What can other nations learn from the UAE’s support for people of determination?

Citizens and residents in the UAE are fortunate to have a government that is fully committed to creating and maintaining an inclusive environment. Indeed, equality of opportunity represents one of the cornerstones of our nation, and our leaders have gone to great lengths to build a fair society in which everyone is able to realise their full potential.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the UAE’s policy concerning people of determination, which is built on six key pillars:

  • Health and rehabilitation
  • Education
  • Vocational rehabilitation and employment
  • Outreach
  • Social protection and family empowerment
  • Public life, culture and sports.

Coupled with a comprehensive package of guidance and support, this legislation has placed the rights of people of determination at the forefront of decision-making in the UAE – and with significant success. When it comes to measures intended to make tangible improvements to people’s day-to-day lives, actions speak louder than words, which is why the initiatives, events and state-of-the-art facilities developed across the emirates offer a global benchmark for best practice.

So, what can other countries learn from the emirates’ approach to individuals within this group? Well, in my opinion, there are four primary areas that showcase the UAE’s ongoing commitment to people of determination.

Bespoke education

The UAE Ministry of Community Development’s (MOCD) new curriculum for training is a prime example of best practice in this area. Specifically designed for individuals who currently attend MOCD Mashagel Centres, this programme trains people of determination – specifically those with intellectual disabilities – in a range of professional, social and behavioural skills that empower them to thrive in their chosen careers. Combining the key pillars of ‘education’ and ‘vocational rehabilitation and employment’, this initiative is already serving to broaden the range of career options available to people of determination.

More broadly, Mashagel Centres, which currently operate across all seven emirates, provide people of determination with opportunities to learn work-based skills through hands-on applications. With subjects ranging from jewellery and chocolate making to hydroponics, these facilities provide students with real-world experience in a diverse selection of disciplines that cater to every interest.

Harnessing hospitality

Equality of opportunity does not end with education in the UAE. There are a range of employment-related initiatives designed to harness the talents of people of determination, especially within the country’s thriving hospitality sector.

Conrad Abu Dhabi Etihad Towers, for example, runs an Inclusive Partnerships and Employment Programme, which supports, trains and employs young people of determination who wish to work in the industry. US-headquartered hospitality giant Hilton, meanwhile, has also adopted a proactive approach. Speaking at Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2022, Jochem-Jan Sleiffer, the multinational’s Area President in the Middle East, Africa and Turkey, explained how he and his team are working with Dubai Executive Council to enable more people of determination to enter the sector, providing opportunities for progression throughout their careers.

World-class healthcare

Building upon investments related to education and employment, there are myriad healthcare-related initiatives designed to support, empower and protect people of determination living in the UAE.

One of the most recent examples emerged last month when National Ambulance teamed up with Special Olympics UAE to install a series of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) at sports clubs and facilities as part of their ‘Train Safely’ initiative.

Straddling the pillars of ‘health and rehabilitation’ and ‘public life, culture and sports’, this potentially life-saving scheme dramatically increases the chances of survival for those experiencing cardiac arrest. It is just one of many excellent examples of how national entities collaborate to create safe environments in which people of determination can exercise and compete.

Sports and fitness for all

This year’s Autism Awareness Week, which took place in April, featured The Emirates Physical Fitness Championship for People of Determination. Designed to raise awareness of autism, as well as neurodiversity within the spectrum, the event saw 760 people of determination participate from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya.

The championship, which was held in Abu Dhabi under the patronage of Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Tolerance and Coexistence, also strove to open new doors of cooperation and support between entities and individuals across the Middle East.

In 2019, the Special Olympics World Games were hosted by Abu Dhabi, raising awareness of the importance of people of determination within sport. This high-profile event saw a huge increase in the number of athletes attending. What’s more, as part of the games’ legacy, the UAE launched the Unified Champion Schools (UCS) scheme to further promote accessibility and inclusion within the education system through greater integration of students with disabilities.

The UAE is also investing significant time and resources into the participation and development of sportspeople of determination on the international stage. For instance, the 12-strong cohort of Emirati athletes that participated in last month’s Invitational Games Malta 2022 was the only team to attend from the Arab world, competing against more than 1,000 fellow sportspeople from around the globe. This represented a long-awaited opportunity for our national team to once again compete in person, following the UAE’s efforts to provide Covid-secure training opportunities via virtual sports and fitness camps throughout the pandemic.

A fully inclusive approach

I’ve only outlined a handful of the many measures the UAE is taking to protect and empower people of determination in their day-to-day lives. However, I believe the most important lesson that other countries can learn from our nation’s approach lies in its unwavering commitment to inclusivity at every level.

Here in the Emirates, policy surrounding the empowerment of people of determination never follows a top-down model. Instead, our leaders make every possible effort to include the voices, talents and expertise of people of determination throughout the decision-making process.

So, why should UAE policy be held up as a global benchmark? Because our nation’s holistic approach simply would not be possible without the involvement of people of determination themselves

Why the UAE is ideally placed to cement its position as the home of elite sports competitions

Not so long ago, if someone had asked you to name a premier global destination for elite sporting events, the chances are the UAE wouldn’t have featured particularly high up on your list.

While perhaps not technically a ‘sport’, one UAE-based event that continues to generate a surprising amount of nostalgia online is the World Chess Olympiad 1986 – no doubt because of this joyous promotional video produced by the UAE Chess Federation.

Quaint though this clip may seem by today’s standards, it’s an early and fascinating example of the UAE’s instinct for attracting an international audience. And while our nation has evolved dramatically in the almost four decades since this video was filmed, the most striking changes of all relate to infrastructure.

Whereas Deira Clock Tower and the aerial views of Dubai Creek may remain familiar to modern viewers, today’s Dubai is barely recognisable when compared to this grainy, sun-soaked footage. The video contains no indication that Dubai International Airport (DXB) would grow to become the world’s busiest in terms of international passenger traffic; no sign of Dubai Metro; and no major tourist attractions, such as The Dubai Mall, the Burj Al Arab or the Burj Khalifa.

And these observations apply to just one emirate. When you consider that this footage was captured such a comparatively short time ago, the pace of progress across the UAE has been astounding.

An ever-growing industry

The expansion of the UAE’s sporting calendar is one of the few things that has managed to keep pace with the nation’s infrastructural development during this period. Today, the Emirates is home to a dizzying array of elite-level events, which draw huge crowds of residents and international visitors alike.

This year alone, the UAE is hosting the Dubai Desert Classic; the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship; the DP World Tour Championship; the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships; the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi; the Dubai World Cup; the UAE T20 League; NBA games in Abu Dhabi; and Formula 1’s Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

The UAE has also become a popular destination among high-profile football clubs as a venue for winter break training camps, with the likes of Paul Pogba, Cristiano Ronaldo and Mo Salah training in the country during recent years.

Add to this the fact that the emirates has twice hosted the Indian Premier League (IPL) as well as the first three editions of the Pakistan Super League, and it’s clear to see that our nation has firmly established itself as a favourite among sports stars and fans alike.

Why? Because while some well-established locations around the world have seemed content to trade on their sporting heritage, the UAE has been busy transforming itself into a destination that is not only infrastructurally equipped to handle the large volumes of visitors that elite sports events attract, but which also offers myriad world-class attractions – from hospitality to leisure and entertainment – that appeal to tourists regardless of whether they are sports aficionados.

This situation has no doubt been helped by the willingness of sports personalities to not only promote the UAE as a destination, but to make it their home. Many international stars have ties to our nation, from former Wimbledon tennis champions Marion Bartoli and Roger Federer to football icon David Beckham.

Maintaining the pace

Building a sporting calendar is one thing but sustaining it is quite another. Even so, I am supremely confident that the UAE can cement its status as a global home for elite sport long into the future. Why? Because of Expo 2020 Dubai.

I fully appreciate the World Expo was not a sporting event (although it did feature an array of sports-related events and activities, not to mention ambassadors such as Lionel Messi). That doesn’t stop it from providing cast-iron proof of the UAE’s ability to welcome the world to its shores.

Overall, Expo 2020 Dubai attracted 24.1 million visits during its six months. Almost a third of those who visited came from overseas, with 178 countries represented. Put simply, Expo succeeded in attracting a diverse audience of millions – exactly the type of crowd that international sports competitions dream of.

So, who knows? Perhaps before long, we’ll be planning for the Abu Dhabi Summer Olympics or the FIFA World Cup UAE. Such a statement would have been unimaginable back in 1986, but that certainly isn’t the case today.

And even if I’m wrong, you’ll be pleased to know that the UAE Chess Federation is still going strong to this day.

Has Expo 2020 Dubai succeeded in keeping the UN Sustainable Development Goals alive?

Anyone who visited Expo 2020 Dubai – or engaged with its content online – will know that the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) remained at the heart of the megaevent.

Indeed, the UN recognised the potential of Expo 2020 from the outset. The global organisation’s UAE branch recruited five UN Volunteers to support its presence on the ground, all of whom operated from the UN Hub in Expo’s Mission Possible – Opportunity Pavilion.

Few would deny that the Middle East’s first ever World Expo managed to breathe life into the UN’s ‘Decade of Action’, which is focused on achieving all 17 SDGs by 2030. In fact, owing to the sheer volume of SDG-focused discussions, activities and events that took place during the six months of Expo 2020, there are simply too many to mention here.

Nevertheless, here are a few of my personal highlights…

SDGs in focus

UN Day, which was celebrated on the Stage of Nations at Expo’s Al Wasl Plaza in October 2021, opened with a curated group of photos from ‘TheWorldWeWant’ exhibit – a collection of more than 50,000 images from over 130 countries, which were also showcased at the Opportunity Pavilion Plaza near the UN Hub.

At the same time, the ‘UN Day Run’ saw participants from more than 20 nations participate to raise awareness of the 17 SDGs, while monitors around the Expo site were ‘taken over’ in a bid to promote collective action among visitors.

Expo 2020’s Global Goals Week, meanwhile, featured more than 20 special events – not to mention an array of on-site activations – that turned the megaevent into a global stage for the SDGs.

More generally, everyone who visited the UN Hub during Expo 2020 had the opportunity to engage with a broad range of panel discussions, art exhibits and film viewings centred on the fulfilment of the global goals.

From 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022, Expo 2020 Dubai succeeded in shining a spotlight on the SDGs in front of a global audience of millions.

The next chapter

But what happens next? Advantageous though the event was for these goals, there is much work to be done before they are achieved. The question now is whether Expo 2020 Dubai will leave a tangible legacy for the realisation of global SDGs.

Well, first off, we must take into account the unparalleled platform that the event provided for these issues. The megaevent secured the highest ever level of international participation in the history of World Expos, hosting more than 200 participating countries and organisations while attracting approximately 200 million virtual visits, according to Maha Al Gargawi, Senior Vice President of Political Affairs at Expo 2020 Dubai.

Overall, Expo 2020 hosted 24.1 million visits during its six months. One million of these were school visits and 107,000 were made by people of determination. Almost a third of those who visited came from overseas, with 178 countries represented. What’s more, upwards of 5.8 million people around the world are have been positively impacted by Expo Live grants, the vast majority of which are related to the fulfilment of the UN SDGs.

Any level of exposure for SDGs is clearly positive news when it comes to raising awareness and driving behavioural change. The fact that so many participants and visitors have come together to engage constructively with these issues will no doubt play a significant role in their ultimate fulfilment.

A lasting and meaningful legacy

Equally important is Expo 2020’s theme of ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’. The event brought together policymakers, businesspeople, academics and innovators from around the world, empowering them to forge lasting connections in the spirit of global collaboration.

And make no mistake, these connections look set to have a positive impact on SDGs for many years to come. Here are just a few…

The megaevent saw the UAE and France commit to extending further assistance to developing nations working to achieve their Paris Agreement objectives, as well as increased support for the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the International Solar Alliance.

In collaboration with IRENA, the UAE also launched its ‘Beyond Food’ initiative, which aims to bridge the investment gap for vulnerable communities while increasing crucial access to sustainable energy for cooking.

The UAE and Israel’s Ministries of Energy, meanwhile, signed a historic memorandum of understanding (MoU) to strengthen relations within the energy sector at the world’s fair. Also during the event, Masdar, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), TAQA and Mubadala Investment Company joined forces to support the UAE’s goal of achieving net-zero carbon by 2050.

In addition, Expo 2020 set the stage for the World Government Summit, where the Global Energy Forum – organised by the Atlantic Council – focused on ensuring our transition to sustainable resources receives adequate funding.

Ugandan investment in renewable energy projects worth more than $650 million was secured during the event, and Expo 2020 also redoubled collective efforts to involve more women in policymaking and leadership positions.

The ball is now in our court

While partnerships and commitments such as those outlined above can be difficult to quantify, I would argue that Expo 2020 Dubai has done more to promote the global SDGs than any other event or campaign in history.

The important thing to remember is that whether or not this legacy is fulfilled now rests solely in our hands. We must take what we have learned from Expo and transform it into positive, meaningful action for our planet.

Only if we fulfil our individual SDG-related responsibilities will Expo 2020 Dubai’s full potential be truly realised.

When it comes to achieving global travel goals, the Gulf’s tourism industry is well ahead of the curve

On its official website, the World Tourism Organization describes itself the international agency responsible for the promotion of responsible, sustainable and universally accessible tourism.

In layman’s terms, it is the global tourism body that decides what is (and is not) best practice.

As part of its ‘Management Vision’, the organisation has established five pillars that represent the foundations of its global activities:

  • Making tourism smarter through celebrating innovation and leading the digital transformation of the sector
  • Making tourism more competitive at every level through promoting investment and entrepreneurship
  • Creating more and better jobs, and providing relevant training
  • Building resilience and promoting safe and seamless travel
  • Harnessing tourism’s unique potential to protect cultural and natural heritage, and to support communities both economically and socially.

Ultimately, the World Tourism Organization is working to promote tourism as a driver of economic growth, inclusive development and environmental sustainability, while using it as an instrument for the achievement of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by reducing poverty and fostering sustainable growth.

The World Tourism Organization’s goals are clear and succinct, and it’s difficult to imagine anyone taking objection to the organisation’s stated aims. Nevertheless, achieving these goals is easier said than done.

It’s for this reason that the organisation has committed to delivering practical support to tourism markets around the world and, fortunately for Gulf countries, our region appears to be somewhat of a flagship for the organisation in this respect.

GCC tourism in focus

Earlier this year, the World Tourism Organization and Saudi Arabia agreed on a set of joint steps designed to cement tourism’s status as a driver for growth, opportunity and development across the Middle East.

The announcement came less than a year after the organisation officially opened its regional office in Riyadh, in a move intended to strengthen its links with the kingdom.

As part of their joint strategy, the stakeholders will introduce the World Tourism Organization’s Global Tourism and Rural Development Programme’s ‘Best Tourism Villages’ initiative to the region.

Other focuses will include knowledge creation for policy and business practices; training and skills development; and ground-level technical assistance, with plans already in place to establish the first Tourism and Rural Development Observatory in the Saudi Arabian capital.

At the same time, the World Tourism Organization’s ‘Digital Futures Programme’ – which is being conducted in conjunction with market leaders such as Amadeus, Mastercard, Cisco and Telefónica – will support our region’s small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to embrace digitisation. On a global level, this initiative aims to provide training on connectivity, e-commerce, big data and analytics, and online payments and security to as many as 20,000 SMEs across 22 countries, including 5,000 in its first year.

Stronger links between the World Tourism Organization and the Middle East, with an on-the-ground presence in Saudi Arabia, is clearly a positive step for our region’s tourism sector, and one which already appears to be bearing fruit. Nevertheless, countries across the Gulf will also need to do their bit to realise the organisation’s global vision.

Encouragingly, the priorities of GCC tourism markets already seem to be largely aligned with the long-term travel goals set out by World Tourism Organization.

Ideally placed

Consider, for instance, our region’s efforts to build state-of-the-art hospitality offerings. Dubai especially is home to an array of tech-empowered hotels, while artificial intelligence (AI) is being leveraged across the sector to improve both efficiency and the visitor experience. Thanks to the GCC’s track record of harnessing innovation, our tourism industry is already smart and digitised – and this trend is only likely to accelerate in the future.

Similarly, few tourism markets on the planet could claim to be as competitive as the Middle East’s Our region is a hotbed of entrepreneurship, proving itself fertile ground for innovators working within the tourism space.

Gulf tourism has benefitted from sustained investment over successive decades, and, despite the challenges posed by the global pandemic, this trend also looks set to continue. GCC hotel construction contracts worth $4.5 billion are expected to be awarded in 2022, according to research from BNC Network. Findings released by STR, meanwhile, show that more than 169,000 pipeline rooms are currently under contract across the region.

The Middle East is also home to some of the world’s leading travel, hospitality, events and attractions brands, making it an extremely popular location among hospitality professionals.

For me, it seems that a focus on professional development will offer the key to ensuring the sector retains its leading position over the longer term, but the building blocks are already in place.

Safe and seamless travel, meanwhile, has been the mantra of the Gulf’s tourism sector for many years, with world-class airlines such as Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways, SAUDIA and others leading the way on the global stage.

Indeed, nations like the UAE have taken this philosophy to a whole new level, establishing integrated visitor experiences from the second passengers step onto their aircraft to the moment they return home.

Cultural riches

Last but not least, the Middle East is second to none when it comes to the protection of cultural and natural heritage – not to mention capitalising on the social and economic benefits that tourism offers. Entire industries have grown up around these sites, and they are – in turn – helping to preserve these treasures for future generations.

From the Jebel Hafeet Tombs in UAE to Bahla Fort in Oman and the breath-taking petroglyphs of Saudi Arabia’s Ha’il Province, the Gulf boasts a wealth of cultural and natural heritage sites that have simultaneously enriched and been protected by the tourism industry.

As such, our region is home to countless communities that are benefitting both socially and economically, thanks to tourism built upon their heritage and culture.

Of course, that’s not to say that the Gulf has already fulfilled the goals set out as part of the World Tourism Organization’s pillars; there is always more work to be done.

Even so, our region is building from the perfect starting position, meaning that the future of GCC tourism looks very bright indeed.

