Aka: Where are future leaders [redacted heading]
Hisham WyneThe article can be found on the Khaleej Times website here:

30 July 2010

As cities become more efficient, productive and open, the nature of production and creation shifts. Larger firms remain pertinent, generating hundreds of jobs. But the spotlight moves to also encompass localised entrepreneurs and micro-firms that are highly responsive, and sensitive to community needs.

Several commentators have written about how the UAE, for all its socio-economic progress, is perhaps still less than ideal in its encouragement of entrepreneurs, start-ups and independents.

Emirati commentator Sultan Saood Al Qassemi recently wrote a piece that resonated with many. He noted that Emiratis are encouraged to be like Bill Gates, but are not being offered the facilities to emulate him. Gates, it must be remembered, started out in a garage with passion and expertise, but little in the way of expensive equipment, large security deposits or cascading forms dense with text. Earlier this year, another Emirati columnist Mishaal Al Gergawi made the observation that small and medium-sized businesses, contributing to the gentrification of neighbourhoods and boosting urban identity development, were often stifled by originally well-meaning regulation. There is, however, growing recognition in Dubai’s leadership that entrepreneurs herald the city’s future.

At this juncture, it is perhaps interesting to hypothesise a creative thought experiment that could grease the wheels of entrepreneurial progress. Imagine, for a minute, the possibility of a loyalty scheme of sorts for entrepreneurs and creative content producers: a scheme where entrepreneurial activity would be rewarded in ways that could be redeemed to further business and creative goals.

Imagine one’s activities could earn a form of creative currency. For the sake of expediency, one could term them EPs, or Entrepreneurial Points. Imagine too that these EPs could be earned through a wide range of activity. For instance, writing a column for a local daily could earn EPs, as could submitting a viable plan for consideration to a grant body. Opening a niche fusion shawarma shop would net a certain number of points, as would submitting a new idea for consideration to a grant body. Eventually, these EPs could become a supplemental currency earned through entrepreneurial, creative and community activities.

Carrying further this thought experiment, these EPs could then be used to acquire government services, gain subsidised office rents and make utilities payments.

Loyalty points are not unheard of. In point of fact, they are extraordinarily common. From air miles that encourage frequent travel to credit card points that offer incentives to shop more, loyalty schemes have proved workable, reliable and effective. While frequent travel and mass shopping may be worthy goals, it can be argued that encouraging entrepreneurial and creative activity is even more pertinent to our collective future.

The online world has been faster to pick up on these trends. For instance, a virtual called the Whuffie Bank offers people a monthly salary of ‘whuffies’ based on influence, usefulness and productivity in social media. These whuffies can then be used to acquire services. Similarly, in virtual simulator Second Life, players earn currency that can be exchanged for real world dollars. So why not a reward scheme that offers entrepreneurs and content creators the ability to exchange creativity and drive for services?

An ideal scheme would see creative industries and organisations being allowed to reward their employees and independent content creators with points. EPs should however be difficult to convert to cash. Paying for cinema tickets and purchasing perfume is not the point of the entrepreneurial loyalty scheme.

I doubt this scheme is tenable in its present form. Most loyalty schemes are simple, for there are but a few ways to earn points, e.g. by flying with a particular airline. But entrepreneurship and content creation happens in diverse ways, and a scheme should reward as many of them as feasible.

Besides, the success of loyalty schemes is usually dependent on the number of participating organisations. Real estate owners, utility companies and licensing authorities will need to recognise EPs as valid. Then, there’s the all-important question of which organisation, private or public, will launch, oversee and validate the scheme.

This isn’t meant to be a final answer. It’s merely an acknowledgement that we should all be thinking of ways, both tried and new, to bolster small enterprise and the creation of cultural goods. The UAE has accomplished quite a few world firsts. Why not brand new ways of encouraging entrepreneurs and content creators to come forth and prosper?

Hisham Wyne is a columnist, radio commentator and copywriter fascinated by global socio-politics as well as local arts, culture and community activities