ZU Men's Business Association trip to Japan - Emirati planning in action (Part 3)

Much less of a delay – I should get this done before I leave for Canada for vacation J

Day 6:

Tuesday was kind of a super cool day – we started the day at Toyota Mega Web – a concept showroom in Tokyo for Toyota. I am not super into cars – I drive a rented Yaris because it is easy to park and I used to live downtown, and even now with a parking space I drive it – but it was interesting. We had arrived early and stopped at the Starbucks for breakfast (most of us seemed to always miss the hotel breakfast – except 2 early risers!) – I got cherry blossom espresso cups and a travel mug J Oh, a pack of cherry blossom macaroons… (OK, I might have developed a slight obsession with all things cherry blossom while I was there – what can I say, I am a sponge for local culture – and all things pink!).

Oh, the car place… so we toured around and then we went to see the “Personal mobility” section  and got to take a spin in this! Oh my goodness we laughed so hard and it was so much fun – they are battery operated, so zero emission, and go pretty fast and are super easy to maneuver.  Unfortunately they are not for sale L

From the megaweb website

I'm the one wearing red!

We then went to the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation – we need one of these in the UAE! It was amazing and made us think, laugh, ponder the world and learn.

The most amazing thing for me was this floating globe that revolved on the ceiling – and people were on couches looking up at it – I got excited every time the UAE or Vancouver Island or Quebec would come to the front J

What everyone really enjoyed was this huge room – where we followed a maze of wonderful facts and figures and questions that we would need to answer by moving magnets, or writing on post it notes – some of the questions were hard to answer, or didn’t really have an answer – but it made us all think of the world in a little different way.

There was also this weird space with shapes and another with a computer screen floor – anyways – I was kind of mentally exhausted after this. It felt like 2 full days and we hadn’t even eaten lunch yet!

Day 7:

This was our off day and Dr. Connie took it off too (thank you David). I went to the hot springs (Oedo-Onsen Monogatari for 10 hours and got 1 of every treatment on the menu – and there was an outside part and it was lightly raining and it was amazing –

The guys went to Mount Fuji – by bus, by bullet train, by metro and they loved it – it even snowed at the top! They saw cherry blossoms and had a snow ball fight and I think enjoyed it for so many reasons.

Emiratis on Mount Fuji!

Day 8:

A visit to the Tokai University  and a campus tour was our main activity on Day 8 – it was a bit of a drive, but it was beautiful and as we drove south the cherry blossoms were more and more evident –

The University is very interesting and focused on research – the highlight was visiting the workshop/lab of the solar powered car that had just won a race and were crowned the fastest solar-powered car in the world!

Of course I asked lots of questions – and the shy guy that was hanging back mentioned he had worked on the battery – I asked him if he was a Master’s student or a PhD student – uhm, no – a Bachelor’s student – Wow! But there is a professor who runs the workshop who is dedicated and passionate and has a lot of corporate sponsors! The place was full of students working and interacting.

Photo of team from Tokai website

On the way back the guys might have mentioned that they wanted “normal” food – and so the amazing guide and host from the embassy, Ms. Sumiyo Shinagawa – called the only Iranian restaurant in Tokyo and asked them to stay open for a late lunch for us – and they did J Now don’t get all “they should have tried Japanese food” – they did – and some came to like it, but some didn’t. And that is OK – these trips aren’t about immersion, they are about learning and sharing and seeing things done in different ways – but we can still like our way best!

Day 9:

We all had felt like we had been in Tokyo for a month – and many of us wanted to stay longer J There was so much more to see and do and buy – We knew how to get from point A to point B using the maps – quite a few of them had picked up expressions (and one of the group modified their first memorised greeting – which turned out the mean “Hello, how are you – shut up!”), and we knew how to navigate and how things worked.

On this last day we went to the Panasonic Innovation Centre – which has a “house” with all the sustainable products that Panasonic sells – as an innovation freak I loved it – and the guys loved it too – and I loved their questions, which were smart, intuitive and just plain “have you thought of this” – especially when it came to solar panel testing in a sandy, dusty, HOT environment like the UAE.

That evening Mr. Hasan and his lovely wife took us to dinner with our GCC-Japan volunteers turned friends and they presented us with keepsakes of Japan. I know that Emiratis have a reputation (well deserved) for hospitality and generosity – but the Japanese we met were as generous and as hospitable as the people here. Maybe that is one of the reasons there seems to be an affinity for so many things Japanese on the part of many Emiratis – especially with Manga.

Day 10:

Departure – what can I say. While we missed home, I think we were all a little sad to leave. I think we really learned things as individuals and as a group – they had worked soooooo hard in the organising to get there and then the organising each day and the minor conflicts and the hiccups and all that – but they handled it all.

In the rain!

There are so many people to thank – and I think I have thanked them all in the three parts – but of course this would not have been possible without our sponsor. ADNOC Distribution contributed to the development of each of these students, as leaders, as thinkers and as (en’shallah) future entrepreneurs, who will see Japan as a market for high quality, unique goods – things I know my students will develop through their future endeavors!

Now, where to go next??????????


ZU Men's Business Association trip to Japan - Emirati planning in action (Part 2)

Sorry for the delay between Part 1 and Part 2 – Jordan, end of semester, big report corrections due, a hair catastrophe – and almost a month passed!

I will start where I left off in Part 1. Through the force of will and the strength of Emiratis in getting things done when things need to get done, we are at the airport.

Oops – I should say I am at the airport, at the arranged time – and super nervous (I really don’t like to fly) and then they start arriving – in Western clothes! I didn’t recognise my own students and it was just so weird to see them in jeans and sweats (!) and Crocs (yeah a former Canadian/Quebec City company started by a husband and wife entrepreneur team!) and hair! (Sorry for the explanation marks, but really, it was weird to see them dressed in Western clothes).

So, finally, everyone arrives – and the fun begins with the line to check in. Some have brought a lot of luggage (I will not name names, but we all know who I am talking about) – and some less – so we check in together and combined the luggage – and then on the way to the gate – and the plane (gulp).

