Interview: Raja Easa Al Gurg
What policies are being implemented to pursue gender equality in the economy?
RAJA EASA AL GURG: Our leadership has been promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment. We are the most advanced country in the region in this matter, and now women here can take this progress to the next level. DBWC plays a very important role in this regard: we foster equality by providing platforms and running workshops that help and encourage women to start and run their own businesses. Through this initiative – which we created in cooperation with MasterCard towards the end of 2015 – we have organised a wide number of workshops, both for women looking to start their own business and for those who have already done so but are now looking for ways to grow and expand. We had a large number of women presenting their businesses at our workshops, for which we created a jury with individuals from MasterCard and DBWC to award a female entrepreneur with a $50,000 prize.
Because of the way this country has advanced towards the empowerment of women, I believe that women are now able to build their businesses in a systematic way. The path is there to encourage women to seek this goal, and DBWC has created a platform that allows us to grow. We have been working on this since 2002, alongside the growing gender movement in Dubai and the wider UAE. In 2017, for instance, we signed an agreement with the UN Global Compact to promote gender quality.
In what ways can gender equality policies like the UAE’s be encouraged in the greater region?
AL GURG: Leadership and political will are important components for change. Education is central to promoting gender equality and the region has made major progress in women’s education. The UAE has an adult female literacy rate of over 90%. Data for 2016 shows that 14% of all founders and co-founders of investor-backed businesses in the MENA region are women. The UAE Gender Balance Council was set up in May 2015 to ensure women have a leading role in economic development, supporting the UAE’s vision to be in the world’s top 25 countries for gender equality by 2021. Deeper inclusion of women will create greater economic growth.
How is access to credit evolving for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and start-ups?
AL GURG: Access to credit is one of the most significant challenges for people wanting to start a business. There is a substantial difference between the ease of credit access that larger companies enjoy and the difficulty that SMEs and start-ups experience. This vast difference is not just related to obtaining financing, but many other business-related tasks too. A practical measure that banks could adopt would be to study individual cases and evaluate the whole scenario for companies that apply for a loan. By doing this, there is an opportunity for partial loans for SMEs to emerge. Creating a credit history will give banks a greater sense of certainty, thereby making them more willing to lend larger quantities to smaller businesses in the medium term.
How do you evaluate Dubai’s economic growth prospects over the long term?
AL GURG: Dubai’s pace of growth may fluctuate, but it continues to expand. This is mainly because of its unique business climate, which has allowed it to diversify its economy away from oil dependency. Its current focus on research and development, as well as innovation, increases Dubai’s long-term growth prospects. The current GDP growth rate reflects the level of economic maturity that the emirate is reaching. Under these new circumstances, expansion is not automatic; it depends on the leadership of both the public and private sectors for sustainability.
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