-eight. The key to feeling young is keeping your eyes open and trying as best as possible to get the most out of every day.”– K.D.

By Madeleine Dore    Illustration by Giacomo Bagnara

Why young people must be taught to think broadly

When I was 16, I wanted to be a ballerina. I spent almost all my non-school hours in the studio, sweating and straining to gain the strength that would allow me to create the illusion of floating en pointe. My duck-footed walk and knobbly toes were badges of honour that attested to my hard work.

Despite my efforts, however, by the end of high school, I had to face the fact that "ballerina" wasn’t in my future. I was good, but not that good.

The idea of becoming a literature professor never occurred to me; I didn’t find my way to a PhD programme until several years after I graduated from college. Along the way I waited tables, sold flowers from a cart, worked in shops and taught high school. Now, decades into a career as a professor, I talk with students who are sure beyond a shadow of a doubt that they want to be doctors, engineers or writers, only to have them come back a few months later to say that they hate biology, their screen-writing course or statistics. Frequently, they’re panicked, because everyone in their life has been telling them that by the ripe old age of 20 they need to have a life plan, a clear trajectory from where they are to some imagined future point.

I know there is pressure to get out of university and earn a living, but if we all take a minute to think back on our own young selves, how many of us are doing now what we wished for in our youth? We can’t all be ballerinas and football stars, after all.

And in our grown-up lives, how many of us function in jobs that demand only one set of skills? If you’re an engineer, you need to write up reports for your clients; if you’re a musician, you need maths for music theory and notation; if you’re a journalist, you may need a scientific background for an interview subject. Those of you intent on careers in international law or finance will soon find out that you need to understand local customs and attitudes and how to communicate with both clients and managers.

In other words, thinking about education in terms of single disciplines or areas of focus doesn’t meet the demands of a world that seems to get more complex by the day. People who insist that a steady diet of science, technology, engineering and maths is the solution are just as much out of step as those who say that students don’t need to study computer science, just the classics.

We would do this next generation a favour if we helped them think broadly rather than narrowly, especially when they’re young. Instead we’ve created systems such as the A-levels, which too easily funnel students into either a science track or a humanities track, which in turn dictates their college choices; or the US system, which gives students a range of courses to study but neglects in-depth study of foreign languages. We have universities that ask students to declare their majors without making clear that a major is an area of interest, not a lifetime contract. Consider, for example, the US magnate Ted Turner, who majored in classics at Brown University and then went on to start a little news channel called CNN; or Andrea Boccelli, the opera singer who was a defence lawyer until he was 34; or Julia Child, the chef, who worked until she was 50 for the Central Intelligence Agency.

An even more pressing question, however, is how to prepare students for careers that might not yet even exist? Very few of us will be ballerinas, but most of us will have to work for a living; we need to educate people for the lives they’re going to have.

The future– whether next month or the next decade – will demand workers who are flexible, resilient, and creative: shouldn’t our educational systems be designed to produce those sorts of people, rather than 20-year-olds who sink into the equivalent of a midlife crisis because they’ve realised that they’ve got no interest in what they chose for their high-school exams or their early years in university?

Deborah Lindsay Williams is a professor of literature at NYU Abu Dhabi

Staff retention is big challenge to Emiratisation, study finds

Almost half of 500 companies surveyed say their Emirati employees quit within three years, posing a major challenge to Emiratisation.

Dr Rabei Wazzeh, executive director of the Knowledge Group, presented the findings of his national employment survey of public and private companies at the Eighth Annual Emiratisation Forum in the capital last week.

"It has always been the problem that UAE nationals, once they start a job, become a very hot target for other companies," said Dr Wazzeh. "So once you find an Emirati in a job then all other companies are targeting him to attract him. They move jobs very quickly."

Forty-six per cent of companies said the average employment of Emiratis was less than three years.

Nearly one in five companies, or 18.7 per cent, said Emiratis on average stayed between one and two years, while 17.3 per cent of employers said they quit within 12 months.

And 25.9 per cent of the companies surveyed said they had lost between 11 and 50 per cent of their Emirati workforce in the past year.

