Youth… are they capable of leading the way?

21 APR 2019

The Global Institute For Tomorrow (GIFT) is an independent, pan-Asian think tank, with offices in Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur. At GIFT, we focus on the shift of influence from the West to Asia, the changing rules of global economics and geopolitics, and the role of government and business in the 21st Century.

Our work takes us across East, Southeast and South Asia, in countries like India, China, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Mongolia, and others.

One aspect of our work is powering innovation within large companies by facilitating six to seven programmes each year. Our two-week programmes have two modules. In the first module, we bring young professionals — from government, business and civil society — to either Hong Kong or Kuala Lumpur, where we expose them to important new concepts through discussions, breakouts and role-play exercises.

In the second module, we push participants to apply these concepts through a real-world, experiential field project. Our projects take participants to places they would never experience normally. Sometimes these places are remote villages in rural India, China or Indonesia, but sometimes they are much closer to home, such as low-cost housing estates in ultra-urban Hong Kong.

But all of these projects are connected in their attempts to solve real-world problems, from financial inclusion and affordable housing, to rural electrification to farmer organisation, through an innovative, financially-viable and socially-directed business model. Participants, through stakeholder interviews and collaboration with each other, build these models in just one week.

These projects have given us novel insights in what business and policymakers can do to solve persistent socio-economic issues and how civil society can work in partnership. Just as importantly, they provide insights on what some of these entities can’t do. One conclusion we have reached is that while businesses and committed entrepreneurs can innovate when it comes to solving social issues, their solutions can be difficult to scale without the cooperation and partnership of the state.

We have seen how the government’s engagement can vary through some of our programmes.

In August 2017, we travelled to China’s Yellow River Golden Triangle to work with the Puhan Cooperative: a farming organisation run by Madame Zheng Bing, a successful rural entrepreneur. We were there to help her develop an integrated model that would connect her farmers with consumer markets in nearby cities.

China presents a positive case of how the national government acts as an engaged partner. The central government is not always directly present in rural communities, but it gives guidance on which socio-economic issues it wants to tackle, whether these are developing left-behind regions or repairing environmental damage. This also acts as a signal to businesses and organisations that their efforts in these areas will receive public support. This is what guides China’s largest companies, such as Alibaba, to develop their own strategies for rural development.

Our programmes in India present a different example of government engagement. In March 2017, we brought a group of business leaders to work with Swarna Pragati Housing Microfinance, an innovative provider of incremental housing finance, and the winner of the MetLife-Wall Street Journal Financial Inclusion Award. The founder, who had come from the public sector, successfully lobbied his state government to accept community land titles as proof of ownership, unlocking finance to rural families across Tamil Nadu.

Participants on our programme found that Swarna Pragati’s most difficult challenge, unsurprisingly, was scale. India’s housing challenge is massive: 43 million homes are needed in rural areas to cover the shortfall. India’s government recognises the problem, launching a massive housing construction campaign titled “Housing For All”. But progress has been slow, with only 4% of approved homes actually being constructed.

India shows the importance of governments having the ability to follow through on their pledges: Swarna Pragati, or any other innovative business provider, will never to be able to completely resolve India’s social issues without the engagement of a capable government.

Of course, governance exists at multiple levels: not just national, but also federal, municipal and local. In November 2018, we brought a group of young leaders from across ASEAN to Jakarta to work with OK OCE, an initiative by the Municipal Government of Jakarta to upskill marginalised and under-educated communities across the city.

Working with the Jakarta government shows how local and municipal governments can be willing partners for enterprising business leaders. They are “closer” to the issues, and more accountable to those citizens struggling with them.

But while they may be willing and able partners, their reach is limited. Job creation is not a need solely in Jakarta, but also in Surabaya, Bandung, Medan and other cities. But the Jakarta government has little ability to help spread any solution to other cities on its own without the cooperation of the national government.

The importance of the state as a willing and able partner is not something people in business, or even the NGO sector, often consider. Governments are seen as too lumbering, too complicated, too slow or (especially in the developing world) too corrupt to be good partners. But their engagement is needed if innovative solutions are to be scaled to a level where they actually solve the problem.

These are the kinds of mindset shifts we try to engender on the business talent that comes on our programmes: a true understanding of how business and society in these emerging markets actually works, fostered through our unique learning methodology.

By Chandran Nair / Founder and CEO, The Global Institute For Tomorrow


26 JUN 2019

Shaping water production in the region

ENGIE is one of the leading Independent Water and Power Project (IWPP) developers and producers in the world, with a strong regional footprint in the GCC dating back 30 years.

Discussions at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week earlier this year centred around ENGIE’s proven world class capabilities and experience in water production, with a view to understanding the main themes and technological trends that will impact and shape water production in the region in the coming years.

With a total gross portfolio of generating more than 30 GW of power and over 5.7 million cubic meters of desalinated water production in operation per day, in line with their commitment to enhancing their investments in the region, ENGIE are aiming to increase their asset portfolio, with a strong focus on the more energy efficient process of Seawater Reverse Osmosis (SWRO).

