Thursday, July 21, 2016

Professional Coaching: Closing the Arabian Gulf

 Coaching at Work magazine

Coaching in the Middle East is growing in both scale and quality and its key base is in the United Arab Emirates. Paul Cochrane reports from Beirut

The professional coaching sector is booming in the Middle East. Over the past decade the region has become increasingly interconnected in the global business system, and has adopted international standards. This has driven the need for professional coaching and training. But with coaching modelled on US and European norms, there is a need for greater localisation, while more accreditation is necessary to develop further confidence in the fledgling sector.
Professional coaching started to take off in the Middle East following the global financial crisis of 2008. Demand was driven by multinational corporations (MNCs) based in the Gulf region, particularly in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a popular location for coaching organisations wanting to cover the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) markets.
“When I arrived in 2009, I told people I was a professional executive coach and was asked: ‘What is that?’ There were only five credentialed coaches in the UAE listed on the International Coach Federation (ICF) website. Today there are hundreds of coaches, so the sector is definitely growing,” says Annette Kirby of Executive Coaching Connections; she is a Danish leadership coach in Abu Dhabi, with an ICF Professional Certified Coach (PCC) qualification.

Rising demand

The UAE’s most populous emirate, Dubai, is a good location for coaches, given that it is a key business hub for major companies operating in MENA. Coaching specialists estimate that there are around 1,000 coaches in the MENA region with varying qualifications, while there are only a few hundred Gulf-based members of the main coaching bodies, such as the European Mentoring & Coaching Council (EMCC), the ICF and the International Association of Coaching (IAC), according to Nigel Cumberland, an executive coach and leadership facilitator in Dubai, with an EMCC Accredited Coach–Senior Practitioner level qualification, among others.
“I would say the amount of coaching is what you might see in the UK per capita, as a large majority of coaches live here in Dubai. There are smaller groupings in Abu Dhabi, Doha [Qatar] and a smattering in Muscat [Oman], Riyadh and Jeddah [Saudi Arabia], and the Levant,” says Cumberland.
Dubai’s location as a business and tourism hub has enabled coaches to cover more than the Middle East. “Most of my coaching is now through the web – video coaching – but I like to encourage people to meet in person. Luckily, because of Dubai’s popularity, we can do that, with people flying in from, say, Islamabad [Pakistan] or Kabul [Afghanistan],” he adds.
While there is demand for coaching from numerous sectors, and for different purposes, the leading certified coaches are involved with MNCs and the Gulf’s sizeable state and state-linked companies.
“A large number of us are helping organisations and governments to coach either leaders, managers or aspiring talent, which often means locals – Emiratis, Saudis or Qataris. So we call ourselves leadership coaches, or maybe business coaches, used interchangeably,” says Cumberland.

