World Tour Insights: A new kind of energy for the UAE

Dubai, UAE

A new kind of energy for the UAE

Unlike many countries that curtail immigration to protect jobs, the United Emirates embraces it, out of necessity. Native born citizens make up only 20% of the UAE workforce. Immigrants make up the other 80%. This disparity arose because of the vast wealth from oil and gas, which drove mining operations and economic growth, including construction, in a very small country.

The situation is changing for highly educated expatriates.

As the golden era of energy-driven economics wanes,  uncertainly increases about the UAE’s ability to maintain highly paid job for highly educated expatriate. A growing culture clash also adds to the strain on the workforce as UAE citizens return from studying in the  United Kingdom or the United States. While the expatriate and immigrant workers typically welcome egalitarian management approaches, pressure within organizations forces returning managers to act more authoritarian, making the UAE a less desirable destination for workers.

A weaker economy also means fewer jobs. Abu Dhabi-based Technodip recently decreased the number of employees (mostly expats) from 2000 to 700 in the last 24 months. More layoffs are expected. In parallel, The British Club lost about 200 family members in the last year in Abu Dhabi. Similar membership reductions hit the Dubai-based Emirates Golf Club.

The UAE’s continued standing as an international business center, will continue to require more workers, perhaps with a shift toward services.  The Expo 2020  Dubai, for instance, will likely require a huge influx of immigrants to fill services jobs.

In recognition of these shifts, Dubai’s new Minister of Education, H.E. Hussain Ibrahim Al Hammadi, sponsors a strategic initiative to create more ‘global citizens. ‘ The program starts with English skills.

The UAE currently is recruiting teachers from the United States charged with developing a full curriculum for their public boys and girls schools. While the formal program launches in September 2017, they are already getting familiar with the school system and interacting locally. In many cases these U.S.-based teachers represent the first female teachers in local schools, an incredible change that offers the opportunity to infuse global culture in the classroom beyond the language learning.

For more world tour content see: World Tour Insights: Mexico Discovers Value in English

Why is English Critical to the Gig Economy

Gig Economy - Business woman driving a car

Welcome to the Gig Economy

Most organizations no longer give people the promise, or even hint, of lifetime employment. While stock options, bonuses and other compensation help keep employees for some period of time, in most cases, employment has become a matter of mutual benefit to the employer and the employee. An August 2015 study by accounting software maker Intuit expects upwards of 43 percent of people to be in the contingent labor market by 2020. When people want to leave to do something else, they leave.

Stephane Kasriel, CEO of upwork, the largest freelancer platform, called the Gig Economy the secret weapon of the US economy in his last interview in The Street.

Facing disruption in many once-stable industries, more workers are freelancing and turning to “alternative” employment strategies to cobble together their livings, but as the economy improves, the amount, perception, and desirability of freelance work seems to be changing.
63 percent of freelancers said that they started freelancing out of choice, up 10 points since 2014. A majority also said that they saw having a “diversified portfolio of clients” as more stable than having a single employer. And about half of them said that there was “no amount of money” that could convince them to take a traditional job. (Results from an online survey of roughly 6,000 working Americans).

I see people who move from company-to-company as being great at three personal learning traits:

  • rapid understanding of a business,
  • social awareness that allows them to quickly become a effective co-workers, &
  • swift mastery of variations in process and practice.

Good interpersonal communications support those three traits, as does the ability to understand the work environment—and that requires a solid understanding of the working language, which more likely than not, will be English.

Business English as the Voice of Talent

In many ways, English becomes the protocol that permits the Gig Economy to work. If people had to assimilate new language and cultural concepts to do about the same kind of job they did at another company, the Gig Economy would fill with friction. It would take people large amounts of time to learn what they need to know to be effective.

Gig Economy - man working on laptop at coffee shop

But because English has become the protocol for representing ideas, the frameworks across business become transparent. And when variations occur, everyone uses that same language framework for describing those variations. As people move throughout their Gig jobs, picking up ever more experience, they will find fewer and fewer variations they have not seen before.

