YAL working towards changing perceptions of the Arab world

DUBAI — The UAE Chapter of the Young Arab Leaders (YAL) organisation, which comprises 160 nationalities, is pressing ahead with its initiatives to put the UAE at the forefront of the Arab world in developing, nurturing and mentoring future Arab leaders.

By Lucia Dore

Published: Tue 8 Aug 2006, 10:37 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 2:09 PM

One of its main initiatives is its entrepreneurship programme, the core of which is the YAL regional venture capital fund, Alf Yad. One year on from its launch at the YAL's annual forum in December, the organisation will be announcing the first young entrepreneurs who will benefit from the fund. The start-up ideas, which are currently being evaluated, are primarily in the manufacturing and service-oriented industries, explained Vice-Chairman of the UAE Chapter, Mohammed Khammas. He is also managing director of Al Ahli Group.

The fund consists of 10 private equity funds that will be launched over 10 years. The value of the fund is now Dh100million, said Khammas and the aim is to grow it each year so that it reaches Dh1 billion in 10 years. "The fund will rolled out into the Arab world in general, it is not a UAE specific fund," he emphasised. The finance comes from YAL members themselves all of whom are under 43 and hold prominent positions of responsibility within the UAE. By investing in this way they are, in effect, acting as business angels and are on hand to help mentor these fledgling entrepreneurs.

The average size of the project funded is just in excess of Dh20 million, explained Khammas, who also said because that these start-up projects are risky the participation and liability of each investor is limited to one per cent. "Each investor puts in Dh1 million, no more, no less. We didn't want anyone to be over exposed."

It has always been difficult to find start-up capital anywhere in the world, though some regions, such as the Middle East, are more difficult than others. "We are taking a risk in developing possibilities for Arab entrepreneurs but it's a step forward. A few years ago, this was not possible. We have just created the first venture capital fund like this. In many ways, this is a groundbreaking initiative."

Another initiative is the Walaa programme, based on the philosophy that students should be assessed in a holistic way and not on academic performance alone. "This involves assessing student qualities aside from academic achievement. We are creating a means of incorporating that within an education body," said Khammas. "We want to roll the programme out throughout the UAE. We are working with the Ministry of Education," he said. "We are creating the programme itself and looking at how to implement it other countries," he added.

Other initiatives concern internship, mentorship, scholarships and networking. "Through these initiatives we have created a platform for change, primarily at the educational level. It is a very important platform for us because that is where change in the future happens," said Khammas. In terms of internship and mentorship one of the big challenges is that people do not necessarily know these programmes exist. "They are not widespread and are not the norm within the Arab corporate world. We need to widen and implement the programmes."

Because the Arab world is less networked than the US and Europe, for example, it has also been hard to meet people of influence. This is changing. "The US and Europe have set the bar which we have to meet, and we believe this is achievable," said Khammas. "We are setting the structure for that." Online and offline forums have been created. "We have brought together people in different countries who can implement change. Prior to this there were only individual efforts," he explained.

The YAL agenda is a broad one. "We were created to change the façade of the Arab world. We are responsible for creating negatives into positives and for creating role models to showcase," he said.

Among the negatives YAL wishes to change is the role of women in the Arab world, "which has always been perceived as backwards," said Khammas. "We are viewed as a society that has not rewarded women with education, with jobs and opportunities. Not too many people are aware we have ministers and business leaders who are women. It is unfortunate that this has not been showcased." The annual forum offers an opportunity to do this.

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