“The vast majority of these studies are designed from a western-perspective and do not apply equally to our social context as Arabs, Muslims, or to the Middle East or the wider region”

The Grid: In our event ‘Family Firms: Coming out of Denial, Taking Stock and Lessons Learned’, in which you were a guest speaker, there was a lot of interest in the investment trends of families in the Emirates. What do you see as the key areas of interest at present?

Adil Al Zarooni: Education is key for stabilization in any region, with the Middle East being no exception. I naturally start with the United Arab Emirates. It is the most mature market in the region with a lot of institutions providing education services.

The Grid: Is there a particular area in education on which you are focused?

Adil Al Zarooni: Special needs education and research is where there is room to grow. Often students with less pronounced needs enter the mainstream education system, and while their needs are met to a degree, they could achieve a lot more with the right level of attention. Mainstream education is geared towards the average student and supporting special needs students is a deviation in a way from their core offering. The diagnostics of these students often go unattended as they fall between the cracks of the average student and students with more severe challenges who are taken care of in day centres but even these are not so education-focused.

Family Firms: Coming out of Denial, Taking Stock and Lessons Learned event at the Dubai International Financial Centre

The Grid: We understand that you are currently working on a project that will provide support to these students.

Adil Al Zarooni: A project I have been working on developing for a while now is a whole complex that could attend to these students with a focus on diagnostics, education and rehabilitation. It is said that 12-18% of any class has children who require special attention. I want to create a centre of excellence for them. We hope to bring something, a centre of excellence for the GCC, online within the next two years.

The Grid: You mention your interest in ‘research’ too to counter the lack of research that is particular the region. Could you elaborate?

Adil Al Zarooni: There are globally-renowned research hubs. The vast majority of these studies are designed from a western-perspective and do not necessarily apply equally to our social context as Arabs, Muslims, or to the Middle East or the wider region. You see this particularly in research in social sciences even when there is a strong local context factor or differentiator, the local population could reveal findings that are not consistent with Western constructs. If we can foster the development of researchers that are locally and organically-grown, we can generate new ways to look at things from the ground up.

The Grid: Could you provide some examples of the kind of home-grown research that should be further developed in the region?

Adil Al Zarooni: Research into cutting edge, disruptive concepts, ideas, technologies that are applicable to the region are almost non-existent. Also, accessing data on these in the region is always a challenge as there are not so many publicly-listed companies or a central repository for this information. There is a risk to just relying on imports. Dubai is addressing this and accelerators help but empirical research is still limited and that offered by the big consulting firms is often prohibitively expensive and it’s not readily-available.

The Grid: So it is a challenge for family businesses to acquire ‘indigenous research’ to adapt best practices?

Adil Al Zarooni: It is odd that we test the inter-operability of that research on our particular social context. We need to grow our own studies, also in respects to addressing family business challenges, which are highly impacted by existing social constructs. A business family in London, for example, is affected by prevailing norms of that social context and how wealth is created and attended to will depend on that.

Here in Dubai, best practices for business families are different. Some research is trying to tap into that but there is difficulty in trying to conduct that from a distance; from the Oxfords or Cambridges of the world. Institutions in the UAE are scratching the surface. Their assumptions need to be based on more rigorous research that is home-grown and understands our highly-nuanced societal context including the impact of the local laws and religion, which all play a part.

This is an extract from an interview with Adil Al Zarooni, the CEO of Al Zarooni Emirates Investments (ZEI).

ZEI is the office managing Al Zarooni family assets in private equity, public equity, investments funds and real estate.

Interview by May Khizam, Founder & Chief Strategist, The Grid Media Ltd

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