Moath Hussein, chief support services officer for Al Fahim Group, a private conglomerate with motor, property, hospitality, industrial and travel companies, said it was a struggle to convince young nationals to stay in their private sector jobs.

"One of the biggest challenges is retention – not in the big government corporations but in the private sector," he said.

"You get a person and you train them, and in six months’ time or one year’s time, they have a lot of skills and capabilities that many fresh grads don’t have.

"So they get picked up and they are offered huge salaries in the government sector."

Mr Hussein said that the public sector paid generous salaries to Emiratis, but the potential for long-term wage rises is often much better in the private sector.

"In the private sector, in the long run, they will be making better income because we are a variable pay company," Mr Hussein said.

"I have employees who make loads of money, not on a fixed salary, on variable pay. One of our best salesmen is an Emirati. He got it in his head, he knew what it takes."

The challenge is convincing young Emiratis to stick around long enough to find out their true earning potential, said Mr Hussein.

Souad Al Hosani, a young Emirati who gave up a lucrative government job to run her own company, which now employs about 30 people, said the trade-off had been priceless.

"Loving your job and showing up every morning to an office you enjoy, it’s an achievement in itself," said Ms Al Hosani.

"Maybe I’m not a government employee, but I’m giving back to the country in a different way."

Ms Al Hosani is in the process of recruiting retired Emirati professionals to work as consultants for private foreign businesses as part of an initiative her company is launching.

"Emiratisation is a very important aspect of every organisation in the UAE," she said. "I’m not against having expats working in our companies. We have learnt a lot.

"But it is time that we Emiratis step up for our own country. It’s a time where we Emiratis are very qualified to achieve what we want to do."

UAE leads in developing and retaining workforce talent

The UAE is the top country in the region in terms of developing and retaining talent – but grabbing the "Arab digital generation" will require a greater shift toward technology and away from oil, a new study said.

Insead Business School, with Google and the Centre for Economic Growth, released a report on Sunday that places the UAE in the top 20 of 118 countries and first in Mena for enabling, developing and retaining talent. The UAE also ranks above countries in central and southern Asia, Latin and Central America, the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa.

    The Middle East and North Africa Talent Competitiveness Index also showed that even the talent leader had one of the highest rates of "fear of failure" and one of the lowest for entrepreneurial intention. It trails the UK, the US and ­Singapore considerably in terms of developing knowledge skills.

    "The start-ups are mainly driven by foreign talent. There are some multi-stakeholder efforts to promote such behavioural skills, but the region still lags behind," the report said.

      Bruno Lanvin, the executive director of global indexes at Insead, said that Mena has a younger demographic than the rest of the world, which is a blessing and a challenge when it comes to job creation.

      "Technology is a critical dim­ension of this challenge as the jobs of the future need to be thought of in areas such as artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality and lifelong continuous upskilling," he said.

        Arab millennials, who make up 60 per cent of the region’s population, are more connected than ever before. However, the Arab digital economy is only 4 per cent of GDP, half of that of the United States.

        High youth unemployment is double the world average, at 30 per cent, as Mena struggles to create sustainable jobs.

        Governments in the region have invested considerably in education to improve competitiveness – the equivalent of 18 per cent of total government spending – higher than the 14 per cent global average. In Mena, the problems of employment were structural rather than temporary with non-GCC countries expected to have an unemployment rate above 15 per cent "in the foreseeable future".

          According to Magnitt, an online platform that helps entrepreneurs connect, investing in education and research and development is the key to fostering innovation – just as with Silicon Valley.

          Philip Bahoshy, Magnitt’s founder and chief executive, said: "Investment regionally in education, research and development may not only lead to localised innovation but it will also breed engineers and the know-how of talent who are able to create start-ups and code products themselves rather than relying on the outsource model for technology development."

            He said that in the short to medium-term, a key driver could be to encourage internships with start-ups. Governments could potentially sponsor internships with credible start-ups to provide a greater understanding of the entrepreneurial journey.

