Stereotypes can be deceiving: Charity event No. 1

The past few days has seen a lot of "negative" press about Emirati youth. For me it has culminated in an article in the New York Times about Emirati males – and how they are falling behind. Now, I know more Emirati male university students than about 98% of ex-pats here, all those “experts” with MBAs (OK, I have an MBA, MBAs are good – but  an MBA makes a person an expert in NOTHING) or PhDs in Chemistry or something – none have taught an Emirati male in their lives. I have a Phd in the Strategy of Innovation – I am published in the field. I have a chapter coming out about teaching Management in the GCC and another in Innovation in the UAE – if you want an expert on education, innovation and all that other good stuff look here! And I have a different view of things…

Fine, mini-rant about the use of “experts” to tell reporters what they want to hear is over.

I want you to look at this photo and tell me what you see?

Raising money for the Red Cresent (and pretending to be Messi)

Emirati boys, playing a video game – (yes it was soccer/football). I bet you were thinking lazy bums, they can’t stay away from video games. WRONG – well half wrong – they do like video games (like young men AROUND THE WORLD). But this video game session, was six hours long, was planned, organized, led and will be improved tomorrow (more game choices) by a group of young Emirati men. It is a fundraiser for the Red Crescent (those lazy boys were paying money to play). It is the first event a few of them have organized – yes, they have not been challenged in high school – and they have done an amazing job. Some details.

The plan for the event was sent a few weeks ago, I thought the price they intended to charge was high – but I let them keep it (of course I was right and they reduced their prices very quickly to market demand after the games began). The ogt the set-up, borrowed the games and the controllers from family, advertised through posters and ZU email, got all the required permission (and believe me, that is a lot of steps) – and organized shifts all day to get it done and get it done well.

They did not have experience running an event like that – but they did a great job and will change a few things up and do it all again tomorrow. Then write a report with photos, because I like photos.

So – yes, they have not been given many opportunities to shine – but once you do give them an opportunity they will light up a whole city with their hard work, creativity and “get it done” ness.

Smile and courage, Dr. Connie (more events on the way!)


Co-curricular activities: or learning through doing

There is much talk in the scientific literature now about co-curricular activities. What the heck are those?, you ask… Well, a few months ago I didn’t know either, although I have been doing them since I started teaching English in September 2000, and continued in a the university setting, first in Québec and now here.

Co-curricular activities are outside the classroom activities that reinforce the formal curriculum. In other words it is learning by doing. I teach the structure or framework of the theory/concept/process in class and then force (J) the students to explore, understand and use the structure to achieve the learning objectives for the course.  

A simple example. For my Introduction to Management Course I want the students to understand, use, apply and adopt the basics functions of management (planning, organizing, leading and the feedback loop). I teach it, we brainstorm events in class, I test it and I get them to organize an event outside of class in small teams and write a very short report (with photos) describing the initial vision of the event, and then the planning (and the re-planning), the organizing (who did what), leading (motivating, making sure the event runs smoothly) and then the feedback (opinion of “customers”, how much money raised, challenges, etc.).

This year, in both semesters, I have had the students organize a charity event. The guidelines are – nothing illegal (e.g. no selling birds caught on your farm – I do not care if it is your farm, we can’t sell little birds on campus!), held at the University, and everyone in the group has to participate.
Yes, the guidelines are lose, yes I want the students to be creative – do they complain – uhm, just a little bit. Do they come up with super cool ideas, not all the time, but all the time they have fun (at least until now).  No, there are no rules of how much money needs to be raised or who they give it to – but they have to explain what charity they are giving it to and why. Again, I am blessed with allies on the men’s campus at Zayed University – without the Student Life team my boys would be lost – but, Joy will not send the email out, Charif will not make the posters, but they will help and guide and teach. (Thanks as always guys).

Sometimes there are minor frustrations and mishaps, but the minor mistakes are made in a controlled environment, with tons of support available to make minor adjustments.

The next two weeks are going to be busy ones on the boys campus as karak is made and sold, teachers are used as targets for cream pies, Play Station is played and traditional items are sold.
This is just one example, you have read (or can now go read) about the many others described in this blog. Yes, it is easy to teach management through these types of activities – but there have to be a million ways to have the students “do” and “apply” and “incorporate” the learning objectives specific to your subject matter – just be creative…

I will let you know in a few weeks how the boys did, and yes, if there is a photo of me with a pie on my face I will post it – let’s just cross our fingers all the students have bad aim!


