Why CSR is great for smart SMEs

Why CSR is great for smart SMEs

  • Small businesses can immensely benefit from incorporating CSR as a part of their overall business strategy.
  • CSR activities can give a powerful message to your employees and in turn get a higher sense of belonging and loyalty to your project from them
  • While it might not always be possible for SME’s to donate cash for such initiatives, many companies are deploying winning strategies to bolster their own contribution in kind, either through barter or by volunteering time to an existing CSR project initiated by another organisations.
  • Engaging your suppliers can also amplify the impact of your CSR initiatives, while helping strengthen your relationships with them.

Should an SME owner embrace the concept and opportunity of getting involved and supporting Corporate Social Responsibility projects?

Some of you may have followed the news when it was announced last year that the US government was on the verge of defaulting on their debt. For average people around the world, this was one of the most confusing topics in recent times, considering the three tumultuous years of financial storms, earthquakes and tsunamis and let’s not forget, scandals.

What got my attention was that Apple Computer had within its own arsenal, stockpiled more cash in-house than the entire US government. Could it be that Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, once a scrawny geek of a kid who scrapped conventional wisdom to go out and innovate as an SME, to fulfill a dream that everyone should own a computer, could ride in like a white knight and save the whole country? Does charity begin at home?

Innovation and courage make it possible for an entrepreneur like Steve Jobs to support social programmes with millions of dollars each year. But what if you have a small business, and your focus is just on survival? What if you are struggling for loans or investors for your own project, and cannot even conceive the possibility of crossing the threshold of success and being able to give back?

When does it make sense to get involved as a small business and give back to your own cause or community? Well, for my part, and for many of the consultants on my team, we believe in looking for opportunities even before rolling out a start-up and building that into the mix as an integral part of the holistic structure of the entire business strategy.

To understand these reasons, one should reflect on some of the advantages of actually shaping your company culture with this type of commitment.

Powerful message

For a start, think of the message you will be sending out to your employees who will begin to realise that they are part of something more than just a 9.00 am to 5.00 pm job. This will often give them a higher sense of belonging and loyalty to your project and endeavor that makes them proud to say to total strangers, family and friends, what they do, who they are and why they love what they are doing now.

This, HR managers will tell you, is a powerful factor in human capital retention, and a recruitment magnet is always more powerful, when the team within, are all ‘game on’ and buzzed about the company. Among your clients, there is a percentage who will appreciate that some part of your margins which they contribute to, are recycled in a place that has a ‘feel good’ or worthy cause impression, again amplifying another good reason to do business with your company. This can grow to the next level, namely getting clients involved in social action projects, which are miracles of good CSR work in so many communities.

So, how much do companies need to invest in a CSR project, and how is it possible to do this before making a profit? The answer that I propose is that, although it’s nice to be able to donate cash, often, in the lifecycle of young start-ups, it’s not feasible. Many companies are, however, deploying winning strategies in order to bolster their own contribution in kind, either through barter or by volunteering time to an existing CSR project initiated by another organisation.

In the MENA region there are dozens of such organisations that have created CSR projects that would appreciate the focus and participation of one hour of someone’s time. This could range from having your team agree to spend half a day repainting a home for the elderly within your community, hosting a car wash to donate money to a needy school, creating a used book drive to donate to an orphanage. In fact, subject areas are endless and there is never enough. The unseen advantage in all of this is, there is a magical, intangible and yet amazing feeling of giving back to something or someone.

We, as business people, are able to feel a little taller in the process of this work, and at the same time, we have the advantage of not only putting a smile on the receiver’s face, but also spreading pride and significance amongst our teammates and our network for our participation.

Brand recognition

This is not thankless work either. Many participating SMEs are able to elevate their brand recognition and perception, by associating with causes that speak to their audience. This is a key factor of creating a strategy that works for your company. Find a CSR synergy that fits to the services or products that you deliver to the market. Build this into your overall business plan and connect with people on various levels as a result of your winning strategy. Be warned that there is a fine line between being genuinely involved in a CSR project and exploiting it so that you purely get a part of cash rewards.

It is better when companies form committees where employees and officers are part of the steering process, to make the best case scenario recommendations to the shareholders, about not only installing a CSR department, but guiding it and sustaining it. Another helpful hint if your SME adopts this practice is your key secret agents who can make your efforts even more powerful – your suppliers.

You will be amazed that when your team is committed, and has the ability to share a clear vision about what, why, and who, your suppliers will ask when and how they can help. Therefore, you, as the owner of an SME, are able to light a candle in your own store and by the power of passing the torch, ignite second and third party attention and support all around your organization’s CSR wagon.

And yes, remember, charity begins at your front door.

The article is written by Michael J. Tolan for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review


Tips & Learnings from Successful MENA Entrepreneurs

Tips & Learnings from Successful MENA Entrepreneurs

  • Believe in yourself
  • Have a vision
  • Burn the boats
  • Know our business inside out
  • Think big (regional and global) and not small (domestic)
  • View competition as an enabler
  • Focus on creating a structure
  • Have the right mix of talent and attitude in your team
  • Be observant, have an open mind and continue reinventing yourself
  • Surround yourself with positive people, and block your ears to the naysayers

Middle East entrepreneurs, empowered by technology, are ready to take entrepreneurial challenges and improve their lives and society, by launching firms focused on bringing never-heard-of concepts to life. Over hundreds of start-ups make a beginning every year. However, do all of them have the ability and planning to survive or get past the 10 year mark? What is the learning’s from the ones who have been successful in doing so? It will become clear when we discuss the experience shared by some successful MENA entrepreneurs and experts.