            Magnitt’s research shows founders of the top 100 funded start-ups had nine years worth of experience before starting their companies. Not everyone can be a founder of a start-up like Facebook at the age of 20 – Mark Zuckerberg is an exception rather than the rule.

            Social Enterprise Could Be The UAE's Next Big Venture -- If Government And Investors Step Up

            Over the last few years, impact-driven enterprises are gaining traction in the UAE, where there is an appetite for start-up businesses and a focus on innovation. But greater support from the government and investors is needed to boost the work of entrepreneurs using business for social good, says experts.

            While progress overcoming those obstacles is healthy and growing among young social entrepreneurs more could be done to support what is seen as a new way of doing business. Infusing social responsibility directly into the DNA of their business models, entrepreneurs in the UAE have been tackling chronic social problems, ranging from unemployment and education to providing nutritious meals and healthcare.

            “Social entrepreneurship is still in its infancy in the Arab world. However, over the last decade it has gained a lot of momentum,” says Maytha Al Habsi, Deputy CEO of Emirates Foundation, an organization that mentors, trains and funds social entrepreneurs. “Today, if you ask young people whether they want be a bureaucrat or an entrepreneur, most would choose the latter. Millennials have a healthy risk appetite, excited about the opportunities that the 21st century and the digital revolution bring,” adds Al Habsi.

            With youth development at the core of its mission, Emirates Foundation has been targeting younger UAE residents, aged between 15 and 35, to address social challenges. “Our business model takes a market-based approach to philanthropy. Our programmes are an effort to guide, empower and inspire youth and is run like a business with a core focus, measurable outcomes and a goal to become a financially viable social enterprise with scalable and sustainable impact,” says Al Habsi.

            However, unlike the U.S., there are no laws to specifically regulate social enterprises in the UAE. In order to channel entrepreneurial spirit and aspirations, young entrepreneurs need a comprehensive ecosystem to support them. Just having a great idea is not enough, says Al Habsi.

            “Although social entrepreneurship is growing in the region, the policies, laws and regulations are yet to accommodate the unique ways in which social enterprise models operate,” says Al Habsi.

            The government plays a big role in fostering social entrepreneurship in terms of legislation, developing ecosystems and funding, says Medea Nocentini, founder of C3 which helps social entrepreneurs find mentors get business ideas off the ground. “Social businesses complement government and non-profit organizations when it comes to sustainable and long-term social change."

            Apart from legislation, raising capital for a new social enterprise is a difficult task, even if investors are slowly warming up to the idea of social finance. Availability of skills and knowledge also hinder the growth of such businesses.

            “Investors in UAE are sensitive to social enterprises' missions and goodwill. In every incubator, accelerator or VC portfolio you will find many social entrepreneurs but funding opportunities solely dedicated to social enterprises are still rare,” says Nocentini.

            Despite odds, there is a growing interest in this sector. Examples include Slices, an organic food station started by Faisal Al Hammadi and Hamad Al Hammadi to provide over 1,000 healthy meals each day to schoolchildren in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain; Social Bandage that raises awareness via public campaigns and provides medical aid for people in need; and Dumyé, which handcrafts personalized cloth dolls for children, and donates a doll for every purchase.

            “The Al Hammadi brothers not only brought healthy food to schools, but developed a whole educational programme through which our youth learn the benefits of a healthy lifestyle through a programme of nutritious meals, farm visits, cooking sessions and interactive seminars. It’s a 360-degree approach to health,” says Al Habsi. In the UAE, according to Global Burden of Disease Study, 66% of men and 60% of women are either obese or overweight.

            Today, as problems have grown increasingly complex, the emergence of social entrepreneurship reflects a major new opportunity in the UAE. Although social entrepreneurship has come far, it's still a long way from providing the ideal ecosystem for potential change-makers.

            “Since 2012, over 300 aspiring and emerging social entrepreneurs enrolled in our programmes. About 10-15% of them have established a social enterprise and improved their business,” says Nocentini, adding that the untapped opportunities for social entrepreneurs are vast, especially in education, healthcare and waste management sectors.

