Jan. 27, 2015

Randa Bessiso

UAE, Dubai

Randa Bessiso

Director, MBS Middle East Centre, Dubai

"Education and education institutions will play a key role, especially when it comes to innovation and research."


As the founding director, Randa Bessiso was instrumental in planning and establishing the Manchester Business School Middle East Centre, which opened in Dubai Knowledge Village in 2006. She has spent much of her career working on market entry strategies, company startups, and channel development programs, building profitable regional businesses and brands. Prior to joining MBS in 2005, she was the International Business Manager for UK eUniversities Worldwide, a British government-backed online education initiative. In 2014, Forbes Middle East ranked Randa amongst the top 200 most powerful Arab women.

What are some of your upcoming projects and goals for 2015?

2015 is a landmark year for MBS as we mark our 50th anniversary. The University of Manchester has received a landmark donation for the future development of Manchester Business School from Lord Alliance of Manchester and his fellow Trustees of the Alliance Family Foundation. In recognition of this support and Lord Alliance's long-standing relationship with the University and the Business School, the School will be named Alliance Manchester Business School, or Alliance MBS. The naming comes at a pivotal moment for the School as it continues to attract more world leading researchers and teachers, prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary, and breaks ground on a new building. In the Middle East, our main goals are to continue to recruit and support top quality students for our part-time MBA program, broadening our geographical coverage and creating greater access and deepening diversity with more female students. We also expect to see a rise in company-supported MBA students. We will also be nurturing the regional alumni association to provide ongoing support to the growing MBS community. We will extend our program portfolio with the launch of our Executive Education open program in Dubai, in the autumn—the first MBS program of its kind to be launched beyond the UK. This program is aimed at experienced managers who have been identified in succession plans to move into key positions, and who require practical preparation for these roles. Talent management is a constant theme in the region and we will continue to build our Talent Management Partnerships (TMPs) with multinational and regional companies looking to develop their management teams. More partnerships and growth in the corporate engagement areas are being developed. In terms of building our research activity, we are currently working on two activities: the first is a research paper with The Economist on the impact of Expo 2020 and on the talent gap related to megaprojects in the region. The second research project addresses creativity and innovation in the Middle East, and is undertaken by our own MBS researchers. MBS has a range of important collaborations and partnerships in place in the Middle East and we aim to reinforce and extend these during 2015. We will be working closely as we prepare to host the first visit to Dubai of the global cohort of students on our new Global Executive MBA program for upper level management.

How would you describe the knowledge or talent gaps that exist when it comes to Dubai's human capital?

With the rapid pace of Dubai's economic growth, the talent gap is inevitably a moving target and success presents its own challenges in attracting and retaining the right talent. The number and scale of initiatives to have been launched over the past few months in the UAE generally, as well as in Dubai, also affect the economy. For example, Expo 2020 demands a certain set of skills that are quite different from those related to the creation of a hub for the Islamic economy. Dubai and the UAE have put the development of a knowledge-based economy at the top of the agenda. Based on our own experience, we believe collaborations are key, and we need higher education institutes, working together with the public and private sectors, to collaborate in identifying and filling those skill gaps, to ensure that we remain in step with the market and responsive to its needs. We have identified some of those gaps, but while higher education providers can help meet needs we also need vocational training and short-term training providers to focus on skills requirements. Filling the talent gap requires a reskilling of the current workforce, not just the importing of talent. We need to look at building education and training capacity from within and our continued economic growth may be at risk if we do not continue to invest, build, and up-skill our own local human capital. When it comes to implementation, this is when we need to work in collaboration more with the private sector because it has greater agility and the commercial flexibility to execute these skills development projects. There will be commercial benefits to the private sector too by being early adopters and supporters of human capital building for the major projects and initiatives planned in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

What are some of the academic disciplines you see as being most desirable as Dubai continues to grow?

Project management, corporate governance, and global business ethics will be in very high demand through 2015 and beyond. With Dubai's increasing global exposure, and the pace of development here, there will be greater scrutiny of plans and how they are executed. We need to ensure that our environmental sustainability, corporate social responsibility, and values are clear and sustainable. Transparency is essential and areas such as corporate governance are shooting up the management agenda.

Considering that the National Vision 2021 for Innovation focuses on knowledge integration and science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, how do you see the education sector evolving over the next few years?

Education and education institutions will play a key role, especially when it comes to innovation and research. The University of Manchester is just one of the 30-plus universities to have a presence here. The University of Manchester has the Manchester Institute of Innovation Research, and we have one of the largest business incubators in Europe; The Manchester Business School Incubator offers a unique opportunity to budding entrepreneurs and start up businesses. This kind of success needs to be translated locally and we must transfer that knowledge and know-how, building local capacity and local talent. I believe in the power of collaboration and collaboration between the different higher education institutes will be essential to try and translate some of this big innovation vision into smaller practical steps that are achievable.

What has Manchester Business School done to foster innovation locally?

We believe in fostering innovation through collaboration; three examples are the Manchester Innovation Award for Emiratis, the first research into the GCC market for executive education, and the Ro'Ya program to support women entrepreneurs. We introduced the Manchester Innovation Award for Emiratis to help stimulate entrepreneurship among young Emirati nationals in terms of innovation, commercial and environmental sustainability, and the creation of jobs. We provided the academic framework and support, and through our partners we rallied support from the Dubai and Abu Dhabi governments to provide the financial and practical means to get the winning projects up and running, from processing used cooking oil into energy to creating an organic cafe brand. Our study on the GCC Market for Executive Education was undertaken in collaboration with TECOM and Dubai International Academic City, and identified skills gaps and evaluated the market potential for executive education providers, revealing these insights for the first time. The study covered over 500 human resources professionals and senior managers from companies in a range of sectors across the six GCC countries. The research highlighted the short-term executive education priorities including leadership, business planning, and strategy, which were identified as core training areas by more than one-third of respondents. Longer-term priorities included organizational development, leadership, and strategy. All the research findings were shared with the HR and training community in Dubai. Ro'Ya is a joint collaboration between the Dubai Business Women Council and MasterCard, supported by Manchester Business School, with the aim of providing coaching and mentorship to aspiring female entrepreneurs in the UAE looking to establish new businesses. The first Ro'Ya program was highly successful, attracting a large and passionate group of aspiring businesswomen, all keen to bring their innovative business ideas to life.

“Education and education institutions will play a key role, especially when it comes to innovation and research."

© The Business Year - January 2015