Tell us a little about the current environment in Dubai.
VS: Dubai is a very progressive city and one that’s also quite westernized. The architecture is extremely sophisticated, business is booming, and it has an enviable low crime rate. I had visited once before in 2016. Since then, there’s been enormous growth. Whole business districts have sprung up in areas that were recently desert. The entire region is moving away from dependence on oil in terms of driving the economy. There’s now a strong emphasis on developing infrastructure with a focus on the health care and technology sectors. There is also a robust effort around entrepreneurship and helping to launch and fund early-stage businesses.
How important are the concepts of culture and multiculturism?
VS: These concepts are very important to the people of the UAE. I find it impressive to see the focus—as a nation—on embracing all cultures and all religions. There’s a sincere effort around that, as well as promoting issues that are important to women. It’s a very intentionally diverse culture, where people are not just tolerant of others, but they openly celebrate other cultures.
I understand there was a significant political event right before you arrived there.
VS: Yes. The President of the UAE, 73-year-old Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, died the day we left on our trip. He was appointed the second president of the UAE in 2004, succeeding his father, who was founder of the nation. The country is still observing a 40-day mourning period. All general work in the private sector was suspended for the first three days. What was really noticeable was that no music whatsoever was allowed to be played during the first days of our visit.
Let’s talk about your itinerary.
VS: Our first adventure was a cultural immersion, a day trip to the town of Sharjah. This city is more traditional, less progressive, and less developed than Dubai and Abu Dhabi. The architecture is much more modest, and you could notice the stark difference as soon as you entered the area. We visited a fresh meat and produce market, where dozens of registered and regulated businesses set up shop under company names. We also went to a market known as a “souq,” where goods such as gold, diamonds, clothing and fabric are sold. Then it was off for a desert excursion, where we rode 4 Runners into an area that also featured camel riding, a falconry exhibition and a presentation of native dances. It was a fun glimpse into the culture of the region.
Where was your next adventure?
VS: We spent the second day back in Dubai at the Port of Jebel Ali. It’s the world’s ninth busiest port, the largest man-made harbor and the biggest port in the Middle East. It’s also a free-trade zone. Officials even provide offices for entrepreneurs who want to bring products in and out of Dubai via the port. We attended a DP World presentation entitled “Change What’s Possible.”
DP World is an Emirati multinational company specializing in cargo logistics, port terminal operations and maritime services. Faisal Jassem, Manager of JAFZA Sales, delivered the lecture. Jebel Ali Free Zone (JAFZA) is DP World’s leading trade and logistics hub.
How did you wrap up your time in Dubai?
VS: We spent the third day mostly sight-seeing. A highlight was visiting the Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure in the world. Going up to the 125th floor was quite the trip. While we had seen the smaller markets in Sharjah, it’s notable to point out the juxtaposition of those with the shopping experience in Dubai, which has the world’s largest and second largest malls. The second in size even has a ski slope inside!
On our final day we went to the DIFC, or Dubai International Financial Center. There was a presentation by Roberto Croci, Managing Director of Microsoft, who spoke about how they’re working with entrepreneurs in Dubai to help accelerate growth and create connectivity for small companies at much earlier stages than occurs in other parts of the world.
Our last excursion was to the Centre for Cultural Understanding. This beautiful site, located in an historical neighborhood, houses a nonprofit that produces special events aimed at eliminating cultural barriers and increasing awareness of local UAE cultures and customs. It was a perfect way to wrap up the first leg of our adventure.
In our July Newsletter, we’ll continue this journey with Vaughan’s visit to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, which sits off the mainland on an island in the Persian Gulf.
Stay tuned …