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Australian Arab Business Forum

The 2015 Australian Arab Business Forum concluded on the 22 May 2015, but in case you missed it, you can access the whole session digitally, click here to find out more.

Convened by the Australian Businesswomen’s Forum, the 2015 Australian Arab Business Forum (AABF) took place in Sydney from 21-22 May, 2015.

The program began with the Forum Dinner on the evening of Thursday 21 May, which enabled guests to network and get to know each other against the backdrop of the exquisite Elizabeth Room at the Sir Stamford at Circular Quay. Ms Cynthia Dearin, AABF Convenor and Managing Director of Dearin & Associates emceed the evening.

The Hon Stuart Ayres MP, NSW Minister for Trade, Tourism and Major Events, and Minister for Sport opened the proceedings by welcoming guests to Sydney, and discussed the complementarities between Middle Eastern economies and the state of New South Wales – the largest Arabic speaking state in Australia.

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His Excellency Eng Usamah Al Kurdi, President, Alagat Company and Vice Chairman, International Chamber of Commerce from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia then delivered the keynote presentation, where he spoke about the benefits of the economic reforms in his country to Australian businesses.

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Mr Marc Innes-Brown, First Assistant Secretary Middle East and Africa Division, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Board Member, Council for Australian-Arab Relations (CAAR) offered a vote of thanks to the speakers, and outlined CAAR’s work in enhancing Australian-Arab relations.

ABF is very grateful for the support of CAAR, whose contribution enabled us to deliver a successful conference and connect Australian businesses with prominent businesspeople from the Middle East.

The Forum then opened on the morning of Friday 22 May in the Cullen Room, Holme Building at the University of Sydney.

Ms Jaqui Lane, Master of Ceremonies, AABF Convenor and Principal of Global Stories welcomed guests to the third forum of its kind, and introduced the federal government representative, Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti Wells, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Social Services.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells opened the Forum by outlining the benefits of the friendly, substantive and growing Australian-Arab business relationship, and pointing out that the Australian government is open to business with the Arab world.

Attending dignitaries included His Excellency Mr Nabil Al Saleh, Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, His Excellency Mr Izzat Abdulhadi, Head of the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia and New Zealand, Dr Abdulkader Al Kurdi, First Secretary from the Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia, and Miss Enas El Ganzoury, representing the Consul-General of the Arab Republic of Egypt.


After morning tea, Mr Peter O’Byrne, Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Business and Economics at Macquarie University and former Chief Executive Officer of Austrade opened the second session, entitled “Why take your business to the Middle East?”

Ms Marisa Mastroianni, Group CEO, UOW Enterprises shared the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) experience in the Middle East since opening a campus in Dubai in 1993. She spoke about UOW Enterprises’ 22-year history in the Middle East, from opening up with just eight students to having over 4000 students from over 100 different nationalities enrolled in 2014.

Mr Bruce Armstrong, CEO Aspen Medical shared Aspen Medical’s journey in the Middle East, providing healthcare solutions to the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) government through establishing their first national ambulance service.

Ms Melinda Richards, CEO Super Sprout spoke about trading with the Middle East from a food and beverage industry perspective, establishing Super Sprout in Dubai and expanding its export base there. Melinda talked about how small start-ups can become viable players in the UAE, which creates opportunities for young, bold businesses from overseas.


During the lunch break, Ms Reem Abboushi, Executive Director of the Palestinian Businesswomen’s Association (Asala) addressed delegates via video presentation. Ms Abboushi spoke about Asala’s work in supporting Palestinian women entrepreneurs through micro loans that enable them to become economically empowered and independent.

Lunch proceedings then continued with the launch of Camels, Sheikhs and Billionaires: Your Guide to Business Culture in the Middle East and North Africa by Cynthia Dearin, AABF Convenor and Managing Director of Dearin & Associates. His Excellency Eng Usamah Al Kurdi launched the book and emphasised the need for greater understanding between Australian and Arab cultures.

After lunch, the third session, “Where to take your business in the Middle East” began, moderated by Mr Matthew Hingerty, CEO and Managing Director of Barton Deakin Government Relations.

His Excellency Eng Usamah Al Kurdi opened the session with a presentation on Saudi Arabia as a destination for Australian businesses, noting the country’s many economic reforms which have made it a more accessible market for overseas players.

Ms Helen Zimmerman, Group General Manager – Government and Stakeholder Relations from Navitas discussed the Middle East as a destination for education companies, with reference to Navitas’ operations in Oman and the United Arab Emirates. She talked about the recent changes in the economic and education sectors.

Mr Tom McKeon, Chief Executive Officer of Hassad Australia then provided an agricultural perspective on the MENA region, discussing the complementarity of Australia’s agribusiness sector with Middle Eastern economies’ food security needs.

Professor Kathryn Refshauge, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences and Professor of Physiotherapy at the University of Sydney outlined how the university operates in the Middle East and why it is a huge priority for the Faculty of Health Sciences. She also discussed how the university’s journey to Saudi Arabia began.

During session three, a separate break-out session on opportunities in Iran’s dynamic education sector was delivered by Mr William Jenkins, Educational Developer at the Australian National University (ANU). Mr Jenkins pointed out that Iran already has established industries, and that opportunities exist for Australian companies with complementary products or services to update Iran’s capabilities, especially in the education sector.

Lastly, the afternoon session on “How to take your business to the Middle East” featured a panel of speakers with expert knowledge on the entry strategies that Australian business can take to expand to the Middle East region.

Ms Cynthia Dearin, ABF Convenor and Managing Director of Dearin & Associates outlined the need for companies to take a structured and well-researched approach to expanding in the Middle East.

Mr Michael Lee, Chief Executive Office of GMS Focus Pty Ltd explained his experience growing Zip Industries to the Middle East.

Mr Angus Raine, Chief Executive Officer of Australian real estate franchise Raine & Horne provided fresh insight into the process of setting up the United Arab Emirates, having just recently launched his company’s first subsidiary there during a trade mission to the region with the Hon Andrew Robb AO, MP.

Mr David Jardine, Partner at Ashurst explained how the company entered the Middle East as part of their global expansion plans, and drew on some of his personal experience living and working in the region.

Mr Gary Watts, Partner and Head of Corporate Commercial at Al Tamimi & Co from the United Arab Emirates also provided insight into the regulatory considerations for business looking to establish themselves there, having lived in the region for almost ten years.


We would like to thank everyone for attending the 2015 Australian Arab Business Forum, as well as all the organisers and sponsors for their valued input.

If you missed or could not attend the event, you now have the option to purchase lifetime access to all the sessions’ recordings by following this link.

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