ZU's Got Poets - Using Poetry (I don't understand) to Teach

Now technically this was a leadership class project - but it ties in very nicely with an event my Strategy Class has planned on Monday, May 28, 2012. The event this coming Monday is The Strategy of Poetry - and I am on pins and needles with excitment for it!

This post though is about an awesome event organised last year by: Saeed Al Zaabi, Tariq Al Hosani and Yousif Ali Sultan.  As regular readers can tell, I realised quickly that with boys in particular "doing" is the best way to achieve my goal of "teaching" and "learning" - and as a bonus I am entertained, well-fed, learn so much about the culture here and get regular doses of extreme pride through my students' creativity, ingenuity and hard work (to remember in the moments of  extreme frustration when they WILL NOT listen in class).


I think it is general knowledge that poetry is important in the Arab world - and important in the UAE in particular. It is used to express pride, gratitude, love and it is used for strategic purposes (see, all things really do relate back to strategy). I have had the honour to have wonderful poets in class (not always the ones who pay 100% attention, 100% of the time in class) - and I appreciate how they see the world. I love poetry myself - Jacques Prevert to help me learn and understand French better (French like Arabic is more about meaning than words) - and I even wrote a bit of poetry myself in my angst-filled youth.

The biggest problem is I don't understand Arabic (a good and a bad thing when you teach young men - mainly good I think) - but I "understand" the meaning when they recite a poem (or I feel I understand anyways).

Poets waiting to start

So, back to the event. In my leadership class (only taught once) I had the students organize an event – e.g. using leadership skills in action. There was the Car Show, the Walk-a-Thon and ZU’s Got Poets.

There were five poets chosen to compete for the top prize and an  MC was asked  to host the event. They organized the posters, the medals, the food, the oud, the dates, coffee, and chocolates (!) everything needed for the event (with loads of support from Paul Abraham and  never-ending help from Charif Rabah, and Joy Saneo – love you guys!)

The day of the event was a bit stressful, many male students were needed for another event on the girl’s campus and the organisers were worried about attendance – from the photos you can see the worry wasn’t justified – one of the poets was late! – and yet it worked out in the end of course.

Full house

Saeed thanking people for attending

This was the first Arabic poetry event I had seen and it was amazing, the poets worked to the audience, the audience recited words and phrases back – the audience cheered and laughed and the atmosphere in the auditorium was electric. The poets spoke of love, of pride and respect for their fathers, for the UAE, and it was just a very happy moment for me.

The structure of strategy is similar in many places – but the tactics – what works to implement the chosen strategy is what changes. Here, in the UAE, with my students - Poetry works J

I welcome you to the event on Monday – contact me through comments and I will provide your details to security – sorry, female undergraduate students won’t be able to attend, but I have asked them to videotape it.

Volunteers counting the votes

Ahmed accepting his prize

Khalaf accepting his prize

The poets and organisers


The Strategy of Perseverance: or Being too Stubborn to Quit!

* Update: the chapter is in press and the book can be purchased here:

Today we signed the copyright papers for our chapter. OUR CHAPTER – on innovation – in the UAE – when not a whole heck a lot of people have written about it.

Did I tell you that the first author is an Emirati young woman, Mariam Omran Al Hallami? That she started the research process two years ago and has won a best student paper award for the first draft of the research – and now we continued it into a chapter – a good chapter – on innovation in the UAE.

The title of the chapter is “Innovation processes in the Middle East: an Emirati Perspective” – Mariam (through my brainwashing I guess) believes that understanding the process will allow researchers to build better processes and policy makers to build better policies to support innovation. Now, I will post another story about what we wrote about closer to the release date of the book (planned for the AOM Conference in August in Boston – where we have organized a workshop on developing research eco-systems in the Middle East). Today, I want to write about the process – and the strategy we developed to work together to research and write.

It started two years ago in August, Mariam wrote me from Switzerland saying she was bored – I was in Montreal being Auntie (not bored but wanting to work too). She wanted to work on something, did I have a suggestion. Well, I did – write a paper for the AIB – on innovation processes. I know she had worked with her Dad on filing the patents for his invention/innovation – the floating villa – she was in the best position to write a case study on it!  The Floating Villa website.