Believe in yourself. People will follow you when they believe you and they do believe you when:

  • You believe in yourself.
  • They have to believe in your path.
  • They believe your approach, system, methodology.
  • They believe in your capability to execute the process, system, approach offered.
  • It is tough to re-define reality and hence, having a strong self-belief is the key.

Have a vision of what the market will be like in 5 years or 10 years. An entrepreneur needs to make others believe in their vision and thus, he needs to create that vision. Making a desire into reality is the job of an entrepreneur, not only to push himself to achieve greater heights, but also to make his followers believe in him.

Burn the Boats. The entrepreneur should not leave himself any option other than success. The aim should be to conquer or perish. While executing a project it becomes important to have a plan B; however, for the entrepreneurs, it is not advisable to have a plan B as all it does is hamper plan A. The key is to remain committed and dedicated to one line of action and doing away with all the disturbances. According to JC Butler of Dubizzle, a Dubai-based start-up that offers free classifieds on its web platform, “Rid your heart of ‘I will try my best’ until all that’s left is ‘I have decided’. If one has a deep belief in his vision, then failure is not an option.

Know your business inside out. You may or may not have university degrees but you need to understand your business in and out. It may require spending lot of time and significant investments in learning about your industry and the tricks of the trade. A few ways to understand the industry can be attending trade shows, hearing speakers and being ruthless in the quest of relevant information.

Think big (regional and global) and not small (domestic). The success stories of Middle East entrepreneurs suggest that they had a plan to expand to at least five countries. This has benefited entrepreneurs from the smaller countries such as Jordan and Lebanon who have achieved more success than entrepreneurs from Saudi Arabia. This suggests that not being over-dependent on the domestic market, however large it may be, is a key to success for MENA entrepreneurs.

View competition as an enabler. This is especially true if you plan to launch a venture in a niche market segment, as any competition will help grow the overall market, and will likely bring in more business for you than taking away. However, if the competitor is big firm that poses a real threat, then get flexible and nimble. In such cases, it always helps to have a great company culture, which becomes your brand and cannot be copied.

Focus on creating a structure. Business initiatives revolving around the intangible concepts need a structure to hold them together. The structure helps to add frameworks and tangibility to these ideas. For example, Pharmacy1 stores have same appearance and customer experience with things located in the same place in every store, irrespective of the size of the store. Hence, it is necessary to ensure a structure in all aspects of business, be it action plans, resources or roles. The structure also enables smooth transformations when required.

Have the right mix of talent and attitude in your team.  It is important to pick people who can be groomed as future leaders. According to Tahir Shah, the founder of Pop-up Pakistani street food concept Moti Roti “People make things happen, you cannot learn and do everything. Hence, it becomes imperative to begin with a team with the right talent across right areas”. It is seconded by many other successful entrepreneurs like Amjad Aryan of Pharmacy1 and JC Butler of Dubizzle who believe in hiring people smarter than themselves.

Be observant, have an open mind and continue reinventing yourself. It has been observed that after initial success in the business, the mind tends to get complacent and keeps reveling in the success. Here again, competition play its role in making you realize your position and the potential of the market you operate in. So, continue to reinvent yourself to stay in the game.

Surround yourself with positive people, blocking your ears to the naysayers. That’s the advice from Amjad Aryan, a businessman who wanted to start a pharmacy business when he was a 23-year-old Palestinian immigrant cleaning carpets in Chicago. There, he had a chance to experience the efficiency, expertise and product selection at CVS Pharmacies.

Case Study: Pharmacy-1 & Amjad Aryan’s goal of creating the CVS of the MENA region

While he was studying at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in Boston, Amjad Aryan got a chance to do an internship at CVS. He joined there as a manger and became a store manager later. In 1997, he bought his first pharmacy, Roberts Drugstore in Miami, a large self-service store with a supermarket and cash machines. He renamed it as Pharmacy 1 and expanded with four new branches.

He sought to bring this concept to the Middle East, where he found out that the pharmacies were small family-run business characterized by a laid-back attitude towards service and an old-fashioned view of the retail pharmacy. After he had identified the need for quality pharmaceutical healthcare and customer service in the region, he also believed in its success. Using his savings, Amjad opened the first Pharmacy 1 in Amman in 2001. It has now the largest pharmacy chain with over 110 branches in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq. This has created over 800 jobs and the chain is the largest recruiter of pharmacists in the region.

What has Amjad done?  He had adapted an already successful business model, adopted some of its best practices and customized it based on the regional requirements.

One of the biggest challenges faced was acquiring talent in the region. In order to address this, he started a pharmacy university internship program with a three-month simulated pharmacy at colleges. He also hired people better skilled than him. All his seven VP’s were specialized in their fields. These executives focus on their work, while Amjad looks after the expansion projects.

All the Pahrmacy1 outlets have the same appearance and customer experience. In the first couple of years, Amjad standardized customer care, prevented prescription errors and speed up product replenishment, which brought consistency. Today, Pharmacy1 is known for convenience, professionalism, expertise staff (result of extensive employee training), and excellent customer service.

However, Amjad does not seek to build a successful company only; rather he seeks to build CVS of the MENA region. Amjad’s belief in the power of “I can” and in giving second chances; makes him give time back to society, make difference by empowering youth and change mindsets to promote the potential and ability of youth in Jordan.

Source: Arab Business Review Research

The article was originally published at: Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Apple Watch – Is the Time Up for Swiss Watch Brands?

Apple Watch – Is the Time Up for Swiss Watch Brands

  • Apple is all set to reinvent and significantly upend the digital watch market with its Apple Watch.
  • The Apple Watch, which will be closely tied-into the Apple ecosystem, and will also incorporate its latest healthcare and mobile payment offerings, seems ready to eat into the already limited market presence of existing smartwatch manufacturers like Samsung, Motorola and LG.
  • However, it also poses a threat to Swiss luxury watch manufacturers like Richemont & Swatch, which are adopting a wait-and-watch approach and hope not to witness another version of the something they woefully refer to as the “quartz crisis”. 