            The Saudi women taking on the kingdom’s education sector

            As Saudi Arabia wants to diversify its economy away from oil, education is essential for the upbringing of a generation endowed with the necessary skills.

            However, people do not consider education as worthy of their time and investment.

            “Saudi Arabia does not have a fund for educational projects,” said Basma Bushnak, cofounder of Emkan Education, a startup that aims to offer various educational services, such curriculum planning and teacher training. “Schools tend to think that if you have a company, you’re after their money,” she added.  

            This false impression, added to the difficulty of doing business as a woman, has not stopped the three cofounders of Emkan. Now, they have Madarisna, an application to search for schools and evaluate them, and Aanaab, a marketplace for teachers to exchange their digital tools.

            Learning to do business

            In early 2014, Emkan was launched by three Saudis, Mounira Jamjoum, the CEO; Basma Bushnak, managing director of training; and Sarah Zaini, managing director of school and content development. The three met at university and each went on to have a career in the education sector before joining up on this venture.

            Rather than opening their own school, an original ambition, they decided they would instead come up with a service for existing schools.

            For an amount of money Bushnak describes as 'peanuts', they completed their first project in Jeddah in March 2014. “The school didn’t have a high confidence in what we were doing at the beginning. But after we went back to evaluate our work and plans, they were surprised,” she said.

            Despite not having a clear vision, they went on to complete three projects in that first year, using freelancers.

            By the end of 2014 they were making profits and were starting to learn more about the orientation requirements of their market, this enabled them to develop a proper business plan, and led to the launch of Madarisna platform.  With schools beginning to know their name and their work, they changed their marketing strategy and started targeting schools directly.

            Counting 12 employees amongst its staff, the company’s work and large projects are currently concentrated on schools in Jeddah (where the company’s headquarters are), and Riyadh. “We have been asked to work in other areas. We currently have a project in Jizan and have previously worked on a project in Tabuk,” Bushnak added.

            Why settle for one product

            Looking to cater to the other important factor in the education sector - parents - Emkan launched Madarisna, also in 2014. Effectively a marketplace for schools, it allows parents to get information on various schools, add specific comments and reviews, and communicate with school management.

            According to Bushnak, these search and evaluation operations do not only help the parents, but also enable the school administration to improve its performance and the quality of education.

            Then at the end of 2016 they launched their third product Aanaab, a marketplace for teachers to exchange their digital tools.  

            A snapshot of Aanaab’s platform for the sale of digital educational tools.

            Education means profits 

            Working on small projects with around 30 private schools, Emkan started with making little profit. It then went on to larger projects, its second revenue stream, like the one with the Public Education Evaluation Commission, to train instructors expected to start in 2017.

            Madarisna currently has 2,500 users, free for both schools and parents. However, there is a paid service for the schools that allows the school to control its account such as sending notices to students and their parents.

            Of course, a lot of data is being generated, and most of it is not easily found in Saudi Arabia. This is what Emkan plans on using in “consultancy services and preparing data reports” to generate profit, according to the cofounder.

            Though Emkan has not received any investments so far, the founder’s reliance on bootstrapping paid off, and so did this new plan. “We already sold data to a research company, and made our first income [within this plan],” she added.

            How local businesses in the UAE can help each other

            Anyone who has tried embarking on the entrepreneurial journey in the MENA region will tell you about all the really difficult things they went through. Writing up my MBA thesis on how entrepreneurs acquire resources in the UAE I realised the huge importance of local businesses in supporting each other.

            In my own business I found that my best leads and long-term relationships were created out of supporting local talent. So if you are trying to start up a business, and trying to dig up missing information from outdated websites, or long queues in the Economic Department, look at these five ways how start-ups can support one another:

            Share your resources

            Sidiqa Sohail, founder of Spontiphoria Boutique and Café, a Dubai-based concept store, picks different themes across the year to bring the community together. In April, they launched the Small Businesses Month, where home-based female business owners showcased their products at Spontiphoria and attended networking events.

            Spontiphoria not only gave home-business owners a platform to network and showcase their products, but also benefited from their networks and word-of-mouth to spread the word about the boutique.  It is a win-win situation when both parties can benefit from each other’s expertise and networks.