So English becomes the lubrication of the Gig Economy, allowing people to deliver value to multiple employers during their careers by leveraging their growing experience within domains of knowledge, rather than functions within a given business.

The Gig Economy appeals to many because it also allows them more personal choice and flexibility as to when to work, and even where. People throughout the world who want to find employment in the Gig economy would do well to master Business English so they can more easily move not just from job-to-job, or employer-to-employer, but from country-to-country.

Can the Gig Economy Bring Relief to Refugees?

Handmade Banner Refugees Welcome - Can the Gig Economy Bring Relief to Refugees?

Can the Gig Economy Bring Relief to Refugees?

The recent presidential debate reminded me of the importance of sharing the responsibilities across nations to help solve the refugee challenge. I talked with colleague and friend Daniel W. Rasmus at Serious Insights about innovative ways to approach the refugee crisis [see his post here].

I started with the work I did a few months ago with the U.S. State Department, where I learned about the plight of refugees inside of countries across Europe and elsewhere who find it hard to find work, or are denied work in their skilled profession based on local regulations around certification and licensing.

We started thinking about the Gig Economy which Stephane Kasriel, CEO of Upwork, called the secret weapon of the US economy in his last interview on The Street.

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - SEPTEMBER 15, 2015: Female Syrian refugees are picking donated clothes at charity collecting point. They are listening to an announcement made by aid worker.

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK – SEPTEMBER 15, 2015: Female Syrian refugees are picking donated clothes at charity collecting point. They are listening to an announcement made by aid worker.

Considering how technology enables more of that “gig” technology, we started discussing it as the solution to bringing much needed paying work to refugees, reducing the burden of acclimation by local governments and reducing the incidents of violence spurred by perceptions of refugees displacing native workers.

Samasource is helping with what they call “the bottom of the bottom,” by providing projects to people inside refugee camps that pay significantly more than equivalent hours of manual labor.

We kind of both started saying the same things. What if we flipped the model so that businesses around the world provided access to remote jobs for skilled workers around the world, who may be displaced by circumstance—but still highly qualified to deliver their expertise.

And at the core of this, those companies could increase the value of these workers by helping them learn English, which would reduce their costs by ensuring the understand work assignments, and that they deliver quality results.

While experiments like the Samasource and Crowdflower to GiveWork app attempted to bring together refugees with quality monitor in the U.S., no one has scaled a solution. What we need to do is take the flipping idea even further and help make the landed refugees citizens of the world first. I’m not suggesting that they abandon loyalty to the country in which they settled, but that in order to contribute locally they will need work, and it might well be that global work will be more accessible than local work. The faster we can make them citizens of the world, the better it is for them, for their employers, and for the local economies.

There is no magic formula that is going to help the millions of displaced workers tomorrow, but we believe that the world needs innovative ideas. The number of displaced grows daily and we have to find new engagement pathways—and encouraging global companies to take on not just citizenship efforts that pour money into third-party programs—but programs that bring refugees into organizations so they can contribute through global collaboration and communications systems.

I’m committing that in the next six months I’m going to find a way to hire a couple of recently settled refugees. I ask my fellow leaders to join me in finding an answer to the question: Can the Gig Economy Bring Relief to Refugees?

Working in a Connected World

Working in a Connected World

Working in a Connected World

Much of my team doesn’t work in my Silicon Valley location. They are distributed throughout the United States, in cities like Seattle, and around the world, in countries like Mexico. And we have partners and customers in many countries. I could not do this job without this wonderful, very dedicated distributed team.

I grew up professionally working as part of a distributed organization. For about 10 years neither my manager nor my team was located in the same place.

In the past, most jobs required, or at least were perceived as requiring, physical co-location. If you got a new job, you moved to where the job was located. But today, we not only have the technology to connect and collaborate globally, business models have changed so there are benefits to creating a distributed organization.

