Halfway through Global Immersion: Economic Growth in the UAE, I feel as though I’m still being surprised daily about the country, its rapid development story, and the people who do business here. During the first three days of the trip and the portion of the program in Abu Dhabi, we visited the state-owned investment fund Mubadala, a family oil and gas construction business Alsa, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, consulting firm Strategy&’s first Middle East office, the Ministry of Climate Change and the Environment, and the Sheikh Zayyed Mosque, the largest mosque in the world.
Here are my five most significant takeaways from Abu Dhabi, as we move on to Dubai:
- It’s great to be a UAE national. Making up just 11% of the country’s 9 million population, Emiratis have it good. The country really takes care of them, having been population whose land oil wealth was discovered upon. As a local, the government provides free health care, housing, and education, including many opportunities to study abroad. In turn, the UAE does not suffer from the “brain drain” phenomenon — its highly unlikely for an Emirati educated abroad to stay abroad because their quality of life is so good at home.
- Despite being on the largest economies in the Gulf and Middle East, the UAE is not and has never been a regional super power. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is the most important regional player, despite having a much less wealthy population (per capita).
- The UAE’s development story is an anomaly. Many other countries, including regional neighbors Kuwait and Qatar, have tried to grow into economic powerhouses like the UAE, but they have not succeeded to the same extent.
- The secret to the UAE’s development success was diversification. When the country was founded 44 years ago, Sheikh Zayed famously said that the country could not rely on its oil wealth. Developing deep finance, real estate, aviation, and logistics industries, beyond the low hanging fruit of their natural resource wealth lying in oil and gas, is what has made the UAE the nation it is today.
- Abu Dhabi, however, felt somewhat like a ghost town. Many of the people we’ve met so far –especialy expats — have been commuters from Dubai an hour and a half away. Abu Dhabi is filled with skyscrappers and parking lots that appear to be empty. Some people have hinted to us that this is the result of the drop in oil prices over the past couple of years. But more than that there seems to be a “build it and they will come” feeling.
Zoe Fox ’17
Global Immersion: Economic Growth in the UAE