Day 1:

The plane ride had many funny moments and we landed in Tokyo a bit tired to be greeted by the Embassy people and two vans to take us to the hotel. Yeah students and Embassy officials for making our trip so hassle free. Truly, if you want an event or a trip organised well – get an Emirati to do it!
That day was just relaxing and that evening I may have forced everyone to try Japanese food – maybe not my wisest decision – but they tried the noodles and I heard found an Indian place after to actually eat a meal!

Day 2:

On Friday we woke up early to go to the Islamic Institute for Friday prayers and a presentation of the Institute. The  boys dressed in their kandoras and warm jackets and everyone was in high spirits. After prayers was a very interesting presentation about the Institute – they are there to build an understanding about Islam in Japan and also have many classes for Arabic language training. I was given the name Ayesha by the imam there and it was really a great experience for all of us.

At the Islamic Centre after Friday prayers
After the presentation we explored the city a bit and tried to understand the subway systems – a bit of a challenge, but again the boys did better than I did and were excellent about just asking for help (and the Japanese were excellent about giving help, or finding someone who speaks English to help).
I think the most striking thing the first day was how clean everything was, how polite Japanese people are and how absolutely organised everything is. We also discovered the vending machines with warm karak and coke and water and cold green tea (YUM) – and the corner store with the gigantic apples and weird snack foods and getting change back with lots of coins!

Asakusa, Japan
Day 3 & 4

We spent the weekend exploring temples, cultural sites and shopping (Ginza anyone?) with our wonderful, amazing, kind guides from the GCC-Japan Club. They are a group of university students from various universities around the Tokyo region with a shared interest in the GCC – many have visited the UAE and even know Arabic. The students were volunteers and really made our trip a cultural exchange – and extra rewarding in so many ways. I know none of us can wait to return the favour of their wonderful hospitality.

Enjoying the rain!

Day 5

Today was a very big day. Everyone had bought suits and we went to the UAE Embassy to meet with the Ambassador, H.E. Mr. Saeed Ali Alnowais. He shared his years of experience with us as he has been an Ambassador and diplomat for many years. One of the students (also featured in the Poetry blog posts) wrote a poem for the Ambassador to thank him for his generous hosting of us and it impressed everyone present. The students asked questions about trade with Japan, his experiences as a diplomat and any advice he could offer them if they wanted to study in Japan to learn Japanese. After the official meeting with the students (who looked very handsome in their suits) His Excellency’s cook had prepared an Emirati lunch for us. To say the boys were happy to eat “normal” food would be an understatement!

There was a reporter for WAM there and we were featured the next day in the official news outlet for the UAE! (WAM story in Arabic) It was very exciting for all of us and a wonderful visit to mark the half-way point in our trip.

OK- the rest will be said in Part 3 – I don’t want to bore you all writing too much at one time!


Stereotypes can be deceiving: Charity event posters

I guess I am not your typical professor - but that is fine with me. For the charity event "final report" I asked each team to make a poster. If you are asking what charity evet, well then you are not a regular reader of my blog. The group project this semester was to organise a charity event (on campus) - using the following guidelines:
  1. Establish a vision (e.g. raise money for charity through...)
  2. Plan (what, when, where, how, why, who, etc.)
  3. Organise (who does what, get permissions, get collaboration from Charif, Joy and facilities (thank you as always guys), etc.)
  4. Lead (motivate customers, make sure event funs smoothly, set-up, clean-up, etc.)
  5. Control (feed back loop, how much money was raised, problems encountered, reaction of customers, lessons learned, etc.)
Yes, I take a process view of management - I understand that people are the most important aspect and the number one resource of any organisation - but people are complicated and processes are more manageable (yes, I was a member of CIRRELT for 8 years and processes and networks are my friend!)

So, the events the students did were awesome, of course I missed most of them because I was in Jordan for the paper development workshop (and yes, like any good students they made me feel SUPER guilty I was not there for the events).

Some of the events (and if I forget one or two add it in comments):
  1. Soccer Play Station (blogged it);
  2. Extreme Fighter Play Station;
  3. Pie in the face (blogged it);
  4. Selling traditional good cooked by Moms (ate too much);
  5. Honey coffee (traditional food and drinks);
  6. Some ball throwing thing with velcro (sounds like it was fun);
  7. Pizza tasting (also a marketing event for one of the student's fathers company who has just introduced new frozen pizza to the market - heard from my sources they were very organised);
  8. Other events (sorry I am not mentioning all of them)
The money raised will go to charity - no, I don't take it - they have to. And the students decide who it goes to (Dubai Cares, workers on the road cleaning the streets, Red Crescent, etc.). In all they raised thousands of dirhams and livened up the male campus for a few weeks.

But the posters... In academia we make posters, I have always spent a lot of time on mine (with TONS of help from friends back at Université Laval). I put them in the hallway to show what I was working on - here is the one I presented at the Academy of Management in 2008 (where I was hired for Zayed University).

I decided on posters because I want people/visitors to see the interesting things the students are up to and for the students to stretch themselves creatively - and posters are fun and make wonderful memories for me and all the people who help make the events a reality.

So, as I work at home I get a tweet that an art gallery of the posters is up on display on campus :) Yeah! Thanks Paul and David!!!!!

Here are a few of them (thank you Khalifa for tweeting the photos to me):


The Strategy of Poetry in the UAE: Another Awesome Project by my Strategy Boys

I have already blogged about poetry – Arabic poetry – and how it is a useful tool to teach management to students here in the UAE. Really though, it is ideal to teach strategy (I just wish I knew Arabic to understand the words, not just the meaning. I am kind of lazy and only learn languages when I have no choice, and here English is really used everywhere).

So this blogpost (and I was warned by a student that I seem to be addicted to blogging now, and I think he might be right!) is about poetry and strategy and the event my full-semester strategy class organised (BUS-402-901 Spring 2012).

From their project report I know that Arabic poetry has a huge impact in the Arab world. I kind of relate it to the troubadours of old – poetry was about love and history and battles and was used to inspire, teach, woo, and thank.

Now Arabic poetry is complicated, and there are two main kinds – rhyming and prose – but rhyming is used more. Rhyming poems have measures or “seas” and there can be 15 (The Science of Arood) or 16, of course this reminds me of sonnets in English. But yeah, we remember learning about sonnets and meters and things like that in English Literature classes – but Strategy class? Huh?

