Monthly Archive: March 2008


Doing Business in the Middle East

MCI Dubai director Ajay Bhojwani presented at the recent ASAE & Center International Conference held earlier this month in Washington DC. His presentation was so popular I have asked Ajay to share some of his thoughts along with a copy of his slides on his experiences in Dubai of the UAE.

I have been living in Dubai since 1981, and have spent my entire childhood here. It has been wonderful and feels like home now. With over 75% of the population being expats, it is not difficult to find people from one’s own nationality.

Dubai’s social scene is a melting pot of cultures with east and west sitting happily side by side. A city, which is tax free; filled with beaches, shopping malls and crime free. The quality of life is amazing without any restrictions in working or social life – as long as one can understand how to act during the period of Ramadan (holy month).

Working in a multicultural environment, Dubai has a diverse work force with a number of corporations who are located here as regional hubs. So the work environment tends to provide enormous opportunities to learn and adapt to various cultures. The city is as busy and buzzing as New York, USA or Mumbai, India.

As part of the work force, one needs to be careful and flexible as one will need to change their approach and business formats when dealing with different cultures, even if it is within the same company. For example:

  • Men should not offer handshakes to ladies, unless offered a hand by them.
  • One needs to be patient when dealing on a local level and a lot of times contracts are established and work is done by handshakes and verbal confirmation without having anything in writing.
  • Work hours depend on industries and can be long at times.
  • Friday is a weekend, however being a work day in other parts of the world depending on the industry one needs to be available for work queries.

You don’t have to organize or plan your shopping or groceries. Everything is open to late night or early mornings even and hence one can just decide and walk out of home to shop, eat or have fun.

The government is very pro active when it comes to promoting non-profit organizations. Most of the national associations are backed by the government and they have very strong connections with them which helps influence decisions on a policy level as well.

Dubai has established an economic free zone called the Humanitarian City to support the non profit sector.

The local language spoken is Arabic, however the business language tends to remain English.

Among the Emirati food, Biryani(rice with meat); hariss(cooked lamb with meat) are the most preferred. A lot of the Arabic dishes from Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Iran are also preferred.

The local people are very friendly and open to other cultures. In fact, one can see a lot of Arabs in cinemas on weekends watching English or Hindi (Indian) movies. The Arabs generally tend to socialize till late especially weekends. They are quite commonly seen smoking sheesha’s (hubbly bubbly) and sipping sulemani’s (black tea). It is not very easy for an expatriate to easily mix and get along with the nationals, however once the ice is broken then all is quite simple and easy to network, have fun and work together.

The destination seems to be very attractive to event attendees. In the past two years, all the events have attracted larger number of attendees than the previous year’s events held in other destinations. The destination has a lot to offer and attendees can experience multiple cultures at one point.

Getting a visa is simple and it is very easily accessible whether you are traveling from Asia, Europe or USA.

The destination offers direct flights to most of the key countries across the globe. Hospitality and hotels cannot be matched, a wide variety of luxury as well as economical accommodations are available.

One of the key challenges to look out for is that most of the local registrations happen at the last minute. Approvals and government involved do require some time and that needs to be factored in when planning an event.

When traveling in Dubai, are there any safety precautions people should take? No safety precautions as such. The country is very easily accessible and getting a visa is also not a problem. However, when it comes to rules, they are very hard and no exceptions tolerated.

What are the legal and tax issues for Associations wanting to open an office in the Middle East?

  • Incorporation / Registration – To register associations in Dubai, it needs to be done with the Department of Economic Development and the Chamber of Commerce. There is a local / government representation is required for all associations.
  • Legislation – Due to definition problems, associations have to register with the Chambers of Commerce and they need to have a minimum number of citizens in them
  • VAT/Taxes – There are no direct taxes applicable
  • Bank Account – Need to be registered with the Economic Department in order to open a bank account
  • Recruitment – No laws or protection for employees as such. Hiring/ Firing is not difficult

What are the absolute Do’s and Don’ts when doing business in Dubai?

  • Be Patient
  • Do not discuss politics and religion with business people
  • Men should not offer a handshakes to ladies, unless offered by them
  • Friday and Saturday are government weekends, however people are very open to discuss business during weekends
  • Security is of paramount importance and one should take care not to break any rules and is fully aware about the legislation
  • When in a meeting with Arab never discuss business first off. Always build rapport – 10 to 15 mins minimum.
  • Be flexible as lot of times written contracts don’t apply
  • When holding meetings in the region, participation from the government agency to get government buy in is important
  • It is not recommended to discuss financials right at the start.
  • One needs to be prepared to operate last minute as a lot of times client queries and requirements come in last minute

You can contact Ajay Bhojwani directly at [email protected].


