Day 6 – Safari Shenanigans

Heading on a plane from the gulf area to Tehran, Iran, the authors of this last blog entry reflect on an unusual, fascinating and informative week in Doha. The experience was indescribable, we all gained insights into a new and fascinating world, so unknown and different, and yet oddly similar in certain aspects. We have to pleasure to write the blog entry for the last day of this amazing week; in our minds the best and simultaneously saddest day – we experienced a breathtaking safari and had to say goodbye to each other a few hours later. But let’s go through the day more detailed:

We enjoyed a last breakfast in our beautiful hotel, Mike was feeling bad after having eating 5 burgers the previous day and opted for a small plate of fruits; the majority however enjoyed the voluptuous buffet provided each day in our hotel. Since the safari take off was scheduled for a quarter past two, most of us decided to sleep in, at least for a bit. Some of us stayed in the hotel and enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere in the Spa-area on the 26th floor; there were some more sportive members of our group who decided to visit the in-house gym, however, the author of these pages is not one of them and enjoyed the Jacuzzi instead.

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At quarter past two, we met up at the back entrance, where 6 Jeeps were ready to take us on an adventurous trip. Well, frankly, the first 45 minutes of our drive weren’t that impressive. Once outside of Doha, we were driving south; all there was to see was sand. Some barracks, one or two oil-refineries and more sand. We arrived at our first stop, where we saw some more sand but also had the chance to ride camels for the rather steep fee of 20 Rials – steep since the ride lasted for roughly 2 minutes. Mr Dia-Eddine called it “ABZOCKEREI” (rip-off).

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After having deflated the tires of our jeeps, the ride continued – or rather started properly. The next 30 minutes of our ride were unforgettable and quite honestly indescribable. Speeding over sand dunes while yelling of excitement is what we did the next half hour. Our jeeps took us across the desert up and down the dunes in a spectacular fashion. We stopped in the deep south of Qatar for pictures (a lot of new Facebook profile photos were shot that day). Even the Saudi-Arabian border was visible from our panoramic stop. The sun started to set and we continued our ride until we halted at south beach (literally south of Qatar). Directly at the beach, there was this resort, where we enjoyed cold or warm beverages, depending on taste preferences. The sunset itself, as stunning as it was, became secondary to some of us after having discovered a beach volleyball pitch, while other just relaxed at this beautiful spot. However, once the sun set, we started heading home. The ride back passed rather fast, stopping once for re-inflating our tires, we arrived back at the hotel at around 7-ish.

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Dinner was on an individual basis, some went to the Souq Waqif for what felt like the 10th time, some to a very local restaurant outside of the center where the menu composed of hummus and falafel – you could chose from a variety of options (humus, falafel, humus with falafel, falafel with humus, humus and falafel mixed together – I think you get the gist), and some gourmands ordered McDonalds to their rooms. We met up at a quarter past ten and headed together to Traider Vic’s, a bar which is part of the Hilton Hotel and the closest place to our hotel. There we enjoyed farewell drinks together (starting off with beer, but after having realized that Gin Tonic is actually cheaper, the order pattern quickly changed) and one after another member of our amazing group left until there was a small party left pulling through until last call. Saying goodbye was brutal, after having spent a week together, we felt inseparable, but we took solitude in the fact that we will see each other again in a bit more of a week. Bild8

So this extremely serious and precise report is the last entry of our Qatar Study Trip Blog and we want to take the opportunity to thank the people enabling us to be part of this experience. First of all, thanks to Khaldoun Dia-Eddine, our professor of this module; a man who knows more about this region than all of us combined (this does not count for Deeran) and has an answer to every question. We also want to thank Maya Gadgil, we did not know her before the trip but won’t forget her after this week (how could we?). Making sure we were on time was her top priority, and without her relentless efforts we wouldn’t have made half of our appointments. We further want to thank Sarah from the Swiss Embassy for her work and organizational skills, making a lot of the events of the past week possible. A last thank you is for everyone involved in our study trip, ranging from the friendly hotel staff (especially Panda, you know who you are) to the members of the Swiss embassy in Qatar over to all the companies and NGO’s we visited. Without you, this week wouldn’t have been such a success.

