Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Different Kind of Sustainability

In California we often talk about sustainability. Conserving natural resources, recycling, turning off lights when we leave a room, being careful with our use of water - to us that means being sustainable.

However, when one applies the term to Dubai, it brings up a whole different set of concerns. Attractions and accommodations expecting to draw 15 million tourists are under construction as we speak. Dubailand, Dubai Health City, The Palm Triology (three artificial islands in the shape of palm trees), The World (a mini world made out of islands), Tiger Woods Golf Dubai, the Burj Dubai - the tallest building in the world (shown in the picture here), and many more mega-projects are underway in the Emirate.

As you can see, sustainibility as used in the Californian context is not quite the main concern here. The government on the West Coast is limiting carb emissions while Sheikh Muhammad, the ruler of Dubai, is encouraging the building of outlandish project after outlandish project.
"I do not know if I am a good leader, but I am a leader. And I have a vision. I look to the future, 20, 30 years. I learned that from my father, Sheikh Rashid. He was the true father of Dubai. I follow his example. He would rise early and go alone to watch what was happening on each of his projects. I do the same. I watch. I read faces. I take decisions and I move fast. Full throttle."

My question is - is this super city sustainable? Is there enough wealth in the world to patronize these never ending developments? I can't fathom how in the world all of these multi-million dollar homes, vacation properties, lavish hotels, top of the line boutiques, fancy restaurants, and endless entertainment parks are going to be able to keep their bottom line in green numbers.

The funny thing is, after spending a week in Dubai I got the feeling that the main priority of the developers is not the return on investment, but the prestige of having built a project and contributed to creating the new Las Vegas of the world. It is all about creating the biggest and the best, being the first, and making impossible ideas become reality in the city that is striving to become the world's number one destination.

So let's say the financing for all these massive projects doesn't fall through, all the grand opening ceremonies are held (Atlantis The Palm celebrated its opening on Sept. 24, 2009 with the most expensive private party ever hosted), and there is a steady stream of visitors in Dubai, what will happen next? Most likely the success of a few developments will entice entrepreneurs to build even more, until what once was a sand-covered Emirate becomes the world playground.

It sounds exciting, fun, and glamorous, and it is - well for those who are fortunate enough to have enough resources to visit - but here is where my Californian concerns of sustainability are raised. For a city whose government is mostly concerned with building the biggest and best, what will be the environmental effects of completely replacing the sand dunes with a concrete jungle? What are the consequences of devoting so many of the world's precious and limited natural resources to creating a fantasy land for the small percentage of the population who can actually afford it?

Already there have been concerns about the drainage and flow of the water around the human-made islands of the Palms and the World. Hundreds of new species are being brought into the area to create unnatural reefs and opportunities for snorkeling. The skyline of the city is muted most days with a semi-permanent dusty haze that is a combination of sand mixing with humidity and the pollution. Walking or biking anywhere is virtually impossible, making driving the only mode of transportation, with public options almost non-existent.

While I was taken in by the glitter and sparkle of the city during my time there, there was always a nagging feeling in the back of my thoughts, who knows maybe it was my conscience. I kept wondering if this was realistic? Necessary? But most of all, I want to know what it means for the developing countries. it does not seem fair that such a large share of the world's resources can be used to benefit such a small percentage of the population.

Oh well, the Emirate has already made it clear that it will not stop until it has the biggest and best of everything. It will be interesting to see how concerns of sustainability are addressed in all senses of the word- from financing the construction projects to completion, attracting tourists and businesses to fill the vast developments, and addressing environmental concerns as they arise. Let's just hope the rest of the world will watch and learn, and who knows, maybe the next city that aims to make a name for itself will seek to create an affordable eco-green community where the goal is sustainability.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

International Experiential Corporate Learning in Dubai

Preparing for Departure!

So here I am one day before departure and packing for Dubai! I really have no idea what to expect or what I am going to need so that is making packing a little bit difficult and I think I am going to end up taking one of everything, just in case. It is a Muslim country and the dress is definitely more conservative, so my business outfits will be all pant suits. I looked up the weather and it is supposed to be around 30 degrees Celsius the entire time, or roughly 90 degrees, so it is going to be hot!

I have a few books about the culture and city that I am reading on the plane ride over, which is only 16 hours. I have been collecting articles and information about Dubai for a few months now and have a list of places that I want to see for sure. I had lunch two days ago with a student at USC who is from Dubai and she gave me an even longer list of must-see spots. I don’t think it is possible to be more excited for a trip!

I contacted a friend who graduated from USC two years ago and now works for a real estate company in Dubai so that we can hopefully meet up. One of the many great things about the Trojan family- there is guaranteed to be some USC affiliated person no matter where in the world you go!