Exclusive: Entrepreneur Amira Sajwani Shares Why The NFT Space Holds Great Promise

Having always had my finger on the pulse of technological advances, my interest in non-fungible tokens (NFTs) came naturally. I quickly developed a penchant for NFTs when they emerged to the mainstream last year as part of the ‘blockchain craze’.

Non-fungible tokens or NFTs record ownership and are stored on a blockchain. They’re digital tokens or assets with unique identification codes and data that differentiate them from each other. Once I grew familiar with NFTs and how they worked, I put my learnings to use and invested in a few projects that piqued my interest.

Today, NFTs are most commonly tied to virtual art and collectables, but there are several examples where digital tokens have been deployed in tandem with physical assets. We’ve already witnessed this in the real estate sector, with Tech Crunch founder Michael Arrington selling his apartment as part of the world’s first NFT property auction.

The opportunities within the NFT space are manifold. NFTs can help solve daily functionalities. While these opportunities mostly depend on the industry, every business can benefit from the NFT market in some way or the other.

Being from the real estate space, I believe that NFTs can take investment in the sector to a whole new level, be it in the form of fractional ownership or through direct title-deed transaction ease. An advantage for the property market is that royalties can be built into these tokens, which means they have the potential to be used alongside the Real Estate Regulatory Authority title deeds.

In case of the entertainment sector, for instance, having concert tickets put up in the NFT space can help protect customer details as well as streamline secondary sales of tickets.

The automotive industry is securing customer service by placing guarantees, warrantees, and policies on NFTs that connect to insurance companies directly. Many industries have shown certain functionalities that can be utilised by incorporating NFTs and block chain into their operations.

As NFTs are still in the nascent phase, it may take time for the concept to be accepted far and wide. At this point, one of the main challenges is being able to differentiate and sift through the frothy NFTs that are plainly based on hype and taking advantage of an unchartered territory.There’s also the uncertainty of choosing projects that have actual value, in comparison with those that aren’t as valuable. As NFTs grow more popular, these fears and insecurities may vanish in due time.

Post-pandemic, technology is going to see drastic growth, and we can expect to see plenty of new developments in blockchain and Web3, in particular.

I have no doubt that traditional property deeds and mechanisms will continue to be used for many years to come, but I certainly see the adoption of blockchain-enabled technologies, such as NFTs, playing a key part in the future of our industry.

Source: Villa88
Could taxation hold the key to achieving the UN’s SDGs- Amira Sajwani

Could taxation hold the key to achieving the UN’s SDGs?

As someone born, bred, and belonging to the UAE – a country that has benefitted hugely from its prudent, business-friendly approach to levies – it may seem odd to hear me discuss the potential benefits of taxation.

Nevertheless, I, like the UAE, understand that economies and communities must be willing and able to adapt to changing circumstances if they wish to secure future prosperity.

Indeed, the UAE recently made global headlines for its introduction of Corporate Tax (CT), which confirmed taxability of business profits at a headline rate of 9%. While large multinational enterprises with profits in excess of AED3.15 billion will be taxed at a different rate, profits of up to AED375,000 will remain exempt from tax in a bid to support small businesses and start-ups.

A federal tax that is applicable across all seven emirates, CT will come into effect from 1 June 2023, heralding a new economic model – and era – for the UAE.

Taxation for good

The potential benefits of taxation for governments are well known. While the various pros and cons of levies vary from economy to economy, taxation – when handled appropriately – is a tried-and-tested method of ensuring that public funds are supported by companies and individuals who are best equipped to pay.

However, rather than explore the domestic considerations that are commonly discussed in relation to taxation, I would like to focus on its potential to be leveraged for the good of our global community.

So, does innovative taxation have the potential to help the global community achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)?

The ‘Biscay Model’

When addressing this question in a recent article for the World Economic Forum (WEF), Kate Roll, Lecturer in Innovation Development and Public Policy at University College London’s (UCL) Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose (IIPP), explored how tax systems could be used to help finance the advancement of SDGs.

In her article, Roll extolled the virtues of the ‘Biscay Model’ – the strategy employed by the eponymous Spanish province to implement tax policies that prioritise corporate responsibility, climate and other issues related to SDGs. By mobilising resources, redistributing wealth, and promoting sustainable consumption and development, the academic argued that this approach offers a potential blueprint for international tax cooperation.

Biscay is using a range of mechanisms to achieve its goal, which is to achieve sustainable and equitable growth and wellbeing for its citizens. Rather than penalising poor practice, this model rewards contributions to the SDGs while recognising the importance of small businesses and start-ups.

You may well be wondering how the tax policies of a Spanish province could have any bearing on the UAE. I would say that the example being set by Biscay could offer a blueprint for the UAE, but also for the the global community at large.

By becoming the first ever authority to implement fiscal policies that are aligned with SDGs, Biscay has demonstrated that it is possible to use taxation to achieve a positive impact on a domestic and international level simultaneously.

This type of simple and inclusive approach is especially prescient for a nation such as the UAE, whose strategy for taxation is – relatively speaking – still in its infancy.

Unlimited potential

When it comes to levies, the Emirates could be viewed as somewhat of a blank slate; a canvas on which officials can draw up fair, socially responsible and sustainable taxation policies that can help lay the foundations for our nation’s future prosperity.

Emirati leaders have already taken significant steps in this direction with the introduction of CT – a policy which, like that of Biscay, recognises the importance of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as the backbone of our economy.

But what excites me most is the potential for the UAE to go even further, building the UN’s SDGs into the very fabric of its long-term fiscal policies.

There are 17 SDGs in total, spanning pressing issues from poverty, hunger, health and wellbeing to education, clean water, affordable green energy and economic growth. The UAE’s proactive approach to entrepreneurship and development is perfectly in keeping with the achievement of these goals, and formalising this alignment the form of future tax policies would no doubt serve to maximise our nation’s contribution to global sustainability and prosperity.

Of course, no country can drive positive change on a global level unilaterally, so international cooperation will be essential if we are to achieve the UN’s SDGs. Nevertheless, I am convinced that – like Biscay – the UAE is ideally placed to make a positive contribution that is disproportionate to its size.

Through innovative taxation, we can help bring about a brighter tomorrow for all.

Is this the time for a serious conversation about social media- Amira Sajwani

Is this the time for a serious conversation about social media?

When future historians attempt to identify the spark that ignited our modern era, it seems likely that the advent of the internet will feature among their prime suspects.

If predictions proves accurate, I believe social media – or web 2.0 – will be looked back upon as the fuel that enabled its proliferation.

By introducing the ability to interact without the need for technical knowhow, the social web has transformed the way in which we communicate and disseminate information, enabling user participation across a vast global network.

I do not believe social media to be bad. As is the case for any tool, the benefit or harm it does depends entirely on how it is used. Consequently, owing to its widespread – almost ubiquitous – adoption, social media has precipitated a raft of societal changes: some good, others not so good.

Accentuating the positives

Let’s begin by exploring the benefits, of which there are many.

Social media has enabled individuals from disparate communities across the world to connect and forge meaningful relationships. It has also allowed families living apart to keep in touch and share photos and videos at the click of a button (or the touch of a screen).

These platforms have facilitated countless worthwhile causes, giving voices to those that might otherwise have failed to gain traction among the global community.

Similarly, they have proven invaluable when it comes to facilitating access to education, especially during the global pandemic.

And of course, social media has offered an unprecedented and unparalleled ecosystem for creativity and self-expression.

When one considers the extent to which web 2.0 has transformed the way we communicate, it’s difficult not to be awe-struck by the good that social media has done – and can do.

Assessing the risks

At the same time, we must acknowledge the dangers that the social web has introduced to society, especially for younger generations.

People my age and younger are the first to have grown up against the backdrop of the internet and social media.

While these tools have provided us with incredible opportunities to learn, create and connect, I often wonder whether we fully grasp the impact that they are having on our mental wellbeing.

The risks are particularly pronounced for today’s teenagers – and children even younger – who have never known a world without social media. But what exactly are the risks?

According to thinkuknow.com, the primary dangers stem from exposure to inappropriate content, the inappropriate behaviour of other users, a tendency to overshare, and the ability to make friends with people we don’t know.

I appreciate it’s neither possible nor desirable to supervise kids 24/7, but the potential risks posed by unfettered access to social media are significant.

In a bid to find out more about the damage that these platforms can cause, British children’s charity Barnado’s conducted a survey of 80 of its practitioners across 30 services.

Half of respondents said they’d worked with children aged five to 10 who had been exposed to unsuitable or harmful materials online, while more than a third had experience of individuals in this age group who had been victims of cyber bullying.

A staggering 79% of practitioners said children they had worked with aged 11 to 15 had experienced cyber bullying, some instances of which had led to self-harm and even suicide.

Similarly worrying is the fact that 78% reported having worked with children in this age group who had been groomed online.

Fortunately, the potential harm caused by social media is being taken seriously by policymakers at the highest levels.

Speaking in his State of the Union Address in March, US President Joe Biden said: “[We] must hold social media platforms accountable for the national experiment they’re conducting on our children for profit… It’s time to strengthen privacy protections; ban targeted advertising to children; [and] demand tech companies stop collecting personal data on our children.”

How young is too young?

The more research I’ve read, the more I’ve become convinced that we need to give serious consideration to implementing higher, universally applicable age restrictions for social media platforms.

As thinkuknow.com points out, “most of the popular social media services require users to be at least 13 years of age before they can register, although some sites are created especially for children under 13”. The challenge, in my opinion, is that these age restrictions exist mainly for reasons of data protection.

Online services are not permitted to collect or store children’s personal information if they are younger than 13, but the same laws stipulate that children aged 13 and over can sign up to online services without parental permission.

Although important, this focus on data protection is missing the bigger picture because it fails to account for the social interactions our children have during their formative years. Our experiences during adolescence can have serious repercussions on our adult lives. To address the question of our children’s safety through the lens of data protection alone is far too limiting.

I fully appreciate that young people need to socialise, and I accept that the way in which they do this will evolve over time in conjunction with technology. This was the case before the internet, before telephones and, in all likelihood, before the advent of the postal service.

I also understand that panicked, kneejerk reactions to change are rarely helpful, and I don’t wish to fall into this trap. Even so, if the available evidence shows that social media is proving detrimental to young people’s mental health, don’t we have a responsibility to act?

Perhaps the main problem is that we do not yet have enough evidence. Barnado’s points out that more research on the impact of social media will be essential in helping to establish an evidence base, and that this research must include the experience of vulnerable children and young people. The charity notes that education, mental health and internet regulation will also prove crucial in creating a safe online environment for all.

In the meantime, I believe that we need to seriously consider whether it is a good idea to allow 13-year-olds to access these platforms without parental permission. I would even go so far as to argue that leaving this decision to parents is insufficient, because it risks some children becoming ostracised from their peer groups. Whatever is decided needs to be applied universally.

And for those who worry that this will negatively impact social skills, I would point out that young people have always succeeded in forming friendships – and they always will. To suggest that this will be compromised by restricting access to social media would be to underestimate their innate ability to communicate.

Ultimately, children make friends despite technology, not because of it.

Expo 2020 Dubai may be over, but its legacy has only just begun

At the end of March, after half a year of global collaboration and celebration, Expo 2020 Dubai concluded with a glittering closing ceremony.

The UAE has succeeded in welcoming the world to its shores, with 192 participating nations and dozens of partner organisations helping to put on one of the best shows the world has ever seen.

May I just say what a spectacular six months it has been!

Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimi and her colleagues have achieved what many thought was impossible, bringing the international community together despite a global pandemic.

With specific focuses on opportunity, mobility and sustainability, Expo 2020 has delivered far more than a fun day out for the family (although it has definitely given us that).

The global gathering has enabled leaders, policymakers and innovators from every corner of the planet to connect face-to-face with the shared goal of creating a better tomorrow.

I am immensely proud of the UAE, and especially the team in Dubai, for hosting such a spectacular event.

The Middle East’s first World Expo has been an enormous success in every respect, bringing millions of people to the region while offering a springboard for social, technological and economic advancement.

But proud as I am of everyone who has worked so hard to make Expo 2020 such a roaring success, I’m even more excited to see how the project continues to add value to our national and regional economies over the coming years and decades.

A tangible reminder

From the outset, the organisers of Expo have been working tirelessly to create a long-term legacy that is at once physical, social, economic and reputational in nature.

Perhaps the most obvious long-term benefits of Expo 2020 (at least in the medium term) will be delivered in the guise of District 2020, a human-centric future city that will empower its inhabitants and professionals to connect, create and innovate.

For those who don’t know, District 2020 is not a project that needs to be built from scratch. On the contrary, it will use the cutting-edge Expo site as its foundations, making it one of the most efficient and environmentally friendly mega-developments the UAE – and, indeed, the world – has ever seen.

In addition to the innovative way in which District 2020 plans to ‘recycle’ the Expo site, its developers are also committed to imbuing it with a technologically advanced infrastructure capable of supporting the UAE’s future economy.

Focuses will include key growth industries and disruptive technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), big data and blockchain.

And while work on District 2020 is only just beginning, that hasn’t stopped it from grabbing the attention of several industry giants. Terminus, Siemens and DP World have already signed up as tenants.

Societal benefits

District 2020 may offer a physical example of Expo 2020’s legacy, but the social, economic and reputational benefits are no less important.

As the team behind the mega-event explains: “By challenging and addressing key conversations, such as climate change, responsible production, circular economies and ethical fashion, we hope that each of our visitors embarks on a purposeful journey after Expo 2020 to continue to seek collective solutions to global challenges in a culmination of innovation and collaboration.”

Fortunately, these “purposeful journeys” will have clear directions to follow thanks to the world-leading examples set by the event itself.

Expo has given us a blueprint for sustainability, for instance, connecting experts in a bid to create a cleaner, safer and healthier future for all. From the forward-thinking methods employed in the site’s original construction to the event’s continuous focus on environmental issues such as climate change and waste, Expo has set a plethora of sustainable benchmarks that will leave a meaningful legacy for generations to come.

The economic impact of Expo will be no less significant. According to Marmore MENA Intelligence, the value of the infrastructure developed for the event is approximately $12 billion, significantly higher than the $7.5 billion estimate put forward in 2013 when Dubai was named host.

A report released by EY predicts that, overall, Expo and its legacy will boost the UAE’s economic activity by a staggering $33.4 billion during the period 2013-31, supporting more than 900,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) job-years.

And from a reputational perspective, the long-term benefits are clear. By securing the participation of almost 200 nations (practically all of them), the UAE has cemented its status as a major player on the global stage.

It is impossible to overestimate the credibility and goodwill that the event has generated for the Emirates among the international community.

Mission accomplished

Ultimately, it’s difficult to accurately anticipate all the ways in which the mega-event will continue to benefit the UAE and communities around the world during the coming decades.

On a personal level, I’m certain that my experiences of Expo – and all the things I learned while visiting – will stay with me for the rest of my life.

As those who live and work in the Gulf will no doubt be aware, Expo 2020 Dubai’s main theme has been: ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’.

I think most would agree that in this respect alone, the Middle East’s first ever World Expo has been an unmitigated success, and I’m confident it will continue to deliver on this promise for many years to come.

Long-term residency visas in UAE- Amira Sajwani

The UAE’s decision to introduce long-term residency visas is a smart move for its real estate market

When it comes to encouraging foreign direct investment (FDI), the UAE boasts an impressive track record – especially in terms of real estate.

One of the most commonly cited turning points in our nation’s journey to becoming a global investment hub is the decision taken by Dubai’s leaders in 2002 to allow foreign citizens to purchase property. During the past two decades, our nation’s real estate rules have continued to evolve, becoming increasingly inclusive and attractive to expatriates.

While laws concerning property ownership for expats vary from emirate to emirate (see the UAE Government Portal for further details), most would agree that our country has succeeded in incentivising outside investment. Consequently, we have not only seen meteoric growth in our real estate market and wider economy, but millions of foreign nationals have had the opportunity to put down roots and build lives for their families in the Emirates.

Even so, if there’s one thing we know about the UAE leadership, it’s that they are not content to rest on their laurels. No doubt this is why recent years have seen the introduction of a variety of novel visa options.

Inspiring long-term confidence

While this expanded offering may not have garnered quite as many column inches as Dubai’s 2002 efforts to facilitate foreign investment in property, I expect the long-term effects of the country’s visa-related moves to prove no less impactful for the real estate sector.

Let’s take a moment to consider the range of visa options that are now available. In addition to the traditional two-to-three-year employment visa, would-be residents can now take advantage of the one-year remote work visa; property visas with three, five and 10-year durations; investor and partner visas with three, five and 10-year durations; the five-year retirement visa; the three-to-five year freelance visa; and, of course, the 10-year ‘golden’ visa.

When viewed within the context of mega-developments such as District 2020 – the legacy-focused tranche of Expo 2020 Dubai, which has been designed from the ground up to incentivise long-term commitments and investments – and you are left with an environment that is incredibly conducive to future growth.

Great news for real estate

So, what does this have to do with the UAE’s real estate market? Well, while the property-specific visas are clearly advantageous to those considering investing their money in the UAE, the sheer range of new, future-focused visa options will serve to boost the sector as a whole.

Ultimately, this is a question of consumer confidence, which has been significantly bolstered by our nation’s efforts to deliver greater flexibility and security for those considering relocating. The UAE’s overhauled visa offering has delivered more choice than ever before, and clearly outlines the country’s long-term commitment to expatriate residents.

In my opinion, we are already witnessing the early fruits of this approach, with the UAE’s real estate sector exceeding all expectations in the wake of the global pandemic. While our leaders’ exemplary response to Covid-19 has certainly played a major role in this respect, so too has the range of visa options now available to prospective home buyers.

Those considering investing in UAE properties have never had so many assurances that their long-term residency prospects will be safeguarded.

That’s why I am confident that in years to come, our nation’s decision to introduce outward-looking, forward-thinking visa options will be spoken about in the same breath as Dubai’s historic 2002 policy change.

Sustainable Development Goals

Covid-19 has pushed us ‘further off course’ from our global SDGs, so how can we get back on the right track?

