Global Connect Delegation to the United Arab Emirates

December 13 - 18, 2021

 

Indiaspora was excited to take a private delegation to Dubai and Abu Dhabi as part of our Global Connect program to convene with leaders of the diaspora residing in the UAE from December 13th until the 18th.

The delegation gave participants the opportunity to connect and collaborate with leaders on the themes of entrepreneurship, innovation, and philanthropy. As a growing global hub of innovation, the UAE offers delegates unique opportunities to explore the industries propelling the country forward.

The Indiaspora delegation met leading entrepreneurs and high-ranking government officials to understand how they are using their offices to create a conducive environment for innovation, and the role that the global Indian diaspora can play in advancing innovations that not only spawn new businesses and industries but also address social issues.

The delegation also focused on philanthropy and the many ways in which the diaspora can continue to engage in supporting the Indian and resident communities of the diaspora. Programming included exclusive roundtable and panel discussions with luminaries who have paved the way in philanthropic initiatives.

Global Connect Delegation to the United Arab Emirates

Summary

After a pause in Indiaspora’s Global Programming due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were delighted to resume our “Global Connect” program in 2021 by leading a high-level delegation of our members and wider network to the United Arab Emirates from December 13-18, 2021.

Indiaspora’s Global Connect program aims to connect the leaders of the Indian diaspora across different professions across the world with the purpose of inspiring them to collaborate on how they can be a force for good globally. In so doing, our focus is to incentivize leaders from the Indian diaspora to find common philanthropic interests, promote Indian diaspora entrepreneurship and innovation that can have a positive impact on society, promote the Indian diaspora to make their voice heard in politics, policymaking, or civic engagement wherever possible, as well as fostering a culture of societal impact in the next generation of the global Indian diaspora. 

Given a focus within the UAE to position the country as a “global innovation hub,” a growing culture of philanthropy, especially within the Indian diaspora, and, of course, the ongoing Dubai Expo 2020, we felt a trip to the UAE would be a welcome destination for re-starting Indiaspora’s global programming. 

Our delegation to the UAE began, officially, on Monday, December 13, in Dubai, where we began with a breakfast for the delegates, as well as a briefing on the history of the Indian diaspora in the UAE, the trends in geopolitical, economic, trade, and investment relations between the UAE, India, the United States, and Canada. 

The breakfast was followed by a series of events held at the Suha Room on the top floor of the iconic Burj al Arab hotel. The first event at this location included a panel discussion on entrepreneurship, with panelists from the United States, United Arab Emirates, and Canada. Panelists included Goldy Hyder, President and Chief Executive Officer, Business Council of Canada, Smita Siddhanti, Founder and President, EnDyna Inc., Seema Chaturvedi, Managing Partner, AWE Funds, Abhishek Sharma, Chief Executive Officer, Foundation Holdings, and moderated by Nalin Khaitan, Vice Chairman, Khaitan Holdings.

The panel was followed by a very special and intimate fireside chat between Indiaspora’s Executive Director, Sanjeev Joshipura, and Dr. Thani Al Zeyoudi, the UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Trade, who shared details about the UAE’s trading relationship with India, the ongoing negotiations for a bilateral Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement between both countries, and role the diaspora could play in building deeper ties with India. 

The fireside chat with Dr. Thani was followed by a philanthropy roundtable, which saw panelists discuss the state of philanthropy in a post-COVID-19 world and how to bolster a culture of giving among the Indian diaspora. Panelists included Naghma Mulla, Chief Executive Officer, EdelGive Foundation, Faizal Kottikollon, Chairman, KEF Holdings, and MR Rangaswami, Founder and Chairman of the Board, Indiaspora. 

The last event at Burj al Arab was a panel discussion on the newly-created “U.S.-India-UAE-Israel” grouping, and to explore how the Indian diaspora in each of these countries could play a greater role in facilitating closer economic ties between the four countries. We were honored to have representatives from the governments of the United States and Israel, U.S. Consul General Meghan Gregonis and Israeli Consul General Ilan Sztulman Starosta. The event was moderated by Indiaspora’s Board Member and the Vice Chairman and Managing Director of the Jetline Group of Companies. 

