GROWTH FROM THE GRASSROOTS UP

UAE 2018 | SHARJAH | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson of Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), on the principles guiding Sharjah's economic development strategy, opportunities for private sector contribution, and the role of entrepreneurship in the Emirate.

Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi
BIOGRAPHY
As the Chairperson of Shurooq, Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi has demonstrated consistent efforts to link international investors with opportunities in Sharjah and position the Emirate as an attractive investment destination, in line with Shurooq’s commitment to ensuring Sharjah’s long-term sustainable growth. She is the Founder and CEO of Kalimat Group, Patron of the UAE Board on Books for Young People, former President and Founder of the Emirates Publishers Association, and Director of Knowledge Without Borders. She holds a BA from Cambridge, and a master’s degree in medical anthropology from the University College, London. She has successfully completed publishing courses at Yale and Columbia.

What are the main themes of Sharjah's economic vision, and what are the guiding principles of these themes?

Under the leadership of Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah and Member of the UAE Supreme Council, Sharjah has been guided by the principle of equitable and comprehensive economic development. This principle articulates the nature of our economic ambitions as well as our direction for the future. We believe that economic activity is not only transactional, whereby goods and services are exchanged and circulated in return for money. We believe that economic activity is a transformational process that integrates social and cultural development, and that all members of society should be part of this process in one way or another. It is a vision based on moving forward all together and not just a few of us who have the means to conduct business. As a result of this vision, Sharjah places its first and foremost focus on the development of human capital because we believe the human being is the source and catalyst of any sustainable economic activity. This focus has led Sharjah to offer world-class education, create support programs for entrepreneurs, empower women and children, host cultural activities that integrate all members of our society, and build sustainable infrastructure that facilitates the implementation of our vision and strategy on ground.

At a time of massive global change and regional instability, Sharjah is making remarkable economic achievements. How has the Emirate shielded itself from these economic fluctuations?

We pride ourselves in Sharjah on our strict economic diversification philosophy. No one sector represents more than one-third of our GDP. This strategy has proven its worth during the recent crises that shook global markets. While some regional and global markets were struggling or on the verge of collapsing, Sharjah was making steadfast progress in its economic activity with significant stability, which gives investors greater confidence in our Emirate. This strategy also allowed us to move steadily in global rankings on many fronts. For example, we have recently been announced as one of the top cities in the world for connectivity based on internet penetration and the capability and ease of movement of goods. This report, which was managed by FDI Intelligence Magazine, confirmed that Sharjah has established itself as an essential Middle East hub of modern continental trade thanks to its logistics, seaports, and airport capabilities that helped us secure a place among the leading global connectivity cities. In terms of the future, we plan to continue building world-class infrastructure. The 2017 plans reflect our intention to continue spending on our infrastructure with a 7% increase compared to last year. Our total spending on infrastructure represents 30% of our budget this year, and this commitment attracts local and global investors alike as their confidence in Sharjah's economy and future rises.

Many governments rely significantly on PPPs to advance their economic agendas. In Sharjah, what sectors do you see PPPs focus on?

Fruitful PPPs are essential in the development of any economy and Sharjah is not an exception to that. A PPP is the best solution for the speedy implementation of affordable infra structure development, and as Sharjah continues to grow and expand into new sectors, it is important that we boost our partnership with the private sector, which has the power and resources to be a difference-maker. The speedy growth in population, combined with our economic vision that includes major projects and expansions, places additional demands on infrastructure and the only way to cope with these demands is to partner with the private sector. We expect our PPPs to yield investment in critical infrastructure as well as social infrastructure such as healthcare and education. The environment, transport and logistics, light manufacturing, tourism, and support for entrepreneurship programs are also areas where the private sector is welcome to contribute. The world is shifting rapidly in the context of the fourth industrial revolution. The global economy is changing rapidly and Sharjah is planning to stay ahead of the curve by investing more in technology, education, innovation, and research and development. We see great opportunities in these areas for the private sector to contribute.

What are the pillars you will focus on in the future to ensure the competitiveness of Sharjah?

One of the pioneers of the internet revolution said, “There is no problem large enough that innovation and entrepreneurship cannot solve." Intellectual ingenuity invents new things that have practical utility, and economic ingenuity finds a profitable way to bring the new products to market. It is a symbiotic relationship that has worked for the greater wellbeing of mankind since time immemorial. The world's leading cities and nations have adopted knowledge-based economies built on innovation and creativity, the key component of which is the people. We will continue our investment in local talent as well as focus on attracting talent from all over the world to ensure continuous innovation in all sectors. We will work tirelessly to ensure excellence of government services and infrastructures at all levels to encourage more FDI. We also constantly review our policies and regulations to make sure that our government plays the role of enabler, not just regulator. We also launched the Invest in Sharjah initiative, which is spearheaded by Shurooq, and our aim is to share the Sharjah success story with as many investors as possible in all markets. Our trade delegations have been active in Europe, China, and North America organizing meetings with potential investors. Their efforts have paid off and will continue to in the future. Our investment outreach program has given us a chance to formulate a positive narrative about Sharjah in the investment circles, which is being translated in Sharjah receiving more investments, thus bolstering our competitiveness.

How is the youth of Sharjah empowered through entrepreneurship?

Sharjah has all the innate advantages of the region: a young demographic hungry to advance itself, a well-educated and motivated corps of female workers, and centers of academic excellence like University City. It has a business-friendly culture, a secure and supportive environment for small business start-ups, and good infrastructure and access to the booming markets of the Gulf, Africa, and South Asia. That is where projects such as the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Center “Sheraa" initiative come into play. The core of the Sheraa concept is that each one of us is responsible for the future of the region and for the generations that will inherit it. We have built this center around campus because we believe that our students should learn the skills of business and economy as young as possible. The world today is not made for job seekers but job creators, and we in the Sharjah government understand this fact well. This is why we have invested in centers like Sheraa and other programs supporting and encouraging the idea of entrepreneurship.