Historically thermal desalination has been a fundamental part of many power and water projects in the region. More recently however, SWRO has been added to either enhance thermal desalination or replace it entirely, providing the ability to “decouple” the production of water from power generation assets and thereby carefully synchronising with each very specific demand cycle.

This has the benefit of reducing the challenges of having ‘must run’ cogeneration to produce water during the lowest periods of electricity demand. In addition, the use of reverse osmosis (RO) has been proven to be more energy efficient thereby reducing costs and the impact on the environment.

Consequently, the region is witnessing a great deal of interest in medium sized and large SWRO desalination projects. The UAE is at the forefront of this transition and has already launched large scaleRO projects, such as Mirfa IWPP, which includes a 30 MIGD SWRO desalination component as well as Fujairah F2 where 30 MIGD of the 130 MIGD total desalination capacity is based on reverse osmosis, both of which have been successfully developed by ENGIE, as global leader in the technology in partnership with the local authorities and are currently in operation.

World standard expertise and experience in developing and operating large scale RO projects, are key to being able to contribute and assist the relevant authorities in the region to transition towards a more efficient water production future. ENGIE is at the forefront of working with and developing the latest water production technology and benefits from extensive in-house operating experience, including partnerships with first class contractors and can negotiate with financing institutions to secure the best available procurement and financing terms. As demonstrated by a proven track record in Abu Dhabi, in delivering the most cost-effective yet efficient and reliable power and water production in the Emirate.

Leading in-house operations, engineering excellence and maintenance expertise is absolutely vital to operate both reverse osmosis and thermal desalination plants in parallel, which must be backed up with very high efficiency in order to lower the carbon footprint.

Above all, key providers in the water generation and power industry must be fundamentally committed to delivering best-in-class solutions that minimise the impact on the environment, by implementing action plans to avoid, reduce and if necessary, compensate them while optimally managing the resources at its disposal. ENGIE for example is most focussed on providing technical solutions to mitigate the environmental impact in the following areas:

  • Climate change, leading to the global warming of the atmosphere and oceans, but also the increasing frequency and intensity of extreme climatic events caused by the increase in emissions of greenhouse gases due to the consumption of fossil fuels.
  • The management of water resources whether it is fresh, drinkable or wastewater treatment.
  • Biodiversity management in different environments or territories potentially impacted by human activities.
  • The management of air quality and the issue of green mobility.
  • The more general challenge of intelligent management of all resources consumed and the waste produced to propagate a circular and sustainable economy.

By Sébastien Arbola / Chief Executive Officer of ENGIE Middle East, South & Central Asia and Turkey Business Unit


21 APR 2019

Into the heart of the antarctic

In February of this year, I left Abu Dhabi and embarked on the long journey to the Casey Research Station located on Vincennes Bay in the Windmill Islands, just outside the Antarctic Circle.

I was representing Masdar (Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company), to participate in the installation of 105 solar panels and three inverters to provide 30 kW of power into the station’s power grid - the first solar power array at an Australian Antarctic research station.

The solar array was a collaborative project between Masdar and the Australian Antarctic Division to help reduce the reliance on diesel fuel currently delivered by boat from Tasmania, more than 3,000km away.

The solar PV panels are built to withstand extreme weather conditions in the Antarctic, the coldest continent on earth, where katabatic wind speeds can reach nearly 300 km/h and the average temperature ranges from -10 degrees Celsius to -60 degrees Celsius depending on the time of year.

It was a fantastic opportunity for the team based at the station to be able to see that Masdar is actively implementing solutions to address global climate change and environmental issues, while also displaying how the company works in all kinds of remote locations to implement innovative energy solutions.

My days began early, often at 2am to see the aurora – the captivating and awe-inspiring southern lights. Following breakfast, I would meet with my engineering expert and mentor to discuss in detail the busy schedule for the upcoming day. Some days I would spend in the rugged terrain outside, learning about the range of facilities and the different activities taking place at the station such as the mechanical workshops, maintenance facilities, water purification facility, remediation site, powerhouse, survival tools store, and the solar power integrated system.

On other days, when the weather conditions were harsh, I had tours inside the accommodation building and learned in detail about the heating and cooling systems. Usually at 4pm the whole station crew, including scientists, technicians and academics would gather to attend informative seminars and talks or watch relevant documentaries.

Around 7pm, we had dinner together and were early to be 9pm each night, usually exhausted. I found meal times were particularly informative and rewarding. On every single occasion, I had the pleasure to sit and talk to someone new that came from a different culture and background. It was so inspiring to hear the dreams and the experience of each person I met and every time I talked to them they took me on a journey to a different part of the world.

It was such an enriching experience. I was delighted to tell the people I met all about the culture of the UAE and the efforts that the government makes to empower Emirati youth and support women in all fields and industries.