The Floating Villa against an Abu Dhabi skyline

First step – I sent her a ton of articles to read and gave her key word searches to do – she did – I told her to write notes – she did – I told her to work on a research question (and we did for the entire 6 weeks before we handed in the first paper). She wrote the interview questions, rewrote them, did the interview, developed an outline, etc., etc. All this time I am in Montréal and Mariam is in Switzerland (and then Abu Dhabi). The paper was sent, she presented it at the conference thanks to her wonderful brother who chaperoned her – and she won best student paper!

The story doesn’t end there – last AOM I saw a Call for Chapters – I sent it to her and she said yes, let’s do it! So we write an proposal – it was accepted – Yeah! But now we have to write the chapter….

So, we brainstormed over gmail and gtalk – how would we adapt it – I wanted a strategy focus of course – so that is what we (sorry Mariam, she did ) – but I thought the way it was written was too linear, so I suggested changes – organize the Strategic Plans by themes. “What themes” – “Uhm, you tell me!” I did what research advisors from the beginning of time did – I forced the student to do it herself – and of course she did. I think there may have been a grumble or two about co-authors and actually writing J But she persevered through the slog of analysis – and she did it well.

Then we needed more words – what would we write – we found more words of course and synthesis and more recommendations – and it got done (under the wire, but it got done). Then the corrections came back, not major, but a lot of formatting to the style of the editor – ugh – but it got done.

And now, nearly two years after that first email we will have a peer-reviewed chapter. With Mariam as the REAL first author, not there because she is an Emirati, there because she worked hard and wrote the darn thing!

So – to future students I will make you read it… to learn about innovation in your country, but also to show you that you can do it – it won’t be an instant thing, but it is possible to add to the body of knowledge about anything, it just takes hard work, creativity and guidance from a professor. But you can do it too!

The Golden Potential of Honey: Another Excellent Strategic Adventure!

This blogpost is based on the field trip and report written by Ahmed Al Bloushi, Jasem Al Shehhi and Salem Al Yammahi, three of the first men to graduate from Zayed University.

I remember the first class I heard that some of my students actually go into the mountains and collect honey - following the bees trail from the water source to the hive - it sounded so exciting and really like a treasure hunt. I remember that feeling when I used to go "hunting" mushrooms (Pine and Chantrel)with my brother (yes, skipping school might have been involved). Then I heard that one bottle of honey can cost over 1,000 dhs and that it was used for medicine and not for toast - and I knew I had to learn more.

So, given the awesome students I am blessed to teach, I was given the opportunity to learn more about the ancient art/trade/vocation/industry that so many of my boys from Fujairah and RAK know so much about -

All photos in this report taken by Obaid Al Zaabi
They made contact with the well-known honey guru in Dibba - Mr. Ali Salem Al Dhanhani and they made arrangement to visit his home-museum and honey/bee preserve.

Mr. Ali
We arrived at his house and he showed us his museum devoted to honey and life in the mountains of Fujairah - to say I could have spent hours in it doesn't begin to describe how fascinating it was - I tried on palm frond socks (scratchy, but keep your feet warm in winter and protect them from rocks) - we all agreed that his collection deserves a museum of its own - hopefully one day as tourism and eco-tourism develop in Fujairah.

After a tea break with traditional bread - honey and liquified butter (yes, as delicious as it sounds) we went to the reserve. Mr. Ali told the students (in Arabic - they translated the important bits to me and wrote a great report) that he got the idea for creating a preserve in 1986 as urban development began to encroach on the traditional honey grounds - destroying the flowers, trees and grasses that bees need to make their honey. The land was allocated for the reserve in 1988 and is still protected today.

Egyptian bee going into hive
Now, there are hives and imported bees from Egypt (much bigger than Emirati bees) but there are also still the caves with hives on sticks of old times (with Emirati bees).

Egyptian bee

Honey from the boxed hives is still delicious (and not inexpensive as it is still local, and all hand collected in small batches) - I bought some of course and it has helped soothe my throat on many occasions.

The really expensive, rare and most precious honey comes from local bees, often from hives they have formed in caves.
Mr. Ali holding the "hive" in his hands & yes I held it too :)

We were so honoured that Mr. Ali shared his wisdom with us - and it got my students thinking about the local honey industry - and that it is based on trust - you need to know exactly where the honey comes from to spend 400 - 1000 dhs on a bottle! We talked about how this trust is formed and how and if the honey industry - which is at the moment a craft industry - should become something more formal. We also talked about eco-tourism and learning more about their own heritage.