When Apple launches a new product, it does so with the intention to disrupt an entire industry, and Apple Watch will be no different (Tim Cook said earlier this year “Apple aims to be the best, not the first, with everything it makes”). Continuing its track record of innovation and disruption, Apple has launched its first wearable device – the “Apple Watch”, which is expected to be the new ‘game changing’ product in the wearable technology space. Just the way iPod crushed players in the MP3-player space, the iPhone became a game-changer for the smart phone industry, and the iPad created the tablet market, the Apple Watch is expected to disrupt the digital watch business.

The direct competition comes from existing smartwatch manufacturers, and the Apple Watch seems to have all the technological, design, and marketing components to beat the competition in the wearable technology market. With 70% of the smartphone market in developed nations being saturated, technology companies have been trying to diversify and create disruptive wearable technology (for example, Google Glass). Smartwatch is fast emerging as a hot product category, and most players have attempted to capture this market. Samsung, Motorola and LG have already launched smart watches, but they have received mixed reviews and moderate interest from consumers.

Latest reports from Forbes suggest that Microsoft is also planning launch a smartwatch within the next few weeks that will passively track a user’s heart rate and work across different mobile platforms. Google has unveiled its smart watch software named “Android Wear.” However, none of the existing smartwatches have been able to drive mass adoption so far, but Apple Watch is expected to change that trend.

The Three Versions of the Apple Watch 

Apple Watch – Is the Time Up for Swiss Watch Brands1Source:  Apple

Here are the key reasons why we believe that the Apple Watch is likely to be more successful than others who have thus far attempted to capture the wearable technology market:

  • Enabling new features/services: The Apple Watch offers several big features such as health monitoring and frictionless payments with Apple Pay. As the health and mobile payments industries are yet to embrace mobile internet; the Apple Watch is expected to have a significant impact on them.
  • Innovative third-party apps: App developers are already waiting to build third-party Apple Watch apps, offering a robust ecosystem of messaging, social networking, and real-time information applications. For instance, the Apple Watch will have numerous third-party apps, including a Starwood Hotels (HOT) app that would let the user unlock a door with their wrist.
  • Massive existing user base to tap into: Apple already has a huge install base of iPhones, iPads, and iPods. During last Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), Apple boasted a total of 800 million shipments of iOS devices, thus offering Apple an outstanding customer base to sell its new products to.
  • Extension of the iPhone: Yes, we have seen watches that check pulse, play MP3s, and check emails; however these watches are not functional extensions of the world’s most powerful smart phone. As the Apple Watch will use iPhone (which has higher speed, memory, and performance than the PCs of a few years ago) for connectivity, this creates a great advantage for Apple Watch.
  • Innovation fits in an existing product category: Unlike Google Glass, the Apple Watch is an innovative product that’s socially acceptable to the general consumers and fits into an existing product category which consumers understand.

However, smartwatch manufacturers are not the only ones that face competition from the Apple Watch.  With Apple’s track record of driving product adoption and displacing existing market leaders, the Swiss watch industry is keeping its fingers crossed and hopes not to witness another version of the something which they woefully refer to as the “quartz crisis”. The quartz crisis of 1960s involved the entry of inexpensive quartz movement-based watches from Asia to compete with the expensive mechanical watches that previously dominated the market. With Apple Watch about to hit the market, the biggest worry for watch brands (both luxury and non-luxury ones) is that consumers might forgo buying one of their products for an Apple Watch, as people become comfortable with features of a smartwatch and start wearing traditional watches less and less.

Apple Watch is expected to have the largest impact on the medium-low range of the two major Swiss watch companies’ brands, according to research conducted by Bernstein. The Swiss watch market is dominated by the two brands: Richemont — that has brands such as Piaget, Alfred Dunhill, Montblanc and Jaeger-LeCoultre; and Swatch — which makes timepieces under the Breuget, Tissott and Rado labels. According to a Bernstein report, “They could be exposed to revenue and EBIT (earnings before interest and tax) losses of around 3% if 20% of the addressable market is taken by smartwatches, but Richemont’s high-end brands look immune from any negative impact.” Indeed, in terms of pricing, only 1% of Richemont watches brands overlap with the Apple Watch market as most of its brands are high-end ones. But, Swatch, which owns a number of high-end watch ranges as well as its lower-end namesake brands, could be exposed to revenue losses. Also, Richemont generates about 46% of its revenues from watch sales; while Swatch relies on 90% from watches with 23% being generated by lower-end designs – the segment currently being targeted by Apple.

Further, to drive adoption, technological expertise is being complemented with the right marketing and hiring strategy by Apple, and should be treated as another indicator of the competition that awaits the Swiss watch manufacturers. Since 2013, Apple has been hiring leaders from the fashion industry,  to position itself as a lifestyle brand, as opposed to being a technology brand only – the most significant one being Burberry’s CEO Angela Ahrendts’ entry as the SVP of Retail and Online Stores. Angela’s presence was felt in the design and launch of Apple Watch – with sizes for both men and women (42mm wide and 38mm wide) combined with a wide range of styles, Apple catered to the desires of watch lovers and the style-conscious consumers. Here is a list of all the positions at Apple that were filled by fashion industry top-shots since 2013:

Apple Watch – Is the Time Up for Swiss Watch Brands2Source: Complex.com

While it may be too early to spell doom for the Swiss watch manufacturers, one thing is for sure – these brands will have to innovate at a much faster pace to retain and grow their customer base. Developing their own smartwatch won’t be a bad idea either, because if Apple is successful in driving Apple Watch’s adoption, it will likely expand the market for luxury watches (apart from smartwatches) among young consumers, thereby creating a large addressable user base for the Swiss brands.