Following these events at the Burj al Arab, the delegation was then hosted at the Dubai International Finance Center’s Innovation Hub, which is a start-up hub and incubator for financial technology and other tech-focused start-ups. After hearing an overview of what the DIFC is and how it operates, delegates had the opportunity to hear from several start-up CEOs and Founders who are members of the Indian diaspora in the UAE, and are incubating at the DIFC Innovation Hub:

  • Ajinkya Tanpure, Founder of Cross Val
  • Arjun Bhuptani, Founder of Connext 
  • Mahender Bisht, Founder of Proton
  • Aditya Bhagat, Founder of Affinsys AI

The first day concluded with a reception and dinner at the Viewing Deck of the Palace Downtown hotel, which was sweeping views of downtown Dubai, the Dubai Fountain, and an unobstructed view of the Burj Khalifa. Attendees to the reception and dinner included government officials, as well as business leaders, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists from the global Indian diaspora as well as the local Emirati community. 

For our second day in the UAE, the delegation headed to Abu Dhabi, where the first event of the day was at the renowned Emirates Palace Hotel. For our first event, two of Indiaspora’s delegates, Nishith Desai, Founder and Managing Partner, Nishith Desai Associates, and Dr. Mohanbir Sawhney, McCormick Tribune Professor of Technology, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, engaged in a fireside chat about entrepreneurship, innovation, and global business. We also heard from Raza Jafar, a prominent business leader in the UAE, about the key differences in regulatory and policy approaches to start-ups and businesses in Dubai and in Abu Dhabi, unpacking for the delegates what each geography had to offer and the comparative advantages of each Emirate in promoting start-ups. 

Following a break for lunch, Senior Manager, Global Programs, at Indiaspora, Aman Thakker, sat down with Leah Boyer of the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi, to discuss U.S.-UAE relations, the emergence of the U.S.-India-Israel, UAE grouping, and the role of the Indian diaspora in the United States and UAE in fostering trade and investment ties between the two countries. Finally, the delegates heard from Deepak Sekar, Founder of FunderAI, a start-up incubating at the Hub71 technology incubator in Abu Dhabi, as well as from the leadership of Abu Dhabi Global Markets, a free-zone located inside Abu Dhabi that is part of the Emirate’s push to bring global entrepreneurs to Abu Dhabi. 

The day in Abu Dhabi concluded with a guided tour of the Qasr al Watan, the UAE’s Presidential Palace, and a delegates-only dinner at the Sontaya Thai Restaurant on Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi. 

The third day for the delegation began with a site visit to the Dubai Future Foundation (DFF). At DFF, the delegation met and interacted with the Chief Executive Officer, H.E. Khalfan Belhoul, and toured the Foundation’s Future Lab, which included cutting-edge robotics technology, as well as its coding academy, Coding HQ, and its incubator space, Area 2071. The site visit concluded with presentations from Indian diaspora-led start-ups who had been supported by or were alums of DFF’s incubator and accelerator programs:

After the visit to DFF, delegates enjoyed a casual sandwich lunch at Zabeel Park, which hosts the new Dubai Frame, which was on the way to the next event: an event on entrepreneurship within the next generation of the Indian diaspora, which was hosted by the Consul General of India in Dubai, Dr. Aman Puri, at the Indian consulate. 

After keynote remarks from the Consul General, we heard from Ashwin Bharat, CEO and Founder of Revature, the largest employer of emerging technology talent in the United States, Amit Dhamani, Chief Executive Officer, Dhamani Jewels, who is a second-generation jeweler based in Dubai, Bijal Patel, Chief Executive Officer, Coast Redwood Hospitality, who is a third-general hotelier and also serves as President of the California Hotel and Lodging Association, Abhishek Sharma, Chief Executive officer of Foundation Holdings, which is a prominent healthcare and education investment company, and Saket Modi, Chief Executive Office, SafeSecurity, and a Forbes 30-under-30 recognized entrepreneur who started his company from his dorm room in India and is now based in Palo Alto. 