First males to graduate from ZU, Mr. Ali and his friends in the mountains of Dibba, Fujairah

It was an amazing day - I held the hive in my hand (after a trek up the mountain in my long dress & getting caught in the bushes) - and we all learned so much. After, we went to one of the student's farm in Masafi and had a fish Mendi lunch (delicious) and I rode on an Arabian horse (all photos have been destroyed :) ).

Strategy in the UAE in action - it is all around us and we need to learn and study traditions and traditional industries to develop a theory for here - thank you boys - it was a wonderful experience and I will always remember it!


Visit to Khaled Hurriyah Restaurant: An Emirati Gourmet Experience

After our awesome visit to the Sharjah Wildlife Park we went to lunch. Now, it would not be any student of mine to suggest Burger King or something like that - no, we went to one of the most famous Emirati restaurants in the UAE, with arguably the most famous cook (and number 1 fan of the UAE National football team).

Using some smile and courage (long story, but something I teach to all my students from day one) one of my students decided that we should have traditional food - and so he called Mr. Khaled Hurriyah to see if he could talk to the class about his experiences as a cook and as a football fan. Now Mr Khaled is famous - he has cooked for everyone who is anyone in the UAE - he has been on TV and he made time in his busy day to talk to my students about his passion - cooking. Forty years ago, the story has it, he was a policeman, but decided to follow his dream and open a restaurant cooking traditional food. And become the best, hands-on cook-owner-manager he could. He still personally trains his cooks and staff and demands from them what he demands from himself - hardwork, dedication and passion for excellence.
And then the food started - with harisse (yum), and chicken harrise (I forget the real name) and a whole lamb (or 3 we were a big group). We had geemat (donut holes with date syrup on it) and fruit for dessert - and we learned that excellence and success does not come from formal education and degrees on the wall - but through passion and a dedication to excellence - and being humble and never being too good to play host for a group of students and their professor from Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. Shokran Mr. Khalid, I will never forget the meal we had or the wonderful lessons you taught my students (and me!).

Video of the lamb (do not watch if you are a vegetarian)


Arabia's Wildlife Centre: R&D, Strategy and Wow all Rolled into One!

Yes, another field trip was organised by another group of long-suffering students. Another trip where I turn into a ten year old girl and where I see my students look at the "old" with new eyes.

Last Sunday my Strategy class organised a trip to the Sharjah Zoo (

Not only does the Wildlife Centre house the world's largest collection of Arabian wildlife but it is also the only zoological park in the Middle East to be completely indoors. Making it perfect for a day out, regardless of the weather.

The Wildlife Centre has been divided up into various sections, each dedicated to a group of species including reptiles, invertebrates, birds, nocturnal animals, ungulates and large carnivores.

To say it was AWESOME does not begin to describe what I saw - and honestly, I felt like I was in North America it was set up so well inside (ok - they need a gift shop to sell stuffed TOY animals and puzzles and games and t-shirts, and they had a super affordable canteen,  but other than that it was like something back home).

From the outside the Centre doesn't look spectacular - but inside is a whole world waiting to be discovered. Many of the students are from the Northern Emirates remember going there every year for field trips - and they welcomed our class with open arms - but I had never heard of the place.

Everything inside this huge building is from the region - every bug, reptile, bird, fish, small animals and large animals - roamed or swam or crawled here - there were no polar bears or pandas in sight.  The large animals are outside free to roam and look well cared for and needless to say I was happy the jackals were on the other side of the window!

But what about strategy? Well, the Centre (not the part we saw) is part of the BCEAW which is all about strategy and R&D and sustaining a rich wildlife heritage.
The Breeding Centre for Endangered Arabian Wildlife (BCEAW) was opened in 1998, under the Environment and Protected Areas Authority (EPAA), Government of Sharjah. Situated approximately 25 km east of the city of Sharjah the BCEAW, is the only one of the four facilities which make up the Sharjah Desert Park that is closed to the public and, is responsible for the captive breeding and research of the indigenous Arabian fauna.
The BCEAW was purpose built for breeding the regionally endangered wildlife, but it also serves as a base for research into all the mammal, reptile, freshwater fish, amphibians and invertebrates species which inhabit the Arabian Peninsula. The BCEAW is also headquarters of the Captive Breeding Program for the, Critically Endangered, Arabian Leopard. (

The only way to preserve the past and to preserve wildlife is to understand it, do research, and breed animals - and teach new generations of Emiratis (and ex-pats and tourists) about this glorious heritage.

