Tag: expat

A self starter

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Meet Daniel. To the uninformed eye he appears to be an ordinary barista but looks can be deceiving.

He doesn’t just make coffee. He’s essentially a ‘one- man team.’ He has been trusted to run the entire branch with only an intern who has recently joined him. Duties include handling inventory, permits, licenses and anything else that the municipality requires; all on his own. Despite his humble demeanor, his talent is self-evident. He tells me how small the margin for error is. For example, selling a single item past its expiry date can result in the branch being closed. For a conglomerate to apportion this level of responsibility to a single employee is unheard of and the accountability never ceases. “I go home, take off my uniform and get back to work,” he jokes; but this is no exaggeration. For five days a week he works from early in the morning to well into the night, handling the everyday running of the shop. Following this he begins filling out the days paperwork which doesn’t end until 10pm. After waking up at 4 AM he repeats this process.

As he reveals this I can’t help but wonder how he is so relaxed. Not only does he have to navigate his stressful work life, his weekends are spent studying at university; and he enjoys it! He perceives the added workload as a recognition of his considerable value whilst his educational pursuits provide a personal challenge. I ask him what motivates him to be so industrious and his reply was short; “my parents.” Both his mother and father are retired in his native Philippines, where his siblings also reside. Every month he remits as much money as possible to support them. However, he feels no pressure to provide. He stresses that these monthly displays of generosity are completely voluntary. He uses these payments as a means of showing his “respect and love” to them. “Yesterday I made another payment, so I think they love me a little more right now!”

Daniel moved to Dubai after working in Saudi Arabia for 3 years. There he learned how to speak Arabic, how to run a coffee shop and how much Middle Eastern countries differ. He believes that the UAE is always “one step ahead” of their rivals and describes Dubai as “a work of art – it’s as if someone created this place with a paintbrush.” He gestures towards the skyline and marvels at the pace of development.

Clearly, his knack for shouldering responsibility is at the core of who he is. He accepts the burden of his work, education and providing for his family. His life choices are no different. He saw no reason why Dubai would be free of prejudice. Consequently, he refuses to begrudge any limited prospects he may face. It was his decision to come here. It is also his decision to leave.

He has passed his university exams, processed his paperwork and is imminently moving to Canada. There he will become the official manager of another coffee shop. His salary will increase and so will his generosity toward his family; but this is just the beginning.

Daniel’s grand ambition is to start his own company, perhaps a food service. There he can hire his siblings, support his parents and take complete ownership of his work ethic. He would finally be able to be his own boss. This vision of his becomes clearer and with each passing day and draws closer with each sleepless night. I have no doubt that soon it will be his reality.






UAE – Home of the expat

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The United Arab Emirates stands as an attractive place to live for many reasons. It’s innovative approach to business, it’s technologically forward outlook, the tolerance and respect for different cultures and religions and the demand for labour from all sectors of industry has meant the country has become a beacon to expats across the world.

So successful has the UAE been in attracting people from elsewhere that the local population has been dwarfed by the huge number of expats flocking to this glittering oasis in the GCC. The Emirati population stands at just over 11% of 9.5million, the total population of the UAE.

Within the expat population, the largest nationality group is Indians, making up over 27%, next is Pakistan 13%, Pakistanis – 12.69, Egyptians – 4.23%, Filipinos – 5.56 % and Others – 38.55 (Bangladesh, Uzbekistan, Krygstan, etc.). Western expats account for approximately 8.5% of the total.

As the figures highlight, a significant proportion of the expat population are from South East Asian countries. Many have come here to work in low skilled, manual work in sectors such as security, construction and transport. These roles are often low income, however, the workers are earning more than they would do in their home countries and many are supporting other family members in their native lands.

Whilst the expatriate labour force is a much-needed source of strength to the UAE, providing a considerable amount of spending power between them, inevitably, due to family support needs, there is also a vast outflow of funds back to home countries.

The number of remittances jumped 17% in Q1 of 2018 to AED 43.5 billion and approximately 70% of these transfers were done through money exchanges.

Indian workers led the remittances with Dh16bn, followed by Pakistanis, Filipinos, Omanis, Egyptians, Americans, British and Bangladeshi expatriates.

With the considerable sums involved, remittance payments are a rich source of income for exchange houses, but this way of transferring money comes with its own problems for expats. Problems such as difficulties in accessing the physical exchanges themselves, working out the optimum time to do a transfer and avoiding fees are all faced by expats when they need to send money.