In the end, it will be a toss-up between companies that only have better products, but also have the right marketing strategy to attract and retain their customer base.

May the best watch win!

The article was originally published at: Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Trade the Market like the Pros Do

Trade the Market like the Pros Do


  • Day traders, Speculators, and Hobbyists today have access to various Internet and Mobile based trading platforms that can help them trade like professionals.
  • The reality of the market place is that your broker might not necessarily trade on your behalf, but theirs. The pros know how to trade, but we all had to start with the basics and will have to learn how to control your emotions.
  • With the history and basic knowledge it is obvious that no one can explain how the market works or strategies in a couple of paragraphs but to learn how to trade like the pros you have to understand the market. You have to begin with the proper mindset to trade like a market pro and you must practice, practice, and practice. 

Today’s investor has a wealth of tools at their disposal that were unavailable to previous generations. With the use of the Internet based and mobile trading platforms, “Day Traders” ,”Speculators”, and Hobbyists are better equipped to wage battle on their own terms rather than be at the mercy of the market. A professional is one who has taken the time to perfect as best they can their methods of trading from which they derive their income. However for the average investor out there the waters that enter into are a vast ocean infested with not only delectable and compelling treats but its also filled with dangerous creatures looking for their next prey. We won’t jump into the deep end just yet as there has to be training in the shallows to ensure that you’ll have a fighting chance to survive in the vast ocean known as the marketplace.

We’ve all seen the brokers trading in the “pit” or on the trading floor in an open outcry system bidding and buying and selling all types of contracts. Understand that brokerage firms are not necessarily trading on your behalf, but of course on trading on theirs. In the case of the futures market brokers are not ever cheering for you to have a winning trade unless you are in the same positions as themselves. Just like in a casino the odds are not in your favor. This isn’t meant to scare you off or deter you from trading it is just the reality of the marketplace. There is a “zero sum” game afoot here and just like in the casino when you are winning its probably best not to press your “luck” for too long. Sooner or later the house will recover their losses due to payouts.

The pros know how to trade as we have been doing it for many years, but we all had to start with the basics and although I know many of the major players in this market and honestly like me they put their pants or skirts on one leg at a time and there aren’t too many “experts” only those with years of experience under their belts. So you must understand the basics and you will have to learn how to control your emotions as they will motivate you to act in a way that will usually make you very very sorry you didn’t keep them under control.

With the history and basic knowledge laid out before you it should be obvious that no one can explain how the market works or strategies in a couple of paragraphs but to learn how to trade like the pros you have to understand the market. One of the best authors to learn from is Cornelius Luca. Once you have the basics of the market then you have to learn trading strategies which can be complex. One of the best teachers out there is Raghee Horner. Both authors are quite active and you can find their work quite easily. You have to begin with the proper mindset to trade like a market pro and you must practice, practice, practice. Take it from me

Options trading involve significant risk of loss and may not be suitable for everyone. Options & cash markets are separate and distinct and do not necessarily respond in the same way to similar market stimulus. A movement in the cash market would not necessarily move in tandem with the related options contract being offered.

The article is written by Greg Heath for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Amazon is stealing your customers by paying their employees to leave

Amazon is stealing your customers

  • Regional competition for customers shows focus on customer satisfaction as the key business driver
  • Developing a customer centric corporate culture is essential for success
  • Motivate employees to care and be creative to keep customers happy and develop employee growth
How committed to your customer are you?

No company wants to say that, do they?  And while the Region sorts out logistical, cultural, and human capital specifics, Amazon.com and their CEO Jeff Bezos are already doing a growing business here.

Now, while you may say the GCC and Regional organizations have adopted a steep learning curve to meet customer needs and things are improving; the reality is simply this: you’re customers are there already and they’re waiting with high expectations for you to take care of them.   And if you don’t, Jeff et almost certainly will.

Today, commitment to the organization’s success is expressed directly as commitment to the customer.  And in our Region and around the world, it has to be.  Otherwise you won’t survive for long in today’s highly competitive marketplace.

The secret is to bring smart and creative customer driven employees and timely value based solutions to customers so they are happy and continue to buy from you. Simply said, you need a customer-centric culture to drive organizational success.  Commitment to your customer must be paramount.

Take Zappos, which has been acquired by Jeff Bezos’ amazon.com, and how they both feel about the importance of customer service and the need for staff to buy into their concept.  For Tony Hsieh, Zappos’s CEO, this meant taking his customer-centric philosophy to another level. Zappos employee training and orientation process sought to retain only the best employees with the most customer oriented mindset.  This paradigm was so engrained in its culture,  Zappos designed a program unheard of in the industry.  Hsieh referred to it as the “walk-away option” where newly trained employees were offered up to one month’s salary to walk away after completing their intensive training program.

That’s right, after finishing Zappos’s comprehensive and intensive training, newly hires were given the option of leaving the company to pursue other job possibilities.  About 2-3% would take the offer, but the vast majority, or upwards of 97-98% decided to stay.  For Hsieh, this method created an internal culture driven to be the best and drove out anyone who wasn’t as committed to their programme’s customer-based ideals.

This unorthodox approach, along with Zappos strong brand attributes, caught the eye of Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos.   After Bezos acquired Zappos, he tweaked Hsieh’s idea and adapted it to the Amazon culture.   Bezos has adopted a similar pay-to-leave program aiming to copy its subsidiary’s selective recruitment and retention strategies.

