Abu Dhabi – the largest of the seven emirates of the United Arab Emirates has turned to Saïd Business School in the UK to help it to deliver its ambitious vision for the future.
The executive education centre at Saïd at Oxford University is working with as many as 300 of the Abu Dhabi government’s leading civil servants – those who have been identified as high potential leaders. It is hoped that in turn these leaders will act as role models – change leaders - and help drive change throughout the civil service.
The programme is part of the government’s broader policy agenda – a series of goals and initiatives across all portfolios of government with the aim of national transformation and the restructuring of the government of Abu Dhabi.
As well as Saïd, the government is working with universities such as Harvard in the US and Cambridge in the UK, as well as Insead business school in France. Several thousand Abu Dhabi government employees - those who have been identified as future leaders are being trained so that they will be able to help deliver an effective and efficient government.
“The new vision of the government is to be among the top five governments within five years,” says Ali Al Ketbi, undersecretary, department of civil service Abu Dhabi, who was one of the first participants on the Saïd programme.
“The change is vast and the need for quality of training will be vast,” he adds. Those who are trained, adds Mr Al Ketbi, will play a vital role in the future of Abu Dhabi.
The personal development programme was launched in January and the first cohort consisting of 16 of the top civil servants in the government travelled to Oxford for the five-day programme. Saïd is delivering subsequent programmes - as many as 11 - in Abu Dhabi over the course of this year.
“This is a huge coup for us,” says Andrew White, fellow in strategic management at the Saïd centre. The programme he adds is transformational and has vast implications for the future of Abu Dhabi.
He believes the school was chosen to deliver the programme – one of the largest the school has ever handled – because it not only has a proven track record as an executive education provider, but also has the weight of the Oxford University brand and can expand the programme within the wider university context.
The five-day programme consists of master classes, group work and one-to-one coaching to identify participants’ needs. Saïd works closely with each participant to establish a personal development plan which is closely aligned to the needs of the Abu Dhabi government’s policy agenda. If a need is identified, participants may be encouraged to study for either an MBA or EMBA
To enhance the development programme, Saïd is developing a series of case studies which draw out national role models of leaders and good practice. So far these have included the transformations of the date (fruit) industry and the Abu Dhabi police force. Other case studies in the pipeline include water and electricity privatisation.
The programme has been very well received says Neil Selby, international director of the executive education centre at Saïd.
“We had to explain that everyone on the programme had been selected as future potential leaders and the level of engagement has been very high,” he says.
As one of the very first participants on the programme Mr Al Ketbi is impressed with the programme, saying that it has helped him to align personal development areas with the priority areas of the policy agenda and meet the priorities of the government.
“The more people are aware of what it [the programme] has to offer, the more successful will be the implementation,” he says.
Having undergone the programme at the beginning of the year Mr Al Ketbi is now back at work in Abu Dhabi and is using his new-found knowledge.
The changes are slowly being digested he says. “While it is taking time to do so, I would say the culture is more dynamic than ever.”