Before I get into my observations about working in a connected world, I have to say that I moved from Europe to the US for one of my jobs because it required me to be in the same time zone; I did not move for personal reasons, but later found a job and a location where my family decided to live. And on that move, I did something I never thought I would do. I bought my new home without ever personally visiting it.

Attracting and retaining talent

In places like the Bay Area, it is very expensive to move people to this area, and it is very expensive for them to live there. If you find the right person, and they are very connected to their local community, why uproot them and bring them someplace new and make them re-establish their lives. Perhaps more importantly, they wouldn’t have to adjust to new levels of spending on mortgages or rent. If they live someplace with lower costs, a new job with a salary increase would really improve their disposable income, which is a good retention tool and very positive for the economy.

Some people may want to move because they want to live in the area where their company is located, but it is becoming less necessary since companies are more distributed and current technology makes it unnecessary — and I think, letting people live where they want, near their families and friends, helps them transition to the new job faster, and it also helps distribute the company brand. If you have volunteer programs or matching contributions, those can go to local causes for remote workers, and that will connect you with them and enhance their connection to the community. I find that people will stay in their jobs longer if they feel connected to the company and to their local communities.

It is particularly true when you are determined to have a diverse team and bring more women onboard. The importance of having a strong support system around you can be a primary reason why women prefer not to move geographically. In addition, when a woman moves for a job, almost 100% of the time, her partner also needs to move, and aligning two careers is much more difficult. By allowing flexibility of where both partners work, you support diversity.

Retaining people, however, doesn’t just happen. It requires a good design for engagement.

Staying connected to the company: Designing for engagement

engaged team working in connected worldYou have to think about people in a very personal way when they work remotely. You can’t just drop into their office and ask how things are going. You have to set expectations for yourself and for them. And those expectations you set for yourself are a promise. If you set up regularly meetings, you can’t cancel them, or the remote worker is not going to feel important or needed. And you have to make it clear that their participation is also a promise. Be very cautious about people who don’t meet and just say, “everything is OK,” because it probably isn’t. The one thing that you can be sure of in that situation is your communication isn’t OK, and you don’t have visibility into what that person is thinking, the challenges they are facing — and they don’t have access to what you know about the company, questions you may have or ideas that would be better expressed by voice and video rather than by e-mail.

Ensuring transparent visibility on key milestones across the company is critical. ‘Over’ communication on important milestones is better than ‘under’ communication.

Building and maintaining trust – Micromanagers not wanted!

Engagement is the first level of building a trusted relationship. You are trusting that someone you don’t see everyday is doing his or her job, and they have to trust that you are looking out for their interests, keeping them in mind for interesting assignments and creating open channels so they can attend the meetings they want to attend. Your confidence in their ability to do their job remotely is very important. If you do have someone who isn’t delivering on their commitments, that is a problem, but it is a problem if that person works locally or remotely. I don’t think trusted, engaged remote workers are any more or less likely to do their work. If you build the engagement models and create a reciprocal trust relationship, people will do good work regardless of how far they are from their manager.

Going back to key milestones, and any other information you think everyone must know, that information needs to be posted in a common place, even shared in a traditional weekly report. Transparency promotes trust at the same time it keeps people focused on outcomes. It is important that managers share the goals, but don’t micromanage all of the details, trying to control everything. That does not promote trust because micromanagement, by its very nature, suggests that the person doing the micromanaging doesn’t trust those he or she manages. It is also very hard to micromanage at a distance, so those who want to micromanage should avoid managing distributed teams.

The technology of distribution

People around the globe - working in a global world

It is important to support distributed teams with good communications technology. I use tools like SharePoint, WordPress, Skype, and of course, e-mail. I like to see people, but I also want people to work effectively and not feel like they have to have the team working with them simultaneously, so collaborative portals, blogs and enterprise social tools can be important. I don’t want to specify what is best for your organization, but I will emphasize that you should choose a set of tools, use them yourself as a leader so that others will use them, and try to master them so that you can be effective. Too often organizations buy tools and don’t use them as well as they could, which results in communications friction. I like to encourage people to use the best technology for the moment, and to take the time to use it well.

