After an intense week of feasting and partying during the Christmas and New Year season, the first week of January is usually a time to slowly ease into reality.  Sleeping in and spending time with loved ones, for instance.  37 INSEAD students bucked the trend by spending the first week of 2013 in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, networking with business leaders, visiting companies and working on live projects, all in the name of learning more about the UAE and Middle East.

A key highlight of our trip was the three panel discussions on economic development in Abu Dhabi, human capital development and financial issues in the region respectively. What struck us was the consistency and clarity of the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 articulated across different organisations from within and without government. The vast amount of resources invested in improving education and promoting entrepreneurship was also astounding.

My biggest epiphany came from interacting with the Emiratis from Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development and Standard Chartered Bank, for instance.  Their intellectual capacity, sophisticated global outlook and strong commitment to furthering the development of their country were most impressive.  Having done many similar country visits in my previous job, I can safely say that the quality of the top echelon of society is a good proxy for the country’s economic future.  At least based on the limited sample size, the future of the UAE appears to be in good shape, supported by a huge expatriate community (less than 20% Emirati in a country of 5.4 million residents).  The UAE is certainly a cosmopolitan city that welcomes foreigners to work, live and play here.

As we have only just embarked on our live consulting projects, I will elaborate on them in my next post.  Save to say that working with public and private companies based in the UAE on live issues is a fantastic way of deepening our understanding of Emirati society, business and politics, and by extension, that of the Middle East.