The Unforgettable Experience of an International Residency in Dubai

In January, I had the good fortune to accompany MBA@Syracuse students of Syracuse University‘s Martin J. Whitman School of Management to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As my first residency and intensive elective for the MBA@Syracuse program, this was perhaps more of a learning experience for me than it was for the students.

Residencies and intensive electives in the MBA@Syracuse program are structured to bring students together for a weekend or a full week in a location germane to a specific topic. In our case, meeting in Dubai allowed the students and me to better understand the new energy economy and sustainable entrepreneurship.

Dubai is the commercial center of the UAE and will host Expo 2020 with themes of opportunity, mobility and sustainability. We learned from guest speakers and visits to organizations in industries ranging from real estate, to consulting, to education, to government, to waste management. International residencies provide students and professors with unique experiences.

Because the residencies are designed to integrate the location with the course subject matter, students gain firsthand knowledge of the challenges and opportunities specific to that context.

Where can you tour a five-kilometer, man-made island with sustainably constructed buildings that effectively doubles a coastline in which coral reefs are being regenerated? The Palm Jumeirah in Dubai. Where can you tour a small city where most of the energy is generated via a solar photovoltaic system and the gray wastewater is recycled to water community greenhouse vegetables? The Sustainable City in Dubai. Where can entrepreneurs grow their “green” businesses in tax-free zones with generous incentives? One of the many incubator parks in Dubai. And let’s not forget the cultural experiences like the desert BBQ, camel rides, viewing the skyline from the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building, and a traditional Emirati dinner and Q&A at the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding.

First, economists generally agree that resource scarcity is not a pressing issue because resource stocks are expanding, and prices are declining. Yet certain areas of the world, like Dubai, are continuing to advance renewable energy because economies of scale continue to reduce the price of electricity from renewable sources.

Second, the meaning of sustainability differs based on the industry in which an organization operates. Real estate companies will naturally focus on green building construction and partnering with management companies that use environmentally friendly cleaning products and treat personnel equitably. Governments will support renewable energy generation that takes advantage of their geographic location.

Finally, the asset structure of a business also plays a key role in determining which sustainability strategies will be the most beneficial. Manufacturing companies naturally have a larger share of their operating costs in electricity and raw materials, while service-based companies generally have human capital as their highest expense. Consulting firms, for example, might consider ways to encourage greater sustainability among their employees by providing metro cards or by incorporating sustainability as a part of their suite of services.

I hope the students who attended the Dubai residency and intensive elective are able to view themselves and the businesses in which they work through the lens of sustainability. I believe that business can be part of the solution rather than simply the source of Earth’s most pressing sustainability challenges.

Todd Moss