Examining Meetings, Context and Initiatives Promoting a Culture of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the United Arab Emirates

This paper belongs to Thematic Session 2 of the Gothenburg Meeting Science Symposium

Gina Poncini, Khalifa University of Science and Technology (Humanities and Social Sciences)


This paper examines meetings and their context in the changing landscape of the United Arab Emirates. It explores ways to investigate the social, cultural and economic context of meetings, in particular team meetings, as the country experiences rapid change. Emirati females are entering the labor force in greater numbers and taking on new roles and leadership positions, encouraged by the government. Efforts to diversify the economy and decrease dependence on oil encompass a range of initiatives such as the Khalifa Fund, which aims to foster entrepreneurship among Emirati Nationals, and programs supporting Emirati participation in the private sector to decrease reliance on public sector jobs, considered unsustainable.

Additional government initiatives to promote a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation underline the emphasis on changing the mindset and building a knowledge economy. One example is a recent government program developed in conjunction with Stanford University to integrate innovation and entrepreneurship into the curriculum in UAE universities. Also contributing to efforts are competitions bringing together student teams to showcase their work on innovation, design and start-up companies.

In this scenario, investigating team meetings, professional interactions, and their contexts takes on significance. Besides the changing composition of the workforce, more Emirati students are collaborating as members of student teams, sometimes in recently developed mixed gender degree programs in engineering and science. The UAE has a high degree of female educational attainment; one government university was founded as an all-women university before admitting men, and other government institutions have male and female colleges. Depending on their background, students as well as new employees and entrepreneurs may have differing levels of experience in mixed gender professional settings.

The paper draws on preliminary data, including ethnographic data such as participant-observation at industry events on entrepreneurship; semi-structured and unstructured interviews; and focus groups with students. It also draws on work in progress on a multidisciplinary project on Emirati female entrepreneurship and labor force participation (Ozcan, Poncini and Adnan, in progress) to identify areas of interest for more in-depth investigation. The paper discusses challenges in collecting data and the role of data concerning the external context of meetings. The role of informal and formal interactions in professional contexts and the perceptions of such interactions are explored in terms of how knowledge sharing and collaboration can be enhanced while respecting local culture and individual differences.

The paper considers the interplay with local culture in examining the physical context of meetings as well. Newly constructed campus buildings designed with varied spaces and movable furnishings allow different configurations of interaction, for example in the student hub and the library, enhancing collaboration. An additional space typical of the local culture, however, is also worthy of investigation: the Majlis – a “place of sitting” where people can socialize but also discuss issues and events. The paper investigates the way different spaces and furnishings, including the Majlis, which often has floor cushions around the walls, can complement each other as environments for meetings in the context of ongoing initiatives to promote a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.

Ozcan, B., Poncini, G. and Adnan, W. In progress. Examining Emirati Female Labor Force Participation and Entrepreneurship in the United Arab Emirates: A Multidisciplinary Approach. Grant at the London School of Economics Middle East Center.