Well – in the Gulf especially poetry is all about strategy. I am blessed to have had many poets in my classes (both male and female) – and they write poems about their families, love, friendship, loyalty and they also write poems for special events and to thank an important person.

Many events here begin with a poem – and there are many famous poems throughout the history of the UAE and many of the leaders here are also very accomplished poets. Poetry is more than the highest art form – it transcends art and literature and history – this is what I feel and what the students try to explain to me.

They have also explained that in the distant past, when tribes would have “issues” with one another, these issues could be mended through a poem – a delegate from one tribe would visit another with a poem of praise or “I am sorry, but I am a guy and can’t say sorry”. I am not making light of it, I think it is a way of expressing deep respect – and a way of resolving conflicts (or potential conflicts) without more conflicts. It was also used to send political messages and avenues for solution indirectly, with sophistication and – uhm, poetry.

In the past as well it was used to rally the troupes in periods of wars and battles. I am also told that poetry has been used to court women so that they will marry the poet (or person who paid a poet to write the poem) and I am assured it works most of the time!

So, now the event. I have some very talented poets in class as I mentioned and they organised an event (and wrote poems themselves for the event) to recite the different types of poems and explain a little how they can be used. Poems can be about love, make people happy or laugh and also about the military – to raise morale and increase patriotism. Poetry will always bring out a crowd and it did again this time. Again, I guess I have too much of my mother in me, but I enjoy just listening to them recite the poems and hear the audience reaction – that may sound weird to you, but really it is beautiful.

I wrote too much again! But below are photos of the poets and one of me greeting the Vice-President of the University – who came to ever single event the boys organised J Milles mercis!

Three poets left to right: Ahmed Al Mansoory, Ahmed Al Kendi and Mohamed Al Dhanhani

The fresh dates in front of Ahmed tasted so, so, so, so good!


Boys falling behind in the Gulf? Then let's ask those boys for some solutions!

Abu Dhabi and the UAE seem to be in the news a lot these past weeks in the New York Times - full disclosure, I love reading that newspaper and I even have a subscription (and I don't even get an academic discount!), it starts my day, gives me fuel when I need a break and is my bedtime reading. I understand their biases - and they annoy me - but they are like a friend we love because they admit their weaknesses and don't really try to hide them.

But (big but here), they have a tendency to portray only one side of the story (and one that falls lockstep with those above mentioned biases). So, while it may be excellent reporting, it never really tells the complete story... and when it comes to telling a "story" that involves my students - my mother bear comes out and I just have to do something about it.

Sara Hamdan wrote an excellent article a few weeks ago about how there is an "attainment gap" of boys compared to girls in education in the Gulf (In the Gulf, Boys Falling Behind in School ). Some quick facts from the article, up to 25% of boys in the UAE don't graduate high school. When it come to university, a recent study demonstrates a 60 - 40 split in higher education in favour of girls in the UAE - a gap of 20%.  There are 20% more females in higher education than males, and 25% of all males don't graduate high school - kind of scary.

But then, the article quotes a few students - but mainly expat experts, who, if they are like many experts I hear from, have never really met an Emirati and certainly not a young Emirati male - or if they have you can count the number of young men they know on one hand. I must say I am blessed in knowing hundreds of young men and women here - and I know their opinion is not often solicited when devising solutions to their "problems".

But, I have the power of assignments and final exams. So, I gave my two classes of Introduction to Management (boys) the article by Ms. Hamdan and told them to prepare - they knew they would have to do something with it, but not what - by "magic" I asked them to use the organisational change process and pretend they were in charge of the UAE school system. What were the causes of the problems, what solution would they implement, how would they implement the solution(s), how would they measure results and finally what would they do to benchmark solutions.

As I was marking the exams in Abu Dhabi mall (5 hours marking and taking notes while watching happy families walk by), I sometimes laughed out loud and yes, a few tears of WOW escaped - I teach some very smart and insightful cookies!

Here are the results: I told them I would combine the results and blog them and they were all OK with it. I think they like the idea that someone, somewhere, might read the blog and actually listen to them (as all young people, they sometimes feel ignored). I feel like a catalyst, my involvement in the mixture makes the thoughts and ideas emerge, but they do the work (well, I do too, but I want you to understand these ideas are from THEM).

Five main themes of problems/solutions emerged:
  1. Too easy for boys to get a well-paid job in police, military and civil service without high school
  2. Parents need to become more involved in their children's (boys in particular) education
  3. Current teachers need to be trained to incorporate modern teaching methods
  4. Rewards for excellence and service to community need to be given for teachers and students
  5. Co-curricular and extra-curricular activities need to be provided to stimulate interest and allow students to explore new skills
Easy jobs, easy money

This was a major issue. The rewards for staying in school are not obvious (hard work, boring, giving up money and career advancement) since their brothers, cousins, friends could drop out of high school and be making extraordinary salaries. Their solution, make it mandatory for all civil servants (including police and military) to have high school education - no grandfathering (my word). In other words, provide adult education to those currently in positions without diplomas - in adult education centres.  As one student put it "It is not fair to our country to provide jobs without qualifications".

I know this is easier said than done, but these are their ideas about "tough love".

Passive parenting

Parents need to be more involved with their children's education - they need to be taught the value of education and how it is important in the future economy. At the moment some parents work harder to find their son a good job than a good education - harsh huh? Another student said that having a son dropout should be shameful for a family - really harsh... Others were more positive and said that parents and families need to be more involved in the education system, and they could be rewarded for their efforts (and fined if their son dropped out - yes tough love was all over these exams).

This quote from a student gave me those tears I was talking about earlier "The change must start separate from the organisational structure and be based in the very hearts of our communities, our homes". Smart huh?

Training teachers and more Canadians

Remember I talked about biases earlier? Well, I am Canadian and well I kind of never stop telling my students we need more Canadians and i love when they tell me their best teaches were Canadians - so they really mentioned we need more Canadians (but that finding is TOTALLY biased and based on the fact I am their awesome professor).

Teachers in public school were trained in the copy and paste methods - and don't really incorporate modern (e.g. after 1950) teaching methods. Tough love was evident again (get rid of them some said), but most said - train them in new methods of instruction. Reward them for using the new methods - and weed out the bad ones. Let administrators in schools be leaders and lead the change needed in their respective schools - force teachers to focus on thinking, not copying. High school is about teaching students how to learn (my Mom always said that was the purpose of school when I said I wasn't learning anything with my low-intelligent teachers).

