Abu Dhabi continues AED50 billion investment in business, people and innovation

Photo: WAM

From instant licences and incubators, to affordable school places and art springing up all over town, Abu Dhabi’s AED 50 billion (US$13.6 biillion) programme Ghadan 21 is accelerating Abu Dhabi’s development as a place where businesses, innovative ideas and diverse people can not only grow, but thrive.

Envisioned by His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Ghadan 21 was launched to support and deliver the transformation of the Emirate’s economy, knowledge ecosystem, and communities from 2019 to 2021.

Ghadan 21’s initiatives are designed to impact on two levels. First, on the local population, who will see their city transformed, transport overhauled, education systems improved and jobs created. Then, in a broader context, these programmes are a way of preparing Abu Dhabi’s economy and its workforce for the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution by accelerating its transition to a knowledge-based economy and strengthening its position as a global innovation hub.

Economy | Investing in Business

The increase in Abu Dhabi’s business confidence index by 3.4 points year-on-year (Q4 2018 – Q4 2019) demonstrates Ghadan 21’s impact in driving the Emirate’s sustainable development through creating opportunities and offering solutions to support the business community. It is also helping Abu Dhabi to address future transformation trends by investing in innovation and elevating the standards of living.

Mohammed Ali Al Shorafa Al Hammadi, Chairman of the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, elaborated on the rationale behind Ghadan 21, noting, "The private sector is a key partner in the economic development of Abu Dhabi, helping us via the Ghadan 21 programme to identify specific priority clusters and to showcase the immense advantages that Abu Dhabi has to offer for investors, entrepreneurs, researchers.

"Under Ghadan 21, the Abu Dhabi DED has launched a package of initiatives that are already empowering the private sector and reinforcing its already important role in our national economy, as well as strengthening the attractiveness of Abu Dhabi for launching the most innovative ideas that will position us for a data-driven, technology-enabled future."

"This year," Al Hammadi continued, "will see the launch of additional incentive schemes and deregulatory measures, which will streamline processes in our economic sectors and business environment even further and enhance Abu Dhabi’s position as an ideal place to do business."

A key part of the rollout of programmes under Ghadan 21 has been aimed at contributing to Abu Dhabi’s economic growth. As such, Abu Dhabi Investment Office, ADIO’s, mandate has been expanded to increase foreign direct investment to the emirate and provide guidance to investors.

"Making Abu Dhabi one of the best places in the world to invest and innovate is at the core of Ghadan 21’s mission and at the centre of ADIO’s mandate," says Dr. Tariq bin Hendi, ADIO Director-General. "Ghadan’s programme is helping ADIO to support businesses of all sizes establish, innovate and grow in Abu Dhabi."

Loosening the strictures around SMEs, including the introduction of instant business licences – which can be acquired online in a matter of hours – has given the private sector a significant boost, with the issuing of more than 7,400 Tajer licences to SMEs, such as online businesses and food trucks, allowing them to operate without the need for physical office space. There have also been dual licences issued to free zone companies (i.e. those established within Abu Dhabi’s free zones), allowing them to operate inland.

TruKKer – one of five start-ups that collectively are receiving investment from ADIO – is among the many small businesses that have sprung up in Abu Dhabi this year after benefiting from the introduction of several new types of business licence. The measures have been introduced as part of a series of economic initiatives designed to help spur private sector growth – which in turn feeds into a wider vision to accelerate Abu Dhabi’s development through Ghadan 21 over three years.

"It’s like the Uber of trucks," says entrepreneur Gaurav Biswas of his Abu Dhabi-based truck aggregator start-up TruKKer, which operates 18,000 trucks across the GCC and Jordan, connecting demand from the manufacturer with customers via its tech platform. "We got a licence quickly and easily through Abu Dhabi Global Markets," he adds. "I was terrified to start with, but we have been very pleasantly surprised by how the market here has reacted."

