The Business Year

Close this search box.
HE Abdullah Saeed Al Darmaki

UAE, ABU DHABI - Economy

Path Finder

CEO, Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development (Khalifa Fund)


With over 20 years experience in the hydro-carbons and manufacturing industries, and investments as well as a background in sales and marketing, he has held number of leadership positions in governmental and private organizations in the UAE. He is currently Chairman of Abu Dhabi Systems Integration LLC, Board Member of the Abu Dhabi Ship Building Co, Committee Member of Abu Dhabi Demographic Council, Vice Chairman of Abu Dhabi Loans Commissions to Egypt, and Vice Chairman of the National Network Committee. Al Darmaki has a BA in International Affairs and Political Science, from Lewis & Clark College, Portland, US.

TBY talks to HE Abdullah Saeed Al Darmaki, CEO of Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development (Khalifa Fund), on supporting entrepreneurs, SMEs, and developing innovation.

How would you describe the role Khalifa Fund plays in supporting entrepreneurs in the UAE?

Khalifa Fund was created as a social development agency with the objective of transforming those supported enterprises we help into viable businesses economically that have a part of today’s economic growth engine. We have access to finance and technical support organizations that foster entrepreneurship and advise federal and local agencies on how to contribute to a growing SME landscape. As a non-profit organization, we are able to provide access to finance on very reasonable terms and conditions. Over the last decade, UAE citizens have been more inclined toward public sector jobs. We are trying to provide a platform for individuals with the ability to explore their potential in becoming effective entrepreneurs. There is a suite of services that we have designed over the last couple of years that go toward promoting the whole notion of a vibrant entrepreneurship environment and SME ecosystem. The leadership of the UAE, starting from HH Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of the UAE and the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, have continuously given their support in pushing the envelope on SMEs in the UAE.

The fund started with capital of AED300 million and then increased that amount to AED1 billion, and then to AED2 billion ($544 million). How do you allocate the fund’s capital?

Start-ups are the most sensitive enterprises we have because of the high risk of exposure and setup challenges, at times possible failure. We step in when financial institutions are shying away because of the fact that start-ups are considered to be, in financial terms, “toxic assets;” having said that, those institutions are more inclined to look to fast-growing businesses and those that are already making good returns. We work with people who are keen to start businesses and address their challenges. Over the last couple of years, we have created financial products for different economic activities and demographics within society. The aim is to guide the individuals who are in the process of putting together a business plan, they meet with an array of consultants who help in putting together a financial model, then they are required to present their plan to a committee of peers who make sure that the entrepreneur understands the different key parameters of establishing this Enterprise.

How do you support SMEs in gaining access to global markets?

Access to global markets is critical. The fact that our entrepreneurs and SMEs have the ability to participate in international events be it exhibitions or conferences is crucial in that it allows for the sharing of best practices and knowledge transfer. We have witnessed a growing number of entrepreneurs participating in such events all over the globe, which has led to adoption of new practices within the perspective SMEs signing of new alliances in delivering some of those services with the UAE and a vote of confidence for those entrepreneurs to take central stage in the global arena.

How do you view the level of innovation among SMEs in the UAE?

The UAE needs to continue investing in areas of innovations. The country will have to make further investment in areas of R&D especially within academia and some of the main clusters that have been developed across the UAE. Graduates should have the ability to develop their know-how further through R&D and leverage on a growing number of mentors who come to this country with past experiences. For enterprises what to continue to grow, they should leverage innovating, which requires robust R&D infrastructure. That is something that is lacking. We are engaged with a multitude of educational institutions from primary to tertiary, and from vocational to higher education, simply because we want to continue to foster entrepreneurship within the mindset of the younger generation from a very early stage all the way through to graduation.



You may also be interested in...



Chris Roberts


Group CEO, Eltizam Asset Management Group



Dhia Hussain


Chairperson, Canadian Business Council Abu Dhabi (CBCAD)

View All interviews



Become a sponsor