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Cheers

David, Deeran, Ruben and Mikael

Day 5 – Qatar Science and Technology Park, Aspire Academy, iHorizons (People Dynamics), LafargeHolcim

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Our final day of company visits led us again to Qatar Foundation and the impressive Education City campus. At the first stop, Qatar Science & Technology Park, we were first welcomed with a rich buffet of snacks, juices and much-needed coffee at the Innovation Center. A short introduction explained us that QSTP is by their definition is a free zone, technology incubator / accelerator and facilitator of applied research. Members of this free zone include Siemens, Microsoft, Cisco, ExxonMobil, GE, Shell, Rolls-Royce and many more. The main objective of QSTP is again to help achieve the 2030 Qatar National Vision.

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After another short coffee break, we got the chance to get a closer look at ExxonMobil’s research facility at QSTP. The primary aim of the research center is to enhance the development of the local community and its environment. A tour introduced us to their three programs, namely Geology, Environmental Management Program and Safety. In the end, we received some generous company gifts. Among them were Bluetooth speakers that made for musical entertainment on the bus.

On our second stop in the morning we visited Aspire Academy – an independent government-funded agency that provides sports training and education to students with athletic potential. Currently, it hosts over 200 students in different disciplines such as football, athletics, swimming and many more. Our highlight was the visit of the largest indoor football pitch in the world. On its side is also one of the largest football stadiums in Qatar up to date. However, it is currently under reconstruction in preparation for the FIFA World Cup 2022.

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After a very short lunch break at the Villaggio Mall, our two bus drivers took us back to the hotel where we already had our next company presentation. The CEO of iHorizons Group, Mr. Mohamed Takriti, awaited us and briefly introduced the many fields they are active in. Afterwards, the CEO of one of the group partner’s called “People Dynamics” gave us interesting insights into their business. The company is, in comparison to all the firms we visited throughout the week, rather small but deals with a very crucial issue: managing people in the fast-changing Doha area. The firm provides HR Consulting, HR Managed Services and Recruitment. Two key points out of the presentation are the challenges of “Qatarization” and the value behind expatriation in Qatar, which is to develop and transfer knowledge to Qatari nationals for the future. The presentation ended with a very interesting and open discussion round where we were able to ask all of our questions concerning the local labor market.

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The day ended with a presentation of LafargeHolcim. General manager Urs Straub introduced us to the subsidiary Al Jabor Cement Industries Company, the recent merger of Lafarge and Holcim and the Middle East region. The key learning from the presentation was the fierce competition in the cement business in Qatar, where the government subsidizes the local cement industry. Hence, doing business as an international company is merely profitable in niche markets.

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In the evening, we went to the Museum of Islamic Arts where we got a deeper insight to the Islamic history and culture. Professor Khaldoun shared his knowledge of Islamic arts with us students which enabled us to get a better understanding how people used to live in the Middle East hundreds of years ago. To end the evening, professor Khaldoun introduced us to Syrian cuisine in the restaurant Damasca at Souq Waqif.

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Day 4 Doha

The day began with a visit to the ABB headquarters in Doha, Qatar. We were introduced to their daily business operations, from a technical as well as general perspective, and informed about several facts and figures surrounding the company in Qatar. Furthermore, the study group was allowed to ask questions. The questions mainly concentrated on human resource issues, such as payment structures or the difficulty of finding a suitable Qatari-national workforce.

