The accord itself lists no less than fifteen “spheres of mutual interest”, including finance, energy, and education.
The signing of the Abraham Accords this past September was a watershed in regional relations, marking a new beginning for the people of the United Arab Emirates and Israel. The agreement has opened up new opportunities for friendships, partnerships, and mutual exploration. Indeed, the accord itself lists no less than fifteen “spheres of mutual interest”, including finance, energy, and education. As dean of Tel Aviv University’s Coller School of Management, Israel’s leading business school, the sphere of education is of particular interest to me. Education, in general, is widely recognised for its ability to build bridges between peoples and cultures, and this is particularly true about business education.
Our economies share numerous things in common – a strong, skilled workforce, creative energy, an openness to ideas, excellent educational institutions and vibrant technological entrepreneurship, innovation and new venture creation. It is no wonder that Israel, a land-poor in natural resources but rich in human ones, has become a world leader in technological entrepreneurship. For the UAE, entrepreneurship is more recent, stemming from a strategic decision to diversify the economy beyond its traditional export sector of oil. Hence, if our past has kept our economies apart, the future unites them.
This future, however, depends on top-notch managerial education and experience. Israel appreciates this lesson all too well. Known as the “start-up nation”, Israel is a global leader for the number of startups per capita – with 2,000 startups founded in the past decade and another 3,000 small and medium-sized high-tech companies. Indeed, Israeli innovations include a long list of everyday products and services, such as the disk-on-key technology, ZIP compression, WAZE, and many more. Yet for all the hype over every startup that succeeds in breaking into the marketplace, roughly 95 per cent of startups fail. And the reasons, though always varied, usually come down to poor management. This is why business schools have such an important role in instilling rigorous managerial understanding and best practices in our students. Given our mutual interest in entrepreneurship, innovation and new venture creation, this is where I believe Israeli and Emirati institutions of higher learning should strive to act together.
When it comes to our own educational systems, we are already on firm ground. For Israel, higher education has always been one of the major pillars of society, with the first academic institutions founded already before Israel’s independence in 1948. The Coller School of Management, Israel’s first and largest business school, is home to some 3,500 students across various areas of specialisation, including management of technology and information, strategy and entrepreneurship, and business data analytics.
Mutual cooperation can take many forms, including joint research projects, joint academic seminars and conferences, joint executive education programmes and more. Faculty and student exchange programmes would be a natural start. A specialised type of student exchange can take place around the creation of a joint incubator that will straddle both ecosystems. Under such a programme, a select number of students from both countries could meet together for a month-long programme – two weeks in one place, and two weeks in another, jointly developing their ideas from concept to the initial stages of execution. The cross-cultural experience, both at the level of the student body and at the level of the wider ecosystem in both nations, could offer considerable added value to the participants.
Another venue for cooperation can be a joint internship programme, where Emirati students as well as fresh graduates can gain professional experience in Israeli companies, and Israeli students do the same in the UAE. Internships are hugely beneficial for students seeking to gain practical work experience and apply the knowledge and skills they have acquired to real-life business situations. By providing our students such experience on a cross-national basis, our business schools will contribute to opening doors to each other’s graduates in our respective countries and fostering closer ties between our economies.
Clearly, Israel and the UAE are poised to do great things together, and business schools have a responsibility and an opportunity to contribute to making this future as bright as it can be. We can and must serve as the bridges for our younger populations, providing all the opportunities that both of our thriving ecosystems have to offer. The sky is the limit for what we can do, and there is no reason why we should wait.
Although the global Covid-19 pandemic currently places some restrictions on our ability to travel, our schools can begin exploring joint activities online, starting today at the click of a button. My finger is already on the keyboard.
First published as an opinion piece in the Dubai-based Khaleej Times.