Article snapshot: "Entrepreneurial Innovation and Policy Implications in the United Arab Emirates"

This blog post provides an article snapshot of our recently published article on SMEs and innovation in the United Arab Emirates. If you would like to cite the article please use the following:

Erogul, M. S., & Van Horne, C. (2014). Entrepreneurial Innovation and Policy Implications in the United Arab Emirates. Journal of Enterprising Culture,22(02), 185-208.

The link to the article is available here: Entrepreneurial Innovation in the UAE

Murat and I wrote this paper based on GEM data from 2009 and 2011 (Murat was an author of the 2009 report and I was an author of the 2011 report). We looked more closely at the data concerning the innovativeness of SMEs in the UAE - both newly formed and established. The goal was to analyse the data to develop some policy recommendations specifically targeted at getting fresh entrepreneurs to choose innovation over "me too" in terms of technologies used and in their products and services offered to customers.
The findings indicate that business activity in the UAE among Emiratis is concentrated in consumer and service oriented ventures, such as retail, restaurants, health, education and social services. Secondly, UAE businesses in general are skilled at technology adoption, but not technology innovation. Thirdly, it has been found that new and young businesses in the UAE have minimal involvement in the high/medium technology sectors. 
If we look at Figure 1 we can see that basically all newly formed SMEs in 2009 -2011 period were in low tech sectors - except for RAK, where nearly 15% of entrepreneurs felt that they were operating in the high tech sector.
Figure 1: Technology level of the sector by Emirate (2009 and 2011)

When it comes to technologies incorporated into the products and services developed by new SMEs the figures are a little more promising. Especially when it came to women entrepreneur, half of whom felt they offered products and services that incorporated the latest technology. This compared to men, where less than one in five felt they used the latest technology. Further research is needed to see what these differences are attributed to... but it would be very interesting to investigate.

As the goal of the UAE to become an innovative economy, innovation will also need to be the life blood of newly formed SMEs and not just large established enterprises. More students graduating from Science and Technology degrees will encourage more to form businesses in sectors other than the service industries and business education will enable entrepreneurs to understand innovation processes and how to adapt them to best fit market needs.

The UAE still has some of the most internationally focussed SMEs on the planet... But for SMEs to become truly competitive they will need to innovate in their products, services, marketing techniques, delivery and supply chain management mechanisms and more. Additionally, the strength and ease of technology transfers, advanced entrepreneurship education and networking opportunities, and significant amounts of early-stage funding are important areas for policy development.


Advice for effective teaching in higher education in emerging markets

Earlier in the month we held a professional development workshop at the Academy of Management in Philadelphia. The title of the workshop was "Contextualization of Learning about Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship in Emerging Markets" and we were first up on the first day - Session 29 of nearly 2,000 sessions... (read the blog post for the first part of the workshop here: Contextualizing Learning

Aside from the five cases of best practises from Africa, the Middle East, India and Russia we asked for each of our panelists to provide their advice for effective teaching in the Middle East. The following is a list of their advice:

Stephen Mezias (INSEAD):

  • Each class/session needs to begin with a list of goals and what will be done with learners, so that we do not impose our Western ways of thinking.

Kathy Shen (University of Wollongong in Dubai):
  • Don't take contextualisation and the differences between genders [e.g. in gender segregated classrooms] for granted - students in Dubai behave much the same way as students in Hong Kong.

Amitaksha Nag (Frametrics Consulting):
  • Defining problems well is critical - metaphors are cross-cultural, but can be viewed in many different ways. 

Alexander Fliaster (University of Bamberg):
  • An educator's role is to help teach the importance of context within organisations, and that innovation and entrepreneurship are about interactions between collaborations.

Victor Huang (Zayed University, Abu Dhabi):
  • Today's Generation V learners benefit from social media platforms where they can learn and share with fellow learners.

Finally, from the audience was a closing remark - in our search for contextualization and bespoke education we cannot forget that there are universal values and concepts that are valuable to keep in mind when teaching any group, on any continent. 


Teaching entrepreneurship and innovation management in emerging markets: some best practices

Earlier in the month we held a professional development workshop at the Academy of Management in Philadelphia. We were first up on the first day - Session 29 of nearly 2,000 sessions... and we still managed to draw a crowd.

The workshop was intended to help bridge a gap between the understanding that we need to contextualize research and a seeming acceptance that textbooks and teaching cases do not need to be put into context to be understood by our students.

Florian began the workshop with a brief overview of the pros and cons of contextualization - while it may be costly there is an argument to be made to develop contextualized language and learning in management education.
Dr. Florian Schloderer (INSEAD) presenting the agenda for the PDW
The first speaker, Prof. Stephen Mezias (INSEAD) spoke of the general context of emerging markets and the opportunities and challenges that institutional voids present - as they can both spur and hamper innovation.