This is where FinTech companies can have a hugely positive impact on people’s daily lives. The replacing of cash transfers with digital ones will reduce costs and save time both for the senders and recipients. Creating a system that allows financial inclusion for the low paid will mean greater benefits for the entire financial system.

Giving the ‘unbanked’ access to proper financial services that suit their requirements will have a significant impact on society. It makes a difference to social mores such as equality, employment and GDP. Furthermore, it also lessens the use of cash in society which reduces costs across the board, from shopkeepers to governments. The less notes and coins in use means less money governments need to spend to produce them. Reducing the use of cash can likewise help to prevent fraud and illegal activities. Digital payments are much easier to track and scrutinise than cash ones are.

Lack of awareness amongst the low paid and low skilled workforce is often cited as a hurdle that needs to be overcome. However, the UAE has one of the worlds highest smartphone penetration rates in the world and therefore, access and use of digital devices is not a stumbling block, even among the migrant workers.

By creating favourable conditions for FinTech companies to develop and grow, the UAE will provide a financial lifeline for those who need it most. The country stands to gain enormously by giving its expat population the opportunity to participate fully in the financial sector and go digital.

It’s not goodbye, but au revoir

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“We’ll work together again,” were Katharine Budd’s parting words to me in 2011, when she left her role at the company that we were both working at.

And, sure enough, five years later, her promise has been realised.

Several months ago, Kat phoned me unexpectedly; with the offer of a job in Dubai, where she herself relocated to in 2014. Kat and her business partner, Ian, had launched a new financial technology company and needed someone to do the marketing.

Whilst I thought it was a pretty bold suggestion; to up sticks move my whole life to another country, leave my friends, resign from my current job and turn my back on my beloved London, I couldn’t help but be a tiny bit curious.

Having never even been to Dubai before, I had no idea whether it would work out, but I always trusted Kat as a boss, first and foremost, as well as a friend, and I knew that any business of hers was guaranteed to be built on solid foundations. How could I pass up this opportunity?

So, here we are, together again, just as she predicted. She’s my boss and we’re both expats in Dubai.

Three months in – although it feels far longer –  I’m starting to get my head around things. Kat persuaded me to move to Dubai with the offer of excellent career prospects and a business idea which was bound for success, but after immersing myself in the lifestyle out here it has become so much more than a job.

A week after I first arrived I made the decision to write ten things that stood out to me about this new city. I had no intention of doing this before I left, but this place could not be any more different to London and I realised I didn’t want to forget my initial thoughts after arriving here.

I thought I’d share some of these with you.

  1. It’s barely pedestrianised. No one walks anywhere, especially in the summer when a 30 second journey to the shop ends in a soaking wet t-shirt and the need for a shower.
  2. There are more ethnicities together in one place than I’ve ever known. In my second week here I was stood in the lift in IKEA and noted that the ten people in there must span at least six or seven countries.
  3. Because of the cultural diversity, the choice of food is immense. Dubai caters for every cuisine – my favourite new discovery is za’atar and cheese manakish, which is a family of Middle-Eastern herbs and cheese on a flatbread, it’s delicious!
  4. The divide between the rich and poor could not be more obvious. Seventy per cent of the population are low-income migrant workers, who have come here to make money to send back to their families. They work as taxi drivers, shop assistants and in construction. Many have qualifications from their home country, but can make more out here doing these jobs than they could back home in a job utilising their qualifications. Others haven’t had much of an education, and appear to have very low self-worth. I realised this when doing market research and one of the participants asked me, “why are you speaking to us? We’re only construction workers.”
  5. Finally, I have never known a population so willing to cater to every demand – valet is as standard and if I want a pint of milk, it’s only one call away from door-to-door delivery.

Having spent my previous six years, living a pretty sheltered life in the London suburb of Chiswick, seeing this was shocking and hit me quite hard. Dubai could not be more different from London if it tried.

However, I could not be any happier. I am working with Kat again and NOW Money is a company that is dedicated to inclusion and striving for sameness.

The company isn’t going to single-handedly solve the world’s inequality problems, but it’s taking us a step closer.

After these first three months of discovery, I know that my decision to up sticks and move to Dubai was definitely the correct one. What a time and place to be working in marketing, with such a story to tell.