Motivate and inspire through rewards and activities

We work harder when there are possible awards for our efforts. Yes, this is management theory, but more than that it is common sense. Reward students with field trips abroad, have mentoring programs so students know about different careers in real life not from movies. Reward good teachers and good teaching practices, reward good students, provide scholarships and bursaries - not just for grades, but community engagement. Maybe 8 am is too early to start (AGREE) - maybe there should be physical activity everyday (AGREE) - maybe there should be more electives and projects and competitions and fun (AGREE). Maybe students should know that they can reach the stars if they work hard, apply themselves and stay in school.

Finally, one student said we can't forget our Islamic traditions and our culture - we need more Emirati teachers and if we don't have them, we need to involve community members and our families in the learning process. He is absolutely right.

Now, will all these ideas work - maybe not... will they start a debate, hopefully. Will they start academically led and grounded (I think we have had enough consultants) research into the problem (yes Mariam, I am looking straight at you!) - well, it will happen anyways!

The gender gap is real, boys are being left behind and there are real social problems that impact families everyday. Divorce is skyrocketing - the education gap has to be part of the causes. Men in their 20s know they need a high school diploma, but don't always know where to turn - this causes STRESS! There are so many others, and many were mentioned in Ms. Sara's article - but really, the future isn't bleak - just ask my students, they will tell you what needs to be done!

Smile and courage, Dr. Connie (this post needed a smile and courage at the end)


African Solutions for African Problems

This was first published in the C2C online journal three years ago. The link to the original article is here: C2C article. I am posting it because one, the reflection is still valid and two, I want to make a case for ignoring the "experts" for awhile and asking the educatied people living and dealing with the problems we need a lot of policy to solve.

Canadian foreign policy in Africa, as a reflection of G8 foreign policy, is directed towards achieving sustainable growth and eliminating poverty. These goals are laudable, although billions of dollars spent in aid over the past few decades have done little to achieve this. In an attempt to reverse these sub-par returns in well-intentioned aid, or at least to gain some popularity with music-lovers, G8 leaders have turned to Bob Geldof and Bono, for advice. Incredibly, these two musicians appear to have a great impact on G8, and thus, Canadian policy-making and action. Yet, from outside policy-making circles looking in, these two men appear to have accomplished little but to create a new business model for concert promoters.

Has celebrity culture become so inexorable that our leaders automatically turn to rock stars instead of experts for advice on everything from the environment to African development? Does this seem logical? Won’t this just continue the trend of failure of western aid? The question we must now ask ourselves is why these “non-experts” seem to have such a large impact on the foreign policy making of G8 countries. The answer, while complex, might have something to do with the process of policy making rather than any particular policy in itself.

Many researchers in policy making and policy evaluation today consider that the process of policy creation or evaluation is almost as important as the end result. (This is similar to the debate on whether the journey is more important than the destination.) The process of policy making is divided into phases. The number of phases varies from five to seven, but the general idea behind the process is relatively similar from one researcher to another. The borders or distinctions between these phases are admittedly fuzzy in parts, but there is one aspect commonly held by all. The phases of policy are marked by concrete actions of government. Simple propositions or ideas put forward by politicians are not regarded as part of the process.

The first phase is agenda setting. This phase includes problem identification and agenda preparations (deciding whether to address the problem or not with policy) and usually involves the creation of a list of the problems that the government wishes to tackle. Once the problems have been identified, the formulation phase follows. This involves identifying the stakeholders that need to be or should be included and consulted with. Attention also needs to be paid to the other important aspects surrounding the future policy, such as geography, bureaucratic structure and physical and technological infrastructure. This is followed by the actual setting or writing of the policy.

Adoption, the third phase of the process, is first a decision (which is also regarded as a process by many) of choosing the “best” policy to implement and then deciding on the best means and tools to use to implement it. Should the process be “top down” or “bottom up”? Do local resources suffice, or does successful implementation of the policy require outside aid and support? Of course, this also involves the stakeholders consulted in the adoption phase. The “mise en oeuvre” phase is the actual implementation or operationalisation of the policy. Cheques are sent, schools are built, trade barriers fall, etc. All the decisions and plans previously made in the process become action.

Finally, the policy is assessed in the evaluation phase. There is much debate as to the best ways in which to evaluate a particular policy. There is also a debate whether quantitative or “factual” observations, such as cost, should have more weight than qualitative or “opinion-based” observations, such as improved quality of life. Or should it be a mix of the two? A popular method used for evaluation is to measure the impacts of the implemented policy, such as how many people were fed, how were trade volumes increased. These impacts, whether intended or otherwise, can be judged and measured against the costs of the program. Another method is to compare the desired outcome with the actual outcome.

An important aspect in all these phases is the role of stakeholders, how they influence agenda setting and policy formulation. How stakeholders are consulted in the adoption phase will influence the methods used to implement the policy. Will it be better to build a school, or train teachers? The “mise en oeuvre” of the policy should involve those effected as should the evaluation phase.

This brings us back to the role played by Bono and Bob Geldof. At times it feels like we are in an alternate universe. While rock stars are asked for advice, African voices are not given a chance to speak, and worse, are simply ignored.

This essay attempts to remedy this situation and give a voice to Africans; highly educated Africans, who just happen to have advanced business degrees from Canadian universities. It seems like common sense, but it is also backed up by researchers in the field of policy making. The opinions and advice of stakeholders has to be taken into consideration. Africans are the greatest stakeholder in this situation. They have lived and worked and dreamed about a better life for themselves, their families and countries. Since the G8 is not knocking on their doors or sending engraved invitations these professionals need another outlet for their valuable opinions.

An email was sent to five African post-graduate and post-doctoral business students at the Université Laval. In it, they were asked to list four or five problems that contribute to the current situation in Africa. They were also asked whether it was trade or aid from Western democracies, which would best help alleviate poverty in Africa.