Leveraging time shifters

Time shifting is a very important element to relationship building, and it is also a good place to think about employees in a personal way. If you have a night owl working for you, for instance, perhaps they are the right person to work with Japan or China late into the West Coast night of the United States. They might rather get up late and work that way, than to get up early and put their sleep deprivation on the company. Find times that you overlap, or perhaps occasionally time shift yourself to synchronize with a time shifted worker.

Facilitating gatherings

There is benefit from bringing people together. I sponsor meetings a couple of times a year where we bring everybody together to discuss the company, our strategy and investments and to hear from each of them personally — and for them to build their own relationships. This isn’t inexpensive, but I think it is necessary. It reinforces connections, builds connections for new people and creates a touchpoint in time and space that helps people feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves.

Future: Cities as talent hubs?

I think there are also some interesting models that cities should consider. Perhaps rather than attracting companies, they should consider becoming hubs for talent. This would require great technology infrastructure, good services like day care and community colleges that teach people how to collaborate globally, along with good access to an airport — think about that shift: being recruited by a city because they want your talent to enrich their community. Since the city is attracting great talent, companies look there for people who already know how to contribute remotely, and they know that they will have great connections and the ability to get to other places without too much difficulty.

This would also be great for cities because they would have the opportunity to leverage their local talent for improving their policies and infrastructure. It would be a very positive feedback loop.

Can Untapped Talent Leapfrog into the New Talentism Economy Thanks to Technology?


Talentism is the new capitalism

In 2013 Dr. Klaus Schwab, the founder of the World Economic Forum made a profound observation: “Capital is being superseded by creativity and the ability to innovate – and therefore by human talents – as the most important factors of production. Just as capital replaced manual trades during the process of industrialization, capital is now giving way to human talent. Talentism is the new capitalism.”

Regardless of whether a person is employed full-time, or working in the growing ‘Gig’ Economy, those who thrive do so because of their ability to apply knowledge to a particular problem.

In this post I will focus on sharing examples of how Talentism has already changed the economic landscape and how an untapped talent pool in the emerging markets may have the opportunity to leapfrog into this new economic model.

Talentism on the rise

We are already seeing huge shifts among technology firms where meritocracies of talented individuals drive innovation and shape markets with vast ecosystems of partners. Microsoft and Google have both seen talented individuals with varied backgrounds, many from “emerging markets,” take on top leadership positions.

TalentismWe also see design becoming a key component of software and manufacturing. Germany’s Frog was acquired by Flextronics Software, which is now part of Aricent, (controlled by Kohlberg Kravis Roberts), a product engineering and software firm. Google acquired mechanical design firm Gecko Design, Capital One now owns experience firm Adaptive Path, while management consultancy McKinsey has integrated Lunar Design into its model.

At the core of these acquisitions is the recognition that people bring a unique sensibility to processes and products, and that innovative talent is valuable.

Talentism, however, is often as much a part of income inequality as any other feature of capitalism. A small group of very talented people gain access to capital that transforms their ideas into innovations, and their innovations turn back into capital for them and their investors. At the same time, billions of smart, talented individuals can’t find the foothold to lift them out of poverty, and increasingly, those in the middle class are slipping from the crumbling social and economic infrastructure that has supported America and Europe since the end of World War II.

The way out is to broaden access to jobs, and that requires not just passion, but action.

Untapped talent blocked by traditional barriers

According to Harvard Business Review (HBR), talent is the number one concern for CEOs (The 3 Things CEOs Worry About the Most). There is a real opportunity to include more talented people in this economy. It is important to ask then, what is holding people back – and why are so many people left out of the talent economy?

