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The inaugural Euromoney Emirates Conference took place in Sharjah on 8 May 2017. The conference started with a welcome by Richard Banks, consulting editor at Euromoney Conferences who observed investment locations of the future will need to be ‘innovators’, and innovation as well as the need for finance and in particular equity risk capital will be desired in both public and private sectors.
We were very fortunate to have a keynote address from H.E. Mr Younis Haji Alkhoori, undersecretary at the United Arab Emirates Ministry of Finance who spoke on technology disruption and fintech, and their effect on organisations in the UAE. He also emphasised the importance of developing soft, technology-based infrastructure to support SMEs, entrepreneurs and investors. H.E. Mr Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal, chief executive officer at the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) followed with another keynote address.
The first panel of the day featured speakers from leading UAE organisations and authorities including the UAE Central Bank, AUSE, the Government of Sharjah’s finance department, Nomura Asset Management and the International Institute for Strategic Studies. This panel addressed how the global geopolitical environment is affecting the UAE and its economy, as well as recent developments in fiscal policy and what is needed to make an innovative economy successful in the UAE.
Adel Al Ali, chief executive officer of Air Arabia, and Khaled Al Huraimel, chief executive officer of Bee’ah both participated in keynote interviews, providing insight into their respective companies’ strategy, success and what part innovation and investment play in their future plans.
Discussions continued with a special session looking at free zones, internationally and within the UAE. Representatives from Sharjah Media City, DMCC and Gulftainer provided their insights how free zones can contribute to an innovative economy. The panelists highlighted that as the UAE increasingly moves away from an oil-based economy, the role of knowledge-based economies driven by startups and SMEs becomes increasingly important. “A collective ecosystem of support needs to be created for entrepreneurs,” Sheraa’s programs manager noted.
We were delighted to have chief executive of UK Export Finance, Louis Taylor follow this session with a keynote interview touching on global trade, the relationship with Sharjah, the UAE and GCC and what the priorities are for UKEF currently and in the future.
In an interlude between panel discussions, we were delighted to have Dr Björn Kjerfve, chancellor of the American University of Sharjah deliver an interesting and insightful presentation on education and research as a platform for creating and supporting an innovative economy in the UAE. “If you are going to have an innovative economy, it is vitally important to have research universities to drive that innovation. Firstly, it is important to have great universities with excellent intellectual capabilities to train future generations, and secondly, it is equally important to provide universities with the required funding and financing that enables good research. AUS, with His Highness’s mandate and an approved bank funding is ready to go that way.”
The final panel of the day looked at SMEs in the Emirates and featured speakers from Sheraa, MEVP and Endeavor UAE. Discussions touched on the UAE’s vision for the SME sector, if the UAE provides an environment for entrepreneurs to thrive and the impact of current legislation on SMEs.
Day 2 of the conference commenced with acting CEO of the Securities and Commodities Authority H.E. Dr Obaid Saif Al Zaabi giving a keynote address highlighting the role that the SCA plays in regulating UAE capital markets and recent developments in this sector. Speaking of the national agenda, he remarked that the UAE seeks to be among the top ten countries in the world in the Global Competitiveness Index, and “all government institutions, including the SCA, have joined efforts towards reaching this goal.”
H.E. Mr Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal participated in a one to one interview and emphasised the importance of Sharjah and the UAE embracing a disruptive economy, as well as observing that Sharjah is the only emirate in the UAE that sits both on the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Gulf, “which serves as a huge competitive advantage for investors on either side of the UAE.”
A special session on payments followed with representatives from Beehive UAE, Mastercard and PayFort discussing the importance of payment systems economically, and the driving factors of Fintech in the UAE. Beehive’s CEO noted that banks are embracing new financial enablers in the market, and are interested in collaborating with ‘disruptors’ like Beehive.
To follow, in a keynote interview, Adil Al Zarooni of Al Zarooni Emirates Investments told delegates of his own experience as an investor in Sharjah and the UAE. “You have to be very selective and very hands-on. It’s hard work to build a business, but you have to keep investing time and money that’s when you’ll see real growth. Again, here in Sharjah is an excellent investment destination.”
The final panel of the conference focused on capitals markets in the UAE and was moderated by Tom Ashby of Iridium Investor Relations. Halo Investment Management, Lazard Asset Management, S&P Dow Jones Indices and Gulf Islamic Investments were represented as well as the group CFO of Crescent Group. The panel discussions included the observation that there is no ‘meaningful ecosystem’ where ‘failing’ companies can be supported to the next stage of growth and therefore these organisations need to be culled. “It’s that brutal element in this region that is missing.”
With an exciting and insightful mix of keynote presentations, on-stage interviews, panel discussions and workshops, the Euromoney Emirates Conference was a standout event for the region. Euromoney Conferences would like to thank our co-host, the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), as well as all of our sponsors, speakers and participants for their support and for making the launch of the Emirates Conference a success. We look forward to returning to Sharjah in 2018.
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