Their responses came back fast and furious. They spoke about corruption, aid-supported trade, the role of western governments and the role of nongovernmental organisations. They wrote about million dollar elementary schools with no books or teachers to teach in them and “basic training” courses given to former university professors. They mentioned the layers of bureaucracy for citizens to begin their own businesses and foreign-based companies treating their countries as sources of cheap uneducated labour, when at times the African workforce is more highly educated than our own. They also wrote of little documented success stories, such as a ten-fold increase in the number of universities in Rwanda since the atrocities and literacy rates in some countries that rival (and even better) those of some of our provinces.

Their ideas for improvements were not radical. They were rather pragmatic, not unlike the type of proposals we are used to hearing. They know what is needed, from both experience and education, and yet they have been left voiceless by well-meaning westerns wanting to solve the problems of Africans. Ultimately, they believed that the problems of Africa need to be solved by Africans. Yes, these countries will need support from the west… but not necessarily in the ways we are used to.
One woman and four men were questioned. Two are Tunisian, one Moroccan, one Rwandan and one is from Cameroon. They are experts in international business, innovation diffusion, micro-credit, and industrial engineering. They have international experience in Africa, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Two are currently pursuing their doctoral studies; the other three have their PhDs but were unable to find work in Canada and are currently employed in Tunisia, Cameroon and the United States. They range in age from early twenties to their late forties. Their work experience ranges from minimal, to years of business ownership and entrepreneurship. Yet even with this wide diversity of experience and country of origin they had similar ideas concerning the problems of Africa and the best avenues for real solutions.

After translating and synthesising the replies of these experts, five main themes emerged. The first was to tie Western aid (and trade) with improved democracy and transparency. Second, western based trade barriers should be removed to support free-trade, especially in the agriculture sector. Thirdly, was a call on the international community to incite African governments to support the economic integration of the continent in a first phase and with the West (and increasingly the East) in a second. Fourth, they wrote that western “aid” should come in the form of supporting small and medium-scale private initiatives to increase educational, business and human networks. These networks will act to encourage knowledge and technology transfer within the continent and with the exterior. Last, secondary and post-secondary education needs to be encouraged and supported. This knowledge and technology will then be used to encourage creativity and innovation and ultimately create jobs in Africa, which in turn will be the only meaningful and lasting way to alleviate poverty and hunger.

Tie Western aid and trade with improvements in democracy and transparency

Everyone surveyed mentioned the problem of corruption. They know that much foreign assistance is redirected into numbered accounts in the West and the money is used to support extravagant lifestyles of avowed Marxists, rather than the economy or the general population. One of the experts wrote (translation), “Without good governance, the aid and trade given and supported with the best philanthropic intentions of western nations will be in vain.” They suggested that to avoid this problem aid and trade-assistance should not be handed “no-strings-attached” to dubiously elected officials.

According to Transparency International’s ( “Corruption Perception Index 2006”, where 10 indicates the appearance of no corruption and 0 indicating the perception of rampant corruption, African nations fill the bottom of the list. Finland tops the list at 9.6, Canada is 14th at 8.5 and the top African country is Botswana at 5.6. Most African countries have scores between 2 and 3. Guinea, the lowest-ranked African country at 1.9, is just one rank above the lowest ranked country, Haiti at 1.8.

To encourage more transparency, they suggested that aid should be monitored by the countries or organisations donating assistance. In the language of policy making, the impacts of donations need to be evaluated to ensure that resources are used to obtain the desired results. Furthermore, it was suggested that aid should be tied to increased democracy, the creation of democratic institutions and the active participation in regional and global trade organisations and treaties.
Improvements in transparency and democracy would need to be monitored by global organisations through a system of measures and benchmarks that will allow for comparison and targeted improvements. This would also need to be accompanied through strong encouragement by Western nations and international organisations to increase the democratic nature of political systems and the business environment.

Remove trade barriers to African goods and end Western farm subsidies

Agriculture is heavily subsidised by Northern countries. However, agriculture is a natural source of wealth and job creation (and at the same time alleviate dependency on western crops) for almost the entire continent. If my ancestors arrived at farming wheat on the prairies of Canada at the turn of the century, then Africans can farm in the Sub-Sahara. According to the UN agriculture supports 70% of the workforce. Yet, these workers and their organisations need a ready and accessible market for their crops. An increased market potential will also encourage African-produced agricultural innovations as farmers will be encouraged to become more organised and efficient. The West can provide this market and the training for people to invent and innovate given their local conditions.

An expert wrote quite simply, “Stop subsidizing agriculture in developed countries and lift barriers to the entry of African products.” We hear the importance of this in the media all the time. Western politicians pledge to do this, yet as was mentioned earlier, pledges and pronunciations do not equal policy. Real effort will need to be made in this area to ensure that free-trade is not just talked about, but implemented as policy as well.

Aid, given in the form of Western grown agricultural products, also increases the dependency of African nations on foreign food stuffs. In this instance, the opinion of the experts was universal; trade needs to replace aid in agriculture. This also includes encouraging trade between countries in Africa.

Support economic integration of the continent

Economic integration of the continent will be important for any African based solution to end poverty. People and countries will be able to feed themselves and deliver aid where it is needed when there is job creation and healthy, thriving economies. A barrier to this is the strong tribal influence that is evident throughout much of the continent. While these influences will never disappear, its negative impact can be lessened with incentives for tribes to cooperate and collaborate. An expert wrote, “Gear foreign aid and trade towards promotion of democratic systems and economic integration. African Union should get support as en entity. Regional organizations should be preferred to small and less viable economic countries.” Again, let Africans themselves have a say in possible solutions. Without their support, no policy can be successfully implemented.

Moreover, as the informal or underground economy is so large in these countries, it creates instable and fragile economies. Western help is also needed in creating the financial and judicial infrastructure necessary to support local and trans-African business. Trade barriers between countries need to be removed (again, use incentives if necessary). These infrastructures will be needed to assist economic integration with the rest of the world. In a global economy, Africa will also need to integrate its economy with the West and increasingly the East.

A policy that supports integration will require the proper infrastructure, specific means and tools with which to implement this. Even though action is needed, consultation and planning is required so that monies and efforts are not expended fruitlessly.

Support trans-continental networks

As the experts are all in business studies they all mentioned that support for local business initiatives was vital. This included support for Western small and medium sized enterprises to enter into joint ventures with small and medium sized enterprises in Africa. This would support technology and knowledge transfer and in turn create jobs in both the North and the South.