Access difficulties

TalentismAccess to the Global Knowledge Economy, or participation in Talentism, requires that people have access to education so that they can build their knowledge — access to jobs so that they can test existing knowledge — and work opportunities that let them expand what they know through experience. Unfortunately for many places in the world, access to education is lacking, and good jobs have already passed by much of the population which is relegated to low-wage service or industry jobs that offer little hope for advancement.

School system failure or what bring skills mismatch

The International Labor Organization, for instance, reported that Egypt was facing approximately 1.5 million unemployed young people (ILO 2011b) at the same time private sector firms were seeking to fill 600,000 vacancies. In South Africa the situation is even more extreme, with 3 million young people not in education, employment or training on top of 600,000 unemployed university graduates yet, 800,000 vacancies remained to be filled (African Economic Outlook, ‘Education & Skills Mismatch’).

Many factors drive these labor mismatches from structural changes in the economy to new technologies, as well as low college completion rates, for example in the U.S., leading to wage inequality due to those with degrees or credentials being in short supply. The accelerating pace of technology makes keeping up ever more difficult, requiring everyone to reskill at some level in order to acquire the knowledge to at least operate, if not to develop for, the next generation of mobile devices and networking technologies.

The language barrier to access global resources and opportunities

For many around the world, it is difficult to access the right kinds of learning if they aren’t skilled in English. Web Technology Surveys, W3Techs reports that currently about 54 percent of all content on the Internet is written in English. If you don’t know English, you can’t learn from the available resources. Non-English speaking educators may have a hard time transforming existing content into more locally relevant material leading to difficulty finding consumable topics of interest to those who want to engage in self-paced learning in their native language.

Being at the heart of the industry working on solving this challenge – I know we are making progress, but not at the pace we need.

Leapfrogging toward Talentism?

In telecommunications, Africa, much of the Middle East and China did not go through an era of home computing, because by the time the majority of people were able to afford computers, those computers were already smart phones – devices with more capabilities and lower price points than found in the original desktop technology. Technology can help connect talent to need.

Internet access

It may well be that the Next Billion Millennials or Virtuals on the Internet don’t seek traditional jobs, but through efforts like, they reach into the new talent market and find global connections before they ever hold a traditional job. The Next Billion will need to be part of what the Internet Society sees as a “free and open Internet, one that will serve as a platform for human, social and economic development and be a tool for strengthening human rights.” Anything less offers unacceptable constraints. People need access to education and jobs, and the ability to align their talent and their passion with the work that fulfills them.

Job access

TalentismMany organizations like Upwork and, along with technical sites like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, or specialized services like data enhancement service CrowdFlower offer access points where people with skills can earn money in ways unsupported by their local economy. For people with the right skills, these sites can offer “jumping-in” points for access to the global economy.

Education access

Because of these “Gig Economy” labor markets, education, like the hours worked and the structure of projects, will be less formal and more on-demand. The rise of the boot camps, General Assembly and micro certifications support this emerging education model.

The path forward

I am a believer that much of the world’s untapped talent can leapfrog to this new economy. We will all win if this happens.


For the youth across the world, adapting to new ways of working may be relatively easy because they have no personal history with other economic realities, but their parents do. Transitioning to these new models will be more difficult for older workers who may not have some of the communication and collaboration skills required to persevere and thrive in the emerging talent economy – they may also be less open to online, just-in-time learning.

With those disruptions listed above, along with new ways to access education and job opportunities, we will likely experience a reshaping of the idea of work, and people’s relationships to work, that will be the cornerstones to accelerating adoption.

This requires that working people have personal confidence in their abilities, and a willingness to engage with other workers all over the world. Local investments and innovations in learning, and connections to the global economy will be critical in helping people at the edges of economic development find their path forward. In a way, Talentism represents a new level of diversity management in our corporate cultures!

Those CEOs who are suffering the most with talent shortages should be the ones encouraging investments in helping frame this transition, or even better, directly investing in ways that bring it about.