It is about sustainable tourism and cultural tourism and about the wonders of discovery :)

I can't wait until October when my 4 year old nephew will visit - I want to see his eyes when he sees the little animal that sings "I like to move it- move it".  And see the birds and the cheetahs and the ... well, go visit and you will see what I mean!


Being innovative within boundaries

There is a very good article in today's National paper (today being May 19, 2012) - the link is here .

The article is by Ayesha Almazroui and she writes of the cultural boundaries women have when working outside the home - and how some women have been innovative within those boundaries, and how some have seen the boundaries as restrictions to break free of...

We always have choices when we have boundaries, and I am NOT one for pushing the limits and always err on the side of caution (just ask my students) - but I have also been one who expressed my "Connieness" within boundaries. I worked for eight years in a uniform (with a degree in History - Canadian and History of Science there were no other options). There was a rule to wear black shoes, so I wore Doc Martins, but there was no rule on shoe laces so I wore bright red plaid ones. My boss told me they weren't allowed (also helped that he was dumb and I had memorised the collective aggreement) - yet he soon realised he couldn't stop me short of changing the collective aggreement to ban coloured shoelaces.

Now, I know that each and every Emirati expresses their individuality with their abayas and kandoras- the stiching, the cut, the fabric, the colour, the use of contrasting fabric for the girls - and I know that the "boundary" of the National dress allows for absolute freedom of expression - it might be subtle, but I am able to appreciate that individuality everyday.

The boundaries that some women have as to their choice of workplaces is similar - they are still able to express themselves and feel fulfilled when they are innovative. Whether it be negotiating for that appropriate workplace, starting a homebased business, becoming a writer, starting a home based tutoring "space" to teach reading and writing to older women - organising sessions with older women for their sisters and cousins, to hear stories from the past and learn the older traditions.

There are always ways to be innovative within boundaries - there are always ways to contribute to soceity and find fulfillment that do not involve money changing hands. I advise my male students - many who would prefer their future wives do not work outside the home - to let their wives be innovative, let them feel they have an identity of their own definition - be creative with her to find something acceptable to all.

To my female students who worry about not being able to work outside the home I advise them to find their talents and express them through positive action - my Mom would hold craft sessions with the neighbourhood children and volunteered to come into our primary classes to teach crafts -

Boundaries are there - it's a fact - it is not about fair or not fair - it is about what is, instead of using energy complaining, use that energy to be creative and as a source of inspiration - it will create less conflicts at home and within yourself and you might just have fun :)


Strategy of the UAE Through Photographs

So, the same class that hosted the Man City party is holding a charity event for the Red Cresent. They have invited all Zuers (students, staff, faculty) to submit photos that document or portray the strategy of the UAE (yeah, I had a hand in the theme...). 

How do you find out about strategy in the UAE? Well, you could read some of the blog posts below this one, or you could read Abu Dhabi 2030 - or any of the other strategic plans (outlined in the post on youth entrepreneurship). But really it is about what is the path that will lead to the vision of the UAE as articulated in the founding of the country a little over 40 years ago - when you see it you will know.

Those of us who aren't photographers can buy the prints - which will be exhibited in the firt week of June. I get first dibs of course, but no discounts :) Good luck all and if you have questions put them in comments and I will answer.

Here is a painting by one of the student organisers, Rashid Al Bloushi - this is an example of the type of image they are looking for (if you are able to explain in a few sentances what strategy it represents).

Here are the rules (written by the students):

1. ZU Male/Female Students, staff and faculty are welcome to participate and submit their images.

2. The images should be taken by the photographer, not from a website or other sources.

3. The maximum images per person are 15 images.

4. We do not accept images from mobile phones or any non-professional camera.

5. Images must be high quality images and in JPG format.

6.A committee will be formed of experts to select the best photos submitted.

7. All participants can put a small sign at the bottom of the left side of the image to make the intellectual property rights remain with their photo.

