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UAE, France hold dialogue on entrepreneurship and talent

In one of the fastest growing economies in the region, what is more important than talent?
The third edition of Les Entretiens d’Abu Dhabi “UAE: Toward an International Hub of Talents” addressed this question at the Sorbonne University in the capital, with participants asserting that skills development was a key element for sustainable economic growth.

The event on Nov. 14 saw participants focusing on growing the partnerships between France and the UAE, and the importance of attracting and developing talented people for future industries.

Jean-Baptiste Chauvel, regional economic counsellor for the embassy of France in the Arabian Peninsula, said that strengthening relations was vital for “sustainable … and long-term growth.”

Opening the event, Martin Tronquit, vice treasurer at CCI France UAE, said that the gathering was an opportunity to identify synergies between the two nations in terms of scientific developments, and attracting talented people. “In France, we don’t have oil, but we have ideas … In the UAE we have both,” said Tronquit.

The UAE is home to more than 600 French companies. It also has the largest French community in the Middle East, totaling 30,000 people.

The Emirates ranks fourth in the world in terms of attracting talent, said Geoffroy Bunetel, president of CCI France UAE, referring to an INSEAD report.

The event was held under the patronage of Minister of State for Foreign Trade Dr. Thani Al-Zeyoudi, who said the UAE continued to diversify its economy and grow the technology and financial services sectors. “France remains an important partner, namely, the country’s third-largest trading partner.”

Al-Zeyoudi said the Emirates was planning for the next 50 years and expects to have a “thousand digital companies in the next five years, in robotics, artificial intelligence and agritech.”

The two nations have been strengthening economic ties, with President of the UAE Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed visiting France in July 2022 to focus on joint investments in key industries, including the small and medium enterprises sector.

Jean Yves LeDrian, France’s former minister for Europe and foreign affairs, spoke of the progress made over the past 10 years. “First, it is a relationship built on security (of the Gulf), as initiated by former President (Nicolas) Sarkozy, engaging France vis-a-vis the Emirates and the establishment of French enterprises,” said LeDrian.

LeDrian highlighted the importance of the commercial and cultural relations between the two countries, as marked by the fifth anniversary of the Louvre Abu Dhabi.

Zaki Nusseibeh, cultural adviser to the president of the UAE, highlighted the developments taking place in the country, including women taking up two-thirds of government positions. There were also significant investments being made in healthcare and education to ensure a socially cohesive society.

Another major topic tackled was higher education and the digitalization of learning. Prof. Silvia Serrano, vice chancellor of Sorbonne University, said online classes may be an alternative in specific situations, but the lesson derived from the COVID-19 pandemic was that it could not replace on-site education.

Serrano said education institutions must incorporate technological change, but their role in an increasingly digitalized world is to “teach what the machine will never be able to teach (ethics, privacy, regulation of new technologies).”

Elias Kassis from TotalEnergies and Ismail Abdulla of Strata manufacturing shared their insights on how to transition to a knowledge economy with dedicated, long-term training programs.

Mona AlHashmi, who focuses on social entrepreneurship at Ma’an Abu Dhabi, said that in addition to funding needed for businesses, it was important to upskill citizens through education.

The participants also discussed the UAE’s transformation into a post-oil, human capital-based economy that necessitates looking at how corporates hire and promote talent.

The Chalhoub Group, for instance, has launched a youth-oriented program in France and signed an agreement with Dar Al-Hekma in Saudi Arabia.

“Driving people’s growth and a focus on youth empowerment in line with the UAE vision and KSA Vision 2030 is instrumental when looking for talent,” said Florence Bulte, CSO at Chalhoub Group.

Les Entretiens d’Abu Dhabi was held in partnership with the French ambassy in the UAE, Sorbonne University and Les Entretiens Royaumont.

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