Once a year, Amazon’s front line employees have a chance to reflect on their work, their company, and their coworkers to decide if they are committed or if they wish to take a pay-to-leave package.  Those who choose to stay and forego the quick cash remain a more closely tied group of committed employees.

This kind of environment  is one wherein Amazon and Zappos are not only saying “there’s the door if you don’t like it”, but “here’s how much we care for our customers.  If you’re not fully on board, here’s the door and cab fare as well to take you home.  Thanks for coming.”

Creative retention and employee training programs like these may be a key driver to attract people to your company.   Furthermore, this could be key in developing an internal brand identity whose hallmark is serving customers’ needs.  And of course, no matter what your business is, when customers’ needs are met or surpassed, business succeeds.  We can thank Zappos for a creative option to building a culture of customer service and yes, Jeff Bezos for building on a solid construct in customer-centric thinking.

The article is written by Jonscott Turco for Arab Business Review To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

Seven Tips for Doing Business in the Middle East

Seven Tips for Doing Business in the Middle East


If you are moving to the Middle East for a job or business, keeping these points in mind point can help increase your chances of success:

  • Do not rush while greeting people
  • Building trust is important since personal and professional relationships are not separate
  • Verbal commitment is honored and valued more than contracts and agreements
  • Patient is a great virtue – both before and during business meetings
  • Negotiations will be tough and sales cycles will be long
  • Best way to communicate is to have face-to-face meetings
  • Avoid business talk at social gatherings

Any plans of moving to the Gulf region to pursue your dream job or start a new business venture or partnership? If yes, then before you do so, there are a few things you should bear in mind — these are related to business culture, business etiquette, meeting protocol, negotiation techniques, etc. all specific to the region. Business in the Middle East runs on a very different track as compared to other regions worldwide, especially the Western world. In the points below, we will offer you some tips that will prove helpful for you while conducting business the Middle East.

1. Do not rush while greeting people: While meeting and greeting people in the Middle East, do not mind if the handshakes last for a longer duration or if your hand is held while you are being led to a different place. This is because one should wait for the other individual to withdraw their hand first as per Islamic etiquettes. And yes, always use your right hand to eat, shake hands or hand over any item to anyone. If you are a male member of the team and are being introduced to a female colleague, it is advisable to wait and see if a hand is being extended. If not, then one should not try to shake hands. In terms of addressing people, Arabs are informal with names while doing business and like to be addressed by their first names.

2. Building trust is important since personal and professional relationships are not considered separate: In the Middle East, business is carried in a very different manner as compared to the Western nations. Business relationships are formed on mutual friendship and trust, and personal matters are prioritized over everything else. Arabs prefer to do business with people they know and like.  So, if you have friends working at the right places at the right time, the road to a successful business trip is laid out for you.

3. Remember that verbal commitments are valued more than contracts and agreements: Middle East’s culture accords more value to someone’s word as compared to a written agreement. So before you make a promise to deliver something, be sure that you will be able to complete it, since failure to do so can lead to a loss of respect and reliability.  Contracts are merely a memorandum of understanding rather than fixed binding agreements.

4. Have patience before and during business meetings: Do not schedule meetings too ahead of the actual date as changes in personal circumstances of your Middle East counterpart can impact your appointment.  Also, the initial meetings will revolve around knowing each other; so, it’s only after several meetings that the actual business talks would start once the trust and compatibility factors are established. Do not mind if meetings are chaotic. People will take phone calls during meetings and might enter the meeting room unannounced and start discussing their own agenda items.

5. Negotiations will be tough and sales cycles will be long: Arabs are excellent negotiators. Bargaining can be seen everywhere, be it a shopping outlet or a board room.  Decision making is slow with bureaucratic formalities increasing the delay further. Also, sales cycles are a lot longer in the region as compared to the West. You should not expect immediate results from initial meetings and make sure that you follow up, arrange further meetings and maintain correspondence. Refrain from using high pressure business tactics as they can backfire. Be flexible and patient! In fact, patience is the most valued virtue in the Gulf and if you can demonstrate it in the most frustrating business situations, you will surely reap the rewards.

6. Best way to communicate is face-to-face: Verbal communication is preferred over written communication in the Middle East. The written word is treated as less personal and hence you can find your emails receiving no response for some time if you do not follow up through phone calls. A few countries such as Saudi Arabia do not prefer to do serious business with Western people over phone and thus a personal meeting is the only option you have!

7. Avoid business talk at social gatherings: If your Gulf business partner invites you to a house party, do not try to discuss business at any point of time. You can bring something small as a token of thank you. Do not gift alcohol as it is not consumed by Muslims. There will be a lot of socializing and small talks before the meals are served to the guests. It is considered good manners to reciprocate the hospitality that you receive. Hospitality is held in high regard throughout the Middle East and people take great pride in lavish shows of hospitality — never ever refuse it as it can be considered offensive!

While you keep these tips in mind, take care of some of these points as well:

  • During Ramadan (the holy month of fasting for Muslims), do not eat or drink in front of Muslims
  • While eating, do not use your left hand; it’s considered unclean
  • Do not cross your legs and display the sole of your foot towards anyone
  • Never interrupt Muslims during namaaz (prayers), a religious ritual they perform five times in a day

Just remember these tips and you will not face much difficulty while doing business in the Middle East!

The article was originally published at: Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

ISO 26000 as CSR thinking guide to achieve sustainable business

ISO 26000 as CSR thinking guide to achieve sustainable business

  • Social responsibility is an organization’s legal and voluntary duty to consider its social and environmental impact of its decisions and activities.
  • ARAB Business needs social responsibility as way of doing business because the successful businesses of tomorrow will be those that lead and create value both inside and outside the walls of the company.
  • ISO 26000 covering sustainability pillars as thinking guide can help your business to run in an environmentally, economically and socially responsible way.