8. Each photo must include a short description of how the image reflects the Strategy (past, present or future) of the UAE

9. Photos must be sent in a compressed file (zip or rar) with your full name to the email of the Organizing Committee, which is (

10. Deadline for sending photos is 22/5/2012.

11. An invitation will be sent to the ZU community with the time and place of the exhibition in a separate message later

12. The Organizing committee will cover all printing costs of the selected images for the exhibition.

13. We will display all selected works in the exhibition in a one-day and will be sold in the same day. The revenues of this business will be given to the Red Crescent Society.

14. The photographers of the chosen images, will be recognized.


Advice from Managers: the Strategy of Listening not Talking

I would like to thank the managers who provided my students with advice and Ms. Taiba Hussain, an instructor at Zayed University and a PhD Candidate at King's College, London, for her invaluable data analysis and collaboration. Sometimes the best strategy we can take is listening to the wisdom of others (and actually following their advice).

A year or so ago my three classes of Introduction to Management at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, one on the male campus and two on the female campus, interviewed a total of 74 managers working in the UAE.  While most of the managers are based in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, there were also several interviewees from Dubai, Sharjah and the Northern Emirates.  After the prepared questions were asked and answered, several managers also shared their words of advice to the students.  The advice was interesting and at times surprising…

1. Be Affectionate

The most cited piece of advice was to be “affectionate” and to care about others, your subordinates, your colleagues and your bosses.  In the West, this term would not be used I think, with worries of harassment suits and perhaps a misunderstanding of the word affection.  I think what they meant was “care” and an emphasis on EQ rather than IQ.  Researchers know that emotional intelligence is a bigger part of personal success in business than simple “smarts”.  Knowing “how” and “why” and “who” will set new employees apart from others than simply knowing “what”.

2. Rearch your targets

The second most cited piece of advice was to achieve the goals that you have set, for both you and your organization.  This pre-supposes that you have made goals or fixed objectives or targets, but measurable, attainable future ambitions that new managers (or employees) need to fix, strive for and attain.  Also, to shine in the workplace it would be a good idea to understand for new employees to understand their role in reaching the goals of their team, group, department or organization.

3. Have patience and be determined

Of course, to attain these goals, especially long term goals, one needs patience and determination, the third most cited piece of advice.  When we are young, and even when we are not so young, when we finally decide on our destination and the path that we need to take we tend to want to arrive now… even if that means we are unprepared for our destination.  The managers interviewed, from experience, know that the path (or process) is as important as the destination.  If we skip steps along the way, we simply won’t be prepared.  That being said, we need determination to step around road blocks and accomplish what we set out to do.

Other, great pieces of advice are be a hard worker, committed to your job and your organization, cooperate with others and work on communication skills… yes, it might sound like advice we got from our grade school teachers… but all of us know these are invaluable tips for success in life and in our careers. 

Now we just need to implement these valuable suggestions into our actions to improve our careers - or change our careers. Whether we are newly minted graduates, recently promoted or pre-retirement, words of wisdom should never be ignored.


Let them eat cake: Learning strategy through celebration

Manchester City won the Barclays Premier League football (soccer for the North American readers) for the first time in 44 years last Sunday. Now, you might not know, but Man City is Abu Dhabi's team - Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment owned and run by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan bought the Club in 2009 - and just three short years later we won (yes - I am a fan too).

The Chairman is HE Khaldoon al-Mubarak, who is also the CEO of Mubadala. After they bought the team, they quickly brought in a new coach, bought high profile players and somehow magic seemed to happen. Now any fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs will tell you that lots of money invested in expensive players does not buy championships... but buying the right mix does.

I had planned to show HE Khaldoon's interview today in class ( to have a discussion about the changing strategy of hte Club - from short term "buying" a championship to long-term player development with the Etihad Academy. Then walking into the class, the video of the game was playing, there was cake and coke and it was a celebration - we ate cake, watched the goal, watched the chanting - watched the interview - and then talked strategy.

My boys know more about football than you can imagine - who, when, where, why - they just didn't realise that a well managed team has to follow a strategy - and that we, as students and researchers, can learn from that strategy to apply it in different situations.

So congratulations Man City for an excellent implementaion of a winning strategy Made in the UAE!

