Vania Henry is the outgoing chairwoman of the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg) Business Council in Abu Dhabi, the first female to hold the post.
Ms Henry, who gained experience in France, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg and Belgium, is passionate about empowering women in the UAE. At least 20 per cent of the Benelux Business Council Abu Dhabi is comprised of females. Most work in oil and gas, health care, construction, services and hospitality.
Oil prices started to fall almost two years ago. How do you view the response? What are the positives on the horizon for the UAE economy?
Even before the drop in the oil prices, the country had been anticipating the fact that it shouldn’t be relying solely on oil and gas. Dubai did a lot to diversify its economy, and Abu Dhabi is on the same track, it is more affected but if you look at all the culture that Abu Dhabi has put in place, that was definitely a vision about “we need to take the country into a different direction. And, of course, you have the [planned] introduction the VAT [value added tax] and [other] taxes to compensate the loss of income.
Because all the Benelux countries are “smallish countries,” there is an understanding for the kind of challenges the UAE is going through and probably closeness in the way we respond to business. I found that this time people are more cautious in their approach [of] coming to the UAE but I don’t see that in a negative way. I think it is very positive that people prepare in a better way, measure the risks as well, and in doing that, very often they come to us, to the trade offices, to the embassies, and we can help with introductions, with people from the same industry and have an experience already in the market to tell them how it is really. [The UAE)]remains very attractive, there are still a lot of opportunities here but people are just more cautious, and it is good to build the business in the long term.
What is the biggest hurdle to setting up business in the UAE?
I think it is finding the right vehicle to do it: do they do it with an investment partner or with a local partner, with a trade zone, what kind of investment they need to do? They need to find what works best for the company. There is a lot of information available, but it is not always in the same location. About two thirds of our members are having a fully fledged national local partner in Abu Dhabi, between big corporations and small businesses.
What do you tell your members about Emiratisation? What do they tell you about it?
Everyone understands that Emiratis need to take a leading role in their economy. There are lot of very capable Emiratis, both men and women. I have met a lot of them, and I think our members understand also the strength of having Emiratis on board, because they understand the country, they have the connections. It is a win-win situation because there is a complementarity between each other. When Emiratisation is seen as an obligation it is sometimes difficult for smaller businesses. On the whole, there is a real thirst for more connections with the Emirati community.