GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
The Two Universes of Entrepreneurship in the UAE: An Answer to the Gulf Employment Conundrum?
Paper Proposal Text :
This paper examines how the figure of the entrepreneur has become emblematic in the Gulf region, with entrepreneurial activity now expected to provide a solution for many of the economic and social challenges that affect the region, in particular the youth bulge observed throughout the GCC and the demands voiced by increasing numbers of well-educated local university graduates.

Discourses on entrepreneurship are often traced to the writings of Josef Schumpeter and others in the early 20th century, at a time when for most of the growing urban population in the developed world, extremely structured workplaces in offices and factories left little space for personal initiative, drive and creativity. In this context, the entrepreneur was perceived as an exceptional individual creating opportunities in a visionary burst of creative destruction, and thus propel economic development forward.

At the beginning of the third millennium, social welfare levels have come under pressure worldwide as state resources continue the decline they began in the 1970s, a tendency exacerbated by the economic crisis that started in 2007/08. As a result, the figure of the entrepreneur has gone from being a cultural hero standing apart from the grand mass of men (and women) to being a role model for all, and particularly for those in urgent need of a job.
In the Gulf region, this new discourse of governments routinely encourage entrepreneurship as a mechanism of coping with the so-called youth bulge, the massive number of young people currently entering the labor force. In this context, the UAE stand out, because they advertise entrepreneurial opportunities both for their nationals and for international entrepreneurs, although the conditions under which both groups have to operate are very different, as will be discussed below.

This paper analyzes these discourses of entrepreneurship, critically examines the extent to which they allow Gulf nationals to escape the welfare trap rentier state citizens find themselves in, contrasts the unified, uncritical discourse on entrepreneurship found in Emirati public sphere with the reality of a split universe of entrepreneurship, in which nationals and expatriates operate under radically different conditions and restrictions, and analyzes an established corpus of UAE SMEs to illustrate both the opportunities and the limitations of entrepreneurial activity in the Gulf.