Youth Entrepreneurship in the UAE: Results of the GEM UAE 2011 Report

This post provides a condensed exert from the GEM UAE 2011 Report and is copyrighted material of the authors of the report. It can be downloaded here: UAE 2011 GEM Report

If you would like to quote the report or this blogpost please use the following details: 

Van Horne, C., Huang, V., and Al Awad, M. 2012. “UAE GEM Report 2011”, Zayed University, UAE

Youth are seen as the greatest potential resource in the Arab world, with 30% of the population between the ages of 15-24. However, unless these youth are able to find and sustain gainful employment this resource could turn into a drag on economic and social development, instead of the rich source of new ideas and energy. The UAE, in particular amongst the local Emirati population, has a large portion of its population under aged 20, and recent statistics indicate that there are high levels of unemployment amongst the young population, reaching 25%.

In the 2011 UAE GEM Report, the percentage of youth who expect to start a new venture in the next three years sharply declined from 2009. This mirrors the results of both the total adult population survey and the Emirati population (Table 1). The lowered intentions of youth to form new businesses should not be attributed to self-perceived business start-up skills, as the perception of their skills remains high and far exceed the levels seen in other innovation driven economies. There is a need to better engage the youth in new ways to better inspire a more entrepreneurial and innovative mindset as youth are a critical contributor to attaining sustainable economic development.

Expects to Start-up in the next 3 Years
Skills Perception

18-24 years
25-34 years
18-24 years
25-34 years

With government employment opportunities reaching saturation and low participation in the private sector, entrepreneurship opens up many possibilities for a dynamic and energetic part of the population.
It is highly critical therefore, to nurture entrepreneurial skills at an earlier stage by integrating entrepreneurship into the education system particularly at the primary and secondary levels.  Of course, this would require academic institutions to adopt the culture of innovation and entrepreneurship and qualify their teaching staff to better engage the youth in a meaningful way as they strive to prepare a new generation of entrepreneurial leaders.

It is hard to envision a prosperous and dynamic entrepreneurship ecosystem without a strong education, training system that prepares UAE youth for productive and self-sufficient lives. Entrepreneurship and education cannot be separated as the essence of entrepreneurship comprised of skill-sets that could be learned and taught through education, the UAE government has actively supported several educational reforms, strategies, and models in the past five years.

Some of these initiatives translated into great success, for example, the Injaz-UAE connects corporate volunteers to mentor youth (ages 11-24) through its programs, which prepare students to enter the world of work and succeed through interactive, impactful and practical mentoring sessions. Volunteers undergo an orientation and training before they start their experience to enhance their mentoring sessions and readiness to inspire youth. To-date, INJAZ-UAE has reached 15,000 students since 2005, through 1,500 volunteers at 43 schools and universities - and growing.

Another important initiative of the UAE to support the development of youth is the newly launched Emirates Foundation for Youth Development, which aims to empower, inspire and guide the youth of the UAE.  Initiatives are focused on Social Inclusion, Leadership and Empowerment and Community Engagement. Most notably is the successful Takatof program which trains volunteers for community events and local institutions. This program trains and provides skills to young people to better prepare them for the future.

In the Emirate of Dubai, the Young Entrepreneur Competition is an annual initiative by the Mohammed Bin Rashid Establishment for Young Business Leaders and is targeted at young Emiratis who have a business idea and wish to develop it. The program runs over two months and allows young people to learn the basic skills of the entrepreneurial process and culminates with the young entrepreneurs selling their products in individual stalls setup in one of the leading malls, providing youth with hands on experience in an entrepreneurial endeavour.

There are also youth led initiatives such as The Zayed University Entrepreneur Club (ZUEC) – a true exemplar of a student-led entrepreneurship initiative, which was founded by students at Zayed University, with campuses in the Emirates of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, aimed at inspiring and stimulating interest in entrepreneurship among Emiratis youth. Officially launched in the fall of 2011 with support of Mubadala, an Abu Dhabi government investment company, the ZUEC provides a conduit by which students can access entrepreneurial tools & resources, network opportunities with community entrepreneurs, and chance to share ideas. The Entrepreneurship Club is dedicated to furthering understanding about new and small businesses.

At Abu Dhabi University, the Entrepreneurship Incubator has been set up with the aim is aimed at supporting innovation and growth for new businesses in the UAE. The University cooperates with Khalifa Fund, as well as public and private business sectors in order to develop a real enterprise culture across the university and to provide immediate support and encouragement to all those who are able to potentially create new businesses in the future. 

Other examples of university based entrepreneurship activities include: Khalifa University Etisalat BT Innovation center, and the American University of Sharjah’s Start-up weekend, and HCT.

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