As many of you will already know, the global community is rapidly running out of time to achieve the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

During an Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) coordination meeting last month, Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General of the UN, pointed out that the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution is worsening.

What’s more, these challenges are compounded by the fact that the world now has less than nine years to achieve its SDGs. As Amina observed: “We are far from where we should be – and the pandemic has pushed us even further off course.”

There is no escaping that our situation is grave.

The biggest challenges of our time

Even before the pandemic hit, the challenges involved in realising the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development were significant. But since Covid-19 has caused us to take a step back – or, indeed, several – in real terms, it is looking less likely than ever that we will achieve the 17 SDGs set out by UN Member States within the current decade.

And make no mistake, we are not talking about trivial matters here. The SDGs cover pressing issues ranging from poverty, hunger, health and education to clean water, clean energy, economic growth and infrastructure.

These are among the biggest challenges of our time and, right now, our global trajectory would indicate we are going to fail to deliver on our promises.

Even so, if there is one thing the coronavirus pandemic has taught us, it’s that obstacles which may appear impossible to overcome can be surmounted if only we work together.

Turning problems into opportunities

Since coronavirus began to spread in late-2019, the international community has developed numerous vaccines, implemented a wide range of preventative measures, and achieved advances in treatment of the virus – all within a timescale that few would have dreamt possible.

What’s more, while Covid-19 may have proved detrimental to SDG-related progress (as it has to so many facets of society), that does not mean we have to start from scratch.

On the contrary, to date UN Member States have set 169 targets, hosted 3,120 events, released 1,318 publications, and have undertaken 5,503 measurable actions in pursuit of SDGs. There may be a great deal more to do but let us not lose sight of how much has already been done.

So, what steps can we take – as a global community – to ensure we get back on the right track and achieve all 17 SDGs?

Positive action

As Amina points out, there are several actions that the UN intends to take in a bid to improve our situation. These include using the organisation’s Common Agenda blueprint to chart the path forward; and strengthening our global financing architecture to boost debt relief, redirect foreign exchange assets, and increase the resources available to multilateral development banks.

There are also a number of steps organisations can take to improve our situation, such as working to provide healthy workplaces for their employees; reviewing supply chains and implementing more sustainable practices; and investing in renewable energy.

The good news is that we can also make a difference as individuals by contributing to projects that support SDGs; adopting a ‘reduce, reuse and recycle’ approach to waste; and supporting education, both locally and globally.

There is no denying that the global challenges we face are significant. However, if we can set aside our differences and work together, there is nothing we cannot achieve.

And in conclusion, once again in the words of Amina: “We are neither hopeless nor helpless.”

 

Amira Sajwani- DAMAC

Let’s mark IWD 2022 by celebrating the incredible women who have contributed so much to the UAE’s success story

As the mother of a young daughter, who is celebrating her first birthday today on International Women’s Day (IWD) 2022, I am immensely grateful for the efforts and sacrifices of Emirati women from all sections of our society.

Since the UAE was founded just over half a century ago, countless female pioneers have succeeded in positively impacting communities across our young nation, and beyond.

Emirati women, past and present, have done so much to pave the way for my generation, allowing us to thrive and forge fulfilling lives and careers in one of the most prosperous and ambitious countries on the planet. These role models provide constant inspiration and guidance so that we may continue their successes into the future.

In turn, I have no doubt that by carrying forward the incredible work that my fellow Emirati women have done so far, and continue to do, young adults like myself can work together to build an even brighter future for my daughter and her generation.

That’s why, to mark IWD 2022, I would like to take a moment to discuss three Emirati women who have made a difference to drive the UAE’s past, present and future success, both domestically and on the international stage.

Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak Al Ketbi

Wife of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and arguably the most influential women in the history of the UAE, Sheikha Fatima represents the epitome of what International Women’s Day stands for.

Known as ‘the Mother of Sheikhs’ and the ‘Mother of the UAE’, Sheikha Fatima has played an instrumental role in supporting women’s rights throughout her incredible career.

As Supreme Chairperson of the Family Development Foundation (FDF), Head of the UAE’s General Women’s Union (GWU), and President of the Motherhood and Childhood Supreme Council, Sheikha Fatima continues to play a leading role in advancing adult literacy and free public education for girls.

What’s more, her influence is felt far beyond the borders of the UAE, having spearheaded initiatives across the Middle East and India. With recognition from officials as far afield as Tunisia and Algeria, Sheikha Fatima has been described as “the champion of women’s rights” by the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM).

It is difficult to imagine how the UAE – and, indeed, its wider region – would look without the tireless efforts and dedication of Sheikha Fatima.

Her Excellency Reem Ebrahim Al Hashimy

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ll no doubt be aware of Expo 2020 Dubai, which is due to conclude later this month.

As Minister of State for International Cooperation and Director General of Expo 2020 Dubai, Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimi has been a central figure throughout our nation’s planning and delivery of this global mega-event.

Despite being delayed by a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Expo 2020 Dubai has enjoyed enormous success so far, registering more than 11 million visitors as of the start of February 2022.

Perhaps more importantly, the world’s fair has proved an unprecedented international drawcard, with a third of all visitors attending from overseas – hardly surprising given the involvement of a range of multinational organisations, plus 192 participating nations.

Expo 2020 Dubai is the largest global event to have taken place since the pandemic hit, and HE Al Hashimi – who has been involved since the initial bidding stage – has demonstrated her abilities as an international leader and role model for the UAE throughout this period.

Her Excellency Sarah bint Yousef Al Amiri

Finally, if you’re looking for an example of how rapidly the UAE has progressed during its first half century, you need look no further than its burgeoning space programme.

As Minister of State for Advanced Technology, Chair of the UAE Space Agency and Deputy Project Manager for the Emirates Mars Mission, Her Excellency Sarah Al Amiri is a shining example of the inspirational women who are helping to shape the future of our nation.

A scientist by training, HE Al Amiri has played a pivotal role in the UAE’s space programme since embarking on her glittering career, having worked on both DubaiSat-1 and DubaiSat-2.

In July 2020, she oversaw the successful launch of the Hope orbiter as part of the Emirates Mars Mission. In February of last year, Hope began its orbit of Mars, making the UAE the first ever Arab nation to reach the Red Planet and only the second country globally to successfully enter the Martian orbit on its first attempt.

HE Al Amiri has already contributed so much to the success of the UAE, and I cannot wait to see what else she goes on to achieve during the course of her career.

Three among many

While truly inspirational, the successes of Sheikha Fatima and their excellencies Reem Al Hashimi and Sarah Al Amiri are just a drop in the ocean when it comes to the contributions that women have made to the story of the UAE.

Whether shaping national policy; driving economic growth as business leaders; facilitating research, development and education; or raising future generations of pioneering Emiratis, countless women across our country are busy helping write this exciting story.

So, this International Women’s Day, let’s take a moment to celebrate all the amazing women that have helped make the UAE what it is today.

Amira Sajwani- DAMAC

Meet Amira Sajwani General Manager of Sales and Development at DAMAC

Amira Sajwani has been outnumbered by men for her entire life. However, growing up with three male siblings she was always treated equally to her brothers and she has her parents to thank for that.

Her father Hussain Sajwani is the founder of DAMAC Properties and has always encouraged his children along with her mother, to be treated as equals, regardless of gender.

Like her brother Amira has joined the family business, and today, she holds the position of General Manager of Sales and Development at the real estate company; the most senior female position at the company.

Amira leads a team of over 500 people and is always on a mission to keep furthering her skills and lead the company to continue to be a market leader when it comes to innovation and development.

DAMAC is one of the leading real estate companies in the UAE and the Middle East and it truly does seem like the opportunities are endless.

Their most recent developments feature ground-breaking architectural projects that some may have never imagined in their wildest dreams.

But this is in the DNA of the Sajwani family. They have always strived to further themselves as people and as a business and their entrepreneurial mindset which comes from their father, allows The Sajwanis to believe anything is possible.

Despite the success Amira continues to be humble and modest, taking it all in her stride. While she rarely makes media appearances or agrees to interviews, she is starting to realise the influence she may have on young women who already see her as a role model.

As we approach International Women’s Day we talked to Amira about how she hopes to inspire aspiring young businesswomen as well as the latest developments at the UAE-based company.

Tell us what you are working on currently and what are the latest projects for DAMAC?

In my current role at DAMAC, I am General Manager of Sales and Development. So under me falls the responsibility of everything from the point of the acquisition of the land, up to the point of sale with a client.

And that’s super exciting because as you may have heard we acquired a huge area of land very recently and we launched a new project; Lagoons, and so we have been going through the design functionality of that and we’re still working on the master planning and designing of the amenities and the types of villas, the views, the angles, etc.

It’s been a lot of fun, and it’s been a huge learning curve. Another big project is our Cavalli Tower which launched a few months ago and we definitely have a few more very interesting things coming up in the market very soon but I can’t disclose too much yet.

What I can tell you is that we do have a very prime plot close to Safa Park that we are looking to launch very soon and that will be a very interesting project and one of our trademark launches that will shine across our entire portfolio.

With a company like DAMAC it really does feel like anything is possible – would you say that is a fair assessment and where does this passion come from?

I think that this ethos comes from my father and his vision for the company and his ability to drive others around him.

He will never accept anything on a first draft. Even if it’s a beautiful draft he won’t accept it and this is because he believes that you can always push for more creativity or sales or effort. So I think this belief is reflected in the ethos of the company.

In addition to that, he has always had a vision for DAMAC to be a global hospitality and real estate lifestyle brand and to achieve global status, we have to always be innovating and pushing ourselves to what might not be possible to the regular eye.

And I think that’s what mainly drives this huge push behind us trying to come up with innovative and new ideas in the market.

Do you think you and your siblings have inherited this same attitude from your father?

Definitely! Unfortunately for our teams under us, we have inherited the same culture! But I must say we have a very strong team that ultimately won’t accept anything below stellar at this point.

What are some of the changes you have seen in the real estate sector, particularly in the UAE since the beginning of the global pandemic?

Surprisingly for us, the pandemic did wonders for the real estate community in Dubai. Pre-pandemic we were actually in a low point of the market where there was a slight slump after the boom that happened a few years ago. But the pandemic actually allowed the market to pick up.

We saw a huge inflow of investment coming into the city and that was purely due to the way that the government handled the COVID situation by creating a safe haven when other countries were shutting down for a long time.

So we need to give credit to the government for the way they handled the pandemic and we genuinely have so much appreciation for this.

The trends that we see post-pandemic are very interesting. Obviously and expectedly we saw a huge shift in demand towards villas during the pandemic and post-pandemic and of course, that comes from the fact that many people were stuck at home and wanted more space.

There’s also been a huge shift in technology. This has allowed a lot of people to continue to work from home and this has pushed them to want bigger living spaces.

Our smaller units that used to sell well because of a lower ticket price have much less demand now, while the demand on larger units has taken off drastically.

The trend in technology also allowed us to push a lot of our internal technological systems that help in the industry.

So a lot of our applications that are user-friendly for our clients, allowing them to access their services etc. progressed massively during and post-pandemic.

Another big shift in trends has been the type of investment that has started to enter Dubai. Because of the way Dubai handled the pandemic and created itself as a safe haven, as well the new laws and regulations that were set by the government throughout the pandemic have encouraged an influx of luxury demand.

So we saw a lot of very wealthy people starting to buy first and second homes in Dubai with the intention of moving their families here.

Our luxury segment has picked up very heavily in the last six to eight months and the recent announcement of the weekend shifting has also helped because we have people who are now more confident to move their families or businesses and still be aligned with the global market timings.

Tell us a little about your relationship with your father and your brothers and how you balance family/work life?

We are a very close-knit family and as the family expands we continue to be very close. Our weekends are spent fully together and we usually take two or three group trips a year.

How we balance our work and personal lives; I’ll let you know when we figure that out! There is definitely no balance!

All of our dinners and lunches are mostly revolved around business. Not necessarily what we do in the office, but more about our family business, where we want to grow, what our strategy is, what our next steps are, different endeavours that we want to enter into.

We discuss all of this as a family and the great thing is that all of us are very entrepreneurial which is something we have inherited from our father, we enjoy and love the passion for work.

Even my younger brother who is fourteen has his own tennis academy! We are all on the same page and our spouses are very understanding as well. So yes, we are very close and we’re able to disconnect when we need to disconnect, but it’s not that we’re forced to do this, it’s actually a passion for everyone.

This month we celebrate International Women’s Day, what does it mean to you for women to be recognised for their achievements in business?

International Women’s Day is very special to me for two reasons. The first is that it is the birthday of my firstborn and it will be her 1st birthday this year.

For me to have my daughter on International Women’s Day was very special. I’m one girl amongst three boys, so growing up, especially in a culture that people can assume is not so open to women, International Women’s Day is a very special day.

I would love for women to actually believe that their gender shouldn’t stop them from achieving anything.

And my father believed that from day one. Growing up, there was never a differentiation between me and my brothers, we had the same rules at home, we had the same discipline as children and we were never treated differently according to gender.

I think International Women’s Day is a day when we need to remind women and more importantly, young girls, that there is no difference between men and women and it’s nice to have a day in the year that reinforces and recognises this.

As a woman in a prominent position in a predominantly male-dominated world, how do you ensure your voice is heard?

I think it takes a balance between being strong and confident and actually knowing when you are educated enough to make sure that your voice should be heard.

It’s a matter of knowing when your voice should be heard and when it’s a situation where you’re just trying to get your voice to be heard for the sake of it.

Being a woman in the working environment does require you to earn a lot more respect at the beginning that men don’t have to earn.

I do think a man can come in and demand a certain level of respect, not as in to be treated respectfully, but to be heard.

Women need to earn and show that they know what they’re doing and show that they are in a position because of their knowledge and experience and that they add value to that situation.

Prove yourself in the beginning and know when to pick up a battle that needs your voice. That is tough in the beginning but I think that’s OK.

And I’ve been able to do that. So once you earn the respect of your colleagues or your bosses and you show them your dedication and hard work, they will listen.

I think there is sometimes the misunderstanding in a work environment that a woman is not necessarily as dedicated or as hardworking because she has other responsibilities outside of the office that a man does not. And that’s OK.

I make it a point to be home by 7pm every day to put my daughter to bed and if I need to come back to the office at 8pm, that is Ok too. So I think it’s about understanding and finding your balance and it doesn’t have to be the same for everyone.

In terms of women’s empowerment and gender balance, how have you seen things progress in the UAE over the past few years?

I think there has been a drastic change in the last few years. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has done a fantastic job in pushing female engagement in the workforce.

In 2020 we had one of the highest percentages of women in the workforce in the world at 57.5%, and honestly, as a woman and a local citizen, I think it’s very inspiring that you see ministers today such as HE Reem Al Hashimi, HE Noura Al Kaabi, in places of power and you see them having earnt those positions.

You see Emirates incubators encouraging women in the workforce, you see programmes that are dedicated to getting women into the workplace, scholarships that are being given to women to further their education. (I personally studied for five years on a full scholarship which was given to me by the government.)

So I think we have come a very long way in not distinguishing between a man and a woman. I think that the UAE’s government genuinely has a vision of a very integrated community that is a global city and country and that’s amazing.

It’s very inspiring for someone like me and I’m very happy that my daughter will grow up in an environment like this where she will be supported with whatever future she decides.

How do you think you can use your platform to empower and inspire others? 

I am a very casual person and sometimes I don’t even keep in mind that people might recognise me, it’s not something that I think about but it is something that I’m trying to recalibrate and I’m trying to work on my social media presence to see how I can inspire other women as I have come to realise that there are women who look up to me without me even knowing.

But honestly, as a new mum, a way that I would love to inspire women is to show them that their lives don’t have to stop with their family life. I have a one year old, I love her to bits, I spend as much time as I can with her, but that doesn’t stop me from achieving my ambitions and my goals and passion at all.

So I think getting that message across would be more important than any other message. It’s OK to have both, you just have to work harder at it and find your balance.

What is something you would still like to do that you haven’t done yet?

I am a big advocate of education for women in developing nations. I spent some time on this while I was at university and I’m invested in a platform that is dedicated to creating programmes in developing nations for students that can’t afford degrees.

The way the platform works is that it takes a look at what the job opportunities in that country are in the next five years and it reverse engineers courses that cater to the skill set needed for these jobs. It’s called Nexford and it’s a very interesting platform.

I would also love to at some point in the future have the opportunity to mentor young girls who are in high school and still don’t know or have guidance on what they would like to do or how they would like to pursue things.

That’s something I would like to do but again it’s about finding the time as any extra time I have right now goes to my daughter.

What is the biggest challenge you face in what you do?

There will always be operational challenges in what I do but I think the biggest challenge I face is actually being able to take a step back, which is something I’ve actually become better at now that I have a child.

I am a slight perfectionist, as are my brothers and my father, so we all spend a lot of time making sure things are exactly the way we want them.

I have learnt to try to accept that it’s OK for things to go in a slightly different direction but it is a challenge. And of course, another big challenge is managing my time.

I have many different departments so dedicating and splitting my time across different priorities is definitely a challenge. I have a very strong team under me that I have built over the last two years and that helps as I know I can rely on them without having to meet them on a daily basis.

What is the professional motto that you live by?

It is a phrase from my favourite book “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho. The phrase is “maktoob” which essentially means “it is destined”. Although that doesn’t sound professional, I think it’s very important.

As a family, we are quite religious so we do believe that things that are meant to be will be. This is one of my favourite phrases because you need to realise that yes, you need to work as hard as you can but at some point, what’s meant to be will be and everything will fall into place, so there shouldn’t be any disappointment when things don’t go the way you want then too, you just have to keep picking yourself up and doing what you have to do and let whatever flows flow and whatever doesn’t, pivot it elsewhere. This is a phrase that keeps me going.

Who is a woman that has inspired you throughout your life and career?

I don’t know if I can answer this question because there have been many women in my life who have inspired me in different ways and I have taken different aspects from them and that’s been great because it’s allowed me to reach out to a lot of different people at different times.

What is a final message you would like to send to our readers? 

