Young Arab Leaders (YAL), a non-profit organisation of private and public sector leaders in the Middle East dedicated to grooming the region’s youth, have launched three international initiatives designed to foster innovation and build bridges with American counterparts.
According to an announcement at a forum in New York by YAL Board Chairman Dr Omar bin Sulaiman – who is also the Governor of the Dubai International Financial Centre – the organisation has established the YAL Arab-American Global Action Institute (GAI), the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Programme (IEP) and the Arab and American Business Fellowship Programme.
Bin Sulaiman presented the new programmes to an audience of more than 200 Arab and American academics and business leaders last weekend.
He said: “Innovation and entrepreneurship are key issues and must be integrated as fundamental components of business education. An entrepreneur needs to know how to utilise the technical elite responsible for such efforts and tap the financial resources available to meet the challenges of knowledge-based businesses.”
These new initiatives are intended to lay a structured framework for increased co-operation and enhanced dialogue with the West.
One of the most visible of YAL activities is its efforts to promote entrepreneurship and innovation in the region through a number of
venture capital funds and an angel investor network.
Ned Jaroudi, the Dubai-based Vice-President of EMEA Channel Marketing – one of the world’s largest IT management software providers and a member of the YAL’s entrepreneurship taskforce – told Emirates Business that the group intends to support the existing talent with all assistance so that budding businesses can compete on a global stage. Contrary to talks about a regional talent crunch, Jaroudi believes there is a lot of talent in the region.
“We have the talent and they are getting more educated, more are studying in the US and Europe and a lot of universities in the region are forming partnerships with top institutions in the West,” he said.
The old corporate order is also undergoing a marked transformation in the region, as more people are moving away from family-owned businesses, and existing companies are embarking on massive restructuring so they operate like well-governed corporations, Jaroudi said.
“There are a lot of gems out there that need to be unearthed, or that have been discovered but need to be taken to the next level, and as YAL members, the onus is on us to be agents of change and make this work. We need to try to get multinational corporations to invest in those businesses.”
One sector where Jaroudi sees great opportunity is IT. He said three of the top 10 providers of core banking software applications globally are from the Middle East – a clear sign the talent exists here. But what is lacking is the capital to take these businesses to new heights, which is what YAL is trying to do.
“Some of these companies are more than 20 years old, while others are relatively new. The older ones have reached a stage where they need a cash injection to take them up to the next level,” Jaroudi said.
One of YAL’s initiatives in achieving more innovation is to foster partnerships between industry and academics. Jaroudi explained how corporate investment in academic programmes yields quick results by citing an initiative involving the Higher Colleges of Technology in Abu Dhabi.
A few years ago, Saudi Aramco developed a programme that could be used for oil-field imaging and seismic studies, applications that were solely owned by companies such as Halliburton and Schlumberger previously. The home-grown application was tested at the centre in Abu Dhabi and is now proprietary to Aramco.
Jaroudi wants such innovation to be exploited commercially. “Imagine if these guys who created this application spun off and created their own company and took their application global,” he said.
The YAL leaders left a lasting impression on the American delegates at the forum.
Jaroudi said: “Don’t be afraid to invest in innovative companies in the Middle East – it will help you compete on the global stage. There is innovation happening in the Arab world that needs to be nurtured and tapped in order to reach its potential.”
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