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A Decade In Review: Badr Jafar, CEO, Crescent Enterprises "As Socrates said, 'I know one thing: that I know nothing.' The more you grow as a person, the more this philosophy resonates."

By Aby Sam Thomas

You're reading Entrepreneur Middle East, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.

Crescent Enterprises
Badr Jafar is a businessman and social entrepreneur from the United Arab Emirates.

With its February 2024 issue, Entrepreneur Middle East celebrates its 10th anniversary! To mark this milestone, we revisiting 10 entrepreneurs and entities that we featured in the publication a decade ago- we find out how far they have come, and what's next for each of their stories.

For someone we declared to be "one of the region's thought leaders" when we first featured him in Entrepreneur Middle East in July 2014, Crescent Enterprises CEO Badr Jafar has only gone on to steadfastly built on that persona in the years since, and as such, the amount of impact he continues to have on the Arab world -and beyond- seems almost unparalleled. At the same time, the UAE-headquartered multinational that he leads has grown as well- and it continues to be one of the region's most respected institutions. "Today, Crescent Enterprises comprises a diversified group of over 50 subsidiaries and operations across 15 countries, employing 1,800 dedicated women and men," Jafar shares, while adding that its corporate structure now comprises of four platforms: CE-Operates, CE-Invests, CE-Ventures, and CE-Creates.

"CE-Operates, our operating business platform, focuses on smart infrastructure for economic development and growth and houses operating companies like Gulftainer, our ports and logistics business which operates across the world including through strategic ports in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and the USA," Jafar explains. "CE-Invests, our strategic investment platform, backs late-stage businesses across the MENA region, including the healthcare-focused fund TVM Capital and private equity firm Growthgate Capital, spanning sectors including green building materials, environmental services, and advanced biometrics. CE-Ventures, our corporate venture capital platform, has deployed over US$500 million in early-stage high-growth businesses and venture capital funds in the MENA region, India, Southeast Asia, and the US. We have witnessed the evolution of the venture capital ecosystem in our region, and we were proud to have led seed funding rounds for a number of companies that reached unicorn status, including Kitopi, which became the fastest growing unicorn in the MENA region. At the same time, CE-Creates, our internal business incubator platform, is building startups that are socially and environmentally conscious. We have successfully launched multiple businesses in the region including, Kava & Chai, a homegrown coffeehouse chain, and a sustainable mobility platform, ION, in partnership with our fellow UAE-based company, BEEAH Group."

Badr Jafar with UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Source: Crescent Enterprises

When it comes to features that characterizes Crescent Enterprises today, Jafar points first to portfolio diversification, and then to sustainability, in which his company and him personally have been playing extremely significant roles in the business ecosystem at large. "Our corporate culture of social and environmental stewardship has been further enhanced by the UAE's many initiatives in this space, including most recently through its staging of the 2023 Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28)," Jafar notes. "As the appointed COP28 Special Representative for Business and Philanthropy, I was honored to Chair the inaugural COP28 Business and Philanthropy Climate Forum, which convened over 1,300 business and philanthropy leaders, providing a dedicated platform for exchanging ideas, fostering collaboration, and generating action in support of the world's climate and nature goals. As a strategic partner of the Forum, Crescent Enterprises continues to work to multiply the impact of the initiatives unveiled during the event and its outcomes."

In 2023, Badr Jafar was appointed the COP28 Special Representative for Business and Philanthropy, and he was also the Chair of the inaugural COP28 Business and Philanthropy Climate Forum. Source: Crescent Enterprises

Looking to the future, Jafar is also excited about the role that technology is set to play in advancing new solutions across all the sectors his business operates in. "For example, CE-Ventures has launched a strategy to invest in life sciences startups, and it has partnered with universities in the US and elsewhere that are working on cutting-edge research in this field," he reveals. "A recent focus area is the human microbiome, and the transformative potential microbiome therapeutics holds across a wide spectrum of disease states. Another focus area is deep tech, which looks to transform global industries by substantially improving related costs, execution speed, and overall capabilities of such industries through novel solutions that disrupt the status quo." Meanwhile, CE-Invests is looking to expand its operations and investments in India and Southeast Asia region, including in Indonesia, the Philippines, and Vietnam- according to Jafar, these countries have the highest long-term investment potential as of now.

Bob Moritz, Badr Jafar, and HSH Prince Albert II Monaco during Davos 2024. Source: Crescent Enterprises

From a personal perspective, Jafar is also looking to build on his already strong presence in the field of philanthropy, and he's putting building blocks in place to set the domain up for success in the years to come as well. "I am passionate about the future of strategic philanthropy, and its opportunity to create the structures and platforms needed to nurture a new generation of philanthropist and philanthropic capital, which can partner with government and business capital to rapidly scale solutions to our most urgent global challenges," Jafar says. "The results-driven and transparent principles of strategic philanthropy, bolstered by emerging digital tools, is enabling the gathering, processing, and understanding of philanthropic data more efficiently than ever before. This is why I have established the Strategic Philanthropy Initiative at the New York University Abu Dhabi in the UAE, and I aim to soon launch similar centers in South Africa and Singapore."

Badr Jafar with Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, and President William Ruto of Kenya at the UN General Assembly in 2023. Source: Crescent Enterprises

Here, Jafar points out that rapid economic growth and intergenerational wealth transfer across global growth markets of $30 trillion in the coming two decades is set to to drive an increase in private wealth as well as a corresponding rise in philanthropic giving- and that only highlights the timeliness of the Strategic Philanthropy Initiative that he has launched. Now, add that to the power moves his business is making in the world at large, and all of this makes it clear that Jafar is set to remain an important figure for us to follow at Entrepreneur Middle East- and we look forward to continue sharing all of his exploits in the years to come.

Related: A Decade In Review: Iman Ben Chaibah, Founder, Sail Publishing

Hindisight is 20/20: Then-Versus-Now With Badr Jafar
Looking back at the stage of your entrepreneurial/career/business trajectory you were in 10 years ago, is there anything you'd do differently knowing what you know now? Alternatively, what's the biggest lesson you wish you'd known 10 years ago?

"As Socrates said, 'I know one thing: that I know nothing.' The more you grow as a person, the more this philosophy resonates. Everyone will need to embrace their own journeys of learning and inspiration, but the most important thing we can all do is accept that we can only truly grow by learning from each other.

"The UAE has created an immensely powerful and varied platform for diverse voices to come together, across geographies and sectors, and be greater than the sum of its parts. This model for rapid innovation is what fueled the so-called 'Golden Age' in our region over 1,000 years ago, which inspired centuries of new discovery and human advancement. I strongly believe that if we stay the course, this country and the Gulf region overall can be at the epicenter of a new wave of global innovation. A wave that is grounded in scientific and artistic discovery, and underpinned by social and environmental pillars of sustainable development. Our region's social entrepreneurs will lead this wave. It is upon us to do whatever we can to support them, and nurture their dreams."

Related: A Decade In Review: Soukaina Rachidi Alaoui, Founder, RisalatComm

Aby Sam Thomas

Entrepreneur Staff

Editor in Chief, Entrepreneur Middle East

Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.

Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.  

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