Keep it local

Across the Gulf, governments have set targets to bolster the participation of locals in the workplace, known as nationalisation programmes – Saudisation, Emiratisation, Qatarisation and so on. Governments are particularly keen to have local nationals – a small minority of the population in ex-pat hubs the UAE and Qatar – in managerial and leadership positions, providing funding for study abroad at leading universities and business schools. But academic experience requires additional support once in the workplace, which is where leadership and executive coaching comes in.
“The region is realising the importance of coaching, which as a culture started with the MNCs, as well as large local companies and organisations since they didn’t trust local providers,” says Rawan Albina, a Lebanese coach based in Dubai, with a ICF-PCC qualification.
Until recently, coaches and leadership development experts would be brought in from outside the region, but organisations soon got wise to the higher costs. “It got to the point where they realised they were paying an arm and a leg for people that didn’t know the region or how people think. So [international] coaching firms would look for local talent instead. For me, this was the big wake-up call for regional coaching,” adds Albina.
Locally based coaches have the advantage of knowing the culture and society, as well as the particularities of the Gulf, such as the high proportion of foreign workers. “Multiculturalism is unique here as you can have 12 nationalities in a [business] team. And within the past couple of years there’s been more requests for coaching of multicultural and multidisciplinary teams,” explains Executive Coaching Connections’ Kirby.
“The cultural component of coaching is very important, to know what you can and can’t do, those unwritten codes of behaviour in the workplace, which is not something you can understand unless you live here for years,” she adds.
Another difference in Middle Eastern coaching compared to the West is the blending of coaching and mentoring, attributed to a general lack of knowledge about what coaching is. “What’s interesting is people’s understanding of coaching, confusing mentoring and advising. When I coach I’m often looked to for advice. That is entering mentoring territory, and I happen to think a lot of coaching is a combination, as in this part of the world people are keen to explore coaching as personal exploration, but also can’t help asking: ‘What would you do?’ ” says Cumberland.
Not being able to speak Arabic is not a major obstacle to being a coach in the region, with middle and upper management usually fluent in English. Albina said that around 30 per cent of her coaching is in Arabic, and 10 per cent in French. “Most clients have very good English. However, Arabic is important, and being a woman also, as it works well with Gulf women, since they prefer to be coached by a woman,” she says.
Nationalisation of the workforce is likely to trigger more demand for Arab coaches. “The more nationalisation increases, there will be more leaders getting to the top who are local, so there will be more need for Arabic speaking coaches,” adds Albina.
However, there is not as much interest in the profession from Arabic speakers in the Gulf, particularly men. “Coaching is labelled as a woman’s vocation. In every workshop I attend related to pure coaching skills, it is always 80 per cent women and 20 per cent men, and the men tend to be Western. It is still such a new industry that there needs to be a mindset shift,” says Albina.

Lebanese connection

Lebanese coaches have a particular advantage over their English-speaking peers, as they are typically fluent in Arabic, French and English, and as a result able to cater to the whole region, including the French-speaking parts – Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Lebanon.
“It is a strength of Lebanese coaches, and something you can’t really find in the Gulf. It is also what makes Lebanese coaches a bit different. For instance, a trend now is for NGOs [non-governmental organisations] in Lebanon to use coaches for capacity development projects, such as for people in stress, or to coach farmers, so Arabic is an important bonus,” says Nada Jreissati Daher, founder of coaching firm PragmaDoms and a master certified coach trainer in Beirut.
Thwarting the development of Arabic language coaching is the lack of translated material: “There is a need for courses in Arabic as values are really different, while in business there is a different culture, especially as most are family-run. The problem is that coaching was really tailored to Western societies, so we try to adapt as much as we can, although with an accredited programme there is a limit to what you can do,” she adds.
Driving the popularity of coaching as a profession is the potential income. In the UAE, professional coaching remuneration can be anywhere from US$500 to US$700 per hour, whereas in Lebanon, executive coaching starts at US$250, up to US$600 per hour, depending on length of engagement.

Let’s regulate

But the profession’s popularity has led to a large number of unaccredited coaches with minimal experience offering their services. This has undermined trust in the sector at the very time local firms and accredited professionals are trying to get the advantages of coaching better known in the marketplace, as well as to better compete with international coaching firms.
In Lebanon, this unwelcome situation has prompted Daher to set up a coaching syndicate to improve standards in the sector.
Over in the Gulf, it is a similar story, despite the presence of local chapters of international bodies such as the ICF: “People want to get into the coaching market and to make good money from the beginning. It’s a very opportunistic market as it is not mature and companies don’t know what to look for in experienced coaches,” says Kirby.
Albina thinks governments in the Middle East need to recognise the profession before any regional coaching bodies or regulators can be established.
“At a very simple level it would be great if governments considered coaching as a vocation. When I applied for my licence [in the UAE], coaching was not listed. It is not in the vocabulary, although you find training and development, and consulting,” she concludes

Monday, July 18, 2016

International outlook

Accounting & Business magazine - International edition

Award-winning CFO Moazam Shah FCCA describes the challenges of working for a key conglomerate in Saudi Arabia in the current economic climate.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Elusive Target – US vs Hibzullah

 Mugs of Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah on sale in Beirut 
(Credit: Paul Cochrane)

Hizbullah has long been on the terrorism radar and despite current focus on Islamic State, the United States is attempting to maintain pressure on the group's finances through specific legislation. Paul Cochrane, in Beirut, explores the likely impact.