There are about 35 students going on the trip and we split up into pairs, with each pair assigned a company to do a report on for the group. My partner, Harb, and I did a report on Nomura, a Japanese financial services company that only recently set up shop in Dubai when it bought the Europe/Asia branches of Lehman Brothers. We’ve been talking a lot about it in our pre-trip meetings, but I am already getting a feeling for how international the population is in Dubai.

English sounds like it is very prevalent, which is good because I know absolutely no Arabic, but I hope I get a chance to pick up a few phrases. I am also looking forward to trying different kinds of Arabic food because I have not had a chance to try much of it yet.

Well, I guess I had better get back to packing and figure out if there is any way at all I can make my suitcase lighter! Next time you hear from me I will be on the Arabian peninsula, almost exactly on the other side of the world!

Sunday- First Day of Company Visits

We made it! We arrived around 8pm last evening and since then we have already squeezed so much in that it feels like we could have been here for a week. I’ll start with the flight over. It was not unbearably long and Air Emirates is really nice. Our group was pretty much all sitting together and so we had a lot of fun calling each other using the individual entertainment consoles and playing games of Battleship against each other. I stood in the back galley speaking with the flight attendants for awhile which was really interesting. One was from Portugal and the other from Greece, but they both live in Dubai with all the other Air Emirates employees. They said 11,000 of them live in a cluster of large apartment buildings together! After seeing the Air Emirates training facility today- I totally believe it!

Not only was the airplane very new and clean, but the airport was sparkling and grandiose, completely putting LAX to shame! The columns were glittering and there was a huge waterfall that we admired from a glass enclosed elevator. My phone picked up free Wi-fi in the airport so I have already sent a quick e-mail to my parents letting them know I made it safely!

Next came check in at the hotel, which is a new establishment a little bit off the main road. Last night we explored around the hotel and the mall that it is connected to. The group all went to the food court, which took only cash so we had to find an ATM to get some durhams, the name of the money in the U.A.E. I was struck by how nice

Although we had to wake up extremely early this morning, the breakfast buffet at the hotel before our first meting was well worth the struggle with jet-lag. Mickinsey, an international consulting firm, was the first company who visited us. It was the perfect first presentation because the representative was so informative and extremely smart, so it helped us get a good first perspective of business in Dubai. After her talk, the company that I did a report on, Nomura, brought a panel of employees who are mostly ex-Lehman

Most of that conversation focused on the economic recession and Lehman’s collapse, and they described their experience transitioning from working at an American company to a Japanese company, and being relocated to Dubai.

After lunch with them we visited the Air Emirates training school and Jones Lang Lasalle, a real estate company, and now I am here writing this! It was a really long day with about 10 hours of meetings, but I have seen and learned so much already. Now it is time to shower and go explore the city on our own a bit!

Monday and Tuesday

I have decided that if I ever start a company in Dubai, I am going to start a model building company. Ever visit we go to has a huge sprawling model of the development they are planning on building. Plus, creating those mini worlds would be very fun and I would love getting into the details. They also seem like the only projects in Dubai that are actually finished, because everything else is under construction or in a planning phase.

Since I’ve written we visited Jumeirah, a hotel management group that runs the Burj al Arab, the world’s only seven star hotel, Nakheel, the company that is developing The World Islands, the Dubai Merchant Exchange, Dubai Healthcare City, Tiger Woods Dubai, and Dubailand. As you can tell, we have been busy!

Each of these visits was different but they all had one thing in common- a focus on being the world’s first, biggest, or best. This is a common theme in Dubai and in fact, the Emirati people are not as concerned about the monetary compensation for their work or careers, but the prestige associated. Even if the Burj al Arab is not a huge money-maker, they are just proud to be home to a hotel with service that is unparalleled anywhere else in the world.

The scale of the Dubai Heathcare City and Dubailand developments was hard to wrap my mind around. If I started my model building company, I would definitely want to have a close relationship with those two companies! I will be interested to follow the continued construction of the two projects and see if they reach completion. When they do reach completion I wonder if there will be enough business to keep them open. These projects are amazing, but they are so massive it is hard to imagine that there is enough world-wide demand or tourism for attractions of this scale.

Tonight we are going to the house of a local Dubai family for dinner. Their daughter has been helping plan this trip and giving us all the background information on the culture and places to go. I am really interested to see what the actual houses are like here and if they are in a neighborhood. We are also celebrating St. Patrick’s Day tonight so I better go see if I brought any green in my suitcase…I don’t want to get pinched!

