"You can even work in the waste management business, but you have to love it and strive to be the best at it." Rabih El Chaar, 41, a Lebanese-Canadian expat, recalled his father's advice that he should embark on a career in a field he loved and be the best at it, when he was deciding on his career path in high school.
"Many years on, I am on that precise path that my father had merely used as an analogy," he said, who began a social enterprise that provides digitally enabled solutions for solid waste management in the UAE in 2020 at 39 years of age.
Life lesson: Strive as part of a like-minded team towards set objectives.
El Chaar studied mechanical engineering from Canada-based University of Calgary, took a degree in Masters in Business Administration (MBA) and went on to become a management consultant for 15-plus years with multinational firms and global management consulting firms, with specific experience in the public sector.
His first job was in the oil and gas industry as a field engineer in Canada. "My first supervisor was a fantastic person who had invested a lot of time and effort in teaching me the business and coaching me to handle extensive responsibilities.
"He was genuine, truthful and hardworking. These traits resonated with my upbringing and ethical compass, and I learned to prioritise these values throughout my career."
After a lengthy corporate career in large multinationals and consulting firms, El Chaar followed his long-standing entrepreneurship instinct.
The opportunity allowed me to engage in something more fulfilling on a personal level yet holds even more profitability potential than my previous line of work
He founded Nadeera - a social enterprise that provided him great motivation to keep going and contribute to disrupting the status quo when it comes to waste mismanagement. "Had I not taken this step, I know that at 80, I wouldn't forgive my younger self for not at least giving entrepreneurship a go."
He entered the waste management industry because he observed an untapped opportunity in a sector that few were willing to enter at the time. "The opportunity allowed me to engage in something more fulfilling on a personal level yet holds even more profitability potential than my previous line of work and gave me the freedom to explore new ideas.
"Nadeera's business is circularity — ensuring that communities in our region recycle more and better. Where others see waste, we see raw materials buried or burnt every year in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region. We are talking about more than Dh18.3 billion [$5 billion] that could have been recovered."
He said, putting environmental sentiments aside, this is just bad business as waste is a sign of inefficiency. "We are here to change that by recovering the most out of what is wasted."
Why did you decide to do business in waste management?
El Chaar said, "The waste management industry in the Gulf region still predominantly operates in a traditional, linear manner, with disposal-oriented strategies dominating the process cycle. Nadeera saw this as a profitable yet socially and environmentally impactful opportunity to disrupt prevailing practices.
"We sought to prove that economic growth can be decoupled from environmental degradation and that environmental sustainability can go hand in hand with profitability.
"I have lived in Abu Dhabi for over ten years. I chose to start my company in the UAE because of the economically progressive mindset within the country, which consistently embraces disruptively innovative ideas and approaches to conducting business.
"We see that in the entrepreneurial spirit ingrained in the country's culture, with the UAE just recently being ranked as holding the most supportive environment for entrepreneurs. I have experienced extensively all the funding and seed programs offered, which helped shape my business into what it is today."
So, how did you fund the business?
El Chaar said, "Our initial funding came from start-up accelerator seed programs and grants, and from those funds, we were able to build our team and products and pilot test our concept in onboarded communities.
"Following the success of our proof of concept, we were able to scale across the Arab region and generate revenue from commercial deals in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon, alongside garnering external investments in the company. We have successfully raised over a Dh955,006 ($260,000) in funding."
There are many capital and operational expenses involved in running a waste management technology firm and many indirect, he said. The main cost items are human resources, permitting and licensing costs, infrastructural investments, rental fees, marketing and communication and technology development.
Entrepreneur tip: Keep operations costs lean to focus on enhancing your work solutions.
"We focus most heavily (up to 50 per cent of our funds) on technology development as having a solid solution, which is key to success. A large part of our remaining funds is spent overseeing projects and product development. By comparison, the admin costs are minimal, and we run our operations in a lean manner, so we can focus spending on continuously enhancing our solution."
What is the key challenge when running this business?
The major challenge El Chaar faced was having stakeholders change their mindset about waste management from traditional practices to circularity.
He said, "Everyone is motivated and wants to make the change. Yet they are bogged down with conventional processes and systems. This makes our engagement cycle long when launching new projects. As we deliver more projects, we expect a snowballing effect as communities know and trust us, accept, and adopt our solutions.
"Governments in the region have set very aggressive targets on waste diversion, and our business is well-positioned to support these initiatives. We count on governments to encourage more recycling and reduce red tape when launching innovative and technology-enabled solutions."
El Chaar shared two money rules he follows for savings and investments
Money rule #1: Don't decide on areas you lack expertise.
He always avoided making decisions he didn't have the expertise in — like stock picking and taking highly leveraged positions. He holds a diversified and professionally managed portfolio.
"This allows me to focus on my business and not try to have a second job choosing stocks. My portfolio consists of mutual funds from reputed management firms like Blackrock, Zurich and HSBC."
Money rule #2: Be systematic in investing and have a long-term view.
He added, "It is vital to invest methodically and not try to time the market because, in the long term, market fluctuations do not matter.
"One big lesson I learnt was holding cash and waiting to time the market. I did that previously and missed several opportunities when the market was growing. So, in my view, it is better to invest periodically and systematically and play the long-term game."
How do you train your kids to be smart with money?
El Chaar is a father of a son and a daughter, both in their teens. He ensures his children don't take everything around them for granted.
"I know that they must earn their way into what they want. I try to teach the same financial prudence in them as was ingrained in me.
"They both receive allowances that are comparatively lower than what typical kids their age in the UAE get. I believe this will teach them how to live within a budget from an early stage. My wife and I also intend to donate our savings to charity and have made our kids aware of this, so they know they will need to take their financial futures into their own hands.
"I also share stories with them of how Nadeera influenced peoples' lives through our 'Cash for Recyclables' scheme, so they appreciate what they have and have empathy towards others. I hope this will build in them the go-getter attitude they will need to succeed in the future."
El Chaar has also set children's education funds set aside for them. "I have done this through a risk-balanced portfolio of mutual funds from leading management firms," he said.