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Sunday, November 18, 2018

An Entrepreneurial Spirit

by Alice Johnson

Muna Easa Al Gurg at a school with underprivileged children in Zanzibar

Muna Easa Al Gurg needs no introduction – as guest host on UAE TV show ‘The Entrepreneur’, Chairwoman of the Young Arab Leaders (YAL) and Director of Retail for the family business that’s become a household name. Alice Johnson caught up with the well-known entrepreneur...

Muna Easa Al Gurg is a forward-thinking Emirati who regularly delivers lectures and speeches about CSR, women, leadership and the development of youth in the UAE as well as working on the board of several non-profit organisations.

For the Business graduate, entrepreneurship is something that’s certainly growing in the Emirates. “Quite honestly at the moment we’re at the fledgling stage… There are very unique ideas out there [but]… there is a lot to go before we reach a point at which – let’s say – that start-ups for entrepreneurship is on a global level,” she says.

“I think, having said that, I see a lot of aspiration from many young Emiratis. I see quite a few success stories now that are being real role models and successful start-ups that are examples to other,” she tells Al Shindagah.

NURTURING TALENT

Running in its first series earlier this year, reality show The Entrepreneur (presented by Du) invited budding entrepreneurs from across the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to pitch their business ideas to a panel of key business leaders. The winner, who successfully pitched their concept to the experts, walked away with a AED 1 million ($272,000) investment.

“That’s a hugely positive thing that Dubai came up with… they are trying to hone a lot of young talent. I was actually part of that show because of those reasons exactly. I feel that there are many ideas out there but that there needs to be a platform for those ideas to grow. It’s not just about venture capitalists, people coming in with money,” she says.

“I feel that there is a lot more that goes into it; it’s financial backing, but it’s also mentoring and that kind of thing. So that’s exactly why the show was a great start to encourage more entrepreneurial ideas to grow,” she adds.

SME CHALLENGES

One of the main issues facing SMEs and start-ups both in the UAE and worldwide, is the lack of access to business loans and capital funds. However, as Muna continues, funding isn’t necessarily the most critical aspect. “I would say, honestly speaking, mentoring is a very big part of it; as an entrepreneur, yes you have an idea and you might even have a bit of financial backing… but I certainly think that finding that person who can advise you along the way and someone that has good experience can make a huge difference to your business,” she says.

The Entrepreneur aired on Dubai One and also offered the winner professional business services and support, worth more than AED 500,000 ($136,000), including office space, PR and advertising and other support services.

As Chairwoman of YAL, Muna sees that spark of entrepreneurial genius in its members and works to empower them with the correct education as well as promoting an all-important culture of entrepreneurship. One of the main concerns of YAL is to look at the socio-economic dimensions of the region and address employment issues.

“Unemployment is a big issue in the Arab world… so with the UAE in particular what we have done is we are looking into entrepreneurship and education as two initiatives to change the whole employment issue. We get involved with a lot of mentorship programmes… It is important to inject ideas into young people,” she says.

FAMILY TIES

Although Muna always thought she would one day take a role in the successful family business, she first gained experience in marketing and advertising at Saatchi and Saatchi. “At that primary stage of my life I did want to do everything on my own. I remember going out there and I didn’t want anyone’s help. I tried to get an internship with a  good ad agency and it was six months with no-one replying to me because I had no experience,” she reminisces.

Despite her incredibly busy work schedule, Muna still finds time for philanthropic work, including sitting on the board of the Easa Saleh Al Gurg Charity Foundation. The charitable organisation recently built a school for 300 underprivileged children in Zanzibar, which Muna visited in person.

“If there’s something that you enjoy, that you are really passionate about, let’s say in the non-profit world, then you will make it happen.”

Having sat on the board for the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (DUCTAC) for seven years, Muna relished helping to take the project from an idea on paper to completion. She hasn’t rested on her laurels, however, and now also sits on the board for Hub Dubai – an organisation that encourages social entrepreneurial ideas that is the “place to go if you’re an investor or someone that’s looking to invest in an enterprise”.

Most of all, Muna enjoys sharing her knowledge and expertise within the philanthropic work she does; and so supports two to three organisations every couple of years with either financial aid, her time or both.

A RISING POWER

There’s no doubt that the entrepreneurial Emirati is a role model for the women of the UAE. She notes how the Emirates’ women have developed their careers and social standing in recent history.

“Recently I have seen a big change in woman working in the political field. So a lot of women are diplomats out there now… we have got female ambassadors, there has been a leap in the percentage of woman in the federal national council [FNC]. So I see that in that area, the diplomatic sector, a lot more women will be involved in the future,” she says.

“I also see a lot more woman getting involved in sports; and that is what’s different to the past. Women in the 70s I would say got involved mainly in education. And there were societal reasons for that, because in education… you do not mix with other men, but things are changing now. So [now] we have got a female race driver for example,” she says enthusiastically.

Muna takes the occasional jog in the gym to keep herself fit and healthy; and although she’s not planning on becoming a race driver herself any time soon, her advice to Emirati women is to “focus on your end-goal”.

“Along the way sometimes you get ridiculed for your ideas or if you want to do something different… Avoid the noise and focus on your end-goal and what you would like to achieve. If you’re not able to balance things out you need to step back and focus on why exactly you are there doing this.

“Have dedication towards whatever you do and also do what you enjoy. Because if you do what you enjoy you will excel in whatever you do. If you’re not enjoying what you do, you’re definitely not in the right field,” she concludes.

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