What awaits at the other side of the Arabian deserts: A post for Israelis looking for opportunities in the Emirates
On the last Hanukkah, the flight information display system at Ben Gurion Airport assumed an appearance that only a few months earlier would have seemed surrealistic: the destination of almost all departing flights was “Dubai.” Like tens of thousands of Israelis, I too flew for the first time over the formidable Arabian desert toward the United Arab Emirates, that intriguing destination that has become a magnet overnight. Most Israelis flew for vacation, in the absence of other tourist options, but some travelers were looking for promising new business opportunities. Is it indeed possible to create new and interesting business collaborations between the Emirates and Israel? And if so, what are those collaborations?
First, it is important to correct a basic perception about the Emirates: this is not an economy that seeks to rely on oil money and hedonistically waste income from natural resources, as it is sometimes mistakenly assumed in the West. On the contrary. As a nation, the Emiratis look far into the distance, and in recent decades have made sure to move forward at breakneck speed and with a sharp focus toward a future of an open, diverse, and technological market economy. On the first day of my visit I attended the GITEX international high-tech conference, which, although sparse in attendance because of the corona, proved that Dubai thinks big and out of the box, and that it eagerly seeks to break out from the confines of current technology.
The young Emiratis I met are a highly talented and educated group, reminiscent of the young Israelis who constitute the economic engine of Israel. They are hardworking and insist on proving that although most of them come from established families, they know how to work smart and produce value, and are not content with mediocrity.
Second, and most important for us, is that the UAE operates according to a simple development code: they are looking for the best that each country has to offer them. Downtown Dubai is packed with highly talented Europeans, Americans, and other residents whom they warmly and openly welcome as long as they have a unique and competitive value to offer. They make sure to import the most successful elements from all parts of the world: from the French, known for their cultural and artistic heritage, they brought a branch of the Louvre museum; from the Americans, they brought extensions of excellent universities. Their mode of operation is designed to produce an economy and society that gallops forward, and they know that to solve the challenges they face, they need to assimilate the best elements available.
For Israelis, this feature opens a window onto a particularly fascinating opportunity. The Emiratis understand that although their economy and government have developed at an extraordinary rate, there are soft skills that Israelis can contribute to them, especially when it comes to entrepreneurship. This term, “entrepreneurship,” has become a worn-out concept to the point that it is difficult to grasp what it means. But for the Emiratis it has a particular and special importance. It includes the skills needed to launch a start-up, from personal qualities such as managerial ability to knowing how to deal with problems; learning tools, market research, and technical knowledge, for example, what are the rounds of investor recruitment, what is an accelerator, and how to put together a business plan. Based on a non-representative sample, I found that more than half of the young Emiratis I met have read the book Start-up Nation. There is great eagerness in the UAE to absorb the unique qualities of the engine of the Israeli economy.
The Emiratis also have a great deal to contribute to Israelis. Their advantage that will interest many Israeli companies is that their approach to investing capital is clear. But they have one quality that is even more important: they can serve as a vehicle for easy entry into many markets that have hitherto been less accessible to us, especially in the Arab world and in East Asian countries. Dubai is a crossroads of a complex and dense network of connections between Western companies, investors, research bodies, and leaders from the Far East and the Middle East.
Israeli companies and entrepreneurs advancing connections that can be beneficial for all parties, and who can offer not only innovative Israeli technologies but also show a genuine desire to involve the Emirates in the development of their venture and mutual growth, will show a justifiable curiosity of the other side.