The experts mentioned that there are many Africans with education (including many with MBAs from Western universities) and drive, but that internationally sponsored programs are not there to support their initiatives. Or, if the programs are there they are not targeted at the people with the capacity to do something with the funds and opportunities that are provided.

Increasingly, healthy and diverse networks are regarded as key to sustainable innovation and growth in nations and industries. Networks are made up of both strong ties, such as between a customer and supplier, and weak ties, such as between members of the same business organisation. Diversity in the biotechnology network, as been cited as one of the reasons why there is a seemingly unending supply of innovative ideas and medical breakthroughs. The formal and informal networks in this industry include universities, start-ups, established pharmaceutical companies and suppliers.

Western “aid” should come in the form of supporting small and medium-scale initiatives to increase educational, business and human networks to encourage knowledge and technology transfer and create jobs in Africa. As one expert wrote, “Foreign aid portion devoted to trade should be increased to let African entrepreneurs gain more knowledge of developed markets, penetrate them, thus creating employment at home.”

Support secondary and post-secondary education

Of course, as the consulted experts have invested much time and effort into their education, this was an especially important aspect for them. For example, one expert wrote that, “Funds devoted to higher education should be increased especially in technology, economics and business to create a knowledge-based economy in Africa. For the last decades, donors including the World Bank have been funding primary schools.” Another wrote that, the education system in Africa in need of repair, and that Western support would be very valuable in this area.

Some concrete solutions on a more local level were also suggested. Funding agencies, such as the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, should encourage and support joint research projects between Canadian researchers and researchers from developing nations. Another suggestion was that Canadian universities should be encouraged to offer internet-based courses to developing countries.


As the global knowledge economy turns into an economy based on innovation and creativity, increased education, coupled with practical experience, will go a long way in the creation of African based solutions for African problems. If there are not people trained in these countries to create the infrastructures and business environment necessary to implement Western policies then provide the necessary economic and business education. Offer full scholarships to Western universities on a merit based system. Have this system run by Western organisations so that the best and the brightest have a chance to learn and bring back their knowledge to improve the economies and well-being of their fellow citizens.

If policy making is a process that involves stakeholders at the different phases, then it should be obvious when and how Africans can support of foreign policy making and implementation. In the words of one of the consulted experts, “Educated Africans living abroad should have a say in designing and implementing both foreign aid and trade policies. This potential remains untapped in terms of expertise.”

Returning to the question posed at the beginning of this essay. Why do non-experts appear to have such a large impact on the foreign policy making of G8 countries? Why, when there are thousands of Africans with education and experience ready with ideas concerning the problems (agenda setting), concerning the most appropriate stakeholders to include in the process (formulation), planning the best methods and tools to use and the ones that are missing (adoption), being there to oversee the implantation (mise en oeuvre), and finally developing unique ways in which to evaluate the impact of a given policy (evaluation).

The main theme that can be drawn from the experts was a need to create healthy mixed economies. Economies built on the savoir faire of the farmers coupled with the business knowledge and experience of western trained entrepreneurs. A democratic, transparent business, political and legal infrastructures will need to be built and strengthened. Here, Canada and the West can help through directed aid to encourage SME creation and human resources to help Africans establish free markets and democracies in their countries.

However, solutions will have to be developed and supported by Africans for Africans… much as the Prairie farmers did one hundred years ago when they came with farming know-how from Western Europe to develop the Prairies. Years of well intentioned, but misdirected aid has contributed to the current situation. Bono and Bob Geldof are only concerned with the short term. Policy should be concerned with the long term. So please, listen to Africans… they are the real experts. And create policies that help create business, encourage trade, build infrastructures, create networks, and educate. All of which will support the long-term creation of sustainable development and growth.


UAE Strategy Through Photographs: The Event

Part of the team and their honoured guest.
I have been a bit behind in blogging - but I got the final grades for this class in at least and will now blog their group-project/event. How I teach Strategy (well, how I teach everything) is to "force" students to look at the world around them in a different way. Analyse what they are seeing and how it reflects the strategy of a company (or country), the leadership goals of a manager or the "gap" between what is said and what is done.

I also want my students to learn the "theory" of management or strategy as it was been done here in the past (before oil and ex-pat managers if you will) to find if there was a different way/philosophy of doing things than the Western model we teach them from the textbooks. I want them to understand both the Western and the Traditional way of managing, leading, strategising and then find their own path.

I am thinking of writing a strategy handbook this summer about the stories we have learned about the past - that is if my summer ever starts :)

OK, back to this event that I missed being a super nerd in Jordan (which I blogged about and enjoyed so much it made me re-want to be a professor and researcher all over again). The students organised a photography event (first blogged about here First blogpost) to:
  1. Raise money for charity
  2. Show that the implementation of Abu Dhabi Plan 2030, UAE 2021 and the other Emirate's plans is happening all around us
  3. Learn about the challenges of organising a biggish event (especially when we have JBI running the show)
Each small group of students had specific tasks, and yes, there were challenges - they worked through them as a group. They made plans to show the photos on the girls' side too (thanks for the help as always Mariam) but the two day sale was such a success on the boy's side that they decided not to go ahead with it.

They sold a lot - and raised enough money to fund drilling three water wells in Sri Lanka (which is very fitting with all the talk of water in class). They used their own funds to print the photos up and donated the unsold photos to the university.

Here are some photos of the event. I hope you enjoy them and I hope you are beginning to realise that Emirati men (even the young ones) are not like their stereotype that is being propagated even into the New York Times. I will miss them of course, and hope to see them again in the future - and I hope to be invited to sit as the "academic nerd" on their Boards of Directors in a few years' time!
Day 1: already 7 sold in pre-sale

Special visitor Dr. Sulaimann the VP of Zayed University

The one with the blue line (Sheik Zayed Bridge) is in my bedroom!

Banner they had made


Stereotypes can be deceiving: Charity event "Pies and professors"

While I was away in Jordan my students completed their charity events - as soon as I get photos/reports I will begin posting them - some of them were clever and well received.... others were very messy (still clever) and required the very active participation of faculty in staff (in truth, without them the event would not have happened, so I think them dearly).
So, this group of three young men, Khalaf, Zayed and Mohammed Khalifa decided they wanted to do something fun for the event. They had thought of the water drop thing - but it turned out to be quite expensive - other things as well were not very practical - eventually the planning got around to whipped cream pies in the faces of professors and staff - and students bidding on them. Clever, non?