            Recognise talent

            Being passionate about the craft of your business means you are passionate about the ecosystem as a whole. This is something every entrepreneur should not forget when falling into the black hole of never-ending things to do when starting up.

            One great example is Tamashee, a Dubai-based footwear brand, which showcases artists in its pop-up shops across the region.

            This is a brand that truly stands for the art they are creating with their footwear brand while also supporting artists in sharing their own talents and experiences at their events. This is a great way to create brand advocates that see how the brand is all about nurturing the community.

            Boost local

            At Level 99 Lab, the creative consultancy I founded, my team and I make sure that we highlight local talent first when it comes to clients’ proposals.

            The norm may be to look at foreign talents, such as designers, app developers, and speakers, but we like to balance the budget and find exceptional local talent first whenever we can.

            This is not only because it is easier, but because we truly believe in the talents we have in the region. It is also because they deserve the support from a local agency first before a global agency takes notice.

            So, next time try to see if local talents can fill your need, or if there is a like-minded co-founder from across the road to start up your team.

            Make impactful referrals

            When you are just starting out, you need as many referrals as you can get. Your network is your source of everything from customers, suppliers, and advocates. The key is knowing who can make the right referrals and connections for your growth.

            Iman Ben Chaibah, CEO of Sail Publishing, has grown Sail Magazine with its designers and writers from the referral of the writers and the advocates that supported her from the start.

            Don’t underestimate the impact of a connection you make, it will return to you ten-fold when you need it. At the end of the day, you are building a reputation of yourself as a brand, and your communication and networking skills can help you stand out when you need help, and when people seek help.

            Fill in the gaps

            There is some information you just cannot seem to find anywhere. Such as how much extra office space you really need for your current team, where to get the space approval from, and which gas tank model you need for your restaurant to get its license.

            Sure, they tell you to hunt some website, or to go to a certain counter at the Economic Department but you keep getting mixed messages, until you find someone who went through it!

            Hearing about the whole process of starting up from someone else makes it real, somehow manageable, and understandable when you don’t have to go through 500 pages of policies and regulations. The information gaps on starting up can quickly be filled by those who had taken this treacherous path of getting all their papers in order, all you have to do is ask!

            The whole experience of starting up is difficult to go through alone, and you need the expertise of those who did it before to avoid costly mistakes and bureaucratic pitfalls. Your network is much bigger than you may think, so seek referrals, ask the right questions, and find established start-ups that are more than willing to help support you and themselves in return. It is a win-win situation.

            About Rooda Al Neama:

            Rooda Al Neama is the founder of Level 99 Lab, a creative agency that works with organisations and youth forums to empower, appeal and educate their personnel through creative programmes, events and campaigns. She has an MBA in entrepreneurship in emerging markets, and is a certified coach that loves coaching youth and entrepreneurs. Al Neama is also a columnist at Sail Magazine.

            Dubai ranks in top five cities for entrepreneurs, families

            Dubai has been named one of the top five cities for entrepreneurs and families looking to relocated abroad, revealed a report by global real estate firm Knight Frank.

            The Global Lifestyle Review assesses key lifestyle factors that individuals consider when relocating.

            The factors range from the cost of transport and distance to airports to the cost of beverages in high-end hotels.

            While Hong Kong and London led the way, Dubai was the fourth choice for entrepreneurs, alongside Geneva, Sydney and Vienna.

            Its high ranking was due to political safety and security as well as its large pool of luxury offerings such as fine dining, according to Knight Frank associate partner and head of research Dana Salbak.

            “It’s natural to see clients motivated and drawn to [Dubai] ,” she said. “This is of course in addition to the tax-free environment and wide-spread of free zones, which facilitates business and trading activities.”

            Dubai ranked fifth for families, alongside Luxembourg, Vienna, Hong Kong and Geneva.