Like I said International Women’s Day is a very special day to me and I think that it is a day that resonates with me on so many levels because I did grow up in a house that was all boys and I work in an industry that’s all men and I don’t mind it at all! In fact, I think it’s amazing! So what I would say is that women should not be discouraged by any industry that’s male-dominated because the amount you learn from those around you is really incredible. So just learn as much as you can.

Source: A&E World

Amira Sajwani- women

Slowly yet steadily, women are climbing the workforce ladder

‘Behind every successful man is a woman’ used to be a very common expression. These days, however, women across the globe are breaking glass ceilings and shattering stereotypes about a woman’s place in society, in the workplace specifically.

The latest Let’s Get Real About Equality: When Women Thrive report published by Mercer, a leading global management consulting firm, found that 40 percent of the global workforce now consists of women, slightly up from 38 percent in 2016. Just a modest increase, but progress, nonetheless. The report also showed that female representation in executive and senior management positions saw a modest three percent uptick.

Shifting global dynamics

Amira SajwaniWhat this means is that the global workplace landscape is gradually changing and significant developments in diversity and inclusivity (D&I) are being achieved by organisations — from small start-ups to multinational conglomerates.

The same Mercer report, which surveyed 1,157 organisations all over the world, reported that 81 percent of respondents said that D&I is either “important” or “very important”.

It also noted concrete gains in hiring, promotion and retention rates of women across all career levels.

While an increasing number of organisations are paving the path for seismic shifts in the workplace in addressing gender gap, other important factors that have contributed to more diversity and inclusivity in the workplace include education and health.

According to the latest World Economic Forum Gender Gap report, educational attainment has achieved gender parity between men and women of 96.1 percent, and 95.7 percent for health.

This means, more and more and women are getting access to education, and are acquiring the relevant skills for successful entry in the workplace.

At the forefront of change

These far-reaching initiatives have been critical transforming women’s role in the workplace and have been quite successful in enabling women to have greater participation in the labour market.

On its part, the UAE has reported the highest level of women participating in the workforce – at 57.5 percent in 2020 – of any country in the Middle East and North African region, according to a study released by the World Bank.

There has been much legislative support given to women by our leaders to ensure that they have access to the workplace and senior positions, and I applaud these forward-thinking initiatives.

Challenges remain

Although more and more women are getting better access to employment and education, a lot remains to be done.

While the majority of respondents in the Mercer report say they value diversity and inclusivity, a diverse workforce and inclusive culture are still not strategically integrated into the business strategy of many organisations.

It appears from the report that there is a massive disconnect between what business leaders are saying – i.e., that diversity and inclusivity are important – and what is happening on the ground.

Those that want to be relevant and thrive must acknowledge the changing environment and subsequently adapt, as well as move beyond making verbal commitments.

There are also critical gaps that need to be addressed in the field of education. While women already have the skills to participate in the workforce, a McKinsey Global Institute in 2019 estimates that 40-160 million women, as a consequence of automation and technological innovations, for example, may need to transition into higher-skilled roles which will, in turn, require further education or skills upgrade.

As it is now, women make up only 35 percent of STEM students globally, according to McKinsey while only 29.3 percent are working in scientific research and development as per the latest UNESCO Institute for Statistics data.

The way forward

Solidifying any progress made in ensuring the success of women will require more than just changes in individual characteristics or behaviours.

Situational elements, such as specific job roles or positions, must also be transformed to ensure women have access not just to a variety of professions, especially in the field of engineering and technology where they remain underrepresented, but also better opportunities as far as compensation and benefits are concerned.

In addition, organisations need to proactively manage the careers of women with great potential and a track record of performance to enable them to succeed in the workplace and have the same opportunities for advancement as their male counterparts.

Source: Ananke

Top seven workout channels that parents and children can enjoy together

There’s no getting around it: modern life is busy!

While the art of juggling professional commitments with family life represents an age-old struggle, in today’s ‘always online’ society, opportunities to carve out some you time seem increasingly rare.

Achieving both your career targets and family goals is a huge challenge in itself. I share some thoughts on this topic in my most recent blog.

However, even if you happen to have your work-life balance down to a tee (well done you if this is the case!), that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have an abundance of spare time. In fact, it’s probably quite the opposite.

It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that one of the obstacles to keeping fit most commonly cited by parents – both mothers and fathers – is childcare. With the school run, homework, mealtimes and everything else in between, it can be difficult to find any personal time to hit the gym or get out and about.

If this applies to you, don’t worry; all is not lost. The home workout scene has exploded during recent years (one of the few positive side effects of the pandemic).

As a result, there’s no need to choose between staying active and spending time with your children. You can do both at the same time.

Families that exercise together are not only spending quality time with one another, but they are also helping to instil active behaviours that are likely to last a lifetime.

And for all you adult fitness fanatics, don’t be fooled… Just because a workout is child-friendly doesn’t mean you won’t benefit. If your children are anything like mine, you may even find yourself struggling to keep up.

Even if you don’t have the time to follow along with a particular online fitness channel, there are loads of activities you can introduce in a less regimented way. For example, here are 12 family-friendly workouts you can start with your children right now in your own home.

For anyone who’s looking for something a little more rigorous, here are seven of my family’s favourite fitness channels:

Dubai Fitness Challenge

My first pick is a local channel. The chances are that readers who live in the UAE will be familiar with the Dubai Fitness Challenge (aka #DUBAI30X30), an annual initiative that encourages residents of all ages to complete 30 minutes of activity each day for 30 days.

However, what you may not realise is that the scheme’s YouTube channel contains loads of workouts that can be completed in your own home. It’s also a treasure trove for anyone looking for fitness-friendly locations to enjoy around the emirate.

The Body Coach TV

Anyone with ties to the UK will probably have heard of the fitness sensation that is Joe Wicks. Throughout the country’s multiple lockdowns, Wicks has been providing fitness and healthy living advice to families across the internet – so much so that he’s become known as “the nation’s PE teacher”.

Whether you’re looking for fun workouts or tips on how to eat more healthily, The Body Coach TV has plenty of high-quality content to keep fitness fans of all ages happy.

Anna McNulty

If you’re eager to reignite your fitness regime but concerned you might not be ready to take on anything too strenuous, you should definitely check out Anna McNulty’s channel.

With a focus on flexibility, McNulty has recorded a broad range of stretches and routines for beginners and up. These exercises are also ideal if space in your home is at a premium.

Sweat Kids TV

To say that Sweat Kids TV is high-energy would be an understatement. Although perhaps best suited to younger children, the creative minds behind this channel integrate family-friendly exercises with chaotic (and delightfully silly) storylines.

With videos themed around everything from Space Jam and Monsters Inc. to Minecraft and Super Mario, there’s bound to be something here that will appeal to your kids.

Pregnancy and Postpartum TV

Here’s a channel that’s been built by a mum for mums and their young ones, offering exercises to take you throughout pregnancy and well into childhood.

Launched in 2017, Pregnancy and Postpartum TV provides a wealth of video content that can help people of all ages stay active, from baby and toddler ballet classes to Disney dance workouts and more.

The Daily Mile UAE

If you live in the emirates and you have school-age children, you may already be familiar with The Daily Mile UAE. The local chapter of this global initiative is designed to get kids jogging or running (at their own pace) every school day for 15 minutes.

You may not be aware that the UAE branch of The Daily Mile has its own YouTube channel. Although not the busiest platform on this list, the videos that have been uploaded include UAE-inspired fun for all the family, from superhero workouts to water adventures.

Cosmic Kids Yoga

After all this excitement, my final recommendation is one that could help parents looking to introduce a bit of peace and tranquillity into their households.

Not only does Cosmic Kids Yoga offer videos that cleverly introduce poses and exercises to beginners, but the channel also covers a variety of wellness and education-related topics, from confidence and friendship to mindfulness and relaxation.

With so much choice out there, it’s easy to become overwhelmed. Even if you limit your workouts to the handful of channels I’ve recommended, you’ll probably still have enough content to last until your kids aren’t kids anymore.

Try not to set the bar too high. Be selective and choose activities that suit you and your family.

The main thing to remember is that, when it comes to fitness, little and often is better than not at all. Just do what you can and enjoy spending some quality time with your children.

Fitness is important but, above all, family-friendly workouts should be fun!

Work life balance- Amira Sajwani

How can we use what we learned during the pandemic to achieve a healthier work-life balance?

Striking a healthy work-life balance has been a major challenge for people the world over since time immemorial.

It doesn’t matter whether we have families or live alone; juggling career-related goals while making time for ourselves and our loved ones can be difficult regardless of our personal circumstances.

One of the few silver linings predicted by commentators at the beginning of the global pandemic was that the normalisation of home working was likely to result in more flexibility for professionals.

On the face of it, this sounds logical. The ability to conduct work and home life from the same location should – at least, in theory – result in greater flexibility.

Unfortunately, research suggests that this is not what has transpired. A 2021 survey conducted by academics from University College London (UCL) and Northumbria University, Newcastle in the UK, found that – in many cases – home working actually meant working more.

The researchers discovered that many UK respondents reported doing an extra two hours per day when working from home. For US participants, this figure was even higher.

The reasons cited for this trend included the collapse of work-life boundaries, a fear of being surveilled by employers, and feelings of guilt over being fortunate enough to still have a job.

Although this is just one of the many unfortunate (not to mention unforeseen) effects of the pandemic, I can’t help but wonder whether we’re missing an opportunity here.

Few would dispute that technologies embraced during lockdown, such as online meetings, shared documents and team calendars, resulted in certain efficiencies – even if these were not passed on to employees.

Add to this time savings related to not having to commute to the office or travel between meetings, and I’m convinced we have all the building blocks necessary to improve our work-life balance across the board.

We just need to work out how to put the pieces together.

In my opinion, this is a matter of cultivating the behaviours that have proved beneficial and dispensing with those that have not.

Sounds simple, right? Let’s see…

What should we keep?

Virtual meetings and hybrid events

I don’t know about you but, for me, the widespread adoption of video conferencing has been a godsend.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still great to meet up with colleagues, partners and clients in person when the occasion merits, but the ability to connect face-to-face (albeit virtually) instantaneously – whether from a different floor of the office or the other side of the world – is a huge timesaver.

This also extends to events. Again, I love to learn and network in person but being able to log into conferences and seminars without having to get on a plane is a major advantage that we should work to maintain.

Online planning and time-tracking tools

Although these technologies certainly existed before the pandemic, they have become increasingly popular as a result of home working.

The capacity to plan as a team without being in the same physical location has changed the game when it comes to ensuring everyone is on the same page.

Whether scheduling, goal setting or target tracking, there’s no longer any risk of someone ‘not getting the memo’.

We should also continue to make use of time-tracking tools. As we continue to operate more flexibly, these simple-but-effective platforms can help us all to avoid working unreasonable hours without realising.

What should we throw away?

Our ‘always online’ mentality

One thing I noticed as my colleagues and I grew used to remote working was the increasingly elongated work hours we were keeping.

A cursory glance at the times emails were being sent demonstrated that people’s hours of activity varied dramatically.

Even today, I sometimes see messages sent before 5am, while I notice other people working late into the night or during the weekends.

Part of the flexible working ‘deal’ is that employees are treated like adults. If you’re an early riser, for instance, why not make the most of the time before everyone else logs on?

If someone is working their allotted hours (just at unconventional times of the day), as long as it doesn’t affect their ability to do their job, it isn’t necessarily an issue.

However, if an individual is online from 5am to 1am, or working seven days a week, then that most definitely is a problem.

The main thing to remember is that, just because you receive emails and messages around the clock, it doesn’t mean you need to respond 24/7.

We all have the right to disconnect.

Our growing aversion to taking breaks

One aspect of our working life that seems to be becoming increasingly rare – and something that I am immensely keen to bring back – is the habit of taking regular breaks.

When working from home, it can be all too tempting to plough on through your coffee breaks and your lunch, eating while you work and sitting in the same position for hours on end.

My suspicion is that working alone, and thus not being able to see our colleagues in situ, has made many of us overly anxious about ‘falling behind’.

But this is not how our work lives should be. Remember when we use to pop out for coffee or food with our colleagues? I miss those days, and I think it’s really sad that this sort of thing is becoming less and less frequent.

So, when we’re working from the office, let’s all make time to renew these traditions. Even if we’re working from home, why not arrange video calls with our workmates to discuss topics that are unconnected with our jobs? No shop talk allowed!

The social aspects of office life shouldn’t be discarded just because the locations from which we operate are shifting.

The inaccurate perception that home working is less productive

If nothing else, the pandemic has taught us all that this stereotype is, at best, completely outdated and, at worst, just plain wrong.

Time and time again, employees on every continent have proved that they are more than capable of working hard – if not even harder – when away from the office.

The fact that the vast majority of us have proven our diligence and dedication despite decreased oversight is something I feel should be celebrated, not met with suspicion. It’s high time we dispensed with the old-fashioned notion that ‘WFH’ equals ‘slacking off’.

To conclude, over the past two years, billions of us have demonstrated our ability to remain productive regardless of our physical surroundings.

Our challenge now is to embrace what we have learned and leverage this knowledge to bring about a healthier work-life balance for everyone.

 

Wellness tourism- Amira Sajwani

Wellness tourism: how to plan a vacation that’s good for the soul

It seems obvious that vacations should offer an opportunity to relax and unwind, but what happens if we take this approach one step further? Well, the answer to this question is ‘wellness tourism’ and, during the past decade, it’s taken the travel industry by storm.

The Global Wellness Institute (GWI) defines wellness tourism as “travel associated with the pursuit of maintaining or enhancing one’s personal wellbeing”.

Put simply, we’re talking about holidays that are good for the soul.

When people hear about this type of vacation, they usually envisage trips to remote yoga retreats in the Far East. They’re right to do this, of course; these destinations certainly fall under the banner of ‘wellness tourism’, but they’re by no means the only options available.

Think destination spas, health resorts, fitness holidays: the possibilities for travel that prioritises wellbeing really are endless.

To help those of you who think you and your loved ones might benefit from a wellness-focused break, I’ve compiled a list of things to consider before booking your flights…

Your first focus should be yourself

When planning a vacation of this type, don’t be afraid to put yourself first. After all, that’s what wellness tourism is all about. Think about what you want to get out of your vacation, and choose your travel companions and accommodation accordingly.

Holidaying with friends can be great fun but, if it’s improved mindfulness you’re looking for, you may benefit more from travelling solo. If this isn’t possible due to family commitments, consider booking a hotel with a well-run kids’ club so that you have the opportunity to focus on yourself as well.

Create an itinerary to match your personality

When it comes to wellness tourism, the level of choice on the market can be overwhelming. While it may be tempting to try a bit of everything, remember that your vacation time is finite.

Identify a pursuit or pursuits that are most likely to fulfil your vacation goals. This might feel limiting at first, but a week spent focusing on a single pastime that you love may prove more beneficial to your wellbeing than a holiday jam-packed with activities. On the flipside, perhaps the idea of concentrating on just one activity is your worst nightmare, in which case more is probably better.

Striking the right balance depends entirely on the type of person you are. And no one knows you better than you.

Choose a location that’s in keeping with your vacation goals

Budget represents a major consideration when planning any trip, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to compromise on your destination.

If your dream is to spend a week meditating in the Himalayas, for example, look into ways of making that happen. Shop around; if the location is right, making small compromises in terms of accommodation may be worth your while.

Don’t forget, wellness is not about luxury. It’s about finding a place where you feel comfortable and fulfilled, so location is paramount.

Decide on your priorities before you book

When planning a vacation of this nature, it’s always best to consider whether wellness should be the sole purpose of your trip or something that needs to be incorporated alongside other aspects.

If you want to spend your vacation focusing exclusively on your wellbeing, there are plenty of options out there. A quick online search will uncover a plethora of destination spas, health resorts, yoga and meditation retreats, and fitness holidays that will enable you to rejuvenate your wellness without leaving the confines of your hotel (if that’s what you want).

However, if you’d prefer to combine wellbeing with a few traditional leisure activities, search for locations and accommodation that offer those little extras. Start by picking the destination you’d most like to explore, and then research hotels in the vicinity that boast relevant amenities, such as premium-quality spas and fitness classes.

Finally, relax…

Once your trip is planned and paid for, it’s time to start settling into your holiday mindset. Stop sweating the small stuff and start focusing on the amazing experience that lies ahead.

You’ve earnt it!

five things to consider before you pack your suitcase

High-tech hotels versus back-to-basics accommodation: five things to consider before you pack your suitcase

The UAE is world-famous for its state-of-the-art hospitality sector, and luxury hotels often grab the lion’s share of the headlines. With a host of tech-empowered hotels, those looking for a next-gen travel experience are spoilt for choice in the Emirates.

Increasingly, technology within the hospitality industry is about far more than guest-facing innovation. Many UAE hotels are making use of cutting-edge tools and systems behind the scenes, employing artificial intelligence (AI) to improve customer service, operational efficiency and more.

The UAE offers something for everyone

Something international tourists are perhaps less aware of is that the UAE also offers some incredible ‘back-to-basics’ travel options. Whether you’re holidaying on a budget or just looking for a base for some adventure travel across the wider Emirates, there are plenty of cost-effective options to suit every preference and budget.

Sharjah’s Nejoum Al Emirate Hotel, Fujairah’s City Tower Hotel, Ras Al Khaimah’s Mangrove Hotel, Ajman’s Crown Palace Hotel and Suites, and Umm Al Quwain’s Royal Residence Resort represent a mere handful of the options available to tourists who wish to explore the Emirates while protecting their bank balances.

Check out your international options

Even if you’re looking farther afield, at some point, you’re going to have to make a choice between high-tech, luxury hotels and back-to-basics accommodation. The UAE is certainly not the only global destination whose hospitality sector is investing in next-gen tech. The choice available to tourists interested in such experiences is staggering.

On the other hand, backpacking remains a perennial favourite among travellers of all ages and backgrounds – the only prerequisite being that you have a taste for adventure. While the decision concerning which segment of the market suits your requirements often comes down to budget, this is not always the case. After all, why spend extra money on luxury accommodation if you’re only looking for a comfortable place to rest your head?

Before you decide whether to opt for high-tech luxury or back-to-basics digs, here are my top five things to consider when booking…

1- What are your vacation priorities?