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After the company visit at ABB in the city center we started heading to Qatari Diar, which is the Real Estate Investment Company fully owned by the government and a major player in the global real estate market. Launched in 2005 it has its headquarter located in Lusail, a outerskirt of Doha close to the Qatar University. We were warmly welcomed with fresh fruit juices at the visitor center followed by a brief video showed in the cinema hall, which gave us an overview of the company’s worldwide present and future projects. Qatari Diar is engaging in the planning and building of entire quarters of luxury residential areas. It is currently investing in 49 projects in 29 countries including Qatar, Egypt, Sudan, Montenegro, the UK and various other locations with a combined value of over US$35 billion. The company is also present in Switzerland as the owner of the prestigious 150-year-old establishment Hotel Schweizerhof in Bern. Qatari Diar’s business model and vision is dedicated to realize Qatar’s National Vision 2030 for a “beatifully build environment, new sustainable communitites and developments that catch the imagintaiton of a world audience“ to life. After this great introduction followed by a Q&A session we were able to witness how “the Art of Real Estate“ comes to life by a guided bus tour through Lusail City, not only the first but also the company’s flagship grand scale project in Doha. This self-contained and comprehensively planned city will not only have residential and commercial buildings but a full array of community needs, complete with schools, mosques, medical and sport faciltites as well as a new 7-star hotel in the shape of a crescent moon. More than 200’000 residents will once live in Lusail City’s 19 different districts on the total size of 38 square kilometre. Further, the stadion for the FIFA World Cup 2022, where the opening and closing ceremony will be held, is also under construction in Doha’s new city of the future. After our return to the headquarter’s we left our hosts not only with a gift bag but also with a great impression of Qatari Diar’s vision that fully captured our hearts and imaginations.

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To the interesting question why the Doha bank has given up its “Islamic financial and banking activities” (business activities according to Sharia), considering the Bank’s main business activities in the Gulf States, where Islam is the main religion, the CEO replied saying that the Bank did have both business practices at the beginning, however, at one point they had to decide for a strategy to be taken serious in the global market. Therefore,Dr. R.Seetharaman decided to give up the “Islamic financial and banking activities” in order to operate worldwide. This is now demonstrated with various benches in not only the Middle East but also Europe and North America. The Doha Bank is also an active supporter of the free zone in the Middle East. The CEO is aware about the economic importance of the natural resources and the desired future growth and is therefore highly convinced about the preservation and expansion of the free zone in the Middle East. On top of that, he did not miss to emphasize that Doha is an attractive place for doing business and that they welcome businesses from abroad investing their money in the development of Qatar. This led him to actively encouraging the students thinking about doing business or an intern ship in Doha and outlining various projects the Bank is actively contributing within its financial capabilities.

 

 

 

Day 3 – Qatar Sports Day

IMG-20160211-WA0015[1]Healthy wishes to all on Qatar’s National Sports Day!
Today was the National Sports Day, a national holiday in Qatar, held annually on the second Tuesday in February, with the main objective of promoting a healthy lifestyle among its population. A day on which the whole population is requested by the Emir to do some sports. So we did…
Celebrating this day, some of the class went to Katara Beach where institutions and companies organised various activities such as rugby, beach soccer, volley ball, cross-fit or dragon boat races along the beach to take part in. Especially, kids boxing fights were funny to watch.
Windy weather aside, some of us actually tried to compete against locals in volley ball, rugby, joined in the cross-fit challenge or tried to do some yoga. Others just enjoyed the sun tanning on the long-chairs, thereby recovering from past strains.
Towards the evening, a small but very courageous group of people started to jog back to the hotel in order to exercise and circumvent the traffic due to some roads closures. Enjoying the beautiful tracks full of road works and the fresh air along the high way, we were heading back to the hotel.
Another group after heaving a look at the Katara Beach decided to go to the education center where there were many organised activities as well. Upon arrival, they met Amina, who held a presentation in the first day at the University. She was so kind to show them around and made sure they could participate at a football tournament. Before the tournament, they went around met students and were offered some lunch by Amina. They were very thankful for her hospitality and were impressed by the friendliness of hosts and students. They enjoyed playing soccer and learned a lot about the local culture.
Towards the evening we headed towards the sea in order to enjoy a trip via dragon boat to Souq Waqef, an old part of the town where many enjoyed fabulous dinners.

Day 2 – Qatar University, WISE, Al Jazeera, Swiss Ambassador to Qatar & Swiss business community in Qatar

Like on Sunday, the study trip’s main focus of the day was Qatar’s educational landscape, embodied by a visit at Qatar university and The World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) organisation in the morning.

After a hearty breakfast at our hotel, we took the buses to Qatar University, Qatar’s national university, where we received a warm welcome by local faculty and students – including a serving of rich Arabic coffee and sweet dates. The faculty members gave us an introduction to the university in general and, especially, its business administration programs. This part was followed by a campus tour by bus, lead by two local students. Following Qatari customs, there was a bus for the male students and a bus for the female students. We later learned that this segregation of men and women also applies for the university’s facilities in general, where male and female students are taught in separate areas. We concluded out visit to Qatar University with a group photo before again hopping on our shuttle buses to the next destination.