At a time when the world is regularly sickened by webcast beheadings and civilian bombings carried out by Islamic State (IS), it is perhaps hard to recall that Shia militant group Hizbullah was previously viewed as the world's most notorious terror organisation. Today, with 12 members of Lebanon's parliament (and two ministers in cabinet), a panopoly of social services, a TV station and even a museum, Hizbullah is an integral part of the country's political and social scene. However, it still operates a private army, which is fighting in Syria's civil war, and is regarded by the USA with undiminished hostility. It was also labelled a terrorist organisation by the Arab League as recently as 11 March this year, although critics have claimed this reflected tension between Sunni country governments and Shia forces in the region. The designation, supported by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), could bring any transactions deemed to be with Hizbullah within the scope of anti-terror finance laws in Arab countries.

US antagonism legislated

In AML terms, it was the passage, in November, by the US Congress of the Hezbollah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015 that probably caused the most concern in Lebanon. Enactment was followed by a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announcement, in February 2016, that it had evidence of a “massive Hizbullah drug and money laundering scheme” operated at a global level by Hizbullah's External Security Organisation's Business Affairs Component (BAC). The statement followed US Treasury accusations (in June 2015) against three Lebanese Shia businessmen and investors, citing direct links with Hizbullah. One casualty was Kassem Hejeij, the head of Middle East Africa (MEA) Bank; he resigned in favour of his son after being placed on a US sanctions list.

Local reaction

The new Act and these moves have caused widespread concern in the Lebanese financial sector, anxious lest it fall foul of US regulators in the wake of the Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB) in 2011, which saw that institution identified as a launderer for Hizbullah. In response, two delegations, comprising Lebanese politicians and financial institutions, went to Washington, separately, earlier this year to ensure that the whole country was not caught in the US' dragnet, this despite Iranian-backed Hizbullah saying that they have no presence in the country's financial system.

We had good discussions with Treasury and the State Department. We were not going to argue why (they) did it, it was about making sure there's no collateral damage because of the law,” said Yassine Jaber, a member of the Lebanese Parliament for the Shia-based Amal Movement. “We made the case that Lebanon is compliant (with international regulations). The reaction was, what's the fuss? [The Act is] not implemented yet, in April, and the US officials said, over and over, that it was not about the local banking sector but to not allow Hizbullah funding to enter the US banking sector.”

Hizbullah was labelled as a terrorist organisation by the United States as long ago as 1997 (, a designation also applied by France, Israel, Australia, Canada, and the Netherlands. Meanwhile, Britain, the European Union (EU) and New Zealand differentiate between Hizbullah's political and military wings, labelling the latter a terrorist organisation, while acknowledging that it has 12 seats in the Lebanese Parliament.

Political dictation

The Act is considered a political move following the international deal with Iran. “The sanctions are a reward to the Gulf countries and the Israelis, that the US is still committed to their security. That is the real reason, as the US knows such sanctions will not have any real influence over Hizbullah's policies or agenda,” said Hussam Matar, a Lebanese researcher. Hizbullah having been under intense scrutiny for decades (it was founded in 1982), the new designation came was no great surprise. “The law against Hizbullah did not come with totally new provisions, as a good part of the provisions of the new law was possible under the US Patriot Act. But as usual, US law has far-reaching impact, and financial institutions are scrutinising [clients] more closely in order to not expose themselves as well as their correspondent banks,” said Abdul Hafiz Mansour, secretary of the Special Investigations Unit – the country's Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU).

Out of scope?

Hizbullah's secretary-general Hassan Nasrallah, gave a televised addressed following the US move, in which he said the party held no accounts in Lebanon. It is presumed that Hizbullah uses cash for its transactions, while the Act specifically concerns US dollars and not Lebanese Pounds.

Within Lebanon, with the party a legal entity, there is little AML authorities can or would do to restrict Hizbullah's finances in any case.

