Overall, the experience was magnificent. The exposure to business in Dubai both small and large was fascinating. I have toured other countries and even participated in a trade mission to Egypt for a printing convention. I had been in free zones then, but I had no comprehension of what exactly that meant for me as a buyer or for the companies located there. This is a testament to both the trip itself, and the program as a whole. The added benefit of this trip was to spend time with the cohort that had met in person only once before. I know there will be lifelong friendships from this program, and I look forward to working with my classmates in the future.
Day 1 – Getting to Know Dubai
We set out on a scavenger hunt in teams. Our first stop was the Spice Souk (market) to haggle for spices. We walked to the Gold Souk, but not in time before the morning call to prayer shuttered the shops – Friday is the Holy day in the UAE. We walked around while until the shops all sprung to life on the first day of Emirati weekend. Trying to fit in with the locals (and because it was on our scavenger hunt list) we donned abaya and hijab (for the women) and kandoora with the headscarf known as keffiyeh for the men.After more walking around, we opted for a longer abra (boat) ride up and around the canal and then summoned an Uber to take us across town to the Dubai Mall, where we met up with the rest of the class for a trip up the Burj Khalifa – more than 160 stories, 2,716.5 feet tall, the world’s tallest building. We enjoyed a group dinner with a family style serving of traditional foods at the base of the Burj Khalifa while watching the water fountain show and the people of Dubai and from around the globe enjoy a Friday evening.
Day 2 – Cultural Education
We started the day with a cultural brunch discussing the Emirati culture at the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Cultural Understanding.It is a non-profit organization to increase awareness and understanding between the various cultures that live in Dubai. The motto "Open Doors. Open Minds," is necessary in a country where the 950,000 Emerati are outnumbered 9:1 with expatriates from around the world. It was enlightening to hear of the culture and the religion that has dominated US news during the past few years. Blaming one religion or one country for the geopolitical problems is not viewed the same in Dubai as what is portrayed in the US news, which can have a huge impact on global business within the US. Dubai is growing at a rate that no one knows is sustainable.
Day 3 – RIT Dubai A trip to Silicon Oasis and RIT Dubai kicked off the business portion of the trip. We met with two of the senior leaders of the Silicon Oasis Authority to hear about the creation of a free zone about an hour outside the city limits and the plans to make their own Silicon Valley in the Middle East. The government owned entity encourages foreign investment with tax-free zones and access to investors and physical office space. We continued with a tour and discussion with Hans Henrik Christensen, Director of the Incubation Center of the Dubai Technology and Entrepreneurship Centre (DTEC). We had the pleasure of meeting entrepreneurs on our tour that were developing technology products and services with the support of the Think Tank and their investment connections.Later in the afternoon, we met with a business owner to learn about Fractal Systems and what they are doing to seek out and leverage talent from the local schools and economy. They develop technologies for events and recently provided the backdrop video for the press launch of the Formula 1 race in Abu Dhabi next November. While extremely talented on the technical side, they struggle with getting the recognition and exposure to the stakeholders that would leverage their services. Each team was given a problem statement and a short period of time to come up with suggestions which were presented to the owner in a roundtable discussion.We closed the evening out with an alumnae dinner for RIT grads and soon-to-be-grads. It was a networking event where we had an opportunity to meet our client, here in Dubai, who is an RIT alum from the Executive MBA program. He provided an interesting perspective of the country and the region as he has been living and working in the region for years.
Day 4 – Dubai Ports and Islamic Banking
Monday began with a spectacular presentation and tour of the 8th (or 9 th – depending on the day) largest port in the world. The vision of the previous ruler of Dubai had placed a port miles-away from the city in the 1970s and everyone thought the idea would never develop to anything. With four shipping terminals already created and more than double that planned for the future, the amount of cargo going through this region is expected to flourish. DP World is not only located here in Dubai, they operate terminal across the globe – with the exception of the United States because it was blocked politically, not for financial reasons. The efficiency of the operation was evident as we were given a tour of the facility by a 20 year plus veteran from England of the port. Further evidence of the high concentration of expats in the region.The day concluded with a thorough explanation of Islamic finance and Shira Financial Structure from the Dubai Islamic Bank. The principles of which are not based on interest, but based on the sharing of the profits used for trade. The interesting integration of finance and religion as the governing rules are based off of the Koran and cannot be re-written, only interpreted by scholars.
Day 5 – Fujairah and Leo Burnett
We embarked on a long drive out to the Brooge Petroleum and Gas Investment Company’s new development project in Fujaurah. The amount of construction along the way was outstanding. The trip across the country from the Arabian (Persian) Gulf to the Gulf of Oman was fascinating. The site we visited was under construction and would be completed in two years. The $130 Million project is to provide transfer and storage of petroleum products traveling through the region. The access to these facilities we received, both here and in the port, was amazing. These are not places you can go and ask for a tour, they are secured facilities.On our way back across the country, we met with a dynamic group at Leo Burnett advertising agency in the advertising free zone of Dubai. Leo Burnett is one of the largest worldwide advertising agencies with its roots in Chicago. After a great presentation of their work in the region, we had a great discussion on the challenges of advertising and marketing in the Middle East. The first question of the advertising cycle – “Veil or no veil?” showed the struggle of matching the culture of the region with the dynamic of a significant expat population.
Day 6 – Cultural Awareness
Every day in the UAE brings new amazing insight to the country and the culture. In the Middle East, culture is very closely related with business and that culture is rooted in the Muslim faith. Our visit to Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque was breathtaking. It has a capacity of 50,000 worshipers in the grand hall and the courtyard. We learned about the many countries whose products were used to build the mosque, including Italian marble. In the Muslim mosques, there are no pews and there are no reserved spaces for prayer. You worship should-to-shoulder with whomever is there. There was an explanation of the separation of women from men in prayer. As our tour guide explained, the positions necessary for Muslim prayer put then in positions that would make them feel uncomfortable.The Muslim faith is also tightly connected with government. In the UAE, the mosques are funded by the government and there is no separation of church and state. All of these facts are important considerations when considering business in the region.
Day 7 – Business Consultation A trip to the Dubai marina area brought our team to Aztek International, a French IT services company with its international headquarters based in Dubai. We met with the project coordinator (a 2008 RIT EMBA alumnus) and the CEO to discuss their current position in the region and their challenges in other regions. It was great to hear the success of an EMBA graduate and the clout that the degree carries in the international community. We wrapped the organized portion of the trip up with a fantastic desert tour and dinner.