UAE: A glimpse into A Young Nation’s Macroeconomic Ventures

It is my last night in New York before flying out to Abu Dhabi and Dubai for the edu-vacational experience of a lifetime with my 29 classmates and Professor Yared, and I can hardly sleep.  At 1:34AM, the groupchat is still buzzing with last minute travel anxieties (“What type of power adapter do we need?”, “Is 200 dirham enough on-hand cash?”).  Might as well get started on adjusting to the 9 hour time difference in the United Arab Emirates!

etihad towers
Etihad Towers. Source: visitabudhabi.ae.

So why are we – a cohort of 1st and 2nd year MBA students with  diverse backgrounds and future career aspirations – flying all the way across the Atlantic in the middle of March? Speaking for the class, it boils down to two overarching reasons.

The first is that the UAE is a great fishbowl for the study of macroeconomics: as a young nation founded just 47 years ago, this federation of 7 emirates is still developing a cohesive economic system. It is exploring key questions like: what is the optimal level and structure of tax, if any? How should we diversify our economy to ascertain that it is sustainable and less sensitive to commodity markets? What sorts of financial innovation would allow our citizens to partake in the asset markets while still keeping the spirit of Islamic principles of finance?

My classmates and I are so excited to be able to see that first hand in our meetings with organizations like ADIA (Abu Dhabi Investment Authority) and Bank of Sharjah, where we hope to see how financial and investment institutions in UAE think about funding the nation’s growth and development (while also maintaining traditional values). We are also looking forward to visiting Emirates, one of the Emirati airlines that is supporting the UAE’s economic diversification away from oil/gas and into tourism and global logistics. In addition, our visit to Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi will enable us to see the progress that the UAE has made in its development of the healthcare sector, an undertaking which has allowed the young nation to draw lucrative medical tourism travelers. Finally, we are excited to meet with other firms that are enabling the government’s Vision 2021, an aspirational set of goals set to drive the nation’s near term development.

emirates
Source: Emirates Airline (emirates.com)

Some of the questions that I personally hope to answer during this trip include:

  • What are some of the key lessons that the UAE has learned from seeing the development of other nations that have informed its own policies?
  • To what extent does the relatively decentralized government system of the UAE (compared to e.g., the US where federal decisions have greater impact than state) impact the scale and type of development it experiences.
  • How do financial institutions strike a balance between maintaining Islamic finance rules (e.g., equal distribution of risk) and earning the highest potential return for their clients?

The second reason is a little bit more nefarious: it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to spend a week in March basking in 81 degree Fahrenheit weather… especially after the most recent nor’easter to sweep through Manhattan. Pass me the Coppertone!

Shelley Han ’18

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