Tourism Push

A series of tourism drivers have helped to grow the number of attractions and visitors to Abu Dhabi.

Showdown Week, a week-long programme of events tied to UFC 242, saw 12 matches take place in Abu Dhabi, which were broadcast in 165 countries and attracted 14,000 visitors.

Advantage Abu Dhabi was an additional series of 47 events that included Cirque Du Soleil, Abu Dhabi Engine Week and Abu Dhabi Family Week, and attracted a further 256,400 visitors.

Along with a tourism marketing campaign, which was launched globally via digital channels including Google and Snapchat, these programmes resulted in a 76 percent increase in destination awareness within the campaign’s target markets of the US, Europe and Asia.

Knowledge - Investing in Innovation

Shifting Abu Dhabi’s economy to a knowledge-based model is a key focus of Ghadan 21. The aim is to equip people with knowledge for a tech-enabled future, which is why it is focused on incubating new tech start-ups and providing young Emiratis with tech skills.

Among Ghadan’s biggest initiatives has been the launch in March last year of HUB71, a tech platform that brings together key enablers from around the world to give tech start-ups the best chance to succeed – and which has incubated 39 start-ups since its launch. Key to this is ensuring people are equipped with knowledge for a tech-enabled future.

Among the start-ups at HUB71 is regtech and fintech firm Securrency, which also benefited from the Ghadan Ventures Fund launched to grow Abu Dhabi’s start-up and venture capital space.

"The support we have received has been tremendous and makes all the difference when it comes to our focused growth in Abu Dhabi," says John Hensel, Founder of Securrency. "The participation of ADIO and the Ghadan Ventures Fund in our recent $17.8 million equity financing provided us with the resources needed to bring our development team in-house and to establish our engineering centre of excellence in Hub71."

The AED535 million Ventures Fund offers a Start-up Matching Fund for early-stage start-ups of up to AED10 million for seed rounds and AED50 million for series A rounds.

In February 2020, ADIO expanded the scope to increase support for the growth and expansion of innovation-focused companies through participation in Series B and beyond financing rounds, investment in established regional and global funds and collaboration with global accelerators.

Hub71 is also rolling out a new corporate engagement programme that aims to act as a bridge between the major corporates and start-ups that are looking to transform industries and address major problems. Since launch, AED60 million is being invested in five innovation-focused companies, including Securrency, TruKKer, Sarwa, YACOB and Okadoc. In addition, ADIO’s New Managers Fund, which matches every AED1 of equity raised in a private market (up to AED20 million per fund), has made its first investment in UAE-based VC firm Global Ventures.

ADIO also has innovation in its crosshairs, and has a comprehensive programme in the field of agriculture technology (AgTech), with AED1 billion Agtech Programme for innovators working within specific areas, including algae-based biofuels, indoor farming, precision agriculture and agrobotics, to expand their operations to Abu Dhabi.

Incentive programmes are also on offer to those working in ecotourism, with the aim of supporting the development of sustainable tourism projects and unlocking access to Abu Dhabi’s natural environment.

"Key investments in both programmes are being evaluated and will be launched throughout 2020," says Dr. Tariq bin Hendi. "Through ADIO’s continued support from the Ghadan 21 programme, we will continue to build on Abu Dhabi’s foundations for sustainable growth in the private sector."

With research and development as a key component of the future-proofed economy, Abu Dhabi Education Authority, ADEK, has launched a partnership with nonprofit organisation XPRIZE, with AED300 million committed to crowdsourcing innovation in areas such as water and food scarcity via a series of XPRIZE Abu Dhabi global competitions.

Meanwhile, the Abu Dhabi Award for Research Excellence, AARE, is funding research expected to advance scientific and technological development, as well as develop meaningful partnerships between Abu Dhabi scientists and leading academic and industrial collaborators, both nationally and worldwide. Last month, ADEK awarded more than AED40 million in competitive funding to 54 successful research and development proposals, including six Abu Dhabi Young Investigator Awards.