If you’re planning on spending every waking minute exploring your surroundings – whether hiking across areas of natural beauty or taking in a city’s vibrant atmosphere – you should consider going back to basics. Doing so will mean you have extra money to spend on activities, entertainment and dining, and if you’re hardly ever in your hotel, you probably won’t notice the difference.

Alternatively, if you’re looking for an opportunity to relax in style and treat yourself to a bit of pampering, it may be worth splashing out on high-tech, luxury accommodation. Those little extra touches offered by the industry’s top hotels can spell the difference between a good holiday and an unforgettable experience.

2- Take a moment to consider your ‘must-haves’

If you do opt for basic accommodation, you should still spend time thinking about the aspects on which you are unwilling to compromise. For instance, is a private bathroom a must? If you decide to go camping, do you still want a site that offers an electrical hook-up?

Everyone is different so, whatever your budget, you should still make sure you’re considering accommodation that offers the amenities that are important to you. ‘Back to basics’ doesn’t have to mean ‘slumming it’ (unless that’s the experience you’re looking for). Even if you forego luxury hospitality, your vacation should be a time to unwind and have fun – not get stressed out.

3- What would make your trip ‘unforgettable’?

If you do choose high-tech luxury, think about the elements that would really make your holiday extra special.

If you’re a tech enthusiast, for example, it might be worth spending that little bit extra on a room replete with the latest smart systems and gadgets. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a seamless hospitality experience, quality of service should be front of mind. By focusing your search on travel providers and hotel operators that promise to deliver end-to-end hospitality, you’ll be able to guarantee the ultimate in relaxation from the point you leave your front door to the time you return home.

4- Don’t take risks

However you choose to spend your vacation, make sure you stay safe. This is just common sense, especially if you’re thinking of travelling alone or backpacking. There is plenty of free information out there from experienced travellers, so please ensure you’ve taken all the necessary precautions before you set out.

Even if you’re planning a luxury jaunt, it’s still sensible to do your homework before you book. Take time to research your destination ahead of time, paying particular attention to the viewpoints of those who live in – or have already visited – the location in question.

Whether budget or luxury, the vast majority of trips go without a hitch, but having that little bit of extra knowledge to hand can make the difference between a dream vacation and a holiday nightmare.

5- You do you

Always remember, you know yourself better than anyone else! Some people absolutely love luxury, while others find the prospect of staying within the confines of the same hotel for an extended period of time claustrophobic. If you’re anything like me, you probably enjoy elements of both.

Whatever your preferences, just make sure you have a clear idea of the type of trip you’re looking to have before you make your travel and accommodation arrangements.

We work hard all year round for our vacations, which is part of what makes them so special. So, whatever you do, choose the option that feels right for you because there’s no wrong answer.

Bon voyage!

 

crowdfunding

Does crowdfunding give women an edge in business?

You could be forgiven for thinking of crowdfunding as a relatively modern concept. In fact, its roots can be traced all the way back to a loan fund established in the 1700s by author and satirist Jonathan Swift, whose aim was to provide support for “poor industrious tradesmen” in Ireland.

But crowdfunding has come a long way during the past three centuries. The advent of the internet has given this practice a new lease of life, enabling entrepreneurs from every corner of the world to gain access to business funding by offering stock and incentives to investors.

At the same time, the rise of online crowdfunding has also served to democratise the realm of investment. It’s now easier than ever for anyone, regardless of their profession, qualifications or background, to provide financial backing for the ventures they deem the most promising. All that’s needed is the requisite capital.

In short, crowdfunding would most likely be barely recognisable to Swift and his peers in its present form, not least because it no longer applies solely to “tradesmen”. On the contrary, businesswomen have proven themselves just as capable as their male counterparts – if not even more adept – when it comes to raising capital through this medium.

Nevertheless, according to The Alison Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship, research conducted on behalf of the UK government in 2019, start-up funding is seen as the number-one barrier by female non-entrepreneurs. Even more shocking is that, on average, women launch their businesses with 53 percent less capital than men.

While it is true that men, or at least male-run enterprises, continue to attract the lion’s share of start-up finance, this snapshot does not tell the whole story. A research paper published in Plos One in 2019 shows that crowdfunding campaigns spearheaded by women tend to outperform those led by men.

But does this mean that crowdfunding has succeeded in levelling the playing field for women entrepreneurs? Well, perhaps not completely, but things are certainly moving in the right direction.

The perfect match

Perhaps the most obvious advantage that crowdfunding offers businesswomen is the ability to gain a financial foothold without having to deal with outdated stereotypes or network within the traditionally male-dominated world of business investment.

This egalitarian environment certainly seems to be paying dividends, at least according to the numbers. A 2017 PwC study, which included more than 450,000 seed crowdfunding campaigns, found women were 32 percent more likely to achieve their goals than men.

And it’s not just crowdfunding that seems to be suiting women entrepreneurs. This relationship is mutually beneficial. In my experience, women bring a more determined, holistic approach to this field – perhaps due to the historic gender-based funding ‘fight’ that we have had to endure.

Generally speaking, I would argue we also have a deeper understanding of community building, not to mention the importance of raising awareness of our businesses within those communities. Again, I suspect this can be put down to the battles that our forebears have fought and won in the past, succeeding in securing validation for their business ideas despite the odds.

Top tips before you jump in

Despite the many advantages that crowdfunding offers to women in business, it can be all too easy to become overwhelmed with the level of choice, let alone the prospective investors in the marketplace.

Fortunately, there are a few simple tips I can share to ensure you give yourself the best possible chance of achieving your funding goals, and ensuring your venture is successful in the longer term.

My first tip is to avoid discounting anyone in your network when considering who might back you. One of the biggest challenges faced by entrepreneurs – especially when they’re just starting out – is a lack of confidence. Remember, it’s easy to underestimate just how much people are willing to help, and you never know what might interest them about your project. So be bold! The worst they can say is ‘no’.

Secondly, and I can’t stress this enough, be open and honest when detailing your strengths and weaknesses. Prospective crowdfunders are far more likely to have confidence in you and your project if they feel you are being fully transparent about what you are trying to achieve and, more importantly, the areas in which you need support. The most seasoned investors can spot marketing bluster a mile off, so don’t try to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. When it comes to long-term support and brand loyalty, integrity is paramount.

Next, take stock of your options before you take the plunge. Many crowdfunding platforms provide extra support to female-founded businesses to help them succeed and grow. Crowdcube, for example, had 216 such projects as of 2019, and it certainly isn’t the only outfit going the extra mile to support entrepreneurial businesswomen. Bank of America has also created a database for female entrepreneurs in a bid to help them unlock capital.

Finally, take the time to suggest match-funding and collaborations with potential corporate partners and other businesses, and use PR and communications tools to promote your project. Adopting a strategic approach will help boost your third-party endorsements and increase the size of your audience, in turn, maximising the amount of funding you’re able to raise.

Ultimately, if your business fundamentals are sound and you follow these tried-and-tested practices, there’s every chance your business will be a success – regardless of your gender or background.

Good luck!

Dubai real estate market

When to stop renting and start buying your home

Most people understand the traditional pros and cons concerning the decision of whether to rent or buy real estate.

Property ownership is generally considered to represent a solid, long-term investment that can help individuals and families to establish credit ratings and grow their equity.

While renting offers less in the way of security (and no actual property to call your own), it is nevertheless sometimes the most sensible option due to the flexibility offered by temporary accommodation.

Of course, depending on one’s age, profession and fiscal situation, buying property is not always a viable option.

Various checks and balances are in place to ensure that those who do decide to take the plunge and purchase real estate are financially equipped to maintain their investment over the longer term.

This sometimes leads to a situation wherein rents cost more than mortgages, as prospective buyers either struggle to raise the necessary deposits or are unable to secure mortgages due to factors such as their employment situation and credit history.

As such, it is not always a simple choice between renting and buying; in many markets, aspiring homeowners simply have no option but to rent.

Long-term living in a global hub

In the UAE, this situation is somewhat more nuanced. As the majority of people living in the Emirates are expats, they do not always know how long they are likely to remain in one location.

Ultimately, many of those who choose to relocate to the country eventually decide to put down roots, but this decision is usually made several years into their residency.

Very few buyers step of the plane and decide to buy property immediately, nor are many in the position to do so.

While rented properties, therefore, can represent a more attractive prospect in the UAE than they do in many other international markets – at least in the short term – many people who do relocate to the Emirates inevitably build lives and careers for themselves, establish lasting friendship networks and secure local school places for their children. In these circumstances, it certainly makes more sense to buy than to rent.

So, when is the best time to stop renting? And if you do decide to buy, which factors should you mull over before taking the plunge?

Start with your deposit

First and foremost, consider whether you can afford the initial down payment – a minimum of 25 percent for expats looking to buy properties of up to AED 5 million in the UAE.

Keep in mind, this isn’t simply a question of whether you have the funds sitting in your bank. Think about what it will mean for you and your family – in real terms – once this money is removed from your account.

Would this leave you without a contingency fund, for example, in the unfortunate event that you were to find yourself temporarily unemployed?

What if you secure your property only to find that significant refurbishment is required to make it suitable for you needs?

Would you be able to pay out another large sum of money once the deposit has been deducted from your savings?

It is vital that you ask these types of ‘What if?’ questions before going any further.

Think long term

Once you are confident you have the requisite funds and your financial situation is stable, consider how long you expect to remain in the UAE.

While it can be difficult to say with certainty how long you intend – or are likely – to stay, if you think there’s a significant chance you’ll be moving elsewhere within the next five years, it may be sensible to continue renting until your situation becomes clearer.

Fortunately, with the host of visa options now available to expat residents, including the increasingly popular Retirement Visa, the potential to continue living in the Emirates over the longer term is now greater than ever before.

Nevertheless, it’s important to take a breath and consider whether property investment is aligned with your future plans.

Remember, you can actually save money by buying

The initial down payment aside, it may surprise you to learn that buying property in the UAE is often more cost-effective than renting – especially when calculated over the longer term.

Check out this article from Bayut, which demonstrates how buying an AED 1 million apartment in Dubai Marina actually works out cheaper than renting over a five-year period.

Timing is everything

Now may just be the perfect time to plant your flag in the UAE’s property market, especially if you’re looking for a long-term investment.

Real estate has shown remarkable resilience in the wake of the global pandemic, and this is especially the case in the Emirates. While prices remain attractive, many analysts expect continued growth over the coming years.

Ultimately, the question of whether to buy UAE property or continue renting is one that you must make based on your personal circumstances.

However, if you’ve done your sums, you’re confident that your long-term future lies in the Emirates, and you’ve identified the type of property that best suits your needs, it’s difficult to see how renting would be advantageous over the longer term.

This is well and truly a buyer’s market.

 

world’s biggest real estate markets in 2022

What can we expect from the world’s biggest real estate markets in 2022?

As the end of the year draws closer, it’s natural for professionals from all sectors to reflect on what the last 12 months have brought and what the next 12 months are likely to bring.

Even as far back as 2020, when Covid-19 was spreading rapidly and the world began to lock down, it seemed somewhat inevitable that both public and private-sector organisations would need to overcome significant challenges in the immediate post-pandemic climate. And so it was that 2021 became a year characterised by rebuilding and recovery for the global economy.

Those of us working in the real estate sector have certainly been more fortunate than most, all things considered.

Compared with many sectors, real estate has so far remained resilient throughout the post-Covid period and has even outperformed expectations across a range of key international markets.

Across the globe, property continues to provide stability in an otherwise turbulent economic landscape.

Dubai: exceeding expectations

Dubai’s property sector has rebounded especially strongly. Like many others in our industry, I have been pleasantly surprised by the levels of performance we have seen within the local market since the pandemic hit.

For example, recent months have seen average home prices in the emirate rise at their fastest pace since 2015, with August transaction volumes surging nearly 77% year-on-year – and increasing by 56% compared to the same period in 2019, according to figures released by CBRE Group.

It’s against this backdrop that I expect Dubai’s property sector to maintain its momentum as we head into the new year.

It seems likely that the emirate’s property sector will perform equally well in 2022. Factors such as the recovery of the UAE’s population levels in the wake of 2020 departures, and the continued resurgence of consumer confidence, and mega-events such as Expo 2020 Dubai, would no doubt contribute to the current tailwind.

The fact that the UAE’s real estate sector is recovering faster than many other global markets is largely due to our government’s response to Covid-19.

Unlike some countries, our leadership has succeeded in minimising infection rates without implementing onerous restrictions and multiple lockdowns, making the Emirates extremely popular among individuals looking to relocate overseas.

As such, oversupply may not represent the challenge many of us feared it might become during the height of the pandemic.

The United Kingdom: a tempting prospect for GCC investors

Real estate has also offered some much-needed stability to the UK’s economy during the course of 2021, and Middle East investors have been quick to take advantage of this fact.

London’s real estate market, for example, saw a surge in activity from Gulf investors following the relaxation of travel rules, according to Savills.

While Zoopla’s latest house price index predicts that UK property price increases will slow somewhat in 2022, growth of 3% and above is still anticipated across all regions of the country, meaning it will most likely continue to draw the eye of GCC property investors throughout the coming year.

The United States: slowing but still steady

As I said in a previous blog, analysts paint a similar picture in the US, where the real estate sector also exceeded expectations during the period August 2020-2021.

While experts anticipate 2022 will witness a slowdown in house-price upticks as new inventory comes online, growth in the US property market is nevertheless expected to continue at 1.9% over the coming 12 months.

China: a less optimistic outlook

China is perhaps one major global market in which property trends look less buoyant. Declines in real estate sales, new construction projects, and related activities such as cement and steel production, were reported in September 2021.

China’s new home prices fell by an average of 0.2% from September to October 2021, the first decline since March 2015 according to Reuters’ analysis of statistics released by the country’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).

The report also noted that new construction starts witnessed a year-on-year decline of more than 33% in October, while overall investment from the nation’s real estate developers fell by more than 5%.

While Reuters notes that regulators’ efforts to stabilise the sector could cause supply and demand to return to typical levels by the end of 2021 or early 2022, this combination of challenges may still spell a period of stymied growth for China’s real estate market as we head into the new year.

Positive global trends

Overall, I think it’s reasonable for real estate professionals to remain optimistic about market performance in 2022.

As other industries such as travel, tourism and hospitality continue with their more gradual recoveries from Covid-19, property looks set to offer a persistent point of stability for investors throughout the coming year and beyond – which is certainly welcome news for our sector.

Amira Sajwani - Family values

Does society rely on family values or are our values shaped by society?

Ever since the UAE celebrated its first half-century of independence earlier this month, I have been reflecting on what we mean when we talk about family values and the impact these values have on social behaviour.

Have strong family values shaped the Emirates or does our nation in fact shape its people? I’ve been thinking about this subject a lot during recent weeks, and I’m convinced that the answers to these questions are in no way mutually exclusive.

When I hear the words ‘family values’, I think of the core principles instilled in me by my parents and wider family from a young age.

These words also bring to mind the values according to which my husband and I are raising our child, teaching her the importance of becoming a productive, thoughtful and compassionate member of society.

Even so, it would be naïve to think that a family could shield its members from outside influences, nor would such behaviour be desirable. As the old African proverb goes, “it takes a village to raise a child”.

While it’s impossible to overstate the role that immediate family plays in shaping children’s values, neither should we underestimate the contribution of the communities in which our young people are raised.

This is why I cannot help but feel thankful that my child and I have been raised in the UAE.

As the Emirates continues to celebrate its 50th year, it seems to me that strong family values have played a vital part in the incredible success that our young nation has achieved so far.

At the same time, I am equally convinced that our country’s leaders have had – and continue to play – an essential role in engendering strong values within their people.

Indeed, the importance of strong family values to the long-term prosperity of UAE society is reflected by the extensive support afforded to Emirati families.

The Ministry of Social Affairs, for example, offers a plethora of services, with focuses ranging from gender equality and people of determination to digital wellbeing and sports.

Our leaders have also established the Coordination Council for Family Policies, an entity specifically created to work on proposals for the development of family-oriented initiatives.

Family values in the UAE also benefit from the importance our nation places on diversity, with people of more than 200 nationalities choosing to call the Emirates home.

Not only does this demonstrate the global pull of our country, but it also means that those of us born here have had countless opportunities to learn about the values of people from every corner of the world.

We, in turn, have been able to share Emirati values and culture with friends, neighbours and colleagues from every imaginable background.

A diverse society like that of the UAE offers an array of societal benefits. Few will be surprised by the fact that diversity leads to greater social coherence and wellbeing, for instance, but did you know that it also makes us smarter and can even make societies more profitable?

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of parents to instil strong values in their children. I know from personal experience that the values I hold dear – and those which I am working to instil in my own child– came primarily from my parents.

And we must always keep in mind why it is important to ensure our children grow up with solid ethics: not only because it will give them the best possible chance of fulfilling their individual potential, but also because those with strong principles are more likely to make valuable contributions to future society.

At the same time, we should be cautious not to overlook the role played by wider society in shaping the character of our young people.

We who are fortunate enough to live in a nation like the UAE, which invests in its people and places family values at the heart of its policy-making decisions, can have confidence in the long-term future of our younger generations.

Just as prosperous nations depend on their people, so too do those people rely on their nations to empower and cultivate strong family values.

In my opinion, this makes perfect sense because I see the Emirates as one big global family.

 

Amira Sajwani

Top five high-octane activities for thrill-seekers in the UAE

To say that it’s been a challenging couple of years for travel and tourism would be an understatement. It’s difficult to think of an industry that’s been hit harder by the effects of the global pandemic.

After so many challenges, it’s fantastic to see the sector push forward with its post-Covid recovery. Many countries around the world continue to relax restrictions, while major airlines are reinstating routes and gradually returning to their pre-pandemic flight frequencies.

While many people have already seized the opportunity to resume international travel, some do not yet feel quite ready to board a plane again.

Ultimately, this is a personal decision and there is no right or wrong approach. Everyone should be free to choose what’s best for them and their families, and if in some cases that means avoiding air travel until a later date, that is completely understandable.

And let’s face it, if you live here in the UAE, you’d have to search long and hard to find a better place for a staycation.

