Entrepreneurs in Abu Dhabi

Injaz-UAE bridges the gap between Emirati students and workers Discuss this article

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So there’s all this talk going on about Emiratisation and unemployment, and opinions are flying left, right and centre about education and giving opportunities to the youth and so forth, but how many of us are actually trying to be a solution to the issue? ‘But what on earth can I do?’ is what you’re thinking, right? No we’re not psychic, we’re just very much like you. That’s why, when we heard about Injaz-UAE, we had one of those thoroughly enthusiastic ‘bingo!’ moments.

What is Injaz-UAE? In a nutshell, they are a member of the Junior Achievement Worldwide organisation, and their mission is to inspire, train, and empower UAE youth in preparation for the ruthlessly competitive adult world of jobs and careers. They do this by connecting students from 15-24 years of age with corporate achievers and private sector workers, who volunteer to provide mentoring, and teach the students job skills – this is the part where you come in. We spoke to Injaz-UAE’s CEO, Sulaf Al-Zu’bi, to find out more.

Injaz-UAE has been operating for six years, but you say now is the most relevant time for you, why?
The timing is right because these unemployment and Emiratisation issues are becoming increasingly talked about. We want to give opportunities to the youth and one of the primary job channels is entrepreneurial activity. But if we want our youth to follow that path, we need to start early. We need to start working on that mindset so they can think about entrepreneurship as a career option. It’s also the right time because Emirati students can seek funding from the Khalifa Fund for enterprise development. So currently they have the opportunities for funding, but they lack the skills to get there. In the GCC you have a lot of youths that are unemployed by choice. It’s not a lack of opportunities but you have a mismatch between their expectations, what the market can absorb and what it needs. On the other hand there is a huge preference towards government jobs, for obvious reasons. At Injaz, we are the bridge between the private sector and the students.

Can you tell us more about the Injaz-UAE Annual Company Program competition?
The Company Program is a program that is offered worldwide and in the UAE, and comes from the premise that it is better for students to actually try to be entrepreneurs rather than just being told about it – so the classroom is turned into an actual start-up. The students go through the idea generation with their mentor, they work out the budget, they sell stocks and shares because they have to raise their own capital. And then they come up with a product or service, study its feasibility, and operate. This is a four-month process and the whole idea is for them to try a start-up in a safe, low-cost environment. The group that won the competition last year came up with a business plan for marketing solar powered lights to consumers.

And these students were only 16-17 year-olds. You say they even raised their own funds?
Yes, they raised their own funds. We have this culture of ‘I’m going to get money’ and it’s all ‘I’m gonna get.’ Whereas in this case, our students are earning it, and they’re learning different aspects of working in a company. Also, we’re killing two birds with one stone, because they divide themselves into teams – the marketing, the PR, the production, the management and HR. So even if you don’t have the entrepreneurial interest later to start a company, you can work in HR and marketing and still enjoy it.

It actually sounds like a lot of fun.
It is a lot of fun! If I was 16 and somebody came to me and said, ‘let’s start a company’ I’d say ‘yeah, let’s!’ And at Injaz we believe entrepreneurs are made, not born. There is this idea in this part of the world that your father or mother has to be an entrepreneur, for you to be one. That’s not the case. At the end of their journey the Company Program competition winners also won the FedEx Global Access award, which is a student company programme award in partnership with Junior Achievement. So it was a huge jump for these public school girls in Barsha, now producing this business idea and winning an award.

Ok, so what can your average Tom, Dick or Ahmed do to support Injaz-UAE?
Volunteer! We invite all professionals from various industries to come and take part, whether it’s for one-day activities or for the extended sessions like the Company Programme. This is a call of action to all of Abu Dhabi, because we need volunteers specifically in Abu Dhabi. There is tremendous growth here and a list of 25 schools who are waiting for volunteers. Whoever is interested can sign up online.
If you want to volunteer or get involved, contact Pierre Atallah, program manager at Injaz-UAE in Abu Dhabi, at atallah@injaz-uae.org (050 657 1151).

By Elest Ali
Time Out Abu Dhabi,

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