Then the real planning, getting the uhm, willing targets to agree to participate... a rather clever email was written (yes, I added a certain degree of refinement, but the clever part was all them) to likely uhm... well, you get the picture! Of course they agreed!

Then, "designing" the protective garment, see photo 1:
Dr. Kate O'Neill as wonderful professor, Khalaf with good aim and Zayed keeping a watchful eye

Then the warm up, major anticipation of Dr. Kate, and the resulting huge laughs!
Dr. Kate I can never thank you enough!

I can see Khalaf asking himself "what did we do?!"
OMGoodness, this looks like extreme fun!

ZU has awesome professors!

And staff! Thank you coach Charif (and special thanks for all the help you gave the guys while I was away and always!)
Then the resulting mess when one of the team members seems to be running away!

Zayed get back here and clean up!

I guess they did end up capturing him to clean up :)
Zayed doing his part of the clean-up
Don't worry, the cleaners were compensated for the extra mess and the students pitched in (I know some people always want to think the worst of them). It was a fun event, raised money and created a sense of community on the guy's campus - I saw the photos from Jordan on twitter and I so regretted missing this (and the many other events that went on last week) - but as a proud professor I knew they didn't need me to have a great success (sniff, sniff). They did what all professors want their students to do - took lessons and structures learned in class and applied them to great success - in this case to raise money for charity in a super fun way.

Bravo les gars!

P.S A HUGE thank you for Dr. Kate and Charif - no fun/learning would happen at ZU without the professors guiding and the staff giving their assistance (not doing for the students, assisting) - sometimes I think this may be forgotten - but that discussion does not belong here I know!

Smile and courage and more photo filled non-nerd blog posts to come!


IDRC paper development workshop or "Nerds at work to find solutions for some big problems" Day 5

Before I begin the last blog post (which is a little late I know) I want to thank the tireless coordinator, cheerleader and “research guide” Thomas Schott – he was the first to arrive and the last to leave – gave extra hours in the evening to ensure those of us who wanted to learn how to use Amos had the knowledge we needed to continue at home. Of course I use we in the sense of the group – I corrected an entire thesis once that used structural equation modelling, and so really had to understand it to make the right English edits, and that was enough for this lifetime J So that you Thomas for your efforts, your kind nature and your undying enthusiasm for the GEM project, MENA and your quest to be part of the bigger process of gaining understanding about entrepreneurship and the role of networks in this most important phenomenon.

We started the last day as we also did, with a group presentation (this time group 8 of 8) of their paper and preliminary results and then a discussion of the entire group with questions, recommendations and one or two nerd fights (which always ended with laughs and very good humour). Group 8 presented the role of networks on job growth – well the perception on the part of the entrepreneur on how many jobs he or she expects to create. Of course networks has an impact on this…

An entrepreneur’s network can roughly be defined as his or her “social capital” – which I tell students is like self-earned “wasta”. I came to the UAE almost three years ago knowing no one – and now I know a lot of people, in different industries and walks of life – through attending community events, volunteering, work, students, friends, etc. I have built my network which I use to learn about the environment in which I live and work – entrepreneurs do the same thing.

Back to the role of networks in expected job growth – use of professional (colleagues, etc.) and international (people living abroad or from abroad) seem to positively impact an entrepreneur’s expectation of job growth – why is another question and the team will work on that in the next while (manuscript due in September 2012!).

We also talked as a group about policy recommendations and how best to make them. Remember, we are all working on our respective GEM 2011 reports – these were the team leaders and members who attended the workshop – and our “sponsors” want/expect/need policy recommendations. One senior team leader reminded us that to write good policy we have to think like policy makers – what is the strategy, what is the vision, what is possible, what doesn’t cost an arm and a leg (ok, he didn’t mention the last item, but I know it is true in the MENA region especially).

We then did more spss training and I might have answered some student email while this was going on J

After our final delicious lunch (darn you Jordan and your excellent food, I gained weight last week!) each team presented a road map towards article completion in September. This represents our “contract” amongst the team members and with the larger group (and IDRC who funded this project). Because we need to publish our papers or it would be like we sang into the wind, it may be the most beautiful song every sung – but if it is not recorded it will have a very limited impact (e.g. none) on the world.

It was really nice that two of the people who mentioned on day 1 their lack of confidence in their English speaking skills, spoke for their groups. Smile and courage in action! It made me happy that the environment of the group and its positive atmosphere had allowed their confidence to grow …

Second to last we talked about forming a task force – made up of MENA researchers working in the MENA region on the subject of research into entrepreneurship. I hope something comes of it – but of course sustaining any taskforce requires funds – funds we lack. We will see though J And of course I will keep you all updated through this blog.

This was an amazing experience for me as a young professor (OK, not so young in age, but young in career) and I know that we all benefitted from it. It would be wonderful to repeat it – with PhD students and not necessarily on entrepreneurs’ networks, but on research in entrepreneurship in the MENA region. We need more understanding of it – we really do. On the last evening we went for coffee on a very nice street downtown and we saw a small scuffle of local teenagers (or young men) – of course I thought they wouldn’t be doing this if they were busy doing something else – but they might not feel prepared or able to do anything else – why? What can we do to help? What skills are they lacking? How can we best motivate them? What industries interest them most? See, there are way more questions than hours in a day – that is why we need to work together to come up with some understanding based on sound scientific research – kind of like building our house on stone and not sand.

I will keep you updated with paper links as they happen – and if you would like to donate money to start the task force I will put you in touch with the right people J 

P.S. - Thank you Nadia and the IDRC - without your funding and efforts this would not have happened - thank you for setting an example of what rich countries need to do to create sustainable solutions for the great challenges the MENA region faces.


IDRC paper development workshop or "Nerds at work to find solutions for some big problems" Day 4

Second to last day and still no photos, sorry ... maybe I will ask someone to send me one of the dozen or so group photos we took last night!

I have forgotten to mention something that I actually tweeted - we are doing a lot of SPSS training (sigh) but it provides very good opportunities for nerd jokes (and yes, it is a great way to make the most of the rich and wonderful data we have and it is one of the best ways we have to test theory, test hypotheses and maybe even start to build some theory for the MENA region). OK, back to the nerd jokes, which are funnier than you may think (and really this is such a funny group, I laugh so much (maybe to hide the pain of SPSS).

