Abu Dhabi has been proactive in supporting its companies during the Covid-19 outbreak. The director-general of its investment office describes how better communications, a focus on tech, and an emphasis on aftercare are helping the emirate to thrive.
At a time when most industries are disrupted in one form or another from the impact of Covid-19, and with foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows declining sharply, government entities that promote and facilitate inward investment are placing renewed emphasis on supporting their existing investors. Known as ‘aftercare’, looking after investors has always been important, but in the current environment it is crucial.
The Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO), founded in 2018, is one such entity. Director-general Dr Tariq Bin Hendi emphasises that its forward-thinking policies have proven useful in the wake of the pandemic.
“Everything we do has a long-term view,” he says. “Many initiatives that people are benefiting from [during the Covid-19 outbreak] are initiatives that were launched a year ago. I think a lot of people are coming in and realising that the government is there to support industry and its various sectors, whereas previously it might not have been as obvious.”
While the office is aiming to protect its existing investors, it is also reporting an influx in new interest. Bin Hendi draws a correlation between successful government action and confidence among potential investors.
“The United Arab Emirates’ proactive stance on the virus, in terms of quarantining and making sure that we protect people, really resonated across the wider region, as well as abroad,” he says.
“Some of them have approached us, saying, ‘we like the conviction and the clear decisive nature that the government [has taken] and we would like to find out how our business can grow here as we are looking at expanding internationally”.
In times of trouble
Alongside attracting new investment, ADIO remains committed to maintaining confidence among existing businesses in the private sector and has been proactive in providing support during the Covid-19 outbreak.
Announced in March 2020, the Abu Dhabi Economic Stimulus Package compromises 16 initiatives and was formulated to help sustain economic activity in Abu Dhabi’s private sector. The stimulus package is part of a larger programme entitled ‘Ghadan 21’, which translates in Arabic to ‘tomorrow’. Launched in 2019, the programme is a three-year commitment to drive the emirate’s development through investments in business, innovation and people.
Of this, Bin Hendi says: “It is really refreshing to see that the government is pushing forward with its mandate and is still looking at how it can build technology and innovation to help existing companies to reinvent themselves.”
Through this focus on renewing and supporting the existing investors in the Abu Dhabi economy, communications between all parties have improved.
“I think that is probably the most interesting thing that has come out of this entire experience; [before Covid-19] many private sector entities were not as forthcoming about the changes they needed to go through, and now they are asking for support [from the government],” says Bin Hendi.
“Now people are starting to realise that we are in this together and we have got to make sure we come out of this together.”
Common requests for support from investors include finding and adopting new innovative technologies and building transition strategies.
Innovation and technology are at the very heart of Abu Dhabi’s key sector – agricultural technology. In partnership with the Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority, ADIO is working on a pipeline of projects – collectively worth AED1bn – that are using sophisticated farming methods to significantly increase the supply of local produce.
Bin Hendi believes that innovative technology is key to the Abu Dhabi’s future, saying: “Abu Dhabi is very keen on experimenting. [The government] wants to support lots of different types of technology companies, allowing all of them to test out their [products] in Abu Dhabi to see which ones work, so we can be at the forefront of supporting the technologies that are emerging and that are successful.”
As the world slowly moves towards its ‘new normal’, Abu Dhabi is looking to remain focused on the bigger picture. Agricultural technology (and, in turn, food supply), eco-tourism, healthcare, education and infrastructure all remain key sectors for the emirate.
“We want to make sure that we are talking to the right partners and that all of those partners come here and contribute more than just financially to our economy – we want them to feed into the education system and to partner with our educational institutions in order to help to build that knowledge set within [the UAE],” says Bin Hendi.
He highlights that this level of communication and long-term approach will continue to serve Abu Dhabi in its focus on moving forward.
“We are looking at this very holistically,” says Bin Hendi. “We are trying to make sure that every sector plays its part in the wider development of Abu Dhabi’s economy and infrastructure.”