The Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 – the emirate’s economic plan – has identified many short and long-term growth targets, but its ultimate vision is to produce a society that is confident in its growing role as a global economic centre. Abu Dhabi’s private sector has a key role to play in both meeting the targets and achieving the vision.
The government has done much to encourage private sector growth. Not only has it introduced business-friendly regulatory frameworks, it has invested heavily in transport, technological and social infrastructure such as schools, all of which contributes to a private sector-friendly environment.
It has also offered targeted help to specific sectors where it sees great potential for private sector growth – in aerospace, defence, energy and telecoms, for example. One model it has used successfully is funding the creation of national champions, which are then privatised once they have grown to a self-sufficient level. Telecoms company Etisalat and energy company TAQA are cases in point. Longer term, the government hopes these national champions will encourage entrepreneurial activity in their respective sectors.
This is where the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ADCCI) comes in. We, and our subsidiaries, seek to provide a bundle of services to businesses through their life cycle, from advice and consultancy on how to start a business, to legal services, to how to find an international business partner. The Chamber also represents the private sector in Abu Dhabi, lobbying on its behalf, expanding member opportunities and connecting businesses with each other.
However, any stimulus the government or ADCCI can provide for private sector growth can only go so far. We cannot build a private sector without workers and, in my personal view, cultural barriers stand in the way of this.
Younger Emiratis see working for the government as psychologically rewarding – they feel they are contributing to building the future of Abu Dhabi and the UAE. And while national champions in the private sector can offer larger salaries than government roles, the smaller private sector companies can’t always match these rewards. This will hopefully be less of a problem as the private sector expands and its constituent companies grow.
Working hours are another deterrent. Many think the private sector is more demanding on this front but this is often not the case.
What needs to be established is that jobs in the private sector can be equally rewarding.
ADCCI is working with large numbers of Emirati undergraduates to raise awareness about the private sector and position it as a realistic future career option. This part of our work is likely to grow in the future as the university experience is not just about academic learning, it is also about cultural learning – looking at how the country is changing and progressing with the growth of the private sector.
Nowadays, more Emiratis are approaching the big private sector players for work and we are seeing more and more entrepreneurs surfacing, but it will take time for these trends to grow and have a noticeable impact on Abu Dhabi’s economy.
With better education on the role the private sector has to play in the growth of Abu Dhabi and the UAE, any cultural barriers that exist should recede, enabling the private sector to move forward.