Serious Strategy & Tools for Pursuing Sustainability

February 14, 2008 – Nearly 50 leading U.S. and European institutional investors managing over $1.75 trillion in assets today released a climate change action plan at the United Nations that will boost investments in energy efficiency and clean energy technologies and require tougher scrutiny of carbon-intensive investments that may pose long-term financial risks. Additionally, European investors managing $6.5 trillion in assets supported the action plan “in principle.”

The action plan was announced at the Investor Summit on Climate Risk, hosted by Ceres and the United Nations Foundation, attended by more than 450 investor, financial and corporate leaders from around the world.

Last year was remembered as the year that governments, organizations and corporations around the world recognized the effects of climate change. Sustainability and climate change evolved from discussions among environmental activist to heated boardroom debates. A global tipping point was reached as more major corporations and associations developed and implemented sustainability as a business strategy going beyond CSR programs as customers demonstrate their own preferences for buying from sustainable businesses.

As the report above illustrates, 2008 is shaping up to be no different.

Already, most large international companies produce a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) or sustainability annual report. While it is not the only indicator that should be used, many companies already declare their greenhouse gas emissions, with over 3000 of the largest corporations registering them with the Carbon Disclosure Project. However, there is a hole in the majority of these reports: most companies do not yet include scope 3 emissions or the emissions from meetings, events and business travel.

As travel and flying is such a large emitter of carbon, you can expect things to change in 2008. So if you are responsible for organizing events or meetings, expect to be asked to consider the environmental impact of your activities and to provide statistics about carbon emission levels, waste levels and resource utilization.

In response to this business challenge, MCI launched Sustainability Services (see link to right).

These consulting services provide an evaluation of a client’s global or national meetings and events – first to calculate the environmental footprint and then to offer practical solutions for a sound sustainability plan. Key components include carbon-reduction strategies, operational protocols, staff training and measurement systems needed for annual sustainability reporting. MCI’s Green Event Management methodology offers clients an end-to-end approach to reducing the environmental impact of a meeting or event.

One of the key tools used by the team is the MeetGreen Calculator. Designed and licensed from Meeting Strategies Worldwide, the online tool uses a list of over 100 questions to analyze and report on the environmental impact of an event. These questions are split into 8 categories: destination selection, accommodation, venue, food and beverage, transport, exhibition, communication, and back-office organization.

The Calculator then compares practices of a specific event against other events/meetings in the database. Results provide a benchmark for future events and a comparison with other events. In this way, a corporation can compare its events against other organizations’ events. Or they can benchmark them against their own events. So for example a large pharmaceutical company could measure and compare all of its 1000 annual events and then report them in a way which could be included into the company’s annual report, website or memorandum.

Once a clear picture has been calculated of the environmental footprint of an organization’s meetings, MCI’s Sustainable Services consultants can help to design and implement coherent policies and processes to reduce emissions, resource usage and waste production. Together with carbon partners, MCI then designs a carbon management strategy to offset emissions through a portfolio of environmental and social projects such as reforestation, avoided deforestation, renewable energy and environmental education programs, both locally and internationally.

MCI Sustainability Services offer clients a thorough methodology for starting to develop a tangible strategy and action plan.

MCI’s commitment is to conceive, create and produce memorable events and projects that are environmentally and socially responsible, ethical and safe, and represent an integral part of our CSR strategy and our vision to help build community for a better world.

For more, locate the Sustainability Services website on the column to the right or contact MCI’s group sustainability director Guy Bigwood ([email protected]).


Geographic Diversification – Good Strategy for Business

As if the current economic climate needed to remind us, this old financial planning lesson is timeless.

For personal wealth: If you want to retire, diversify your investment portfolio.

For business wealth: If you want to sustain growth, diversify your product portfolio – according to customer segmentation and geographic distribution.

Last week, General Electric proved this theory still holds weight among senior corporate management. GE is globalizing all of its businesses. Emerging markets are growing fast and have a “tremendous need for capital” to fund infrastructure spending on power and water investments which is a core competency for GE.

For the first time, overseas sales accounted for more than half of GE’s total revenue of $172.74 billion in 2007. General Electric Chairman Jeffrey Immelt said in January that increasing global spending on infrastructure projects was offsetting weakness in U.S. consumer sentiment.

So if global diversification isn’t a part of your own association strategy, are you risking something by keeping all your eggs in one basket?

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