If you’re a fan of luxury hotels, sun-kissed beaches and fine dining, the choice is endless. But what about those who are looking for adventure?

Well, look no further because I’ve compiled my top five attractions for thrill-seekers in the Emirates…

World’s longest zipline – Ras Al Khaimah

I’m going to start by recommending something that you can’t do anywhere else on earth. That’s because Jais Flight, located at Jebel Jais in Ras Al Khaimah, has been certified by Guinness World Records as the world’s longest zipline.

Record or no record, the views you’ll experience as you soar from the UAE’s highest mountain will take your breath away.

And even if ziplining’s not your thing, there are plenty of other activities to keep you occupied at Jebel Jais, from hiking and cycling to sightseeing and camping.

Whether you’re a thrill-seeker or just a nature lover, I’d definitely recommend you take a trip to this area of outstanding natural beauty.

Kayaking, paddle boarding and snorkelling – Fujairah

As a lifelong paddle board and kayak fanatic, I’ve included Fujairah as a ‘must-visit’ destination on my list.

While there are countless activities to enjoy along the emirate’s pristine coastline, but I would personally recommend a trip to Snoopy Island.

The link above is to a full-day tour, which allows visitors to enjoy kayaks, stand-up paddle boards and snorkelling on one of the UAE’s most stunning beaches, with the majestic Al Hajar Mountains in the background. If you’re lucky, you might even see some turtles!

Skydiving – Dubai

Okay, so it’s not exactly off the beaten track, but if you want to take in unparalleled views of the Dubai skyline while experiencing a one-of-a-kind adrenaline rush (and you’re not afraid of heights), there’s no better option than taking the plunge at Skydive Dubai.

Anyone who isn’t quite ready to jump headfirst from a plane might prefer to experience weightlessness at the indoor skydiving centre or take a private flight over the city in a gyrocopter. There really is something to suit every taste.

Kite surfing – Umm Al Quwain

If you like the sea but you’re looking for something a bit more high-octane than snorkelling, I’d suggest trying your hand at kite surfing.

New to the activity? Then check out the introductory course via the link above, where an International Kiteboarding Organization (IKO) instructor will teach you the basics on land before you take to the water.

It’s also the perfect excuse to make the journey up to Umm Al Quwain and enjoy some spectacular scenery on the way.

Dune bashing – Abu Dhabi

My fifth and final recommendation is a UAE staple because let’s face it, no list of Emirati adventures would be complete without dune bashing.

There are some amazing spots for this adrenaline-filled activity right across the country, but my personal favourite destination has to be Abu Dhabi’s spellbinding desert.

There are countless options available from various tour operators but if you’re looking for an experience that won’t break the bank, I’d suggest checking out the link above.

This desert safari experience includes a ride in a Toyota Land Cruiser as well as several other desert activities, such as camel riding and sandboarding.

Whichever activity you choose, I hope it gets your heart pumping and puts a huge smile on your face!

And don’t forget, there are so many other attractions to visit in the UAE. My list barely scratches the surface and I’m always on the lookout for my next adventure, so if you have any suggestions that I haven’t covered, let me know by tweeting @Amira_H_Sajwani.

Happy adventuring!

 

hantis sports

Tired of sports? Time to try something new…

For me, one of the most exciting aspects of sport is the fact that we are always creating new and different activities.

Human imagination and ingenuity are often behind a new way of having fun and keeping fit, and often new sports emerge when a group of friends simply tweaks an existing sport.

In other examples, technology can lend a helping hand – I’m especially thinking of all the connected equipment and virtual training that we’ve seen grow in popularity during the pandemic.

But now the cooler winter weather is upon us. So why not mix up your fitness activities with one of a growing number of new sports emerging on the scene?

I’ve identified several “new” sports that you might find fun.

And who knows, one day they might be added to the Olympics!

Earthing

 Started in Denmark in 2013 by a man called Mark Aaron, this barefoot power sprinting event involves swimming and running over 110 metres.

It can take place over long or short courses, with a full size (long course) running track of 60 metres long, and a 50-metre swimming pool.

The short course involves 30-metre running and 25-metre swimming. Take-off for the dive must be with your foot within a target disc at the end of the running track.

The winner is the first contestant to touch the wall at the end of the swim. Sounds fun…right?

Some of us may find this hardcore. And it’s meant to be. But perhaps we can draw inspiration from the concept behind sports like Earthing.

Danes (and Scandinavians in general) are renowned for their love of the great outdoors. It’s one of the factors that contribute to its reputation as one of the world’s “happiest countries”.

The philosophy of friluftsliv is something we could all make more time for. It essentially means living life outdoors, something the UAE can’t actively enjoy throughout the year.

But when cooler climes arrive, we should all make more time for the great outdoors – and swap the gym for the beach and desert.

Next on the list is Knuckle Racket. Which sounds like a lot of fun.

Not quite such a new sport, having been created in Florida in 2009, this is an activity that is still very much emerging on the sports scene.

Basically, players punch the ball around a racquetball court – the racket net is over your knuckles. Think of it as combining boxing and racquetball. So, how can this sport help you stay fit?

Firstly, it’s a great alternative to boxing lessons. It teaches you the basics of boxing while also being a little alternative, giving you yet another interesting thing to talk about with your coworkers and friends. But let’s get back to its fitness perks.

Knuckle Racket is a High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout. It does your whole body good – from your chest and core to your back and legs.

If you like the sound of Knuckle Raquet, you will probably like Hantis too.

Hantis – hand tennis – is a simple, fun game that can be played indoors or outdoors, all you need is four tables and a ball.

The idea of the game, which draws inspiration from table tennis and tennis, is to keep the ball in play by using your hands, feet and the tables. Cool, contemporary, and competitive. What’s not to like?

Supa Punt

This was created in Australia in 2015. This one or two-person team game is based broadly on rugby football and is played with an oval-shaped ball.

The idea is to get the ball over the opposing team’s line, but only by kicking – and it enables people who might only play one type of ball game to play with those who favour other types of ball games.

Blo-ball

Blo-ball is basically table tennis without the paddles. A fun sport for everyone, all you need to do is blow a ball across a table. A great reason for smokers to quit! Blo-ball can be played in sets of two and four players.

What I particularly love about blo-ball is that it casually nudges everyone out of their comfort zone.

The problem with mainstream sports like table tennis is that some people have spent more time playing it than others.

This gives them an unfair advantage, especially if it’s at a family barbecue where the main goal is to have fun together. Blo-ball is new, competitive, and somewhat silly, making it the perfect recipe for a fun time.

And finally, there’s Padel.

While by no means a new sport, padel seems to be taking Dubai by storm, with games and clubs popping up everywhere this year.

It’s a combination of tennis and squash and a great game for all-round fitness.

If you’ve tried all these new sports and want to try something else, why not invent your own? Start by deciding how many players the sport would need, then experiment with the rules, and finally, give it a name!

Amira Sajwani- The future of Travel

The future of travel post COVID-19

We have all been unable to travel as and when we wish as a result of the pandemic. But I’m interested to find out more about how the virus might have changed our wanderlust. Of course, one thing’s for sure – recent events have made us realise that travel is a privilege none of us will take for granted anymore.

And perhaps one thing that we will see more of is more mindful, appreciative travel.

Sustainability will be more important, with travellers demanding more sustainable options, from the actual environmental cost of flights to eco-conscious room amenities. Will we see “flight free days” in certain countries?

The pandemic and its aftermath have left us all thinking – and thinking hard – about sustainability. As air corridors open up and international travel gradually inches towards a sense of normality, it’s important to consider whether returning to the “old normal” is something we really want. 2020 saw a notable reduction in global CO2 emissions.

Temporarily retired flights and lockdowns lead to a staggering 2.3 billion-tonne fall in carbon dioxide emissions worldwide.

The World Health Organization (WHO) sagely underlines the importance of tourism in its Covid-19 And Transforming Tourism policy brief. And the keyword that could ignite sustainable change is right there – transformation.

The transformation of tourism, both from an operational and marketing point of view, could make all the difference. So, what does this transformation look like?

We don’t have to go too far for inspiration. A quick look at our neighbour, Saudi Arabia, and its upcoming tourism megaprojects is proof that there’s a demand for sustainable travel. And if we look further afield, we see the likes of Ampaire testing low-emission electric aircraft. Done properly, the green future of travel looks promising.

Inclusivity is a need that industry players are increasingly responding to.

We will see more facilities for People of Determination. And here’s a good idea – how about wet suits for people who aren’t of average size, so they too can enjoy water sports while on holiday? Many of us enjoy privileges today that were once considered something you were either born into or did not have access to.

Whether it’s updates that accommodate People of Determination or making an active internal effort towards greater diversity, now is the time for businesses to prioritise inclusivity.

Slow travel is the latest trend to join the slow community. You’ve probably heard of slow food, slow fashion, and slow living.

The pandemic has greatly impacted everyone’s mental health, and while working from home may sound relaxing on paper, the reality is far from it. So now that we can, we should all get back into enjoying travel. But perhaps more off the beaten track?

Visiting destinations in the Global South helps bolster their economies. Staying in smaller, perhaps sleepier, places gives us the chance to experience a different way of living, while also providing vital economic support where it’s most needed.

Slow travel can also do wonders for sustainability, beyond just being a sustainable means of income for local communities.

Visiting lesser-known destinations takes the pressure off the hamster wheel of mass-produced souvenirs and tourist attractions.

Quality will also be more of a priority in the new normal. It’s like your first meal after a week of being unwell, you want it to be good. Given the enforced break we’ve all had from travel, perhaps we should look for more meaningful experiences, planning our journeys from a more experiential point of view, and with less frequency.

And we needn’t travel far for a quality trip. Many of us are still nervous about long-distance travel given the changing nature of the pandemic, vaccination rules, and getting stuck away from home. I think we will see more local glamping, more regional travel, and more road trips.

Let’s not forget the adventures on our doorstep: the mountains, the beaches, and the starry desert skies. We have all come to appreciate a beach or park walk, or an al fresco meal – these can feel like travel moments, and bring some of the same feelings and benefits of travel.

The pandemic has given us all the context, and time, to reckon with the impact of our hyper-consumerist ways. With our “normal” way of life being taken away and then returned to us,  perhaps we can all do more to redefine our idea of normal through the lens of sustainable travel!

Construction on Santorini cluster at DAMAC Lagoons to start in Q1 2022, says Amira Sajwani

As community living continues to gain popularity among investors across the region, particularly in Dubai, DAMAC Properties has launched its third masterplan, DAMAC Lagoons, its latest community.

Located adjacent to the DAMAC Hills community, DAMAC Lagoons features eight cities inspired by countries based on the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. These clusters include, Santorini, Venice, Morocco, Costa Brava, Nice, Malta, Andalucia, and Portofino.

Construction Week spoke exclusively to Amira Sajwani, General Manager – Sales and Development at DAMAC Properties, to get detailed insights about the project.

She said: “The concept of community living is rapidly evolving. DAMAC Lagoons will be a water-inspired living. We are going to have a lagoon that will trail through the entire project and connect it together. Our vision behind this project was to allow our residents to escape city life.”

On 1 November the developer launched Santorini, which is one of the eight clusters within the community. The next cities to come in the future will be Venice, Morocco, Costa Brava, Nice, Malta, DeLuca, and Portofino.

Santorini will comprise 930 units in total, divided into townhouses and standalone villas. It will be the Central Hub of the community. It will feature a Fitness & Wellness Zone equipped with a climbing wall as well as a floating cinema in addition to bicycle tracks.

According to Sajwani, the launch of Santorini is based on the theme of a Greek city. “If you look at the design of our project, it is based on the white and the blue and the feel of Greece.”

Talking further about the design process for Santorini, Sajwani said: “We were all very involved in the design process. We had a long brainstorming session with our in-house team to see how we could give the Greek feel to Santorini. It was a combination of our creative team and [department] heads to come together with the development team to see how we could create an architecture based on a Greek mode.

“Our development, sales, and marketing team have been working very closely to connect all of the links of the path. It was an integrated process,” Sajwani recalled.

Sharing exclusive details about the start of construction activities at Santorini within DAMAC Lagoons, Sajwani noted: “We are anticipating to start [construction] immediately. We have already started the documentation for the tender process. We will get a contractor on site very soon to atleast start the basic initial work. Construction will start in Q1 of 2022.”

“Our anticipated completion for the first cluster, Santorini, is October 2024. That is three years from now,” she added.

Source: Construction Week

DAMAC Lagoons

Damac launches new master community project in Dubai

Damac Properties on Monday launched a new master community project Damac Lagoons.

Located adjacent to the Damac Hills community, the theme of the project will be eight different cities spread across the community. The clusters include Venice, Morocco, Santorini, Costa Brava, Nice, Malta, Andalucia and Portofino.

The villas and townhouses will be built around extravagantly large lagoons with white-sanded beaches and each town will have a unique theme with a diverse range of amenities.

Amira Sajwani, general manager of sales and development at Damac Properties, said work on the project is expected to start in Q1 2022 and will complete in October 2024.

“Living here will be akin to escaping to a much-needed holiday, without ever having to leave the comforts of one’s home,” she said, adding that the concept of community living is rapidly evolving.

The Santorini cluster will be the “Central Hub” of the community with a “Fitness & Wellness Zone” equipped with a climbing wall. Residents then can relax by the natural pond or enjoy a movie under the stars at the floating cinema on the water. Here townhouses and villas are strung together by quaint pathways, bicycle tracks and ornamental foliage — all just a walk away from the black sand beach.

The master developer has so far delivered 2,700 units in 2021 and around 35,000 units to date.

“The way the government successfully handled Covid-19 and with Expo 2020 taking place, it is very likely that at least one in five to ten people will decide to buy a house here. So demand should outweigh the supply in the market,” added Sajwani.

She added that the impact of Expo 2020 will be more visible in Q1 or Q2 2022 because the more people that entered the country for Expo are going to be amazed by what Dubai has achieved as a city. “Expo will bring them in but Dubai infrastructure will keep them here.”

Source: Khaleej Times

Dubai fitness

Fitness and fun beckon as the winter sun shines

The move towards exercising online – accelerated by the pandemic – is a good thing. But to me, nothing beats the feeling of exercising outdoors.

We all know the benefits of fresh air, of course. And getting away from the AC, even for half an hour, refreshes the heart, mind, and body.

Dozens of studies show that the weather does indeed affect our physical activity levels – or perhaps, more accurately, our desire to undertake outdoor activities.

But do seasons and weather changes influence physical activity levels? In a nutshell, yes, they do. In the UAE, they influence travel decisions too, with people quite often jetting off for the summer due to the heat.

In the more temperate climates (like Europe and the US), we can undertake winter sports such as hiking, skiing, snowboarding and suchlike. Here in the warmer part of the world, we are blessed with fantastic weather, ripe for outdoor activity all winter long.

According to this piece on NBC News, 20 to 21 degrees Celsius is the ideal temperature for outdoor workouts. So, it’s no surprise that winter in this region inspires many to go for a morning jog by the beach or an evening stroll in the park.

Some of the most popular sports we can all take part in, here in the UAE, include marathon running, football, swimming, paddle boarding, cricket, tennis, golf, horse-riding, beach volleyball and many more. If you want to find an event in your favourite sport or to spectate, you can visit Dubai Sports Council, which has a calendar of events heaving with local sports activities.

Like winter keeps residents of the Northern Hemisphere indoors, summer has the same impact on us in the south of the globe. And with this comes Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). One of the consequences of this disorder is extreme lethargy.

The more motivated ones among us hit the gym over the summer, while those with perhaps higher motivation continue to attend fitness classes.

But the summer of 2021 is now behind us, and it’s time we all rekindled our relationship with outdoor fitness. Who wouldn’t want heightened levels of health, energy, and an overall sense of wellbeing? Here are some ways you can make the most of winter:

Expo 2020 Dubai Running Club

With this fantastic initiative, you can cross both getting fit and visiting Expo 2020 off your list in one go. Over distances spanning three to 10 kilometres, runners get to see some of the pavilions while getting their step count up. Sounds like just the thing for you? Learn more about it here.

Runners of all levels have the ultimate annual event to train for – the 2022 Dubai Marathon, set to be held at the end of January – so it’s not too late to start training. Due to the pandemic, the Marathon didn’t take place in 2021. I’m eagerly waiting for the 2022 event dates to be announced. Watch this space

The Jeep Tough Mudder is a team-oriented obstacle racecourse that challenges your fitness to the max. One event takes place in Hatta on Saturday, November 13.

There’s another chance to take part at Abu Dhabi’s Al Hudiyarat Island on Friday, December 10, and Fujairah Adventures Park on Friday, January 28, 2022. Expect some fantastic challenges like the ‘Pyramid Scheme’, a slippery slope that you’ll need teamwork to surmount, and the ‘Spread Eagle’, a tightrope walk above water.

There are two courses – one featuring 13 obstacles over 5km, or for the truly tough, 25-plus obstacles over a 10km route.

Of course, golf is one of Dubai winter season’s most perennially popular activities, attracting players from all over the world to play at some of the region’s best courses.

But world-class players will be heading to the Emirates this month, for not one but two major events. Firstly, there’s the AVIV Dubai Championship at Jumeirah Golf Estates, part of the European Tour, with a US$1.5m prize pot, between November 11-14, closely followed by the DP World Tour Championship, Dubai, between November 18-21, on the same course, with an incredible prize fund of US$9m.

We are blessed in the UAE with courses that are not only a dream to play on, but that also attract some of the world’s best players in significant competitions. Seeing the world champions playing on our very own courses is certainly an inspiration.

Dubai Fitness Challenge is one of my favourite months in the city, when everyone is encouraged to take up a new sport, have some fun with team sports, and basically, enjoy everything Dubai has to offer from a sports perspective.

What’s even better is the month-long event (October 29 – November 27) also includes wellness activities and only asks participants to commit to 30 mins of exercise every day for 30 days.

Tie Break Tens

Now this sounds particularly fun, and promises to be a great day out for the family too. Tie Break Tens involves quickfire rounds of tennis. It’s perfect for all kinds of sports spectators, from die-hard fans to casual viewers.