This was followed by our "devil's advocate" Dr. Kathy Shen (U. of Wollongong in Dubai) who pointed out that it is important not to get to far away from the original concepts and theory that we are trying to represent and teach. The danger of over-contextualization is that our students are trying to construct their own knowledge of the concept, and if there is too much "context" the learner might not be able to apply her new knowledge in a new situation. Dr. Kathy suggested that it could be best to deliver the abstract knowledge first, which then could be followed by "contextualized" learning experiences.

This valuable introduction, looking at different aspects of contextualization, was followed by five case studies from emerging markets. What tools and techniques have been developed to encourage active learning by students in Africa, India, the UAE and Russia?

Pavan Soni (Indian Institute of Management Bangalore) began his presentation speaking of how Indians have traditionally been known as frugal innovators - solving immediate problems at hand with workable and ad hoc solutions. But the challenge is turning these problem solving skills into capabilities that can scale up solutions and create more dynamic and competitive organisations.

Pavan speaking about his research into the Indian pharmaceutical industry and innovation
In his research in the Pharmaceutical industry Pavan has traced how innovation processes have adjusted to National level institutional changes from imitation to improvisation to innovation and how the evolving context of formal and informal institutions has to be considered when researching and developing teaching cases on innovation management.

Following this Florian presented the Gulf Con simulation "game" which guides students through the set-up of a performance management system. In this simulation there is contextualization at three levels - this in addition to the fact that learning through play fits with the learning culture of the Middle East. However, although there have been positive results and feedback there is currently no evidence of whether this contextualization has led or will lead to sustainable change within the students' respective organizations.

Dr. Victor Huang (Zayed University, Abu Dhabi) then presented his experience using an online social media platform he used when teaching undergraduate students a course on entrepreneurship. Generation "V" (V for virtual) use social media to communicate, to learn, to stretch their entrepreneurial legs and at the moment management education is still discovering the best ways to incorporate social media tools. Teacher involvement is key to "directing" and developing incentives to encourage positive exchanges on Yammer (a free social media tool) and also a guiding hand is needed to take the student's culture and context into account when designing assignments and projects.

Amitaksha Nag(Frametrics Consulting) described his positive results teaching the importance of social networks in managing innovation processes in different communities in Africa. He uses simple games with simple tools and inexpensive material to create interactive, dynamic and fun learning experiences for students. Using this action learning tool Amitaksha helps abstract concepts become concrete through a social, visual and hands-on game.
Network designed by students
Dr. Alexander Fliaster (University of Bamberg) wrapped up the best practices section of the workshop by discussing his experiences in Russia with management simulations to teach collaboration. In management in collaboration for innovation, many of the issues and problems that come up along the process are due to cultural issues - so contextualization is key to effective research and learning.  Dr. Alex said that "our biases as Western educated teachers of what constitutes common knowledge can negatively impact our effectiveness". However, when games or simulations start with objectives, and then incorporate student examples and local scenarios they can see how they can apply their new knowledge in situations that are familiar to them.

Finally we had a panel discussion on the "take ways" of the workshop. Dr. Kathy underlined the need for more research and more "local" knowledge as to what is "different" in emerging markets and what is the "same" - and the cognitive consequences of contextualizing these theories for students.

The panel

It was a great workshop and it underlined the "sameness" and differences of teaching management in different contexts and in different cultures. While we must understand the context we must also keep in mind that some things remain the same across organisations and continents.


Abu Dhabi University Undergraduate Research Competition and Proud Zayed University Professors

 This past Thursday was a full day at the Abu Dhabi University 2nd Annual Undergraduate Research Competition - to learn more about it you can visit the website: website (scroll down). I can say that it was a valuable learning experience for the students and gave the mentoring professors moments of intense pride.

The research journey began with many rounds of writing abstracts and then sending them in with all the required documents on February 28 - in all 248 submissions from 21 universities around the UAE were sent in and 100 accepted for paper submission. Three research teams were selected from my Capstone class from the male students and three teams were selected of female students from Dr. Damien Arthur's class to be among the 100 student teams to present at the competition held last Thursday. 

The real hard work began then with wrapping up research and writing the final papers which were submitted on May 2 - then good news arrived when we heard that three teams from our College were selected for the finals and three teams for poster presentations. (Needless to say the College of Business from Zayed University Abu Dhabi was very well represented!) 

The preparation for the big day involved many practice sessions and perhaps more than a little stress - this was a first for all the students involved. The day began early, and all the students were early. We looked at the program first thing... 

