Sir Winston Churchill once said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
A family trait, perhaps, but as a matter of fact and outlook, I tend to view most business challenges as opportunities. The more daunting the challenge, I would further submit, the greater the potential reward.
To be sure, business opportunities in our part of the world are sometimes so heavily disguised that they’re almost impossible to see, or even imagine in some cases. But here is where the magic also unfolds: Those who can stand strong during the darkest moments – and we’ve had more than our fair share lately – truly pay honour to our region. Indeed, as history has proven time and again over the course of antiquity, challenging times have ultimately served to make us stronger, wiser and far more productive – as a population, as a nation and as a global economic power.
This brings me to the topic at hand: The year ahead.
The fresh start that every new year brings has not muted the drama around ISIL, which continues to draw global heat and headlines. The attacks on Paris set a new and brutal low for the political firestorm, and I suspect the reverberations will continue for a while.
How this all plays out, nobody knows. But what I do know is that day-to-day life in the Middle East will go on, much as it has for thousands of years. As mothers and fathers we still worry about our children, do our best to provide for our families, and try to do right by our friends, neighbours and local communities.
Simply put, as Arabian brothers and sisters, we are linked by blood, history and territory. We also share a common purpose, which can be boiled down to a single word: Hope.
Hope for a better today.Hope for a better tomorrow.Hope for the generations that will follow, so that they, too, may live, dream and prosper.The business community also plays an important role. As for-profit businesses, we compete, certainly, sometimes quite vigorously. But business leaders also recognise and embrace the greater good, and thusly strive to collaborate, in big and small ways, to help make the GCC a better and more productive region.
Quality of life is a common thread in all of this, and on this uplifting note I am truly heartened as 2016 begins. A few examples:
Kuwait, under the leadership of Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, has allocated $7bn to fund small and medium enterprises, in an attempt to support youth and stimulate the local economy.
Also in Kuwait, there’s been a major investment in e-government, with a focus on curbing bureaucracy and increasing transparency – this should go a long way to help build trust with the public, as well as potential investors. The country also recently hosted one of the largest social media conferences in the region – “Hashtag Kuwait” – putting a spotlight on the importance of social media in impacting regional affairs.
The Abu Dhabi Education Council recently teamed with Google to introduce student-friendly computer programming lessons in classrooms across the emirate, with the goal of giving 250,000 students the tools and support they need to learn computer coding, one of the hottest professions on the planet right now.
Modern and forward-looking programmes like these serve as reminders that we all play a role when it comes to creating economically-inclusive environments that allow people to follow their dreams. Job creation is a big part of the equation. Indeed, while ISIL may continue to grab headlines, the paucity of attractive employment opportunities for our young people continues to be one of the biggest threats – and heartbreaks – facing our region.
But I am, as always, optimistic about the ability of the Arab business community to stand and deliver. And as we start the new year, the wind, in many ways, is already at our backs. In closing, to paraphrase another insight from Sir Winston: “When times turn tough…keep going.” And so we will.
Omar K. Alghanim, CEO of Alghanim Industries and chairman of Gulf Bank.
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