Even if you don’t attend the actual Tie Break Tens, you can get creative with it at home. Shortlist your family’s favourite games and give them a twist with a nail-biting time limit. A healthy dose of competition brings out the best in all of us.

This winter, don’t fixate on reaching 10,000 steps a day. While it’s a perfectly healthy goal, it’s not exactly rooted in scientific fact. Instead, prioritise positive movement, whatever that may look like for you.

It could be a spin class with your best friend, a post-dinner power walk with your family, or a relaxing yoga class that doubles as quality “me-time”.  With fitness, and most things in life, a little goes a long way.

e-platform

How can e-platforms help women entrepreneurs in developing countries?

E-commerce is powerful enough to level the economic playing field for women in emerging economies. There needs to be collaboration between government, the private sector, aid programmes and civil society to help enable women’s digital access. I think action is needed in both policy and in the skills base.

For women-owned micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) – especially in least developed countries (LDCs) – the potential benefits are great.

Digital spaces should deliver the same opportunities to both men and women. And given the cultural barriers in some societies that require women to stay home, e-commerce provides women with the freedom to work from home while expanding a business.

Yet MSMEs in the e-commerce space are struggling with basic infrastructure challenges like creating supply chains and organising reliable logistics.

Studies in e-trade readiness, undertaken by UNCTAD, reveal deficiencies in areas including e-commerce development strategies and policies, payments, legal and regulatory frameworks and access to financing – to name a few.

Only 14 of 47 LDCs have created legislation for online consumer protection.

For women, these challenges are made worse, given limitations they face like access to finance and skills, as well as the cultural barriers.

To ensure no one is left behind, governments, the private sector, and ‘aid for trade’ programmes such as the Enhanced Integrated Framework (EIF) all have roles to play.

Women face more apparent difficulties in gaining access to digital platforms. Data from the ITU shows one in seven women in LDCs uses the internet, compared with one out of five men.

While most e-commerce transactions are carried out by phone, female connectivity is still an issue. While awareness of mobile internet services is growing in most markets, it remains consistently lower for women than men.

Once online, women are 30 to 50% less likely than men to use the internet for any purpose. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) suggests that globally, 250 million fewer women than men are online. And women-owned start-ups receive 23% less funding than men-owned businesses.

These longstanding inequalities in access to, and use of, the internet holds back its egalitarian promise. When presented with the opportunity, female entrepreneurs are more likely to engage in digital entrepreneurship. The challenge is helping them gain access in the first place.

Clearly, governments need to take steps to encourage more women into IT, entrepreneurship and e-commerce.

A big hurdle is, of course, funding access to funding should be a globalised priority. Innovation coming out of emerging economies should not be held back simply due to a lack of funds. Encouraging more women into e-commerce will surely lead to more women advocating for change at the policy-making table, ensuring governments can deliver policy that provides access and opportunity.

“It’s a well-known fact that women in technology are underrepresented and poorly funded,” said Candace Nkoth Bisseck, UNCTAD’s eTrade for Women project manager.

eTrade for Women is a United Nations Conference on Trade and Development-backed scheme. Since November 2020, more than 100 entrepreneurs in 20 developing countries have joined eTrade for Women communities, which aim to nurture, build, connect and empower global female entrepreneurs, helping them to become the leaders of tomorrow, in a more sustainable, inclusive future.

In emerging economies, e-platforms can certainly help women step up and rise to the challenges of fulfilling their potential.

What needs to happen first is a global focus on access and equality in the digital realm. Simply put, allowing women greater access to online tools, information, banking and funding has a direct, clear holistic benefit on overall society.

Top Property Markets

Top performing property markets and why

I keep a keen, close eye on the global property markets. Here, I’d like to share my research and thoughts on current and predicted growth markets – and a little about why they are the destinations to watch. Aside from Dubai, where should savvy real estate investors be looking?

Scandinavia

Sweden experienced a massive property price hike pre-Covid. However, despite the pandemic, the Northern European nation still saw an increase of 10.14% (9.79% adjusted for inflation) in its house price index in 2020, according to Statistics Sweden.

In Q2 2021, compared with Q2 2020, prices rose by 17% for one- or two-dwelling buildings at national level. Stockholm saw some of the highest rises – 11.5% year-on-year in 2020. Yet demand has fallen, and construction activity is low.

Sweden also enjoys some of the world’s lowest lending rates.

As we move further from the zenith of the pandemic, Sweden’s property market will remain buoyant this year. While high prices might make investment seem counterintuitive, the prices look set to remain stable, if not increase, and I believe demand will pick up in the coming years.

Meanwhile, neighbouring Norway is also looking sound in property investment terms. In a similar statistical picture to Sweden, Norway’s house prices increased by 12.5% year-on-year in June 2021.

In a similar statistical picture to Sweden, Norway’s house prices increased by 12.5% year-on-year in June 2021.

This growth rate puts Norway among the top growth markets, especially given its stable economy and high-income levels.

The USA

Again, despite COVID-19, the US property market has remained relatively resilient during this challenging time from an investment perspective.

Mortgage rates look set to stay low, which translates to increased demand for property – especially for active property investors. Los Angeles was voted the best city for real estate investment in 2020, moving up from seventh place in the 2019 AFIRE survey. Los Angeles is not only deemed a sensible choice for long term real estate investment by investors but an attractive place to live.

Los Angeles seems a credible choice for long term investments, with the county’s annual property tax Assessment Roll revealing a 3.7% growth figure for 2021. This Roll, an assessment of all taxable properties in the county, delivers a useful overall picture of the value and health of the this property market.

Given the vast size of America’s real estate sector, coupled with greater liquidity, suggests good investment opportunities remain. The US still witnesses higher growth than in European countries, more favourable cap rates and favourable debt financing.

London

London remains among the best global cities to invest in property.

London was voted the world’s top city for real estate investment back in 2018. However, post-pandemic, AFIRE’s (Association of Foreign Investors in Real Estate) annual International Investor Survey puts London at number four in the global rankings. That’s still impressive given the uncertainties created by both the pandemic and Brexit.

Latest statistics reveal that in UK market terms, London has seen the lowest annual growth (2.2%) for the eighth consecutive month, July 2021.

Alternative real estate investment opportunities 

Turkey is experiencing real growth in its real estate sector, with CEIC data showing house price growth of 31% year-on-year (as of July 2021). This growth is fuelled by relatively low prices, an emerging economy and the geographical position as a gateway between Asia and Europe. So while some pundits are issuing caveats around investing in Turkey – especially noting the decline in value of the Turkish Lira against the dollar – I think it holds great appeal for many longer-term investors.

According to Turkey’s Real Estate International Promotion Association (GİGDER), the country will see a massive influx of some US$7.5 billion in sales to foreign investors this year, mainly from Russia, Iraq and Iran.

Meanwhile, the enduring appeal of Paris is perhaps bucking the trends. Property prices in the French capital are at an equivalent level to a year ago, according to the latest figures from Paris Chamber of Notaries’  (for June 2021) reported by 56paris.com. Second quarter 2021 transaction figures for Paris reveal a similar number to the same period in 2020 (33,000), but what stands out, according to the 56paris report, is that this figure is some 6% higher than the 10-year average for second quarters during the last decade.

Property prices in the French capital range between €10,600 and €10,800 per square metre – compared to Turkey’s US$1000 per square metre (€862 at the time of writing). In the second quarter of 2021, Paris’ property price per square metre stood at €10,650, a level similar to a year earlier (-0.2%).

What is abundantly clear is that the global property market remains buoyant, and favourable investment opportunities do exist but remember to undertake due diligence and carefully monitor the trends.

Abu Dhabi F1 Grand Prix

The future of sports in the region- is the UAE set to become the up-and-coming destination for international sports events?

As Expo 2020 is upon us, the eyes of the world are also here. Many people who have not visited the UAE or the region before will be doing so over the next six months.

As well as enjoying our wonderful lifestyle, there’s no doubt many will take advantage of all the Emirates offers in terms of sport.

For the last eight years, Abu Dhabi has taken the World’s Leading Sports Tourism Destination Award in the annual World Travel Awards; Dubai took the award in 2012.

The region already plays host to the Bahrain Grand Prix and the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, well-established, key elements of the hugely successful global series of races.

In addition, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia is set to host its first Grand Prix in December this year, exciting news for the region and further evidence of its superb sporting facilities and commitment to encouraging sports tourism.

Let’s not forget the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, a globally significant tennis tournament held in the emirate for 28 years! Notably, the Dubai Tennis Championships is the third tournament in pro tennis history to award equal prize money for both men and women.

And we can’t talk about sport in the region without mentioning the enormous efforts of Qatar in organising the next FIFA World Cup 2022.

Our region has long held a deep love for football, and this event will surely be a crowning moment for the game across the GCC.

With teams from 32 nations heading to Qatar next year, the event bodes well for large-ticket global sporting events, and hosting such a phenomenal event will surely bring enormous economic benefits – and useful lessons in terms of logistics.

Golf is a huge part of the regional sports landscape here. There are a number of world-class, renowned events each year, including the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, which has a pedigree spanning more than 30 years.

Next year’s event sees a new title sponsorship (Slync.io) and it has been added to the Rolex Series, with an incredible increased prize fund of US$8 million.

DP World Tour Championship is the exciting final of the European Tour Race to Dubai. Played out on the Earth course at Jumeirah Golf Estates, this event always attracts great interest and offers prize funds of some US$9 million.

There’s also the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, another European Tour event, which has been held at Abu Dhabi Golf Club since 2006.

Other notable golf events include the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters. Qatar Masters is another European Tour golf event, hosted by Doha Golf Club. When founded in 1998, it was one of only two European Tour events staged in the Arabian Peninsula.

Meanwhile Saudi Arabia is also developing its global golf presence. The Saudi International, presented by SoftBank Investment Advisers and hosted by the Royal Greens Golf & Country Club, near Jeddah, will next year be sanctioned by the Asian Tour as part of a new 10-year partnership. The prize fund has grown to US$5m.

Of course, cricket is another enormous passion in our region, with the UAE currently playing host to the Indian Premier League matches, and the International Cricket Council (ICC) Men’s T20 World Cup to be held in the UAE and Oman this year.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s recently-formed Saudi Arabian Cricket Federation (SACF) launched a National Cricket Championship, the biggest ever cricket tournament in the Kingdom’s history.

More than 7,000 players and 360 teams took part in the mega-competition played across 11 cities and more than 100 pitches in the Kingdom, which finished in June and heralded as a success.

Dubai Rugby Sevens has been a regular sporting fixture of the global rugby scene, normally heralding the start of the Sevens season.

However, this year’s December event is even more exciting and interesting, as it will include cricket and netball matches – with most teams coming from outside the UAE.

The idea behind the move is to make the weekend more accessible, inclusive, and interesting to an even wider audience.

Dubai Sports Council states that around 1.5 million people regularly engage in sports and physical activities in the emirate.

More than 400 sports events, including 130 international events, are organised in the emirate. In addition, the city is home to more than 400 academies delivering training in all kinds of sports, and we have access to more than 100 public and private sports clubs.

Given the world-class facilities, excellent weather and diverse landscape, I believe our region will become even more prevalent on the world’s sporting calendar.

Measured legislation and the emirate’s rapid, effective response to the Covid-19 pandemic have made Dubai a preferred destination for international sports investors.

A new MoU recently signed between Dubai Sports Council and Dubai Economy is set to activate the sports aspects of Invest in Dubai, the digital platform designed to ease the process of establishing a business in the emirate.

At the time of signing, the parties said the agreement will encourage private investment in Dubai’s sports sector and help institutions operating in the sector.

And more recently, we’ve seen the launch of a ten-year blueprint designed to bolster sports in the Emirates. The Dubai Sports Sector Plan seeks to promote Dubai as an attractive market for sporting investors and entrepreneurs.

It aims to promote Dubai as an innovation hub, an ideas and technology incubator that will help define the future of sports and eSports, and a pioneer in using artificial intelligence in sports.

Proposals within the plan envision bringing the headquarters of many International Olympic Committee-recognised sports federations to the emirate.

Furthermore, there are plans to increase the number of Arab and international teams and athletes using Dubai’s sports facilities to help prepare for international competitions.

The decade-long scheme also envisages building more sports academies and fitness centres in Dubai and increasing the number of sports events held.

Chairman of Dubai Sports Council, His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, said robust infrastructure had shaped Dubai’s sports sector.

He revealed the sports sector’s contribution to Dubai’s economy now exceeds AED4 billion ($1.09 billion) annually, as the city continues to develop as a major venue for global sporting events.

Since the beginning of 2021, Dubai has hosted over 70 training camps and friendly matches for international teams in different sports, including swimming, synchronised swimming, modern pentathlon, cycling, tennis, football, badminton, cricket, rugby and golf.

It holds attraction for Olympians too – many participants in this year’s Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, including the Olympic men’s badminton champion, Denmark’s Viktor Axelsen, have chosen Dubai as a base.

A combination of government-backed incentives, innovation, infrastructure and attractive surroundings has made the Middle East increasingly important for global sporting events teams and training.

Not only will this encourage us all to indulge in more fitness-related activities, but it will undoubtedly boost the region’s economies, provide jobs and increase the value of sectors like manufacturing and equipment suppliers.

work/life balance as a full-time working mother

Achieving a work/life balance as a full-time working mother

Talk of work/life balance remains skewed by gender. The onus still falls on women to shoulder the majority of childcare duties in most cases. While the long-term trend shows a rise of stay-at-home fathers, they are still a minority.

(In 2016, dads made up 17% of all stay-at-home parents in the U.S., up from 10% in 1989, according to Pew Research Center.)

We must focus on the positive things that work life contributes to our families. Be confident that you are making the best choices for your family, including yourself, and your child will still love you and understand your sacrifice.

But what can you do to achieve a decent work/life balance while staying in work, as a mother?

I’d like to share some thoughts, tips and advice here:

  1. Don’t try to give everything equal time

Striving for a perfect ‘work life balance’ can create stress in and of itself. There is no perfect way to manage a dynamic schedule, my best advice is to deal with what needs dealing with in the moment. Sometimes, you might need to stay home for an extra hour.

Another day you might need to travel for work. Just remember, often our work life balance is contingent on feeling like we are giving ‘enough’, and tinged with guilt.

Rid yourself of feelings of inadequacy, don’t judge yourself against others (like those unreal perfect lives we see on social media) and don’t set your expectations too high.

  1. Do what you love

Are you passionate in your work? Would you do it for free? Ask yourself these questions, and you’ll be in a better position mentally to achieve a semblance of balance. I’m lucky in that I love my career.

If your work environment is toxic, this affects all areas of your life. Look for a new job. We need to be in work where compassion is a focus.

The workplace is changing gradually, and it’s not too much to expect flexible working hours, an understanding that you have family as well as work, and a degree of empathy goes a long way.

A job you don’t enjoy is extremely draining, mentally and physically, but find the work you love and your passion will flow into every area of your life.

  1. Focus on what’s most important

Ask yourself what’s most important – and what’s most important today. Setting expectations in the workplace which can then be shattered by a child’s illness, emergency or just a refusal to get ready for school which throws your schedule off kilter is frustrating.

So, take time out each evening – after spending quality time with the family – to sketch out some ‘achievables’ for the next few days, with the anticipation that things can, and do, go wrong.

Focus helps get the thing done, whether at work or home. Allow yourself periods at work where you do not check your email, your phone or have any meetings.

Let your colleagues know that 8-10am each day is your focus time, and factor in time in the evening, every day, to focus on the children, even if it’s just 15 minutes.

  1. Learn to say no

You can’t please everyone all the time. Work life balance can and will involve letting some things go, whether it’s attending a conference or a birthday party.

If you’re a ‘yes’ person, you’re rushing headfirst into exhaustion and overwhelment. Part of saying ‘no’ is setting boundaries – ensure your workplace knows you won’t answer casual emails in the evenings, and let your family know that meetings, conference calls and longer hours may well be needed on occasion for you to manage your work and progress your career. Saying no is also accepting that you are not superhuman.

  1. Get comfortable with what you NEED to do, not what you WANT to do (Eisenhower Priority Matrix)

I learnt about the Eisenhower Priority Matrix some time ago, which is named after the US President who created a system to help him rapidly make important decisions.

In my life, I find it helps me decide upon and prioritize tasks by urgency and importance. It’s a clear method for sorting out less urgent and important tasks which you should either delegate or not do at all.

You can find out more here. And remember, there is a host of tools, apps and real people out there who can all help you achieve a good work life balance.

  1. Get help/ learn to delegate – at work and at home

Many of us are not good at delegating, but along with learning to say ‘no’, trusting people to do tasks that help you is a key skill in mastering work/life balance.

Planning your work week and home life will allow you to see where you might need help – from fetching groceries or dry cleaning to presenting next year’s sales projections to the board. Your time is precious, and you need to focus.

Delegating tasks to trusted colleagues and family members frees you up to concentrate on getting those most urgent tasks completed.

  1. Don’t confuse gaps in your schedule with availability (make time for yourself)

Thos rare moments where you might feel on top of everything should actually be factored into every day, whether it’s a jog, yoga, a bath, journaling or a movie, make sure you make time for yourself.

You are more than your work, more than a mother. You are allowed to be you….and allowing even the shortest time for yourself each day does wonders for the mental health, and allows you to escape your responsibilities, just for a while.

Women in leadership

The biggest challenges women in leadership face and how to overcome them

It’s 2021, and it still surprises me, given the number of female ministers right here in the UAE, and the increasing number of female global leaders, that there are still challenges for women in leadership roles.

Much has already been written about how increased representation across gender and ethnic groups in the board room improves corporate decision making.

I was just reading an article that powerful, ambitious women are often disliked by male counterparts in the workplace.

I countered that disturbing news with the massively popular movement that we’ve witnesses at the Tokyo Olympics, which has seen a great deal of attention on female empowerment, despite the ongoing debate over the inequality of the kit women wear.

In 2020, just 37 women are in CEO roles at Fortune 500 companies, the largest companies in the US, which means that one in 13 is headed by a woman, and yet this figure is record breaking.

As usual, the debate over inequality seems to be raging, so I thought it would be good to take a moment via this blog to describe what I see as some of the biggest challenges women face in the workplace.