What is sustainability?

Sustainability means:

 “Meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” – The classic definition of sustainable development established by the U.N. Brundtland Commission in Our Common Future (1987).

It is means that growth must be both inclusive and environmentally sound to reduce poverty and build shared prosperity for today’s population and to continue to meet the needs of future generations. It is efficient with resources and carefully planned to deliver both immediate and long-term benefits for people, planet, and prosperity.

The three pillars of sustainable:                                               ISO 26000 as CSR 1

  • Development – economic growth
  • Environmental stewardship
  • Social inclusion

Carry across all sectors of development, from cities facing rapid urbanization to agriculture, infrastructure, energy development and use, water availability, and transportation.

Cities are embracing low-carbon growth and public transportation. Farmers are picking up the practices of climate-smart agriculture. Countries are recognizing the value of their natural resources, and industries are realizing how much they can save through energy and supply chain efficiency.

Why ARAB Business needs Transnational toward Social Responsibility?

Social responsibility is an organization’s legal and voluntary duty to consider its social and environmental impact of its decisions and activities. A corporate responsibility strategy outlines the ways that an organization contributes to sustainable development, engages with its stakeholders and behaves ethically.

ARAB Business needs social responsibility as way of doing business because the successful businesses of tomorrow will be those that lead and create value both inside and outside the walls of the company.

How ISO 26000 covering sustainability?

ISO 26000 defines seven principles of social responsibility:ISO 26000 as CSR 2

  1. Accountability: being answerable for decisions and activities and their impacts on society, the economy and the environment.
  2. Transparency: openness about decisions and activities that impact on society and the environment.
  3. Ethical behavior: in accordance with accepted principles of right or good conduct
  4. Respect for stakeholder interest: respect, consider and respond to the interests of its stakeholders
  5. Respect for rule of law: mandatory
  6. Respect for international norms of behavior
  7. Respect for human rights

ISO 26000 covering sustainability pillars as thinking guide helping your business to run in an environmentally, economically and socially responsible way.


  • It helps clarify what social responsibility is,
  • Helps businesses and organizations translate principles into effective actions and shares best practices relating to social responsibility, globally.
  • It is aimed at all types of organizations regardless of their activity, size or location.


ISO 26000 makes recommendations on how to identify significant environmental aspects and minimize the environmental impact of organizations’ activities.

Principles such as the precautionary approach or environmental risk management should be respected and promoted.
Four topical issues are addressed in this core subject:
  1. Prevention of pollution Measures: aimed at preventing pollution and waste to improve environmental performance.
  2. Sustainable resource use: Key areas include energy efficiency, water conservation/access to water and material efficiency.
  3. Climate change mitigation and adaptation: In addition to climate mitigation, organizations need to address adaptation by understanding their vulnerability, identify significant climate risks, and plan and implement adaptation options.
  4. Protection of the environment and restoration of natural habitats: Protecting and restoring habitats and the various functions and services that ecosystems provide.
Sustainable business for organizations means not only providing products and services that satisfy the customer, without jeopardizing the environment, but also operating in a socially responsible manner. Pressure to do so comes from customers, consumers, governments, associations and the public. Far-sighted organizational leaders recognize that lasting success requires credible business practices and the prevention of such activities as fraudulent accounting and labor exploitation.

ISO 26000 contributes to the economic growth of companies  taking a step towards the pursuit of global performance and can increase client satisfaction and trust, and promote harmonization between corporate social responsibility and existing documents, treaties, conventions and other ISO standards.

Why ISO 26000 helpful for business?

The International Standard ISO 26000 help Business to:

  1. Design and build a social responsibility strategy tailored to any fields and size of business
  2. Adapt this strategy to any legal, cultural or political environment
  3. Manage social or environmental issues specific to any fields and size of business
  4. Engage employees, communities and business partners in your strategy
  5. Win greater trust and credibility as a socially responsible organization.

ISO 26000 as CSR 3









The article was originally published at: Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

UAE – Innovating to Grow & Diversify

UAE – Innovating to Grow & Diversify

  • The UAE has been able to quickly and successfully transform itself from an oil-based economy into an innovative, knowledge-based economy; actively promoting innovation through policies and initiatives aimed at developing the three pillars of the innovation ecosystem – human, financial and technological capital
  • Being the first-ever World Expo to be held in the MENA region and themed as ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’, Dubai Expo 2020 is expected to strengthen the innovation ecosystem in the region.
  • UAE’s private sector will need to play an increasingly important role in supporting the government’s agenda and promoting the national innovation ecosystem to ensure that the UAE is able to maintain and strengthen its position as a hub for innovation, not just in the Middle East, but across the world.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE), which used to be known as an oil-based economy, has been able to quickly and successfully transform itself into an innovative, knowledge-based economy over the past decade. In fact, knowledge-based revenues now constitute a greater proportion of the nation’s GDP than oil revenues, having grown from 32.1% in 2001 to 37.5% in 2012. In its move towards becoming a knowledge-based economy, the UAE has diversified its economy, becoming a key player in the real estate and renewable energy sectors, in addition to becoming a global hub for trade, financial services and tourism. This vision to become a knowledge economy is evident in the UAE’s Vision 2021, which aims to build a nation where ‘knowledgeable and innovative Emiratis will confidently build a competitive and resilient economy’.

The nation has been actively promoting innovation through policies and initiatives aimed at developing the three pillars of the innovation ecosystem – human, financial and technological capital. 

