The Coronavirus pandemic has taught us several life lessons. We have learnt the importance of patience, resilience and have fought the odds with positivity and bravado. For many businesses, this has been an especially challenging time, but despite all obstacles female entrepreneurs in the country admit that the UAE provides immense opportunities for them to get back into action. The secret is sustainability and innovation and a clarion call to support homegrown businesses.
Dubai resident Jennifer Blandos Hardie, who owns a training company called the International School of Communication, says the emirate has the “anything-is-possible” vibe. “I have always loved that!” says Jennifer, who is also the co-owner of the Female Fusion, the UAE's largest platform for female entrepreneurs. “I wouldn't want to have my businesses anywhere else. Dubai has great infrastructure that makes running a business really easy. Over the past 10 years I've seen big changes in how the government operates businesses and business licensing - it gets better every year,” she adds.
Talking about the challenges that she had to face, Jennifer says, “My training company was unable to deliver face-to-face training for months. Our biggest challenge has been convincing clients that online training delivered well is just as good as face-to-face training. All of our trainers went through a 12-hour train-the-trainer programme to learn how to use technology and deliver a course online, which is very different from face to face. Online training actually requires a lot more planning to make sure that people are constantly engaged in front of a screen, or they'll just shut off. From that investment in the beginning, we have built a reputation with our clients for delivering engaging online training. Many of our clients have told me that the online training better not disappear once we return to normal!”
Be ready to innovate
For Jennifer the biggest takeaways during the pandemic has been the need to be as agile as possible and be ready to change quickly to meet market demands. “Pivot, pivot, pivot I would say! Stay positive, this won't last forever - we just need to refine and adjust our product or service for current demands,” she says.
What she has also done is to support as many local businesses as she can to get that narrative across to other residents as well. “At the International School of Communication we source many of our products from local companies - from 100 per cent recyclable stationery to a local SME that produces the most wonderful tea that we offer in our café at work," says Jennifer.
Simarna Singh, founder of the social enterprise Coco Veda, agrees. She says, “Many businesses who are over reliant on international supply chains, have been affected significantly. There is an opportunity amidst this disruption, whereby individuals are focusing on supporting local businesses. For example, Majid Al Futtaim and the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, have launched Dubai’s first in-store hydroponic farm at its Carrefour market in Al Wasl to help drive UAE’s sustainability and food security agenda by increasing the quantity of local, fresh and sustainable produce. I believe that to showcase the importance of supporting local we require re-education and these conversations should take place on a daily basis at home and embedded within the school curriculum in the UAE so that the youth are more involved.”
Business models need to be sustainable
The pandemic, Simarna feels, has taught entrepreneurs that while the fundamental premise of a business is to be profitable, there needs to be an inclusive consideration of the needs for the people and planet. “It is important to recognise that sustainability needs to be embedded within the business model of each organisation, The UAE Government recognises the importance of sustainability in business. Therefore, the cabinet has implemented Vision 2021 and Centennial 2071 to develop an ecosystem to accelerate and track the progress of the sustainable development initiatives.”
She says that in the new digital economy, leveraging on technology, will accelerate sustainable development. “The pandemic has given us the opportunity to drive sustainability through innovation”
Innovate to survive
Innovation is also the key to survive, says seasoned entrepreneur Rashi Punjabi. While the pandemic left her with no choice but to close the18-hole glow-in-the-dark mini golf course, Tee and Putt, in Dubai’s Wafi Mall for everyone’s safety, it gave her time to think of how to use her resources and expertise elsewhere. “I spent my time at home playing lots of games with family, and that’s how the idea of Giftopoly personalised games came to me. I also got the opportunity to conduct and develop mind mapping workshops on an online platform, reaching a larger audience and helping children and adults boost their memory and creativity during the lockdown,” she says.
Rashi, also a strong supporter for local businesses, says such enterprises are always innovating, have great service levels and help with local employment. “They make the city special. We can help local businesses thrive by recommending them to our friends and family and sharing their information on our social media pages.”