All the College of Business teams were in the same session after lunch
Required Selfie!
None of our teams presented in the morning, but many of the students (and of course Damien and I) attended the presentations of teams from around the UAE. I know my students were a bit surprised how interesting it was and how time passed quicker than they imagined it would.

After lunch we got to the room early to get good seats - a selfie and photos followed of course.

Waiting to present
The first group presented on Emiraitisation and the public sector - they knew their stuff and did very well.
Waiting for questions (yes, the research process involves a lot of waiting)
Published abstract

Published abstract
The second group presented on entrepreneurship and Emirati youth - and demonstrated they understood the issues and were ready to answer all the questions posed of them.
The entrepreneurial process
Then Damien's group of female students presented and not only did they impress me, they impressed the judges and were awarded first place in the business track! Their research involved looking into the perceptions of expats of Emirati employees and they handled a sensitive topic extremely well.

The ladies with their cheque! (Photo courtesy of D. Arthur)
Published abstract (photo courtesy of D. Arthur)
From January, this has been an interesting and rewarding journey on the research path... I am super proud of the effort and courage to do something new on the part of all my students. I will let Damien's tweet tell you how he felt! "I have never been more proud of my students than I am today. 1st prize in the UAE student research comp!" 

Congratulations to all the students and I hope you remember how much fun this was and that you encourage your younger siblings and friends to participate in the coming years... and even continue the research journey yourself :)


(Guest bloggers) Abu Dhabi Plan 2030: Education

This is a guest blogger post by one of the participating groups of students who looked at Abu Dhabi Plan 2030 and then developed a poster presentation of their chosen theme.

Done by: Mohamed Alkhoori – Zayed Aldhahri – Rashed Aldhohouri – Abdulla Alhashid
                                                         Khalifa Alshehhi


The 2030 strategy/vision of Abu Dhabi reaches out to the different sectors from health, to finance, economics, urban planning, education and much more.  The purpose of this vision is to place Abu Dhabi as the leading city in internal development (education, urban planning etc.), and external development (foreign investments, import and export relationships).  This post will feature the educational goals of Abu Dhabi by 2030 and the leading institutes that will help Abu Dhabi attain that goal.

Zayed University

Zayed University Abu Dhabi campus
One of the first institutions that has grown exponentially over the last two decades was Zayed University.  Named after His Highness peace be upon him Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, this institute was initially founded to educate females in the UAE and now has male and female campuses.  

By 2030 Zayed University will become the leading university in the United Arab Emirates specialized in training the leaders of tomorrow in the fields of Business Sciences, International Affairs, IT and Media.  

Family Development Foundation

Women's Institute (open to visitors during the mornings)

It was established by Her Highness Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak the Chairperson of the Foundation which replaced Abu Dhabi Women Advancement Association 
Some of the services that the program offers include:

1 - Awareness Health Program / Fitness Program 

2 - Women Empowerment 

3 - Family Education

Sorbonne University

Originally from Paris, France and established 760 years ago and opened in 2006 in Abu Dhabi

Was moved to Reem Island as part of the 2030 vision in 2009 – Reem Island is part of the 2030 vision from an economic tourism and it allowed the place to become more lively and has established an academic community.

Campus of the Sorbonne University on Reem Island, Abu Dhabi

Masdar Institute

Model of Masdar and the Masdar Institute
Focused on Sustainable and Renewable Energy – A key role in achieving the 2030 vision, to lessen the UAE’s dependence on fossil fuels and focus more on sustainable and renewable energy ie: solar energy, and geothermal.  The projects do not work individually but they are integrated to help other problems such as fresh water availability.

All the research created at Masdar Institute is a collaboration of intellectuals from global institutes such as NYU, MIT, and Sorbonne University to achieve a clean green environment able to support a growing nation which what the Abu Dhabi will achieve by 2030.

Government School

(ADEC) Abu Dhabi Educational Council

ADEC supports the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision through direct contributions to the Emirate’s social and human development and the creation of a sustainable, knowledge-based economy in Abu Dhabi.


Operations Management field trip to RAK Pearls

On Saturday I went with Dr. Batoul's Operations Management class to Ras Al Khamiah and we visited the first company to manufacture cultured pearls in the Middle East - RAK Pearls. To learn more about the company visit their website here: RAK Pearls website

Our tour starts in the soon to be opened education centre
Our tour was given by Mr. Mohamed Al Suwaidi and it started with an overview of the history of pearling in the region. For over 7,000 years the area in the Arabian Gulf from RAK to Qatar the livelihood of thousands of men and their families depended on the pearling industry. Since the 30s with the rise of cultured pearls in Japan and the discovery of oil there has been little industrial regional production of pearls.

