“There are always opportunities for an entrepreneur in any economy. You need to have a keen eye to identify an opportunity, and work hard with great passion to realize your dream. The Arab region is full of opportunities, and we have innumerable examples of people who have created large businesses through hard work.”
To say that Mashreq CEO H.E. Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair dreams big with whatever he does would probably be an understatement. Consider his latest endeavor, the Abdulla Al Ghurair Foundation for Education, of which he is the Chairman. Set up by his father, Abdulla Ahmad Al Ghurair, one of the UAE’s most prominent and successful businessmen, the Foundation was established in July 2015 with a mandate to “provide high-achieving, underserved Emirati and Arab students with the opportunity to study at a top university, and pursue a future in a STEM-related (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) field.” The objective is, obviously, a grand one, and the Foundation has got a budget to match- the enterprise has an investment of US$1.1 billion to spend over the next 10 years, making it one of the largest privately funded philanthropic education initiatives in the world. “My father’s motivation behind setting up the Foundation was very simple,” Al Ghurair says. “He wanted to tackle what he believes to be one of the greatest challenges facing the Arab world– access to quality education. Knowing that, there can be no better investment than in educating today’s Emirati and Arab youth. Education is the greatest equalizer. Arab youth understand that only education will help them overcome the challenges they face whether they are refugees or living in a poor rural area. Education will open doors for them to become the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs and leaders. Over the years, my father has tried to help as many young people as he could on a personal level, and encouraged all of his children to do the same. Establishing the Foundation ensures that education philanthropy is his legacy to us, and [that it] continues to be deeply embedded in our family’s DNA, generation after generation.”
While the Foundation may be a rather young organization, Al Ghurair proudly points out that it has made substantial strides in its first year- a strategy for the organization is in place, as is a team (led by CEO Maysa Jalbout, who was previously the founding CEO of the Queen Rania Foundation in Jordan), and three programs have already been launched as part of this initiative: the Al Ghurair Young Thinkers Program, the Al Ghurair STEM Scholars Program and the Al Ghurair Open Learning Scholars Program. The speed at which the Foundation has accomplished all this is indeed noteworthy, but it is also necessary, when you consider the scale of its goals. “Over the course of the next ten years, we are committed to ensuring that 5,000 Emirati students are ready to make the transition from secondary to higher education, 15,000 Arab youth are supported through educational opportunities, and 100,000s of individuals have access to cutting edge online learning,” Al Ghurair says. “The success of our Foundation will be determined by our ability to meet those commitments in the ten-year dedicated timeframe. We are implementing a rigorous monitoring framework that will track our progress against these goals year over year. Our investments in a dedicated impact evaluation team and tailored electronic systems will allow us to confidently assess our reach as the Foundation scales to meet those large commitments. Naturally, we will ramp up our operations over time, reaching more high school, university, and online scholars year over year. To assess our long-term outcomes, we are designing a framework to evaluate our impact on different aspects of our scholar’s educational attainment. We will actively collect data on our annual cohorts to better understand if and how support from the foundation impacted their ability to pursue, enroll, and complete their studies.”
It’s an ambitious exercise, to say the least, but it’s safe to say that the Foundation is safe in the hands of Al Ghurair. He is, quite simply, one of the UAE’s most accomplished business leaders- besides his role at Mashreq, he’s also a member of the board of directors of the Abdulla Al Ghurair Group of Companies, he’s the Chairman of the UAE Banking Federation, he’s the Vice Chairman of the Higher Board of Dubai International Financial Centre, he’s the Chairman of Masafi Company and Oman Insurance, he’s the President of the Family Business Network GCC: all of this is suffice to say that Al Ghurair has a lot of experience backing him up to govern the Foundation. One must also take into account the personal element driving Al Ghurair forward to push ahead with the Foundation. “For me, I am committed to implementing my father’s vision, and ensuring the Foundation is successful in achieving his dream of educating thousands of deserving young Emirati and Arab youth,” Al Ghurair says. “My business experience is very useful, but I am also delving into the philanthropic and education sectors, connecting with some of the world’s most innovative minds and working with a highly qualified team at the Foundation. I consider this to be one of the most exciting challenges in my career. I am enjoying learning about the issues, and questioning the modus operandi. Being an engaged philanthropist rather than just a funder has given me a new appreciation for the challenge of making large scale impact in education and other issues. But, I am also more hopeful than ever that making impactful investments is possible. I am energized and somewhat impatient for the first Al Ghurair STEM Scholars to begin university in September 2016. I look forward to watching the course of their new lives, and what they will make of it.”
The Mashreq Story
Mashreq CEO H.E. Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair on why innovation is key to the bank’s success today (and in the future)
“Mashreq has been a leader in a number of areas in the UAE and the region, and we plan to continue doing so in the years to come. Our goal for the next five years is to ensure that we fulfill customer expectations across all bank functions. The customer is becoming more sophisticated, so what we used to do three years ago is no longer sufficient. We must continue to innovate and not only meet our customers’ expectations, but exceed them.
Innovation is in our DNA, and it is what defines Mashreq in everything we do. Innovation is the lifeblood of Mashreq– and perhaps what Mashreq is best known for. There is a long list of things that Mashreq has introduced to the market– ATMs, retail banking offerings, traveler’s checks, etc. in addition to more recent breakthroughs in digital and mobile banking. One example of an innovative product was the launch of the Mashreq Millionaire in 1994. Today, most banks have products of that sort, but we were the first to offer it.
Mashreq embraces consistent change to innovate and stay ahead. Our conscious decision to invest in our digital channels and change the way we communicate and market to our customers is an example of that. Our innovation ensures we are where our customers want us to be.
Technology has been critical in helping us regain our status as one of the most innovative banks in the region. Our investments in innovation in state of the art technologies have helped Mashreq rapidly deliver unique products that keep us ahead of the competition. Mashreq is also first in implementing iStatements, interactive statements.
With the increased use of electronic channels, technology is focusing on high availability of customer touch points like ATMs, CCDMs, mobile, online, IVRs and POS. Mashreq continues to invest in SMAC -Social, Mobile, Analytics and Cloud- and key innovation agenda items in this space. It has also restructured itself to strongly align with its business partners and thus build a strong customer-focus.
The key drivers behind Mashreq’s innovation initiatives is omni-channel convergence, which is aimed at migrating our current physical and traditional distribution channels to a resilient and robust digital business model. Delivering a compelling, simple, friction-free, and trusted digital banking experience to customers has been supported by the UAE ’s superior connectivity and smartphone penetration levels, and the government’s desire to create a Smart City. An always-connected tablet and smartphone is fast becoming the norm amongst the working population, and leveraging the mass consumption of video content and real-time data analytics, Mashreq is driving change by radically redesigning the services we offer to our customers. No longer intent on just providing traditional banking services and products, the bank is executing its multi-distribution strategy to become the everyday bank and primary financial app of the consumer.”