The Pull of Family

Perhaps the easiest explanation is that, in the corporate world, women feel the tension between work and family life more than men. According to a 2019 survey from Pew Research Center, women were significantly more likely than men to reduce work hours to take care of the children.

Whether we like it or not, childcare seems to still fall on women’s shoulders. This challenge can and should be overcome, but there are cultural issues at play, which can only be reduced by women proving themselves in the workplace, which brings me nicely onto the second challenge…

Gender Bias and Lack of Mentorship Opportunities

Experts point to a range of forces creating a bottleneck in the pipeline of female talent, including gender biases that affect hiring and promotion decisions, and a lack of mentorship opportunities. Because of these challenges, there are notably fewer qualified women to serve in the corporation’s highest roles. Researchers at Stanford note women only comprise 13% of the positions likely to land a CEO promotion or board membership, in a recent report which describes diversity in the C-suite as ‘dismal’.

Women get promoted less often than men, despite asking for promotion as often as their male counterparts.

The challenge is that it’s hard to build a support network in an ‘old boys club’ world. My suggestion is that women actively seek to build a gender-neutral network, building strong business connections – and mentors – who are male and female.

Women are Held to Higher Standards

Women are held to higher standards than their male counterparts. This seems to be an unsurmountable fact. But, as Erin Hengle wrote in her 2017 paper: “According to raw numerical counts, women produce less than men.

For example, female real estate agents list fewer homes (Seagraves and Gallimore 2013); female lawyers bill fewer hours (Azmat and Ferrer 2017); female physicians see fewer patients (Bloor et al. 2008); and female academics write fewer papers (Ceci et al. 2014).

“Yet there is another side to female productivity that is often ignored – when evaluated by narrowly defined quality measures, women often outperform.

For instance, houses listed by female real estate agents sell for higher prices (Salter et al. 2012, Seagraves and Gallimore 2013); female lawyers make fewer ethical violations (Hatamyar and Simmons 2004); and patients treated by female physicians are less likely to die or be readmitted to hospital (Tsugawa et al. 2017).”

Women still seem to need to do more to demonstrate their abilities than men. And these biases must be fought – whether it’s gender, ethnicity, height or even weight, we are labouring in a world which is still largely ruled by men simply because there are unconscious biases at play.

A survey by author Malcolm Gladwell revealed CEOs tend to be tall, white men. When it comes to weight, women in the US who were 25 pounds lighter than average earned on average US$389,300 more over the course of their career.

These biases play on weaknesses most women have, which is a reluctance to self-promote or to ask for what they want. And what’s worse is that studies have also shown that women hold themselves up to higher standards – they don’t go for a promotion until they are confidently over qualified.

Confidence/Speaking Up and Building Alliances

Like the famous ‘Rosie the Riveter’ poster, we need to build each other up, share strategy and act in each other’s interests, to enable and empower our female colleagues.

Men are seemingly more adept at strategy and building in-work alliances, but that isn’t necessarily the case. We have to work together, work hard and help society overcome the biases and develop female-centred confidence.

There are tactics to over come the above challenges, such as working towards work/life balance, having the fortitude to meet challenges head on with confidence, and solidly working towards your goals and ambitions. Luckily, in the UAE, we live in a society which works hard towards equality for all.

Expo Dubai

How EXPO 2020 will impact the Dubai property market?

I anticipate that Dubai Expo 2020 will have a positive, long-term impact on Dubai’s real-estate market. After all, if the forecasts hold true, some 25 million visits are anticipated at the event, from the UAE, regionally and internationally. Some 70% of attendees are expected to visit the massive event from abroad.

The vast 4.38-square-kilometre site – that’s twice the size of Monaco – will firmly focus the eyes of the world on Dubai and the UAE. Many visitors will be visiting for the first time, and enjoying the very best our nation has to offer – from first-class accommodation to energy-efficient transportation to the best seasonal weather. And history has been kind to host nations of previous world expos.

In short, such globally significant events raise awareness of a city (and country, and that country’s culture) worldwide, promote economic growth, and provide greater rationale and impetus for development.

Event organisers predict that during the six-month period of the Expo, an additional 1.5% will be added the UAE’s Gross Domestic Product.

There’s a clear, massive expansion in Dubai’s hotel capacity, required to accommodate the 25 million expected visitors. If you’ve been anywhere near the site, you will see a radically different landscape from just a few short years ago. Back in July, real estate advisory and investment company, JLL, predicted a rapid post-pandemic recovery for the emirates’ hotel sector, reporting that some additional 12,000 room keys would become available prior to Expo 2020.

On top of a huge increase in hotel rooms, there are some significant residential real estate projects both competed and still underway, to meet the housing needs of expatriates relocating to Dubai for the Expo, and during the event itself. In the same report as above, JLL reports that it anticipates delivery of an additional 36,000 residential units in the second half of 2021.

While this new stock adds a huge amount of property to Dubai’s existing 618,000  residential units, interest from markets such as China and India looks set to push residential property prices up.

International real estate firm Chestertons recently noted a meteoric rise in residential transactions over the second quarter of 2021 in Dubai, with positive market sentiment and continued international buyer interest driving sales.

It is exciting to read that total residential transaction value in Dubai increased by almost 50% quarter-on-quarter to AED31.02 billion, up from AED20.77 billion in the previous quarter.

Equally interesting is news that Dubai house prices rose at their fastest pace in seven years over the first half of 2021.

Finally, Dubai Expo 2020 is expected to have major impact on demand for office space, as international logistics and marketing companies expand in Dubai to service-related event-driven demand.

Estate agent Savills revealed it has seen an enormous uptick in office and commercial rentals in the first half of 2021, and confirmed demand for office space has notably shifted to submarkets such as the Expo 2020.

Couple this with global interest in shifting office locations to Dubai, the fact that new builds in Dubai are generally more sustainable than older commercial sites in other cities, and the favourable climate created by the local and federal government to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship, alongside world-class COVID-19 health and safety measures and Expo 2020 looks to be a key factor in the rapid economic bounce back of Dubai.

Healthy lifestyle

How does a healthy lifestyle make a successful person?

Healthy mind, healthy body, so the saying goes – but I believe health is truly at the root of success.

Behind every great woman you’re likely to find a healthy lifestyle regime.

There’s been a lot of work over the last few decades in this area, and in this article, I hope to explore some of the reasons why adopting a healthy lifestyle helps us all achieve the success in life we seek.

Broadly speaking, being healthy means being both mentally and emotionally fit. Living a healthy lifestyle can help prevent chronic diseases and long-term illnesses.

Feeling good about yourself and taking care of your health are important for your self-esteem and self-image. This much we know.

While there is no special button you can press to become successful in life, there are habits that the most successful people have in common.

A healthy lifestyle improves work habits, decreases absenteeism, and increases productivity that will result in employees having improved job evaluations, better retention, and opportunities for advancement and future employment.

But what counts as a healthy lifestyle? Here’s some points I’ve learned in my life journey, and I’d like to share them

Routine/Discipline

At the heart of a healthy lifestyle is routine. Getting up at the same time, fitting in all the aspects of a good lifestyle – daily meditations or prayer, exercise, reading, preparing and consuming the right food – takes a routine and discipline. Routine breeds habits, and habits help build better people.

Work is fulfilling, and a key part of many roles is that they are peppered with routine tasks. As humans, we are pre-programmed to enjoy routine – whether we admit it or not.

Learning

Always look to learn something new each day. I am blessed by being surrounded by intelligent family and friends and I was privileged enough to study what I wanted to at fantastic universities.

I’m acutely aware not everyone has such advantages, but we can all take time out – best locked in to the diary at a certain time each day, to study, to read, to learn.

Whether it’s an in-depth news article, part of a course, or simply story telling with family and friends, learning keeps us on our toes, and allows us to remain open to new ideas and different ways of looking at the world, problems and ourselves.

Exercise

Your learning could even be picking up a new sport or exercise in the gym – because key to any healthy lifestyle is exercise. We must move, and move often.

Our bodies are not designed to be sedentary, and the all-too-common sitting in an office all day type role is highly injurious to health.

Even a walk around your garden or local park is a good start. Building up your tolerance to exercise – pushing yourself to walk that extra kilometre, push that extra weight or run a little further – builds up your mental resilience.

Fitness equates to stronger emotional resilience. What is most important is that you continue exercising. Allowing just twenty to thirty minutes a day to exercise, at least three times a week will reap noticeable benefits.

As leadership author Robin Sharma said, “If you don’t make time for exercise, you’ll probably have to make time for illness.”

Natural foods

We’ve heard this one before, so many times. From being a kid and refusing to eat your vegetables to reaching for another slice of pie at dessert, we all know what we should be eating. And we all know that food is fuel, and the right food creates the right mix of fuel to help us power through life.

Above all that, processed foods have long been associated with poor health. And don’t skip a meal because you’re busy at work, or chasing around completing household chores.

Try to eat more natural foods – fruit, vegetables, grains – and your mind and body will thank you. It almost goes without saying that it’s good advice to give up toxins – tobacco, alcohol – and ensure you are well hydrated with lots of fresh water.

Work life balance

The culture of hustling, and being ‘always on’, seems to be subsiding. I believe we are entering a new era where selfcare, and more (respect for) leisure time are coming to the fore.

Yes, we must – and can – work hard, but I believe a healthy life style involves a clear delineation between work hours and leisure time.

Time spent exercising, eating good food, learning, and socialising with family and friends. Learn to turn off from work, turn away from the laptop, and enjoy life outside of work.

Surround yourself with positive thoughts and positive people, and feel the benefits of a life well lived.

Sleep

This is another key tenet of a healthy lifestyle. Numerous studies suggest we need eight hours’ sleep. Some even suggest ten! However many hours you opt for, sleep should not only be a big part of your routine, but quality sleep. Again, turn off all your digital devices an hour or more before bed.

Go to sleep at a regular, set time each day, and ensure you are doing everything to ensure a deep, restful sleep. You owe it to yourself, your family and your work colleagues to ensure you are well-rested and alert. And never use the snooze button!

Kindness/ empathy/ compassion

As I mentioned above, I think we are moving away from fierce corporate culture into a world of more compassion, empathy and kindness.

Fostering good habits in terms of selfcare and care towards others and the planet reaps incredible positive benefits. Kindness – even witnessing acts of kindness – has been shown to release oxytocin, the happiness hormone, which helps lower blood pressure and improve overall heart health.

Being kind promotes empathy and compassion and an interconnectedness with others. These feelings in turn inspire happiness and reduce negative emotions.

As Bedros Keuilian, CEO of Fit Body Boot Camp, said in an Entrepreneur article: “Make your health a priority so you can make better decisions, keep a level head at all times, and scope out new ways to make money and expand your empire’s influence and impact.”

Why is women’s education in developing countries important to us all?

Why is women’s education in developing countries important to us all?

Globally, some 258 million children are out of school, and at risk of abuse or early marriage. A majority of those not in education are female. This is a truly shocking statistic, especially when we are so privileged to live in a nation which puts so much emphasis and value on education for all.

Every day, girls face barriers to education caused by poverty, cultural norms and practices, poor infrastructure, violence and fragility. But we can change this narrative. Education changes lives, simply put.

Wars, ignorance and a lack of education among parents all exacerbate the problem, and in more recent times, the pandemic. In countries affected by conflict, girls are more than twice as likely to be out of school than girls living in non-affected countries.

As Rebecca Winthrop, senior fellow and director of the Center for Universal Education at Brookings Institution, the non-profit public policy organisation, put it: “Girls’ education really is quite unique in terms of interventions you can do. Not because it’s a silver bullet; there are no such things as silver bullets. But, certainly in developing country contexts, it has so many high returns across such a wide variety of areas important for society.”

Increasing girls’ education reduces infant and maternal mortality. Educated mothers have fewer pregnancies, are less likely to give birth as teenagers, and are better able to access the maternal healthcare they need. Thus, educating girls leads to more empowered women, better equipped and able to deal with everything life throws at them. And better educated women tend to earn more, have better jobs, and invest their earnings into their families.

Every additional year of school a woman attends increases her wages by an average of 12%. So, educating girls, we can easily surmise, leads to better lives for everyone. This is a major reason why educating girls in emerging nations is crucial.

What’s more, increasing girls’ education reduces child marriage. Across 18 of the 20 countries with the highest prevalence of child marriage, girls with no education are up to six times more likely to marry as children than girls with a secondary education.

Education helps give women the skills they need to take on leadership roles, including political positions. In those roles, they are much more likely to advocate for policies that benefit family and community life, like improved education and social services. Thus, we uncover another reason why educating women in the developing world should be a priority.

This is perhaps a key reason why Goal 4 of the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals is (to paraphrase) to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for all, while eliminating gender disparities in education and ensure equal access.

Many girls suffer discrimination at school through violence and prejudice. This results in girls dropping out of school, which perpetuates gender inequality. Perhaps ironically, violence and prejudice might be better addressed and stamped out in society if more women were educated and could share their experiences and work together to eradicate such issues.

Natural disasters stop children from attending school. For many children, a disaster stops them from attending school, meaning they miss out on a vital part of their education. And one in four of the world’s out-of-school children live in crises-affected countries.

In an emergency or disaster scenario, girls especially are at risk of being forced to drop out of school, often being forced to help support their families.

Girls’ education is a strategic development priority for the World Bank, for UNICEF and for hundreds of global organisations and charities.

Better educated women tend to be more informed about nutrition and healthcare, have fewer children, marry at a later age, and their children are usually healthier, should they choose to become mothers. These factors combined help lift households, communities, and countries out of poverty.

According to UNESCO estimates, around the world, 132 million girls are out of school, including 34.3 million of primary school age, 30 million of lower-secondary school age, and 67.4 million of upper-secondary school age.

In many countries, among girls who do enter primary school, only a small portion will reach – and far fewer will complete – secondary school.

Yet, there is hope. As Brookings Institution senior fellow Rebecca Winthrop said: “There are a lot of huge gains in girls’ education. There is a lot to celebrate. Over the last twenty years, the number of girls who have been out of school have been cut in half.”

Even so, the UN Sustainable Development Goals have just nine years left to be fulfilled. If Goal 4 – universal, equal access to education for all – is not met, this seems like a catastrophic failure on the part of global governments to recognise the effects education has on empowering women’s lives.

London Property Market

London Property Market

I am lucky to have travelled to many places, but London has long been a favourite place of mine to visit and remains so.

Combining my passion for property with my love of London, I also had the opportunity to study at UCL, where I gained my Bachelor’s degree in Project Management for Construction.

And then onto the London School of Economics (LSE) where I completed my Master’s degree in Finance.

Given my studies and deep interest in property, I’d like to share with you what I see as current property trends in London, which is very interesting from an investment perspective, but also as something of a barometer as to what might happen in the local property market.

London and the UK enjoy a deeply mature property market, and yet, especially given the events of the last year or so, it is still affected by the boom-and-bust cycles, bubbles and shifting trends that markets everywhere are subject to.

The UK capital is still widely regarded as a “safe haven” in property investment terms.

The city’s strong economy, thriving business outlook and job market are often cited as key reasons people choose to buy, live and work there.

Mature markets bounce back

While London’s property sector will face some uncertainty throughout 2021 and into 2022, it has always been a very resilient market.

I’ve witnessed the cycle of economic and political uncertainty in the London property market in recent times.

However, while none of us expected the property sector to have a smooth ride over the last 12-18 months, the shoots of better times are gradually emerging.

Investment in London’s office space, for example, saw healthier volumes at year end 2020.  EG Radius figures for Q4 show completed transactions totalling £3.5bn, almost matching the combined total of the preceding nine months.

Inbound investment abounds

During 2021, my research suggests London’s property market will see foreign investments remaining strong. But domestic homebuyers and investors may look elsewhere.

By 2022, house prices are expected to fall in Greater London, while the rental decline rate should slow, according to reports from the Buy Association.

While investor sentiment and panic saw the stock markets reel, more international investors are turning to property – especially in more mature, established markets like London – as a way of making a longer term, safer investment even allowing for reduced liquidity.

And let’s not forget that during the last two decades, real estate investment has outperformed the stock market by around two to one.

As people rent for longer, look to build-to-rent

COVID-19 altered a lot of people’s property purchase plans. I’ve noted more people in the UK are renting for longer, having temporarily – or permanently – shelved their own purchase plans, as the pandemic decimated jobs, savings and other sources of income.

The private rented sector remains relatively buoyant. While I don’t expect detailed analysis of the impact of the virus on the property sector for a long time, it’s patently obvious that affordability issues, stricter lending criteria and the end of the UK’s furlough (income support for business) schemes will push first-time buyers to delay potential property investment – while shoring up demand for private rented accommodation.

This scenario is certainly not all bad. We’ve seen a rise in the build-to-let sector, and around half of the UK’s build-to-rent homes are in London.

Build to rent properties can take advantage of shifting trends – such as recent research from the Guild of Property Professionals that 21% of people prioritise a rental property with space to work.

Potential tenants in London may be looking to upgrade their quality of life after spending so much time at home. Build-to-rent properties offer more desirable, higher-end, well-located, contemporary accommodation.

There’s always a caveat, of course – be aware foreign investors in UK property now need to pay an additional 2% stamp duty (property tax) surcharge.

Line up your plans

Of course, as the market gets back to some semblance of normality – and it will – we should see a surge of interest in renting (and re-renting) office space.

My research suggests there is a lot of pent-up demand for the ‘right kind of space’ – that is, when companies decide to rent office space, they may be looking for spaces that fulfil different needs compared to pre-pandemic – there’s a different impetus for more creative spaces, with higher quality.

Savvy investors may well buy some of the competitively priced office and commercial stock in London right now, with a view to selling it when the market upswing inevitably comes.

Expect to see a rise in flexible working spaces, especially given uncertainty on the future of homeworking, shared workspaces and ability to meet leasing costs.

The future

The end of lockdown restrictions in England will undoubtedly cast further positivity on the market with domestic property purchases gaining momentum.

The residential rental market is also likely to see demand increase as tenants look to capitalise on rates which in some areas are 20% lower than they were pre-COVID. One thing is for certain, the London property market is never boring!