I also did a very special thing that I know not everybody gets the chance to do, which is take part in survival training in the cold desert! I participated in a survival course, learning navigation skills, how to use a map, compass, and GPS to reach the camp safely. We hiked for 10km carrying a backpack that weighs 10kg and boots weighing 2.5kg. The weather conditions were harsh with the wind speed reaching 42 knots and the snow falling all around us. After 3 hours, we reached the camp and started cooking our own food, and made our own beds in the pristine snow. We slept securely overnight and headed back to the station in the early morning.

During my spare time, I would go hiking with colleagues and watch the mesmerising spectacle of thousands of penguins going about their day in their natural habitat.

What helped me a lot that for this trip is that I had previously been to Iceland and experienced a cold climate, and of course not forgetting the three layers of clothes and thermals provided by the Australian Antarctic Division as well as the specials type of insulated boots, socks, and gloves.

In 2017, I had participated in the trip to Iceland as part of an international educational programme, where I studied sustainability and renewable energy at Reykjavík University. I conducted a course project, which was a feasibility study of initiating a solar energy consultation company in the UAE, as well conducting site visits to a hydropower plant, geothermal power plant, and a biodiesel production farm.

As a Material Science graduate from Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi, my syllabus included courses related to sustainability, renewable energy, and advanced technologies. These gave me a solid background that helped me have a better understanding about the different projects in Antarctica and their objectives as well.

The entire trip to Antarctica was an incredible experience and I learned so much. The visit to Casey Research Station has increased my awareness and made me want to contribute even more to any project or activity that will have a positive impact on any part of the world.

By Tawaddod Alkindi / Sustainable and Renewable Energy Engineer


21 APR 2019

Youth… are they capable of leading the way?

The rapid changes currently taking place across the world have significant implications for our political, economic, financial and social systems. The disruptions posed by Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics and Big Data, have led us to the cusp of a new technology paradigm. Humanity now finds itself standing at a crossroads where we need to know how to adapt to these new variables. Collectively we must find how we can benefit from these changing elements and discover how we can positively influence key issues, in particular sustainability and development.

To be fully aware of the magnitude of what is in store for us and be ready for a brave new world, we need to look at the future through a new lens, keeping in mind the global challenges of resource husbandry, energy sustainability and wealth distribution equality. These issues are never more relevant than they are for the UAE and they compel us to focus on where our investment should be directed. We need to ask: who will propel us to the next stage of the future?

According to the latest statistics, the Arab world‘s population stands at 362 million. Youth are its largest age segment, with people under the age of 30 making up 65% of the total population. We have a golden opportunity if we can equip this burgeoning group with the necessary skills to create sustainable development. We need to harness their energy, as youth energy can be a double-edged sword. If invested in properly, it can lead to productivity and empowerment. If neglected, it can result in resentment and negativity, with young people feeling disenfranchised by not having the attributes that enable them to meet the demands of the future, or the skills to serve their countries and societies.

So it is incumbent on us to ask: are our young people capable of assuming the great responsibility we wish to place on them? Can Emirati youth successfully lead the country towards sustainable development? To answer these questions, we need to look to our past.

From the beginning of our great nation, the founding father Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan set a template for ensuring that we invested in human capital, especially young people. To meet this objective he established short- and long-term strategies to educate youth, build their abilities and create within them new competencies. This policy stemmed from his deep belief that UAE youth are capable of leading the future of this young country, that there was no such word as ‘impossible’ and that a strong will combined with knowledge and skill can move mountains.

The UAE has reaped the fruits of this strategic approach, with the achievements of young Emiratis evident across numerous fields. Their successes have been recorded in sectors that include education, energy, the environment and space, with the most recent notable accomplishment being the launch of the satellite KhalifaSat, which was conceived, planned and built entirely with Emirati expertise.

It is clear that Emirati youth is more than capable of overcoming every obstacle in its path, but we should not shirk our responsibilities to them. The government has a duty to provide all the support and care for these ambitious young people by providing them with the knowledge, competencies and skills that will help them to navigate the challenges of the future. Many of these challenges relate to sustainability; sustainability of the environment, sustainability of the economy and sustainability of knowledge, the latter which was encouraged by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, when he called for life-long learning.

Advanced skills are the key to empowering Emirati youth through their focus on the lifelong learning journey. Advanced skills enable young people to continue their voyage of knowledge acquisition, to overcome challenges and to capitalise on investment opportunities, especially when it comes to sustainability and development of vital sectors that raise the competitiveness of our beloved Emirates.

Advanced skills are our youth’s tool to ensure that they are able to adapt to the changes that are taking place at an accelerated pace around us, whether these are technical skills or personal and ‘soft’ skills. If we look at advanced skills from a future perspective, we find that they need to develop constantly. The future is volatile and full of new challenges that impose on young people the need for flexibility if they are to meet its demands and serve the interests of their country and its future generations.

The UAE is moving steadily towards leading the future, with our wise leadership’s ambitions reaching beyond the sky. We have achieved in a few short years what other countries take decades or longer to accomplish. Our dream is growing and our young Emiratis are responsible for realising this and proving to the world that the UAE is the country of science, the country of knowledge, the country of the future and the country of sustainability.

By Ahmad Belhoul Al Falasi / Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced skills