Community - Investing in People

Abu Dhabi is a strong advocate for continuous societal development and is a firm believer that it should go in tandem with the emirate’s growing economy. The community has received a welcome boost from several new initiatives introduced over the course of the year, which are ensuring an inclusive environment for today’s families and future generations.

Around 6,000 new housing loans have been introduced to ensure that all Emiratis have access to safe and affordable housing and services, with AED 11.6 billion worth of houses and land distributed. Employment opportunities have also been created and skills training provided across organisations including EY, KPMG, SEHA, Etihad and Mubadala.

Abu Dhabi’s education system is also benefitting from investment. For example, the Affordable Schools initiative has seen 12 new Charter Schools (public schools previously run by the government, but now run by the private sector) opened across Abu Dhabi over the past year, with 15,000 school places added. At the same time, almost 6,000 (5,916) places have been added in affordable schools, with 9,000 more planned.

A further initiative, Abu Dhabi Moments, saw a series of 25 community events held between October and December in five areas across the city with the aim of strengthening community ties. The packed calendar of events, which ranged from adventure activity days to street food festivals, attracted 321,000 visitors from 48 different nationalities.

"Through the Abu Dhabi Moments initiative, the community celebrated the great diversity to be found in Abu Dhabi," says Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili, Chairman of the Department of Community Development. "Through fantastic events held across the city from Hudariyat Island to Abu Dhabi Corniche, we were able to highlight the characters of each region and their diverse residents."

Finally, a new authority – Ma’an Authority for Social Contribution – has been launched under the Department of Community Development, to grow the social sector and support a culture of social contribution and participation. Since opening its doors in February, Ma’an has graduated 10 social businesses focused on solutions for people of determination and launched a second incubator cycle to find innovative solutions for mental wellbeing challenges. It has also rolled out community volunteering initiatives and started work on introducing the GCC’s first Social Impact Bond.

"In our first year of operation we have made significant progress," says Salama Al Ameemi, Director General of the Authority of Social Contribution - Ma’an. "The success of our first year demonstrates the great warmth of the people of Abu Dhabi and their passionate belief in helping their neighbours and being socially responsible citizens."

Living Well

Becoming a globally competitive city of the future also means providing residents with a good quality of life, which is why Ghadan 21’s programme has included several large-scale community initiatives. Their aim is to make Abu Dhabi one of the most inclusive places in the world in which to live and thrive.

Among the most ambitious has been ‘For Abu Dhabi’, a large-scale two-part initiative to enhance areas of the emirate, which includes a city-wide public art programme rolled out by the Department of Municipality and Transport, with renowned local and international artists adorning buildings in Abu Dhabi city with vibrant murals. The initiative also includes an Abu Dhabi-wide plan to beautify the emirate’s public spaces, from parks and waterfront areas to playgrounds and cycle paths across Abu Dhabi mainland, Al Ain and Al Dhafra.

"The ‘For Abu Dhabi’ initiative was created to add colour, energy, and creativity to our already vibrant home," says Mohamed Al Khadar, Executive Director of Strategic Affairs at Abu Dhabi’s Department of Municipalities and Transport. "Public spaces are essential elements to the way of life in cities. Providing outdoor areas that all community members can collectively call theirs will improve people’s wellbeing, encourage greater participation in community and cultural activities and enhance public health through the provision of facilities that encourage walking and cycling."

Looking Forward

With two further years to go, and more transformative Ghadan 21 initiatives in the pipeline, Abu Dhabi’s future is rapidly taking shape. Additional legislative changes, policy development programmes, an deregulatory and incentive schemes are well underway to effect further changes that will have an increasingly tangible impact on doing business, pursuing knowledge and innovation, and quality of life across the emirate, benefitting Emirati nationals and expatriate residents in many facets, and reinforcing Abu Dhabi’s stature as one of the region’s leading places to work, learn, and live.

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