For Associations, Opportunity Knocks in Dubai

The commercial center of the United Arab Emirates has a new legal framework that's friendlier to nonprofits, creating opportunities for association expansion in the Gulf region.

For associations looking to expand globally, a new door has opened in the Middle East.

The city is very well positioned in terms of its connectivity, in terms of its infrastructure, and in terms of the exposure that it can provide to businesses.

In a recent change to the laws governing foreign businesses operating in Dubai, the government of the Persian Gulf emirate has made it easier for associations to establish a business presence there. The new rules allow associations to be classified as nonprofits and remove barriers to nonprofit operations in Dubai.

Previously, associations located in Dubai were treated as any other business, required either to agree to 51 percent local ownership or to operate in a “free zone” that allowed independent ownership but categorized the organization as a for-profit corporation.

Under a decree issued in November 2012, associations in Dubai may be categorized as nonprofits and are no longer subject to the local ownership requirement as long as they operate out of the new Dubai Association Center (DAC), located at the Dubai World Trade Center.

Associations licensed to operate in the emirate by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry will will get assistance from the DAC to set up office space, obtain visas for staff, establish local bank accounts, and carry out other operational tasks.

“It’s not only about licensing. It’s about support, about providing the right infrastructure, the right platform for [associations] to benefit from their presence in Dubai and in the region,” said Hassan Al Hashemi, vice president for international relations at the Dubai Chamber, speaking with Associations Now at the ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition in Atlanta Sunday.

“The city is very well positioned in terms of it’s connectivity, in terms of  its infrastructure, and in terms of the exposure that it can provide to businesses” in the Gulf region and North Africa, Al Hashemi said.

“One of the advantages [of the DAC] will be that associations will be located in the center [together], so they can start sharing best practices. It’s creating a whole environment for them to be in,” said Ajay Bhojwani, deputy managing director for MCI Middle East.

More than 140,000 companies are currently located in Dubai, including roughly half of the Fortune 500, creating a need for associations in a wide variety of industries operating in the region, said Peter Turner, MCI senior advisor for global development strategy.

“In healthcare, for example, they’re building hospitals, they need accreditation for facilities, they need certified professionals, they need to attract workers,” said Turner. “Associations have an opportunity in emerging markets to provide 21st-century world-class knowledge and education around the products and services they offer.”

“There is clearly a market shift,” said Al Hashemi. “More and more you see the Middle East and Africa as becoming more relevant. A lot of things are happening in these emerging markets that provide opportunities for associations to be on the frontier in entering and providing their services for these markets.”


(photo by

Julie Shoop

By Julie Shoop

Julie Shoop is the Editor-in-Chief of Associations Now. MORE

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