            “Dubai caters to nearly all family priorities so it comes as no surprise that it’s highly favorable,” said Salbak. “It provides good international-grade education systems, created communities for like-minded people to interact (such as Alserkal Avenue for arts and culture), and offers a variety of family-friendly activities, most of which can be enjoyed with 365 days of sunshine. This is in addition to personal security and safety.”

            Knight Frank, based in the UK, operates across the Middle East with offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.

            Abu Dhabi entrepreneurs’ new office concept gives workers a space to grow

            Bernard Lee has used many business centres throughout his career. So he feels he can say with some certainty that Abu Dhabi is in need of something different.

            "I was just shocked in the gap in the market," says Mr Lee, 42, who is from Toronto but has lived in the US for almost a decade working for Deutsche Bank in New York. "What’s missing in my opinion here is there is no, at least in Abu Dhabi, business centres that are actively managed in terms of community."

            He aims to change that by launching a network of coworking spaces in the capital.

            Defined as an office used by people who are either self-employed or working for different employers, coworking brings them together in a way which is designed to help share ideas.

            Mr Lee, who moved to Abu Dhabi in 2012, and Emirati business partner Fahad Al Ahbabi came up with the idea after initially working together doing corporate restructuring for the government.

            "[Fahad] came up with the idea to form a real estate fund business, a family office focused on real estate and real estate services. Through that process, through lots of different iterations, GlassQube was born," says Mr Lee, who is chief executive of the company.

            GlassQube is currently building a 100,000 square feet flagship location in downtown Abu Dhabi, which will become the UAE’s largest single business centre in the UAE once it is complete in the third quarter of 2017. But it also has a Beta space just about to open on Reem Island which will feature flexi desks, coworking and private offices. And there is a third location to follow in Bateen this October.

            Originally only planning for the flagship location at the corner of Al Najda Street and Defence Road, the pair decided to test the market’s interest by setting up a website describing what GlassQube will be like. The response was tremendous, says Mr Lee.

            "There was just a huge response of people just wanting to know when it was coming. When I told certain individuals it was two years away their response was very negative and it became clear over time that if we wanted to do this the time was now," he adds.

            And so the idea for the beta space was born. The Reem Island location in Sky Tower, which launches at the start of this month, will feature 500 workstations over 21,500 square feet. It will open gradually in three phases through to the second quarter of 2017.

            The first phase will feature a pantry lounge with couches and coffee tables, a kitchen bar, privacy booth for private phone calls and video conferencing, a communal area, plus an enclosed coworking space for 70 workstations. There will also be 30 private offices, breakout rooms and conference rooms.

            Pricing starts at Dh950 a month for a part-time flex membership, which gives access to the facility three days a week in the open lounge area, up to from Dh1,950 for a dedicated coworking membership for a seat in a dedicated enclosed area. Private offices start at Dh3,500 a month for a dedicated workstation and a 10-person office costs between Dh13,000 and Dh15,000 a month.

            The flagship location will feature about 1,000 workstations, around half of which will be set aside for coworking, over seven floors.

            Anything goes in terms of tenants, says Mr Lee, and the space recently scored a big one in the form of Uber, the ultra-trendy 21st-century taxi company partly owned by Google which has been operating in the UAE for the past two-and-a-half years.

            "As we considered our options for offices in Abu Dhabi we realised we don’t need a large dedicated space," says Chris Free, general manager for the UAE at Uber.

            "We are able to run our business very lean and we can keep our office footprint to a minimum."

            GlassQube aims to offer more than space and opportunities for companies to get together. It also wants to help encourage future business owners through an entrepreneurship programme for Emiratis.

            Faisal Al Hammadi, 31, and Hamad Al Shurafa, 32, whose business Slices produces healthy food for schools, including Brighton College, are proud to be the first members. GlassQube is providing them with 12 months of free workspace in exchange for their time in the future to mentor their fellow Emirati entrepreneurs.

            Mr Lee says he was inspired by their drive. "I want them to see them succeed."

            And they appreciate the help because finding somewhere they fit in in Abu Dhabi was difficult, as most office space is corporate and charges high rent.

            "It is definitely the thing we needed four years ago because there was no place to go to like that," says Mr Hammadi.