How Silicon Valley attracts talent and what the UAE can learn from it

As he prepares to return home, Khalid Al Ameri reflects on his experience in America.

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Recently, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, wrote about the issue of a regional “brain drain”. He discussed how the UAE is playing a leading role in reversing the trend of the Arab world’s best talent seeking better opportunities abroad.

It was good to read Sheikh Mohammed’s views, particularly as I prepare to graduate in a few days and I am about to move back to the UAE with my family after spending time in the US. The article got me thinking about how my experiences and my education have shaped me.

Being based in Silicon Valley for the past two years has taught me a lot about the companies that are responsible for attracting the best and brightest talent from around the world.

As you walk or drive around Silicon Valley you get this feeling that if you want to do something all you have to do is start working. You sense that the boundaries between possibility and reality are almost non-existent if you work hard enough.

Products are built and put out to market at lightning speed, companies that have raised several million dollars can be running a fully operational and licensed business out of a rented house.

All this is to make a point that people who come to Silicon Valley are focused on creating value. They are not bound by an endless flow of paperwork, rules, processes and regulations that entrepreneurs have to go through in the Gulf. For example, the mandatory office space that small businesses are required to take or the high bank deposits needed to run e-commerce and internet platforms.

The system in the US is set up so that as much brain power and financial capital can be used to develop products and grow their organisations. If this region wants to attract the best and brightest to the region, we need to make sure we provide an environment where they can function at their best and brightest.

One of the other things you will notice if you spend any amount of time in Silicon Valley is that innovative companies are usually hatched in top-notch educational institutions. One notable example is Google and Stanford.

Universities create pipelines of talent for organisations present and future.

They create what I like to call the knowledge-business loop, where universities provide talented individuals to the world’s top organisations and companies support universities through partnerships, internships and outlets for creative and innovative ideas.

Great talent is attracted to systems that create great talent, and the UAE’s universities are our greatest tools if we are to build a world-class talent pool.

My thought would be to invest heavily in our educational institutions, promote research and create an environment for professors to thrive, where they are able to experiment and drive innovation from within the boundaries of the classroom. If we do that, it will only be a matter of time before we start to see that energy and innovation trickle into our government, as well as our private and public organisations.

My professors during my time at Stanford included a former US secretary of state, a chairman of an airline and a founder of one of the US’s largest media companies.

They were all highly respected professionals who were still very active in their current fields and made time to share their insights, knowledge, trials and errors with the generation about to step into the workforce. It was fascinating to hear their stories, and learn from their personal experiences in business, entrepreneurship and government.

I feel that some of the brain drain that we face in the region is caused from within our own boundaries and due to industry leaders not stepping into universities and sharing their knowledge. The generation that has shaped how the UAE is today has a responsibility to help younger generations shape tomorrow – and that takes nothing more than a little bit of their time and wisdom.

One of the greatest lessons I learnt from my time at Stanford is that there is no greater way to grow than by surrounding yourself with great people.

However, another lesson I learnt is that great people are born because they had great leaders who guided them through the development process. The UAE is blessed with leaders who think so deeply about the future, and put the development of people at the forefront of all their initiatives to make the UAE a better place for citizens and residents alike.

What I took away from Sheikh Mohammed’s article is that when people have dreams for their lives and the lives of their families, all they need is someone to tell them it’s possible. Thank you Sheikh Mohammed for believing in us.

Khalid Al Ameri is an MBA candidate at the Stanford Graduate School of Business