Arab and Emirati Youth – The UAE as a well-source for entrepreneurial development in the region

Since October I have been leading the 2011 UAE GEM Report with Dr. Victor Huang - since I moved here in August 2009 I have been very active with youth as supervisor of the Business Associations on both female and male campuses and with entrepreneurial organisations such as Tamakkan. Dr. Victor has been the supervisor of the ZU Entrepreneurship Club since its dynamic launch and has seen the development of the Club and its executive members as the have become among the youth leaders in entrepreneurship in Abu Dhabi. This blog is a result of our work, observations and long long hours of analysing mountains of data and our own anecdotal experiences.
The UAE is similar to the Arab world in that the majority of the local population is under the age of 24. Although there appears to be an abundance of resources, full and gainful employment of local Emiratis is and will remain to be a challenge in the coming decades. The reluctance of the private sector to hire Emirati youth, coupled with the saturation of government positions by mid-age Emiratis, foreshadows a great need for future entrepreneurial activity – self-employment – by today’s youth.

The challenge for the government and for entrepreneurial support agencies such as the Khalifa Funds, Intilaq and Mohammed bin Rashid Establishment for SMEs, Tatweer and others, is complex, both because youth entrepreneurship in the Arab world in general, and in the UAE in particular, is little understood and the blueprints developed and used in other parts of the world are not suitable for the local cultural, economic, social and environmental context.

According to the data from the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor report in 2011, the vast majority of Emirati early stage entrepreneurs choose to become entrepreneurs due to opportunity recognition and the desire for independence and autonomy, rather than through necessity or economic need. Although there is no current data or research on Emirati youth and the motivations for starting their own businesses, anecdotal evidence from our experience as professors and faculty supervisors of the Business Associations on the men’s and women’s campuses and the Entrepreneurship Club, Zayed University students, suggests that they are motivated by passion for their idea or project, a craving for independence and a craving to be well known as a successful business person – a “self-made” success.

Although this seems to be widely “known” and accepted that these are the motivators for Emirati youth, there is almost a complete lack of understanding of how to get from spark – to fully formed idea – to business model development – to financing – to opening the doors for business.

However, an understanding of the motivations and possible incentives is only part of the story. The sustainable economic, social, cultural and environmental needs of the UAE, and its diverse regions, need to be understood to develop “incentives” and guidelines for future Emirati entrepreneurs to follow and be inspired by.

This understanding can only be developed through on the ground research, talking with key young Emirati entrepreneurs, their Emirati role models who inspire them and youth advocates. Discussions with faculty at Federal universities supporting entrepreneurship needs to be carried out – to understand what is happening on the ground and what resources and support are needed to scale up successful initiatives. Enterprising high school teachers, who have proven track records of inspiring projects and support for their students, need to be consulted and their best practices gathered into a resource guide for teachers in all subjects and grades.

Oil was the key resource needed to drive the industrial age – and the UAE has been a source for this. Entrepreneurship, while not a magic wand for economic development and diversification, will be key in the developing the knowledge economy, especially in the Arab world. The UAE can be a source of innovative ideas and business concepts tailor made in the Arab world, by Emiratis and this will be the fuel for the sustainable knowledge economy of the future.


Understanding the Strategic Process through an “out of this world” video!

I teach Introduction to Management (the first Management course students take) and Strategy (the last course of the Bachelor’s degree) to Emirati young men at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi. My students come from all seven Emirates, with the largest concentration coming from the Northern part of the country. As with most young people outside of North America (I started delivering papers at 10, kind of typical in Canada), they don’t have a lot of formal work experience to draw on to help understand the sometimes abstract concepts I am trying to teach. That management is a process (broken down into sub-processes), is a new concept – but they are clever and we muddle through together and use examples from everyday life – cars, kandoras and my favorite – bottled water J

Last week though I was given a gift in the form of a 37 minute mini-documentary about Al Yah Satellite Communication Company or Yahsat and the launching of its first satellite from initial “vision” to launch. You can find more about the company here:

Before I explain how a youtube video could be termed a gift, here is a very short introduction of Yahsat. It was founded as a subsidiary of Mubadala (the capital investment vehicle of the Abu Dhabi government) in 2007 – with the express purpose of bringing Abu Dhabi and the UAE into the satellite age. It is the first company of its kind in the region and the Y1A (the first of two orbiting satellites launched in April 2011) is a hybrid unit which has both military and civilian objectives.

So, what does this have to do with management processes? Well, everything really. Let’s take the basic fundamental management process: Plan – Organise – Lead and Control (or feedback from the rest of the process to start the planning again). All of this is done to achieve a goal or mission or on a grander scale – a vision.