One night in Abu Dhabi

We just returned from an overnight stay in Abu Dhabi. I wish we could have spent more time exploring that city! Abu Dhabi is another Emirate and is the center of the oil money in the region. It is like the Washington D.C. of the U.A. E. while Dubai is like New York City. From the short time we were there I really liked Abu Dhabi because it had more of a community feeling and it felt like I could live there, while living in Dubai would feel like living in Las Vegas. Dubai and Abu Dhabi also seem to have a mini rivalry and it was funny to see those sentiments emerge in these visits.

Surprise, surprise, we visited a few more development companies in Abu Dhabi, but the most interesting visit was to one of the major newspapers - The National. One of the biggest things I have learned since being in Dubai is how involved the government is in everything, from business to the newspaper. The newspapers don’t publish any criticisms of the leadership in the U.A.E. and would also refrain from saying anything negative about the economic conditions or developments in Dubai. I think they are strongly encouraged to present a very positive scenario through the media. The newspaper stressed that they were not censored in any way, but I still get a feeling that they aren’t telling us the whole truth.

After we finished our business visits on Wednesday we went to see Emirates Palace. I thought that it was finally going to be a historical site, but lo and behold it was a gorgeous hotel that was built in the last 5 years. The place definitely had the Midas touch and every surface shone and sparkled with gold. It was a truly expansive property and we explored as much as we could before security stopped us. It was also very expensive and one of my friends on the trip somehow ended up buying $40 cookies! We also stopped to see the Grand Mosque but it was closed to visitors for prayer time. The architecture was very impressive and, fitting with everything else, it was huge!

On the way back to our hotel we stopped at Atlantis The Palm to see the new luxurious establishment. It was amazing! It looks pretty similar to the pictures of the one in the Bahamas.

Now we are back at our excellent 5 star residence, the Crowne Plaza in Festival City. We have finished with the business portion of the trip so it is time to visit all the tourist attractions! This afternoon some of us are going to Wild Wadi Waterpark outside of the Burj al Arab and I can’t wait!

Back in Los Angeles

Well I guess the trip had to end at some point, but I definitely was not ready to come back to school! The jet lag that I never experienced on the way there has definitely hit me now, and I have been pretty sleepy but I think I will recover in no time.

The last few days in Dubai were spent relaxing, exploring, and now it is time to digest the whole experience. I have learned so much about the Arabian Peninsula especially the culture, business (obviously!), government, and geography. I will definitely be watching this area very closely in the future to see how the construction and development progresses and to see if it is sustainable. I am quite concerned about the environmental effects of all the artificial islands in The World and the three Palms so I will be following that news.

I hope that I am able to come back and visit the region again soon, and explore even more of the countries around. I think it is a beautiful culture, especially the Arabic hospitality aspect, which is so warm and inviting.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

China, Tibet, Action!

“Don't consider your reputation and you may do anything you like” is an oft-quoted Chinese proverb, but not often enacted by the leaders of the country.

If China desires to be an international leader and receive respect from world powers than it must realize that its internal affairs are now international business. The Chinese government is most strongly criticized for its human rights violations, especially its military rule and refusal to compromise in Tibet. As the G-20 nears, it will be hard for other international leaders to work with China to solve economic problems unless the Chinese officials take actions towards remedying the situation in Tibet.

The time to act is now because the situation in Tibet is getting worse by the day. Tibet is closed to journalists and foreigners until the end of March. When Cambodia was closed to foreigners, the Khmer Rouge rose to power. Tibetans are viewed as terrorists by some Chinese; some even refuse to rent hotel rooms to Tibetans. Police are quick to use force or violence to prevent or quickly squash any form of protest. The Chinese authorities are attempting to stamp out a religion, a culture, and a people. Many Tibetans have not even learned their own language. Monks are not allowed to hold prayer sessions.

China claims that it helped end feudalism in Tibet and free serfs and slaves, but in fact, prior to China's seizing of Tibet in 1959, there was little difference between the rich and poor of the Tibetans.

The Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 for his attempt at a peaceful protest and solution. The most recent strategy is to pursue the "Middle Way," a compromise between the two leaders. Tibetans want to protect their religion and culture and the Chinese want to retain possession and control of the region. Tsering Shakya, an expert on modern Tibet at the University of British Columbia perfectly expressed the situation in an Associated Press article "On Display: conflicting Chinese, Tibetan views" by Gillian Wong:
"Tibetans see their homeland as the exclusive territory of the Tibetan people, while China sees the absence of Chinese authority in Tibet as part of their national humiliation."

No major changes are likely to be made in this generation because the Chinese leaders and the Dalai Lama are both stubborn. The older Tibetans of this generation remember the freedom they enjoyed before 1950 but the Chinese leadership will not ever allow Tibet to revert back to that state, so we must wait until that generation has passed away and the new generation fully accepts Tibet as a part of China.

