Interview: Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal
To what extent have technological trends sparked by the Covid-19 pandemic affected Sharjah’s investment environment?
MARWAN BIN JASSIM AL SARKAL: The pandemic accelerated plans to further develop technologically advanced services. It is notable that demand for investment and development projects increased over the course of the health crisis – a reflection of Shurooq’s focus on technological readiness and portfolio diversification. These factors enable the institution to continue to provide services, even as the majority of other public entities were mandated to close due to health measures associated with the pandemic.
Technological investments – particularly those related to the Sharjah Investment Centre – proved to be beneficial during the Covid-19 crisis. This was particularly the case in industries that were able to quickly adapt to technological innovations and tailor their digitalisation processes. The pandemic proved that users are ready to adopt digital solutions, even if they were previously unaware of the extent of their benefits. Portfolio diversification has also been central to efforts to balance the subdued performance of certain sectors affected by the pandemic, and to that end, Shurooq has committed to developing diverse projects that range from vertical agriculture to urban mobility.
In what ways can public-private partnerships (PPPs) benefit the wider economy?
AL SARKAL: In the UAE PPPs have the ability to bring projects that would otherwise be difficult to realise to fruition. In particular, partnerships between those with diversified skill sets tend to add more value to the wider economy. Shurooq’s main goal is to act as a platform to welcome investors and connect them with local opportunities. In order to achieve this, our institution works to find the most promising strategies in a variety of sectors, as well as establish frameworks for both investors and the country’s economic development.
The impact of PPPs is two-fold: on the one hand, they attract and channel local and foreign capital into the initiatives most capable of adding economic value to all stakeholders. On the other hand, they favour the transfer of technology into and across the business environment. For example, Shurooq led a successful PPP related to the treatment of sewage. Thanks to this partnership, a plant located in Sharjah now produces high-quality water that can be used for a variety of purposes.
Partnerships are successful only when they constructively combine business, technology and government capabilities. Shurooq aims to foster these partnerships and expand them into sectors such as agriculture, aqua-culture, health care, education and urban mobility. This in turn will catalyse the further development of the broader economy.
What role can Sharjah play in accelerating overall development of the country?
AL SARKAL: The UAE has struck an optimal balance in regards to diversification. Financial services, education, oil and gas, sustainability, entrepreneurship and recycling are the country’s main economic drivers. Each emirate is also aiming to diversify its own economy, while at the same time finding and nurturing an individual flagship industry of excellence. These two trends will contribute to the UAE’s diversification and stability.
Education plays a fundamental role in this process. Sharjah has prioritised education since the 1990s. These efforts have paid off: the University of Sharjah now hosts more than 14,000 international students. Moreover, there is a significant talent pool in the emirate, and their skills and the ease of doing business are highlighted by the high number of graduates ready to establish a business here.