Let’s talk about the human capital first as it is the most critical and fundamental pillar for all innovative changes. UAE has advanced its human capital on numerous fronts. Thanks to consistent investments across all education levels, UAE boasts one of the most advanced education systems in the MENA region. Moreover, advancing women’s education and economic participation has led to women taking up leadership roles throughout the country.

The UAE government’s budget allocation to education makes up more than 20% of the overall budget amount — this is way above than the benchmark average of 13%. Besides overhauling primary, secondary, and higher education systems, the nation is facilitating expansion of higher education institutes by establishing world-class local universities, attracting foreign universities to open branches in the nation, and entering into international partnerships. For instance, the Masdar Institute was established in 2007 in close cooperation with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). All these efforts have paid off, with the UAE’s rank on the Education sub-pillar of the Global Innovation Index going up from 65th in 2011 to 15th in 2013.

Second key element of knowledge economy is the financial capital because even the highly skilled human capital can fail to perform to its full potential without sufficient funds. Several sources of funding are available in the nation, including government funds, equity investing and crowd funding. Government funds typically provide early-stage funding and include the Khalifa Fund, the Expo 2020 fund, among others. In terms of equity investment, venture capital is the most accessible, despite the low risk tolerance of VC funds. The number of regional VC funds actively investing in the region is going up. Also, the number of VC deals has increased by 50% between 2010 and 2012, with 47% of the investment focused on technology.

Along with human capital and financial capital, technology accounts for another critical element for facilitating ground-zero innovation.  Although the UAE’s R&D expenditure as a percentage of its GDP (0.47% in 2011) is still below international benchmarks (global average of 2.08% and the OECD average of 2.32%), it is launching several targeted initiatives to develop its R&D efforts. Besides driving R&D in universities, the UAE government is keen to establish scientific hubs, for example, TechnoPark was set-up as a science and technology park managed by the Dubai Institute of Technology (DIT). Also, the Masdar Institute is developing a technology for desalinating sea water using renewable energy sources, and building the London Array, the world’s largest offshore wind farm.

The UAE’s innovation ecosystem has been encouraging many residents to become entrepreneurs. UAE-based technology start-up launches are expected to increase at a faster rate than the MENA average. By 2015, the UAE is expected to witness 185 new technology-based start-ups. Furthermore, the UAE government has reviewed its intellectual property and copyright laws with an aim to align them with international standards.

Exhibit 1: Snapshot of Some UAE Start-ups

UAE – Innovating to Grow & Diversify 1

Source: The Global Innovation Index 2014: The Human Factor in Innovation, Cornell University, INSEAD, and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)

The UAE topped the World Bank’s Knowledge Economy Index (KEI) among Arab countries, ranking 42nd globally with a score of 6.94. On all the four pillars of the knowledge economy—the economic and institutional regime, education, innovation, and information and communication technologies (ICTs), UAE was ranked among the top four Arab nations.

While the UAE leads the Middle East with a global ranking of 46 in overall innovation performance, Dubai is the first city in the region to establish first knowledge centers, including Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City and Knowledge Village.

Further, the Dubai Expo 2020 is expected to benefit several sectors of the economy such as hospitality, tourism, trade, shipping logistics and real estate; nearly $7 billion (Dh25.7 billion) has been allocated for development and infrastructure projects in Dubai so far. Being the first-ever World Expo to be held in the MENA region, the Expo will also add more than Dh140 billion to Dubai’s GDP, create nearly 277,000 new jobs and draw over 25 million visitors.  The theme of Dubai Expo 2020, Connecting Minds, Creating the Future emphasizes the importance of partnerships and innovation for building a sustainable world today and in the future­. Especially Dubai Expo’s new 100-million-euro Expo Live initiative will help drive innovation by uniting research institutes, companies, citizens and entrepreneurs across the globe in finding solutions to global challenges.

Exhibit 2: World Bank’s Knowledge Economy Index (KEI) Ranking of Arab Nations

UAE – Innovating to Grow & Diversify 2

Source: IMF, MRD/Orient Planet

Overall, if we look at the UAE’s innovation ecosystem, it seems that the pieces of the puzzle are falling into the correct places. The nation now boasts a number of unique advantages, such as strong education system, a diverse talent pool, a growing innovation culture, and a number of targeted R&D initiatives. While the UAE government has been capitalizing on these strengths and issuing relevant policies that address the issues of talent, funding and stakeholder cooperation, the private sector will need to play an increasingly important role in supporting the government’s agenda and promoting the national innovation ecosystem to ensure that the UAE is able to maintain and strengthen its position as a hub for innovation, not just in the Middle East, but across the world.

The article was originally published at: Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

We Can Do It as Arabs

We Can Do It as Arabs

  • Lack of successful entrepreneurs, especially in the technology space has been challenge faced by our region for a long time, despite abundance of human as well as financial resources
  • The main reason for this lack of self-belief in Arab Entrepreneurs in their ability to innovate or emulate the success of Western counterparts.
  • Another reason is that most Arab investors do not like to act as Venture Capitalists, but “play it safe”, which makes it difficult for entrepreneurs to get access to capital for growth.
  • If these problems can be addressed innovation and entrepreneurial success for Arabs should be easily achievable.

One thing that has always intrigued me whilst I was abroad, during the first half of my life, was why we as Arabs seemed not to be able to produce any measurable, perceivable success in the various facets of technology.

At the time (exactly 30 years ago) I was just embarking upon a prospective surge in my carrier, as a post-doctorate researcher at the former McDonnell Douglas Aircraft Company and part-time Assistant Professor at California State University, Long Beach, U.S.A.; I decided to return to my home country, Egypt, to try to do find out why we, as Arabs, were lagging behind and to try to do something that would make us stand out!

