By Jihan Anwar
Alwan AlShaibani, Chairman of Universal Group Companies politely informs me that he has to take an important phone call. Rather than a business call, which one might expect from businessman, Mr. AlShaibani takes a call about a new program he’s involved with that provides financial assistance and scholarships to marginalized students. The higher their educational level, the more amount of assistance they are provided, he explains.
“Most of these kids drop out in primary or secondary school. In fact less than 10 percent continue their studies,” AlShaibani says. “It’s not a crisis yet, but in 10 to 20 years from now, if things continue as they are, the country as a whole will be negatively affected.”
Mr. AlShaibani has been nominated for the Oslo Business for Peace 2013 award by the Yemen UNDP office. The Business for Peace (BfP) award was established in 2007 by Per Leif Saxegaard. The award, given by the Oslo Business for Peace Foundation at Oslo City Hall, was specifically introduced to promote socially responsible and ethical initiatives in the business sphere.
The BfP foundation wants the public to recognize that there’s a difference between ‘businessman’ or ‘creditworthy’ from ‘businessworthy’. The latter, according to the Norwegian institution, is the highest form of achievement.
Seven Honorees from around the world are selected by an independent committee composed of former Nobel prize winners for Peace or Economics. They are identified as the people that have set themselves apart for their tangible, positive impact on their communities.
The Business for Peace award was inspired by the philosophy of economist, Adam Smith. Smith believed that “markets could not flourish without a strong underlying moral culture, animated by empathy and fellow-felling, by our ability to understand our common bond as human beings and to recognize the needs of others.”
The BfP foundation recognizes that success has historically and narrowly been evaluated based on the financial success a company or an individual. Being Businessworthy, instead, encompasses all the dimensional characteristics of an individual and how his business dealings should reflect the highest form of behavior – not only benefitting the direct partners of a company, but the surrounding community and environment.
The Business for Peace statue given to the Honorees is sculpted to symbolize the ‘The Just Man’, the ideal to which every businessman should aspire to.
AlShaibani says that it’s a honor to be nominated for the Business for Peace award and that is honor not only for him but for Yemen as a whole.
He is a board member for about ten NGOs which focus on youth and women and poverty alleviation. Internal estimates report that since 1999, the number of disadvantaged youth benefitting from these nonprofit organizations exceeds 3000.
Mr. AlShaibani is also the Chairman of the Board for Yemen Education for Employment Foundation (YEFE) and Al Khair Foundation for Social Development (KFSD).
“The country is so focused on oil capital that we keep forgetting that our best wealth is actually human resources.”
Yemen possess a tremendous youth force asset, with half of its population under age 18. AlShaibani believes that this advantage is seldom recognized as the benefit that it has the potential to be. Statistics count unemployment among youth to reach 60 to 70 percent.
“We have programs in which we offer youth trainings and personal development courses. There are many young people deprived of education. Through each activity, our goal is to provide an opportunity – a chance – for these youth to gain the education and skills that will provide them with a job they can earn a decent livelihood from.”
The Al Khair Foundation has a program that particularly targets young Yemenis that have finished secondary school. Because of the forced sabbatical of one year before entering the university, some say these youth are usually prone to waste their time or pick up unhelpful habits such as qat chewing.
Once youth are trained by KFDS, they often find themselves at the top of their class once enrolling in university; as further incentive, Al Khair foundation offers scholarships.
Working while attaining his studies since an early age, Mr. AlShaibani believes that dedication and honesty are the major factors conducive to success.
AlShaibani, who graduated from the Political Science and International Relations department from at University of Kansas, has already been the receiver of various prestigious awards.
The ‘Unique Plaque’ was bestowed to him in view of his outstanding participation in assisting victims of Yemen’s 1994 civil war. The King of Spain offered him a ‘Medal of Honor’ as Honorary Consul of the Kingdome of Spain in Yemen and granted to AlShaibani the ‘Pioneers of Tourism Business Plaque’.
The first Yemeni business man to participate at the World Economic Forum, Mr. AlShaibani is the Vice Chairman of the Tourism Promotion Board, previous Chairman of the Yemeni Hotels Union and an active member of the International Federation of Automobiles, among other things.
In 2011, a hotel under his management, Al Hawta hotel, was the recipient of the ‘Excellence Award’ by the President of Yemen. The financial sum accompanying the award was largely invested in developing Seyoun village, where the hotel was established, and as a reward to the employees.
The Universal Group was founded in 1983 as a single ticket shop. It now comprehends an integrated service group of 12 companies which employs over 800 employees and ranges from tourism, travel and hotel services to car rental, express couriers and security guards companies.
AlShaibani, a self-described optimist believes that “It may be true that the investment climate is not optimal and inviting, but it’s up to us to be resourceful and creative and make it inviting.”