The international community must deliver a neutral third party to set up talks between Hu Jintao, the paramount leader of China, and the Dalai Lama, the head of the exiled government of Tibet, to prevent the situation from resulting in a serious show of military power and an eradication of the Tibetan culture. A Scandanavian country would be the best option to supply a moderator since they have the cleanest human rights protection records and least activities as colonizers, so they could be not criticized for contradicting their own country’s past.

It is critical that each side thoroughly understands each other in order to assure the peaceful and harmonious coexistence of Tibet and China. In fact, it is in the best interest of both groups to preserve the Tibetan culture and way of life because it is another reason for people to visit China and expanded tourism in the region could be a source of large revenue for the government.

The central government’s main concern with the Tibetan culture is that it is an extremely religious society and the Chinese government views religion as an extreme threat to its power. Tibet should be made a into a Special Cultural Zone that has limited autonomy such as Shanghai and a few other regions enjoy as SEZ's. China is a country of paradoxes and is often described as one country with two systems; there is no reason that should not apply to Tibet.

China wants legitimacy on the stage of world affairs for its economic and diplomatic growth but it will not gain the respect it desires until it lives up to promises to protect human rights and the religious freedom of all its citizens.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Inside the mind of CosmopolitAnne

Some Q and A:

You have just attended a presentation by President Hu Jintao. You have the chance to ask one question. What is it and why?

I would ask the President what he believes is the most prominent value or characteristic shared by Chinese and Americans, how we can capitalize upon this commonality to unite two very different countries to create a stronger Sino-American relationship, and what is the most important global challenge that would benefit from such a closer partnership. I would raise this because I think our countries could have an even greater positive impact on the world if we focused on our similarities rather than differences. If we could realize how much we have in common our two nations could make great strides regarding international issues.

What is one aspect of American culture that you think it is difficult for foreigners to understand?

I think that the United States’ legislative process is one aspect of American culture that is very difficult for foreigners to understand. Our legislative process can be messy, slow, and very confusing but it ultimately serves its purpose to come up with the best possible solution for the biggest number of people. It protects against tyranny of the majority, holds elected officials accountable by holding frequent elections, and has a very transparent process that citizens can follow every step of the way. Foreigners may not grasp that the seemingly inefficient, nit-picky, verbal war is the essence and beauty of the American legislative system.

The world today is undergoing a series of rapid changes, in the ways that people, think, work, and interact with one another. Describe briefly how you see the world changing in the next twenty years and where you see yourself in it.

Over the next 20 years I see the world becoming increasingly more globalized as international business grows and foreign cultures interact more frequently. The countries of the world will work together as partners instead of independent units on the global front as we realize that wherever located we are all share the earth and need to take care of each other. I think some natural resources will become scarcer and we will have to figure out how to distribute them appropriately and protect them for the future. I think that the people of the world will return to promoting moral and ethical values after seeing the disastrous effects in the finance world that is the result of greed and unethical behavior. Technology will pervade every aspect of our life and we will constantly be in interaction with it. This will especially affect how humans interact, as there is less face to face contact and we are able to communicate with people all over the world without ever meeting in person. As technology increases and the media finds new ways of using technology our attention will constantly be sought by outside influences and it will pervade our lives, leaving us less time to ourselves and our own thoughts. This will increase the phenomenon of multitasking, which will also increase productivity. The job market is going to be incredibly competitive, especially after the world wide economic crisis, however those who are innovative, adaptable, and good at working with people will be successful.

People will need to think about the effects of their actions on others, and even on a global scale. In the age of globalization, however, people will have to try extra hard to guard their own thoughts and opinions from being formed by outside forces.

People will continue to develop their careers and marry later as a general trend and their work hours will continue to be too long. We will need to remember to prioritize family and our personal life as work will be relentlessly demanding. However, people will start to equate job satisfaction less with monetary rewards and more with the personal contributions they feel they are making to the world with their work. With increasingly globalized work, our co-workers could be on the other side of the earth as we rely more and more on technological means of interacting. As already, but increasingly, people will essentially work from anywhere in the world, which might lead to more ex-patriate living and travel, even further escalating globalization.

As diverse cultures and peoples are increasingly more exposed to each other I intend to be on the front lines helping understanding and acceptance of those who are different from us and working for peaceful international relations. I plan to be involved in international business and investing in emerging countries to help them interface more effectively with the more developed nations. I also want to fight hunger, poverty, and illiteracy through social entrepreneurship. I hope to inspire ethical behavior in the world so that we can all be successful but achieve this success through helping others.

Most immediately I see myself attending graduate school, working internationally, and then ending my career as a professor who will inspire these values in the next generation of leaders who will lead our world.