Over the years, I discovered a few problems that are holding us back from making positive steps forward in the advancement of technology; the most prominent problem is the inherent lack of the ability that we are able to achieve any progress, because of the lack of resources, such as money, human competency, amongst other ‘excuses’. However, I soon found out that the Arab nations possess a plethora from both these resources, which seemed to me to be very strange.

Upon further analysis, I discovered that the real reason was that we lacked the self-confidence to achieve success, as entrepreneurs; one very dear friend, with great honesty, once confessed that we have the “Khawaja’s (foreigner’s) hat embedded inside our hearts”! As such, we are incapable of achieving success to the level of the Western countries. This is where I strongly disagree with this falsity.

As a challenge, I decided to travel the road of entrepreneurship in order to experience it for myself and discover the realities. To do this, I changed my career to Arabic Computational Linguistics, as I believed it was fervently needed for our Arab nations; thirty years ago, I was labelled as mad, as the field was not known then. What made it worse was that I had the dream of developing an Arabic search engine that would someday be the “Google” of the Arab nation!

Here is when I started to meet the real problems that entrepreneurs suffered in the Arab world; in addition to the lack of aforementioned lack of self confidence amongst entrepreneurs, I also faced the lack of confidence, on the part of investors, in the capabilities of entrepreneurs. I believe that this is one of the main hindrances that is holding back the formation of the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Arab nations. I spoke about this particular problem when I was invited as a panellist at the annual meeting of the World Bank Group in 2011.

Arab investors are “playing it safe” and are treating the financing of entrepreneurs as a bank which should guarantee a return on investment, only with a much higher rate than a bank. This redefines the term “venture capital” to “extremely safe capital”, which, in my opinion, defies the objective of the entrepreneurial exercise. I wish to mention something that a well-respected marketer once told me: The Chinese word for “Threat” is composed of the two words “Danger” and “Opportunity”.

This “Take the Safe Side” attitude, I believe, will never allow the Googles or Microsoft’s to emerge in the Arab world; what we really need is to produce real technology and not just a whole lot of applications, of which there are already a dime a dozen. What we really need are daring real risk takers who are willing to finance regional projects (“regional” meaning for the whole MENA region), that are capable of catapulting the Arab nation to the realm of real technology.

I also wish to stress that technology cannot be imported, but is created in its own environment; this is why I have embarked upon linguistic technologies for the Arabic language, as it is unique to the Arab world. Its applications are innumerable, as we have recently discovered in the areas of sentiment analysis, trending and various analytics, let alone search results that return meaningful and useful search results for the Arab user.

I believe that if we overcome the problems highlighted in this article, we can do it as Arabs!

Source: http://www.infodev.org/highlights/out-valley-death-meeting-challenges-financing-innovation

The article is written by Hossam Mahgoub for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review

A good Player needs a good Coach

A good Player needs a good Coach

  • A Business is a person who actively listens to you; who explores options with you, and who can provide you with effective feedback to grow, and deliver better results in life.
  • The Business coaching is a very personalized development program, focusing on the current burning issues that business Leaders face, which enhances their ability to gain personal insight into the real issues in their real world and in real time
  • Being egoless is the key to continue developing, progressing and evolving. Having an Executive Coach watching from distance, guiding the player is a must if we are to evolve as High Performance Leaders.

How many times do we get overwhelmed with small stuff here and there, how many times do we find ourselves out of focus on the right things, how many of us have a clear vision and know exactly where is he or she heading, how many know how to conquer key moments, how many know how to confront harmful behavior, how many have clear boundaries and live by them, how many can say NO to certain people or situations …. So many questions in mind.

We, human beings, share exactly the same issues, and we face similar situations in life. But looking at things from distance has a totally different meaning. I had no idea that finding the right person, who actively listens to you; who explores options with you, and who can provide you with effective feedback to grow, and deliver better results in life do exist and it’s called a Business Coach.

After spending more than 25 years in the corporate world; assuming different positions from a simple cashier to a group CEO of a multimillion company; where I learned things the hard way. And as most of us, acted stupidly in certain disruptive situations, letting my ego control, or even my emotions and wrong beliefs rule. I decided to get out of my comfort zone, and challenge my purpose in life, to find out that there is untapped potential we all have, but it needs to be unleashed at the right time, and with the right approach.  Hence, I left the corporate world, and started my own business focusing on empowering others.

While developing different leadership programs, I started reading and researching about what make good CEOs succeed, and why some CEOs excel in their Organizations, while others fail miserably despite their strong abilities, my findings were very simple, summarized by A good player needs a good Coach.

Business Coaching facilitates and supports leaders discover their excellence and strength to move them to peak performance, while opening their eyes to some potential beliefs impacting their success.  It is targeted oriented, and provides leaders the framework to stay focused on doing the right things, not only doing things right. In other way, the Business Coach provides and charts the pathway to success.

Unlike the regular training programs we all attend. The Business coaching is a very personalized development program, focusing on the current burning issues that business Leaders face, which enhances their ability to gain personal insight into the real issues in their real world and in real time. Moreover, while being Coached, Business Leaders clarify their vision, and get encouraged to be fearless while translating their vision into reality, leveraging their unique qualities in service of positive change.

In the Arab World, the idea of business coaching to top management is still not entirely supported, as the “We know it all phenomena” still dominates. Being egoless is the key to continue developing, progressing and evolving. Having an Executive Coach watching from distance, guiding the player to do more of this, and less of that, challenging the beliefs and the actions; and enabling personal transformation is a must if we are to evolve as High Performance Leaders.. I keep saying I wish I had a coach when I was a CEO; my life would have been much easier.

The article is written by Majd Shweikeh for Arab Business Review

To read more thought-leadership stuff by leaders from Arab Region, please visit Arab Business Review