After hearing from these incredible next-gen entrepreneurs, the delegation headed to the residence of Mr. Shyam Bhatia, an Indian diaspora resident of Dubai who moved to the city 45 years ago and has established a well-known steel business. He also hosts and curates a private Cricket Museum at his residence, and led the delegates on a tour of the history of the game, the artifacts and collectibles he has procured over his lifetime, and shared his passion for the game with fellow cricket-lovers in the delegation. 

Shyam also surprised the delegates by inviting legendary Indian cricket, Sunil Gavaskar, who happened to be in town, and who had interacted several times in the past with Indiaspora. Shyam also honored Gavaskar, celebrating 50 years since Gavaskar made his test debut for the Indian national cricket team. 

The last event on Wednesday, December 15, was a dinner at the highest restaurant in the world – the At.Mosphere Restaurant on Level 126 of the Burj Khalifa. The chief guest for the dinner was Mr. Amit Jain, the Group CEO of Emaar Properties, the developers of the Burj Khalifa, who made brief remarks about the contributions of the Indian diaspora to the development of downtown Dubai. Other special invitees included H.E. Fahad Al Gergawi, CEO of Dubai FDI, H.E. Saed AlAwadi, CEO of Dubai Exports, H.E. Mohammad Al Musharakh, CEO of Sharjah FDI, and H.E. Marwan Al Sarkal Chairman of Shurooq (Sharjah Exports). 

On Thursday, December 16, the delegates began their day with a meet-and-greet with H.E. Helal al-Marri, the Director-General of Dubai Tourism and Economy. The delegates heard from the Excellency about how Dubai handled COVID-19, how it sees the future of its economy in the post-COVID world, and what contributions the Indian diaspora is making to Dubai’s economy. 

Following the meeting with H.E. Helal al-Marri, the delegation visited the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurudwara in Dubai, which was constructed by a prominent member of the Indian diaspora, Surender Singh Kandhari. Following a visit to the shrine, the delegations heard from several members of the community about interfaith issues, and how all members of the Indian diaspora can reach out to other ethnicities, communities, and faiths in order to do impart a positive impact on society. Following the discussion on social impact and interfaith issues, the delegates joined Surender and his wife, Bubbles, for langar at the gurudwara. 

After the visit to the Gurudwara, the delegation embarked on a VIP guided tour of several pavilions at Expo 2020. This included visits to the United Arab Emirates, India, United States, Expo Live, Mission 2020, and Vision pavilions. Following the guided tour, delegates had several hours of free time to explore Expo 2020 at their own pace and enjoy pavilions that were of interest to them. 

Following the first four days of substantive events and programming, the delegates were able to put their feet up on the last two days and take in some cultural and tourism activities. On Friday, December 17, the delegates began their day with a visit to the Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve, where they learned the customs, traditions, and rituals of a traditional Bedouin village in the desert undertook a camel ride, explored the desert in an open-air car, and learned about falconeering. Later that evening, the delegations took in a yacht ride in the Dubai Marina, with an incredible view of the Dubai skyline.

The last day of the delegation saw the delegates return once again to Abu Dhabi, where the delegates were on a guided tour of the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, and had the opportunity to see the South Asian/Indian art in the museum. After lunch at the museum’s café, the delegates toured Qasr al Hosn, the oldest stone building in Abu Dhabi dating back to 1761. The final activity was a guided tour of the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, which is the third-largest mosque in the world. The delegates had the opportunity to see the mosque at sunset, which saw the mosque lit up beautifully. 

This incredible trip saw Indiaspora focus on all of the key areas of its programming – entrepreneurship and innovation, philanthropy, inter-community relations, policymaking and key policy issues, and engagement with the rising, next-generation of the Indian diaspora. While this was Indiaspora’s first engagement with the community of stakeholders in the United Arab Emirates, it certainly will not be the last, and we look forward to future opportunities to engage with the Indian diaspora and Emirati community in the UAE as we emerge out of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Aman Thakker serves as Senior Manager of global programs at Indiaspora, and planned Indiaspora’s delegation to the UAE. Sanjeev  Joshipura, Executive Director; Ashish Shah, Senior Director of Philanthropy and Community Engagement; Mansi Patel, Director of Communications, and others also contributed to the planning of the delegation.

For questions, please reach out to Aman Thakker at aman@indiaspora.org.