Fatima Al-Jaber

Fatima Al-Jaber is used to breaking new ground; be it on the site of her family's construction business or as the first female member of the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry; she's a woman of passion and focus. Moving with the times and keeping up with the changes and the energy of the UAE keeps her incredibly busy. As Chief Operating Officer of the Al-Jaber Group of companies and an activist in business and industry, she works tirelessly to support the future vision of her company, her city and her country. She's a wonderful example of the spirit of new Emirati leaders, a wife, a mother and a career woman who saw the value her education and experience could bring to her family business and to the community at large.

She has been honoured by captains of industry and has been recognised by her peers and internationally as a woman of influence in the Gulf. She sits on many prestigious boards in the UAE and she still finds time to meet, encourage and to guide new leaders in the region. We're living in a very interesting and lively part of the world and in the last five years a lot of things have been happening here. There have been a lot of developments, a lot of changes happening to our society. Al-Jaber welcomes these changes but cautions that the UAE needs to sustain the momentum. The pressure of change is on everybody. Older people would say it's a very speedy change but for the young people they're used to it, but they need to be guided in the best way forward. The danger with such rapid progress is the fact that the UAE is 'living' the change and this will present obstacles. Having worked in government and in the private sector, Al-Jaber is encouraged with the number of initiatives that have already helped Abu Dhabi work towards being a world-class city. Now is the time to employ even better practice and to walk the talk.


While her family business has grown since its founding in 1970 by her father, it has its roots in the construction industry. Al-Jaber realises the contribution that small- and medium-sized businesses can bring to the economy, but says the UAE needs to encourage an environment of entrepreneurship and this is not always easy in a culture that has been so government led. We need to establish the right environment to emphasise the role of the private sector and encourage and nurture a culture of entrepreneurship in our society, she told INSEAD Knowledge in an interview on the sidelines of the Leadership Summit in the Middle East. She realises this shift will need new rules, regulations, even new institutions and incubators to make ideas become reality. In her manifesto for election to the board of the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce, she stood on a private business-focused ticket, pledging support and encouragement for all business in Abu Dhabi. She is looking forward to the day when it will be a normal thing to go start your own business, and go and work and be happy and be proud of it.

A champion of women's advancement, Al-Jaber believes that women can play an even greater role in their country's development as business owners and entrepreneurs. The UAE is a strong supporter of women in business and government, with many of the key ministerial posts being held by women but Al-Jaber would like to see even more involvement. Many women don't like to be away from their families and their children, but creating an environment to help them start their own business and be creative would give them an opportunity to be more active in society. Another area where more women could shine would be to follow her lead and become more active in the family business, especially if they did not want to work in institutions. They could be involved in many ways and be really an asset to the family business bringing benefits and helping the business grow.

Looking ahead at the 2030 economic plan for Abu Dhabi, Mrs Al-Jaber is encouraged by the lead taken by the government. She wants to see all citizens and residents both in the private and public sector really embrace it in the months and years ahead. But we need to work more in teams to make things happen, like encouraging the private-public partnerships. She also applauds the strategies being put in place in the GCC (the Cooperation Council for the Arab nations of the Gulf), particularly in terms of education and leadership knowledge and focus. Institutions like INSEAD are setting a good example being established in this part of the world, where we can develop new ideas mixing with different people and nationalities. But she cautions that the region must learn and exercise good strategic business sense and often take the helicopter view to see if they are heading in the right direction to achieve sustainability. The best thing if you want to start any good work is to start questioning and then start finding solutions. She adds that we cannot always take things at face value and that people need to realise that in such a rapidly changing environment people should be allowed to make mistakes occasionally. You need to analyse what you have done to enable you not to make the same mistakes again and to learn and come up with even more innovative answers and solutions.

The new strides and changes in education will certainly help young Emiratis and prepare them for more interesting and challenging careers and help them become more productive members of society. Learning from the best has been a privilege Abu Dhabi can afford, but Al-Jaber says that the UAE must benchmark other experiences and take the best and implement it here.

Education is very important and you need to start from the beginning, from childhood, and begin to look at different ways of education at home and outside. Changing times call for changing attitudes and she says it's time to teach and help the new generation how to think so they can be innovative, how they can adapt to different ways of thinking but also in respect of their culture and their environment.

The public-private partnership she encourages in business can begin at the university lecture hall where networking groups can thrive and inspire new and innovative ways of thinking. She has already championed this focus with an Engineering Society in Abu Dhabi. That's because from my background I could really shine the spotlight on this and say, 'Come on, women can be there in this industry and they are working.' I think sometimes women lack complete confidence and they need to be encouraged in different ways. Cue Fatima Al-Jaber to lead the charge with charm.

With her background in government, business and institutional leadership, Mrs Al-Jaber knows many of the ways to help make the society more inclusive and more productive. When we started the Businesswomen Council, people started to realise that there were many women working in business in Abu Dhabi and this helped us to attract more women into business. Al-Jaber sees such networks as a lifeline for young Emiratis as well as for women, and says the success of Abu Dhabi and the region is not just about empowering the national Emirati population.

It's about the whole of society, which for us here in the UAE is more of a mixed society. People from all over the world live and work in Abu Dhabi and the UAE, so the culture must be inclusive so as to create this powerful network and communication channel. By working together and learning from each other, Fatima Al-Jaber believes this is the way to enhance development and to serve and support each other in the long term for true sustainability in the UAE.