Mansour's explanation probably says it all: “The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommends the protection of the international financial system from being abused. Accordingly, the AML/CFT and financial regulators' realm of operation is the formal financial sector. In this regard, any dealings in cash outside the formal financial sector is outside the realm of the AML/CFT regulators, it falls within the scope of police work. The FIU does not have the capacity, by law or institutionally, to go after cash or financial operations outside the formal financial sector.”

Despite Nasrallah's claims, repeated at the FIU and by Jaber, Nicholas Noe, co-founder of regional newswire in Beirut, is more questioning of Hizbullah's financial operations. “Treasury's push back was that you had the LCB case, the (DEA) allegations of drug trafficking, and over the last year, the head of MEA Bank was charged by the US for links to Hizbullah, so it is not exactly true nothing is going through the financial system,” said Noe. “For a super secret party it is not just about the party, but supporters and informal networks moving cash, so inevitably money is in the financial system via people that materially support Hizbullah,” he said.

US intelligence report

The FIU and financial institutions are awaiting scheduled release of a report (within 120 days from 15 April 2016) from the White House into Hizbullah's activities; with expected accompanying regulations to “prohibit or impose strict conditions on the opening or maintaining in the United States of a correspondent account or a payable-through account by a foreign financial institution that the President determines”.

According to public statements by Nasrallah, the party's funding is primarily from Iran while weaponry is received from Syria. Funds are presumed to come via Syria. “There is an open border with Syria, so cash comes from there,” said a compliance officer who requested anonymity.
Other than the funding from narcotics and trade-based money laundering reported by the DEA, Hizbullah raises money domestically through donations and using proxies, added the compliance officer. According to a leaked US embassy cable from 2007, Hizbullah's social services and employment network spends an estimated US$600 million a year “in payments and services to supportive Shia, Sunnis, and Christians not receiving those services from the government,” which is not widely known for providing effective services to the people of Lebanon.

Matar said that as Hizbullah is well integrated into Lebanese society, the new sanctions would not have a major impact, and the party would leverage sanctions-busting knowledge from Iran. “The Iranians went through this, so Hizbullah will not find it a problem,” he added.

Viewing restrictions

Al Manar television channel, the party's mouthpiece, was specifically targeted under the Act, with the April regulations detailing “satellite, broadcast, Internet, or other providers that have knowingly entered into a contractual relationship with al-Manar TV and its affiliates”.

The US' designation led to Al Manar being dropped from Arab League-backed satellite provider ArabSat, and, on 6 April, by Egypt's NileSat. Most of the damage happened to Al Manar, targeted in a special paragraph, and we are waiting to see how it will be defined,” said Jaber.

The channel's website,, is not expected to be affected as the domain name was issued within Lebanon while the website itself is registered in the name of a journalist, not the channel, according to a member of domain registry, the Lebanese Internet Centre (LINC).

The journalist would have to be named by the US authorities for there to be any action, and a Lebanese court order would be required to shutdown the website, added the LINC member.

According to the compliance officer, Al Manar pays staff in cash, while purchases of broadcasting equipment is via intermediaries.

Neighbours lose patience

While the US move was not unexpected, regional action was, despite the long history of animosity between Sunni Muslim governments and Shia Iran and Hizbullah. The terrorist organisation designation was also made by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, with the Arab League designation supported by all members bar Lebanon and Iraq (both with significant Shia populations). “The GCC is trying to say to Lebanon, you are (collectively) paying the price of Hizbullah's regional actions in Syria and Yemen,” said Matar. The GCC is opposed to the Syrian regime, which Hizbullah and Iran are supporting militarily, while a GCC force, led by Saudi Arabia, is fighting the Iranian-backed Houthis in Yemen.

The GCC action could potentially have more of a negative impact on Lebanon, as the Gulf monarchies are less predictable than the US, but they do not have the specific financial regulatory means to enforce such a designation, said the compliance officer. However, given how “fragile and vulnerable” Lebanon is, the GCC also “toned down their attack after the US and EU talked to them”, Jaber noted.