By Mishaal Al Gergawi
The annual Young Entrepreneurs Competition (YEC) kicked off its sixth edition last Wednesday and ran until yesterday at the Dubai Mall. YEC was launched under the Mohammad Bin Rashid Establishment for Small and Medium Enterprise Development, now part of the Department of Economic Development, in 2005 with 84 participants. This year there were 700 participants. YEC is organised under the patronage of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, and is sponsored by du.
CommendableThe YEC is by and large considered a successful commercial initiative. Most participants sell very well some would argue this is so regardless of the quality of their work. But considering that most of the producers are not trained designers and have limited resources, one must admire their entrepreneurial spirit.
Much praise must be given to Shaikh Hamdan for championing such an event, which will surely demystify the mental myths behind entrepreneurship and self-dependence. After the real estate boom, I believe patronage of entrepreneurship is crucial to diversifying the economic contributors to Dubai's GDP. Just as importantly, the success of such initiatives serves Dubai's long-term goal of having a diversified workforce that not only looks at the public and financial sectors for employment opportunities. These could potentially be the creators of jobs instead of seekers. I for one will monitor the development of YEC closely.
The participants set up booths in block format across a number of areas in the mall, including the atrium and the fashion avenue. The majority of the products put up for sale were fashion-, accessory- and entertainment-related. There were some groups who sold recycled products and stationery and others who sold plants, but the majority sold T-shirts and bracelets.
What is worth discussing is the attitude of the consumers who buy these items. As one would expect, the consumers mostly come from the same age bracket. Some come in family groups, but the majority come in groups of friends.
What was alarming was the manner in which sales were conducted. The consumers' attitude more resembled an all-night-queuing PlayStation geek than a young person wandering through a product fair.
Young boys and girls bought products impulsively and spent large amounts of money just because they liked the tag line.
Now, I want to make it clear: I am encouraged by their excitement at discovering locally made products. However, regardless of whatever reports you read, we are still very much in the midst of an economic slump.
Who is giving these kids so much money to spend on what is essentially recreational shopping? I am talking about youngsters in their late teens or early twenties dropping Dh2,000 to buy a bracelet for Dh50 and refusing to take the change, saying they don't need it! I'm talking about friends arguing about who will buy a Dh600 studded helmet and bidding the price up to Dh9,000!
Where are the parents? Is this not the complete opposite of the goal of the competition? We may be nurturing 700 future entrepreneurs but we are effectively dealing with 7,000 spoiled brats.
Once again, in the midst of these hard times, who gives them this much money without asking them what they will do with it? What kind of parents are these? What family structures do we have now that can make the time to provide the financial means but not give advice on how to rationally spend it?
I feel so old. Did I grow up in a different time? Were my generation's parents superheroes? Do this generation's parents care? Are they having children ceremoniously? I may be biased, but I pose my questions looking for hope.
Schools have failed too. The level of discipline has gone down. Some will argue that this has to do with the rise of individual identity. I accept that, but where are the new communication methods? Where are this generation's experts?
This is very worrisome. Just ask yourself, what is a 21-year-old who can spend a cool Dh10,000 on a Wednesday on T-shirts and helmets willing to fight for? I ask you, the parents of many of those kids who came armed with thick wallets full of notes, what can you expect from your children when you've taught them to expect everything from you? Where does financial comfort end and ambition begin?
And let us talk about society as a whole. Let us talk about the lack of outrage by today's writers, thinkers, public officials, sociologists, social programme hosts on TV and radio. Let us talk about how all of them are willing to occupy themselves with everything but analysing the state of our coming generation. I was recently invited to speak at my high school. After the speech, I sat with one of my old teachers and she said to me that she was very worried about the next generation. I told her she was always worried about the next generation. She said that was true, but she had never worried as much as she did about this one. After seeing the kids at the fair last week I confess that I am worried too. I will not end by saying may God help us. God will only help us once we help ourselves.
We have a lot of soul-searching and even more work to do. We must own up to our shortcomings. We cannot celebrate YEC's successful sale without questioning the source of the funding. In the end, one would be hard-pressed to prove that excess and success aren't mutually exclusive.
Mishaal Al Gergawi is an Emirati commentator on socio-economic and cultural affairs in the UAE. The article first appeared in Gulf News on April 4.
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Indeed this is alarming and I am glad that you have flagged...
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