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We then returned to the impressive Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) campus, which we had already visited on Sunday, for a presentation on The World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) organisation. In a casual and welcoming atmosphere, we learnt that the organisation’s overall goal is to foster and support innovation and initiatives aimed at improving education around the globe.

Both out visits to Qatar University and to HBKU made again apparent that Qatar considers education a highly important issue, which is also reflected by the funds that are allocated to both organisations by the government. Education is also embodied in Qatar’s National Vision 2030, to “transform Qatar into an advanced society capable of achieving sustainable development”.

A rather quick lunch gave us energy for the next event, a visit at Al Jazeera. Representatives from the International Relations Department took all our questions on the network and its importance in a regional and international context. Since this can be considered a “hot topic”, it took some time to warm up and gain the confidence needed to go for some more sensitive and critical questions. However, we were surprised about how open and friendly the answers were. Overall, the exchange with Al Jazeera’s representatives was a great learning opportunity for us.

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Soon it was time to go back to our hotel in order to get some rest before we would leave for a meeting with the Swiss ambassador to the State of Qatar and the Kingdom of Bahrain and members of the Swiss business community in Qatar. While eating delicious Lebanese food, drinking tea and smoking Shisha, there was plenty of room to ask questions and share our insights with our hosts. This relaxing last program point marked the end of another long and rich day, leading over to other activities which we could pursue for ourselves.

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First day in Doha, Qatar.

This study trip is part of a 5th semester 3 ECTS course at ZHAW SML specially designed for the International Management program. The goal of this study trip is to get a comprehensive understanding of the culture and common business practices in Qatar. 35 students are enrolled to this course and the Study Trip is led by Professor Khaldoun Dia-Eddine and Senior Projektmanager Maya Gadgil. Special thanks goes to the Switzerland Global Enterprise (S-GE) who enables us many interesting company visits through their network and support.

Day 1

The day started with a delicious breakfast at the hotel.  After being informed that the program changed we took emerging measures and headed to Qatar Foundation instead of the original destination Qatar University.

Divided into two buses, out of which only one had Wi-Fi, we drove slowly but continuously through the concrete jungle of Doha towards the outskirts of the city, where Qatar Foundation and Education City are located.

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After arrival at the Qatar Foundation Visitor Center and the recollection of the smokers, we were led to the 7th floor of the modern building. The head of social media gave us a presentation on the vision and action areas of Qatar Foundation.20160207_10382220160207_100440

The following Q&A session was characterized by a rather slow start maybe because it was the first one. Afterwards, we were showed around the balcony to gain a grasp of the impressive size of Education City. Simultaneously, we took the opportunity to take some great pictures and selfies.

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The highlight of the visit, however, was the beautiful book ‘Souk Waqif’ they gave us in exchange of a chocolate bag.

We then visited the student center of the Hamad bin Khalifa University (HBKU) and were able to listen to two more presentations as well as to take the opportunity to exchange with six local graduate students. Also during this visit we were able to ask questions about their studies as well as find out more about life in Qatar.

Lunch time approached and we were served a delicious lunch buffet at the student center, while having a representative of the HBKU at each table. The questioning went on.

Afterwards, we boarded our heavily air-conditioned busses and headed to Qatar Airways, where another buffet with fresh coffee awaited us.

 

Firstly, we were able to gain an insight on the customer experience at Qatar Airways. Not only in the air but also the whole check in, customs and airport transfers as well as hotels operated by the airline.

The second part of the presentation, ‘the unsexy` part according to the head of ground operations, brought us closer to the whole mechanisms on the ground at Doha Hamad International Airport.

He presented the challenges of luggage handling and processing as well as the whole cargo business of Qatar Airways.

Both presentations were very informative and the presentation skills where really outstanding. This made the afternoon a pleasurable and knowledge enhancing experience.

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In the evening, everybody spread out in order to get their own individual experience. Some of us went to an artificial isle, the Pearl, to have our very first authentic Arabic dish.  All in all, we had a very positive first impression of Doha.