In 2005 RAK Pearls began operations with a vision to restart the industry in the country based on sustainability of the industry, the environment and as a way of preserving (or rediscovering) an important part of Emirati culture and heritage.

We started the tour talking about the past... the traditional dhow boats used and the daily life of the divers on the pearling ships. 

The men would go out on the boats and stay out from early to mid-June to mid September - or around four months and ten days. The pearl beds from RAK to Qatar lay under shallow water - making them accesable to the divers. The men would dive from sunrise to sunset and the dives would last between 2 - 3 minutes (yes, without breathing!)

The men would wake and say the morning prayer and have one or two dates and coffee and dive all day until the evening prayer, after which they would have their single meal of the day - catch of the day and rice. Work continued as they began to open the oysters from previous days that had died in their shells - making them easier to open (and super stinky I can only imagine). Only 1 - 2% had pearls that had market value... so incredible amounts of work for limited reward.

A diver's work was measured in the number of baskets of oysters gathered in the day.

How many baskets today?

How pearls were graded and weighed in the past...
We then learned of the new method used by RAK Pearls - that was a result of an R&D joint venture between themselves and a company in Japan. I took a video (with permission of course) about the "transplant" method and you can watch it here: RAK Pearls video

Essentially a seed (made from the shell of a large oyster from the Mississippi River) is implanted into the gonad of an oyster, along with cells from a "donor" oyster - which will cover the seed with mother of pearl... super interesting actually, even if I got wobbly watching the "transplant".

Donor oysters open and ready, surgical instruments, seeds and oysters ready for seeding covered with a damp towel.

Watching the operation with great interest....

After the seeding the oysters the oysters rest for a month, are sorted for the ones that survived
and then placed in trays in the "beds"
The oysters are then left to grow in the warm, clean waters of the bay... but they are "pressure" washed once a week to keep the shells free from dust from the mountains and parasites - so the oyster has nothing to do but create that beautiful pearl.

Then, almost a year later they are ready for harvesting - and they are left to grow for about twice as long as mass produced cultured pearls as Mr. Mohammed said they are aiming for quality and not quantity. 

Nothing is wasted during harvesting - the mother of pearl is used for decorative gift ware, the ground up shell is sold to cosmetic firms, the edible part of the pearl is sold to restaurants and the rest of the oyster is sold as fertilizer... nothing is wasted! Sustainability implemented and not just in the vision statement....

Then, the very exciting part of the tour. We each choose our oyster and find our pearl :) 

My pearl!

Some of the students showing off their pearls (most will be given to Moms of course!)
Deluxe corporate gift of the Dubai 2020 logo

RAK - stunning as usual
I think we all learned a lot in this tour - not just about Operations Management - but about SME Strategy and sustainability in action. 


Action learning in Arabia: Adventures, Blog posts and More: Presentation at QS Maple

Today I presented at the 4th QS Maple Conference here in Abu Dhabi. You can find a link to the conference here: Conference website

The mission of the Conference is:
  • To provide a forum that promotes the development of higher education in the Middle East and Africa in the global context that stimulates international partnership.
  • To support the processes of institutional evaluation and upgrading that will lead to greater worldwide recognition of Middle Eastern and African universities.
There were some really great presentations from universities around the world... and of course I presented about my action or experiential learning projects which regular readers are familiar with :) I spoke about the lessons learned and gave some examples... 

Five lessons learned

  • Go over the theory - again and again and again 
Yes, I do PowerPoint - yes, presentations might be boring, but I try to use examples that "mean" something to the students. I also use the whiteboard a lot and write the strategic management process at least once a week!
  • Provide minimal guidelines/rules 
This might go against traditional pedagogy... but the more I tell them exactly what to do the less they think... and I want them to be active thinkers, looking for answers to their questions... I also empower students who "get it" to be charged with explaining it to others... Prepare for panic and prepare yourself for questions...
  • Trust/be patient 
OK, I almost always panic about the organisations of events - for example last week's poster presentations... and of course the event, project, field trip always exceeds my high hopes... They will pull it off... My students don't work like I do, but it always seems to come together...

Tweeting and then Instagraming my stress to aid communication!

  • Be open for the unexpected/ Live in the moment 
Well... regular readers know that this is a must. This photo explains it all... not photoshopped and yes those are bees, lots and lots of bees!

Trying to be brave in the mountains of Dibba 

  • Share (blog post)/Follow up
Then we go over the project in class... what went well, what could we change for "next time" and I write about it - to share with you my reader of course, but so that future groups can learn from past groups. Truly, they learn from each other much more readily than a middle-aged Canadian professor! (I know shocking!)

It was a great conference and I will need a few days to digest all I learned... I was also very happy to present what I do for the first time to an international audience and have it well received. All in all a great two days!