The video (you can watch it here: starts with interviews of senior UAE military officials being interviewed saying that the world has changed, their job has changed, they needed to have a satellite to fulfill their mission.

First interesting lesson – the mission of the UAE military has not changed in the past 40 years and according to my military students – will never change. But – the strategy and tactical tools needed to fulfill that mission have adjusted as the world and the UAE have changed. For example, technology, the increase of collaborative missions, and the ever present  threats from cyber enemies made a UAE owned and controlled satellite a must – not a luxury.

Second interesting lesson – Yahsat wanted a hybrid satellite, one that could also be used for commercial purposes in the current underserved markets of Africa, the Middle East and East Asia. It had never been done before according to the video, but through close supervision of the development process, strong leadership and a strong commitment to the mission of the project, they got it.

Third interesting lesson – We have studied Abu Dhabi Plan 2030 in class and we know that one of the main goals is to create a diversified (and sustainable) economy. Here we need to use our creative thinking skills in class after the video – now think of other Mubadala companies – hmmmm…. Would any of them have use for a satellite streaming content to over a billion people – many of the Arab and or Muslim? Hmmmm – what about twofour-54 – the Abu Dhabi based Arab media company (also a subsidiary of Mubadala) which is creating content in the region, for the region – with the goal for much of it to be developed by people just like my students.  A culturally, environmentally (little impact on the environment), socially (interesting and rewarding jobs) and economically (diversification away from oil and gas) sustainable company that will be able to use the satellite to reach new customers – kind of cool no?

So – that was the class (in blog form).  I have shown the video four times and at the end of the video the boys (excuse me young men) clap – and I clap – it is something for all Emiratis and residents of the country to feel proud of.  The video is an excellent teaching tool about so many things, but it just happens to work really well for management and strategy classes.

So thank you Yahsat for this documentary – I will continue to use it for a long time to come.

But what is Strategy?

Strategy is the road map you use to achieve your personal, family, organisational, or national vision. Just as when people plan a road trip, there are many different ways and means to choose from to get from point A (where we start from), to point B, where we would like to go. For example, the degree of pre-planning for the road trip depends on many things, purpose for the trip (pleasure, job interview, visit to the new mall, etc.), how many times we have been there before (daily, weekly, once a month, once a year, never), whether we have a competent co-pilot or a GPS (if it’s me, you better take lots of maps, and if you are traveling to a new place in the UAE it will not be in the system), or you could simple just “follow the signs” and stop at a lot of gas stations on the way to ensure a full tank and to double check we are on the right road.

Here comes the tricky part though, in really life and in really organisations there is rarely a detailed road map to follow – and if there is, there are so many new roads, new detours, and old roads that just don’t exist anymore – the detailed road map followed by others before you just doesn’t quite fit the current lay of the land.

OK – so strategy is mapping out how to get from point A to point B, following a general direction (your vision or purpose) – but how to you build the map, especially if you are starting with basically a blank page!

It’s obvious now, mapping out a strategy is about asking questions, gathering information, asking some more questions, gathering the resources you need (car, gas, fancy water, snacks in the case of a fun road trip for example), and then start sketching out the map.

But what questions need to be asked? What information needs to be gathered? What resources are needed now, could be needed mid-route and will most certainly be needed by the time we reach point B?

When developing organisational (or personal for that matter) strategy a framework to ask the right questions is needed. The one I use by habit, ease of use and through a love of its simplicity is the SWOT. What are the internal strengths and weaknesses of the organisation (or the future organisation, or myself) and what are the opportunities and threats “outside” – be it in the industry, the community, the economy, the regulatory environment, etc.

So, you need to ask –

1.      What are the strengths (skills, access to resources, social capital) that are in my “hands” that will help me achieve my vision?

2.      What are the weaknesses (often the flipside of our strengths) that could prevent me from achieving my vision?

3.      What are the opportunities that can be taken to help me along the path to achieving my vision?

4.      What are the threats which could block or slowdown achieving my vision?

So the basic framework – which when you look at it – each of those four questions needs to be broken down into a lot of other questions in a lot of categories. Also, if the information is easy to come by to answer your questions, then that means your roadmap will not look that much different from everyone else’s.

So think, be creative – ask for help – READ what others have done before you – take a strategy class J But write it down, first step buy a nice new note book and open to page one – and start dreaming.

I know, I know – I keep mentioning vision and I didn’t mention how to get one…. Maybe next post…