OK, the joke already - in statistics things are "significant" when the relationship between the variables means that something is there and not just by chance or randomness (don't think that is a word, but you know what I mean). BUT - relevance means researchers should care about it - or it is interesting (e.g. UAE is a smaller country than Saudi Arabia) - so, kind of a running joke is about things being "significant, but not relevant". Hmmmmmm - ok, maybe you have to be there to get it, but really, in context and in that room sitting around that big table it is super funny!

But, what did we discuss today - well in the morning it was the impact of networking on the innovativeness of entrepreneurs - e.g do they offer products and services that others don't, that are new to the market, etc. By the way - UAE is tops on innovativeness for MENA countries... but really, it has more to do with the fact that we have more opportunity driven entrepreneurship than necessity driven entrepreneurship (no one needs to start a business to eat in the UAE, we are very very lucky that way). And still with all that, when compared with the rest of the world, the UAE is kind of low ...

The literature tells us that networks support innovation, because we have access to more information and therefore should be better informed of what is going on in the market and have more opportunities to hear about or see opportunities... but how are networks good and how could governments and NGOs working in the region support these networks.

Not surprisingly, when entrepreneurs mainly seek out advice with their family or close network - innovation is not often a result. Not surprising, our family and friends mainly (unless they live overseas or something) see and hear what we see and hear - so no really "new" or "novel" information.

I kind of had more moments of reflection today - because MENA entrepreneurs (in general) don't really take advantage of the "network" effect as much as other places - but why? Is it that the advice given by workplace, professional and market actors worse or of poorer quality than in other parts of the world - hmmmm, maybe.

Or, could it be that entrepreneurs in the region (in general) are not able to turn advice (or information) into knowledge or action because THEY do not have the necessary  education, skills or experience needed to turn information into knowledge into value (OK - my PhD thesis might have been on a very similar theme, but I think I am right).

But - good news, governments can more easily improve the skills of entrepreneurs than the professional, banking and regulatory system in their countries!

One last aside for this shorter than normal blogpost (I am super tired) - when we talk about MENA, we really cannot ignore God - most of the residents and entrepreneurs are Muslim and practising - and I think an understanding of that (especially for non - Muslim researchers like myself) is important for understanding the phenomenon of entrepreneurship.

Now, this was a private discussion and not in any way part of the official agenda for the meeting (said to reassure my secular Canadian readers), but this is my blog, so I will let you know about it!

We talked about the role that God plays in life, many in the West seem to believe that Muslims believe that God dictates all, but not exactly. We realised that we all (in the mini-discussion) come from traditions where we say that God helps those who help themselves – I think in the MENA region we can’t ignore God and religion in any phenomenon.

Finally, another last thing (reread my notes and realised I wanted to talk about this). Innovativeness is most linked (in a significant way) to the existence of an international network. In other words, the use of international networks has a significant and relevant affect on the innovativeness of entrepreneurial firms and the goods and services they offer. We tested this with the data a couple of ways, first we used a complex model, which was the same result of the simpler model and reflected the observations I have made through interviews and contacts with entrepreneurs in the UAE (and Dr. Victor had the same observation).

So, we may use many different methods to arrive at the same understanding - sometimes in research all roads do seem to lead to Rome.

À demain!


IDRC paper development workshop or "Nerds at work to find solutions for some big problems" Day 3

Wow! Only day 3, it feels like we have been here much longer and that I have known these funny and intelligent people for a few years, not a few days.

I am going to start back to front - the end of the day to the beginning. We went for the big dinner tonight, and again, it was another totally delicious meal. It was a traditional restaurant (of course I can't remember the name and I didn't pick up a match-box (sorry Mom) even - so maybe someone will write it in comments) and it was so good. First the mezze, hot and cold and fresh bread (the hollow kind) with seaseme seeds on it. There was even ketchup, must have been there for Anglophones - but really is a sign of a well run place if you ask me! Then the grillades or grilled meat, then watermelon that was so tasty you could smell the goodness from the plate - then Turkish coffee - pain!

It was friendly meal, and the the ladies were sitting on the comfy bench against the wall - self-segregation I guess :) After this most amazing meal we all got back on the bus and went to a famous dessert place - the kind with cheese in it - well TWO kinds - and wow - I was supposed to be on a diet :) Impossible in Jordan!

I would like to say a quick word about the woman/company who organised our stay here. Professional, friendly, bright, hard-working (no I am not getting a kick-back for saying this!). Hadeel Hasan is the Deputy General Manager of TravelMasters and I strongly reccomend, if you have a trip or a confrence or an excursion to plan in Jordan, contact this woman!

It was another excellent work say though (ok, I woke up with a fever and was a bit low energy - everyone asked how I was though, which is beyond sweet). And we had time to work in our teams and I think we have the outline and the tests and the literature we need to include - and that is a relief really :)

We started the day talking about opportunity recognition and that really it is a process - one that the use of networks helps with - or could help with. We talked about the data and that while not perfect, is quite important - no one has this - and we are the best positioned to learn from it, obtain understanding and then recommend policies to help ellivate the crushing unemployment in parts of the MENA region.

I thinkthere are many great things about listening to other teams' presentations, first learning from these super smart people, most of them very senior, second, thinking of the data and our own research questions in a differnt light, and third, listening to the debate and the genuine desire of everyone to do the best job possible and find the most meaning possible with this data set.

I was also struck by two seperate ephipanies if you will (well, stuff I already knew, but I wrote it down this time so I would remember it).
  1. Scientists/researchers need definitions - we seem to feel naked without them. It is our first step in understanding, defining the problem, defining the terms - all to ensure that what we say is accurate, honest to the best of our knowledge and work - and not keeping within our boundaries.
  2. Science /research is not about making sweeping statements and generalisations - it is about understanding the small bit of the pie so that we can go on to the next - but the process gets easier - the second piece of the pie takes shorter to understand and the third, etc. But there are no simple answers...
The afternoon presentation was about the structure of firms and networks - or do networks have an impact on the number of owners, etc. They used a vareity of methods to present the data -