In its 51 years of existence, the UAE has emerged as a regional superpower.
This Friday (Dec. 2), as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) celebrates National Day, the country’s leaders and businesses have been highlighting efforts to grow the knowledge economy.
While each of the seven Emirates has set its own agenda in their respective plans for the coming decades, the theme of economic diversification and fostering innovation is the connecting thread.
In his first National Day speech as president of the UAE on Thursday (Dec. 1), Abu Dhabi’s Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan outlined a vision for the country’s future underpinned by investment in research and innovation.
He said, “The UAE will continue to focus on science and technology and capitalize on opportunities in these areas so that current and future generations can benefit.” In these efforts, education will take center stage as the country works to diversify its sources of income and build a successful knowledge-based economy, he added.
Sustainability is another pillar of the UAE’s strategy for the future. From Ajman’s goal of becoming the first “fifteen-minute city” in the region by 2030 to the smart homes under construction in Sharjah’s Sustainable City, after 51 years of fossil fuel-driven development, the UAE is banking on cleaner, greener initiatives to propel the next phase of its growth.
MENA Businesses Set Up Shop in UAE
In the run-up to the festival, Emirati businesses have been showcasing the best of the country’s culture and vision. And although most workers have the day off, malls, amusement parks and restaurants remain open on what is one of the busiest days of the retail calendar.
Enabling the annual flourish of consumer activity, the UAE’s banks and payment service providers are some of the most important in the region.
From neobank Wio’s digital finance proposition for businesses and individuals to Jingle Pay’s expat-oriented money app catering to the country’s unbanked population, on this National Day residents of the UAE have access to a range of FinTech offerings.
And in the modern era, business hubs in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have become two of the most important centers of economic activity, not just in the Middle East, but the entire world.
With increased activity in the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC) and Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM), unsurprisingly many of the region’s FinTech startups have gravitated toward the UAE, which some of the most important players in the ecosystem now call home.
Companies like NymCard, which relocated from Beirut to Abu Dhabi in 2018, now serve a key role in facilitating cross-MENA commerce.
The banking-as-a-service (BaaS) firm provides infrastructure that powers payments across the region, helping banks and FinTechs issue cards and launch new financial products for their business and consumer clients.
As the company’s CEO Omar Onsi explained in a PYMNTS interview, “[NymCard] is not trying to serve the whole world, we are laser-focused on solving the MENA problems. You will never see us in Europe, the U.S. or in parts of Asia. You will see us very plugged into the MENA to make sure we are super-localized for the problems which are unique to [the region].”
With its local expertise and emphasis on forging connections across the payments ecosystem, NymCard is increasingly a key partner for international players like Western Union when they want to expand their presence in the region.
Another MENA-focused business that moved to the UAE in order to position itself at the locus of regional finance is Tarabut Gateway. The Bahrain-founded open banking firm opened new headquarters in Dubai in 2020 and now has offices in both the DIFC and ADGM.
As the company’s founder and CEO, Abdulla Almoayed, said of the move, “our aim is to drive the next 50 years of banking technology and financial services in the UAE. … By working hand-in-hand with government authorities, banks and FinTech entrepreneurs, open banking can propel the country towards its UAE Centennial 2071 goal of becoming a more diversified and knowledge-based economy.”
Now over half a century since the Emirates first united, the likes of NymCard and Tarabut Gateway are exactly the kinds of businesses that the UAE’s leadership want to define its economy for the next 50 years.
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