Tariq bin Hendi, Director-General, Abu Dhabi Investment Office

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On moving past Covid-19 with targeted investor-support strategies

How has the Covid-19 pandemic generated challenges and opportunities for economic development in Abu Dhabi?
The pandemic made us face two interconnected challenges. We first had to preserve Abu Dhabi’s business fabric, from start-ups to large companies. Through the emirate’s Ghadan 21 accelerator programme, the government allocated a Dh3bn ($816.8m) credit guarantee scheme to small and medium-sized enterprises, and introduced rate and fee relief, as well as water and electricity subsidies. Second, we were determined to continue promoting Abu Dhabi as an investment destination despite the lockdowns and restrictions in place globally. The agile and effective response of the authorities, citizens and businesses lent the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (ADIO) an opportunity to showcase the resilience of the local economy and society. A case in point would be the speed at which the emirate reorganised its supply chains. 

With these two challenges, decision-makers have been confronted with the complexities of crafting coordinated and effective actions in an environment that keeps pace with the speed of changes and new information. Despite the situation, we can say that Abu Dhabi showed what it is capable of in 2020. The task now is to coordinate efforts to ensure a strong recovery.

In what ways is investment being attracted and channelled to key sectors?
While wealth is in the ground in the form of hydrocarbons, prosperity is built through people. This thinking guides the approach to attracting investment. Complementing the financial incentives and public spending deployed under the Ghadan 21 accelerator programme in pursuit of the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, the role of ADIO and other entities steering economic development is to identify gaps and opportunities in the business ecosystem and, later, to connect people from the public and private sectors, and across different industries. 

Channelling investment effectively requires a focus on areas at the intersection of national security, development priorities and the competitive advantages found in Abu Dhabi. This reflects the current push for innovation in agriculture, ICT, financial services, health and biopharmaceuticals, and tourism. Transformation in these fields is being boosted by what was ADIO’s AgTech Incentive Programme, launched in 2020, and what is now known as the Innovation Programme, with ADIO providing competitive financial and non-financial support to innovative businesses that allows them to deliver impactful solutions. Success in these sectors will contribute to economic diversification and broaden the emirate’s export base.

What is the approach to business relations between public and private players in Abu Dhabi compared to other investment destinations?
Abu Dhabi’s public-private partnership (PPP) framework, formalised in September 2020, seeks to foster relations between the two sectors beyond commercial and financial considerations. Although it is clear that any deal must take into account an estimated return on investment, the parties involved should ensure that sustainability and governance aspects are appropriately factored into project design and execution, as well as during the operation of any resulting facilities. Therefore, while the first step for the government is to assess needs and build business opportunities around them, the end goal is to guarantee that any project generates social dividends in terms of contributing to sovereign wealth, providing an efficient and effective service for citizens, and ensuring environmental sustainability. 

Beyond PPP projects, investors can count on the authorities’ commitment to consistency, transparency and openness in policy formulation, and their willingness to provide an effective environment for talented individuals in terms of infrastructure, safety and well-being. After recent legal changes, there is also a clear path to acquiring UAE citizenship for international talent working, excelling and investing in key sectors, with all the rights and benefits this implies.  

With an eye to the future, Abu Dhabi’s development strategy continues to focus on inclusive growth, with a particular attention on expanding opportunities for younger generations.


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