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Research underpins all that we do at Cambridge Judge Business School. The Middle East Research Centre was set up to develop research and case studies based on business challenges in the region designed to address the practical needs of local business leaders and policy makers. A current lack of region-based research means that teaching and learning alike rely on US, UK and European examples of business practice, which often have little relevance to those working and operating in the Middle East. The Research Centre has already generated six different case studies by CJBS faculty and associates with further cases and research articles in the pipeline. Some of these cases are already being used in teaching our executive education programmes for different Middle Eastern-based organisations.

Global Gumbo Group: strategy for growth?

Becky Schutt and Kamal Munir

The G3 Case Study is exploring the key drivers and challenges for economic growth in the cultural sector in the Middle East, and in turn, how the creative industries contribute to the Middle East's imperative for economic diversification. These questions are being considered through the lens of G3 (Global Gumbo Group), a Dubai and Los Angeles- based multi-media aggregator, founded by CJBS alumnus and Emirati social entrepreneur, Badr Jafar and legendary music producer, Quincy Jones.

The company is today led by Executive Director Wissam Khodur, who is launching a series of initiatives and productions that in his words, "will change the future of the music industry and live entertainment in the Middle East and North African region". Working across all entertainment platforms (music, film, television, publishing and digital), the company was established in 2013. The case study considers the motivations for establishing G3, its competitive positioning and its options for growth and will be taught by Becky Schutt and Jeremy Newton on the MBA programme in the Special Topics in Cultural Arts and Media in the 2015 Easter term.

The Eden ecosystem: rebuilding Libya in a global knowledge economy

Alice MacNeil & Michael Barrett

This case demonstrates key challenges and opportunities faced by Libya and other countries with large reserves of natural resources to diversify through the development of new high tech ecosystems so as to secure a future in the global knowledge economy. A focal issue concerns the appropriate leadership strategies needed to overcome the challenges of building a high tech innovation ecosystem in transitioning to knowledge based economies.

A number of factors are discussed including political barriers, human resource development, infrastructure requirements, resource constraints and market development. We explore how key actors attempt to achieve this by creating new networks (both domestic and international) and establishing knowledge strategies so that actors can create and capture value in the ecosystem.

Risk and remedial management challenges in Islamic banks

Marwa Hammam

The case explores the risk and remedial management challenges facing credit risk officers within Islamic banking institutions. This is assessed within the context of a two tiered Istisna'a (procurement) and Ijara (Leasing) transaction, shedding light on the specific Shariah stipulations underpinning these type of transactions. The case also explores wider issues impacting Islamic banks including: risk managers' outlook on risk factors from a Shariah angle (as opposed to the 'conventional' banking mind-set), corporate relationship implications within remedial / work out situations and issues relating to the restructuring transactions in the context of over-arching Shariah compliance requirements.

Key learning outcomes
  • Explain the significance of non-performing loans to Islamic banks and the contrast with conventional banks. 
  • Describe the strategies applied by Islamic banks to minimize the effects of non-performing loans
  • Identify the extra risks for Islamic banks of applying risk sharing principles and the challenges posed by the over-arching Sharia principles.

Partners in crime: code violation and preservation between category insiders and outsiders

Kamal Munir and Lionel Paolella

How do insiders respond to the threat of change from outsiders of their category? Whereas many scholars have looked at exit options, we focus on members who stay in their category. In particular, we study the dynamics of code preservation and code violation changes amongst insiders and outsiders within a single category. Whereas code violation seeks to challenge status quo norms in the category, code preservation seeks to defend it. When insiders respond to code violation by outsiders, there exists a trade-off between authenticity segregation and competitive threat.

Authenticity segregation refrains insiders from participating in outsider code violation, discounting the efforts as impure. On the other hand, competitive threat motivates insiders to participate in code violation. Thus, the probability of insiders to pursue code-violating changes exhibits a u-shaped relationship to the pervasiveness of code-violation amongst outsiders. This relationship is moderated by outsider code preservation. At low rates of outsider code preservation, the u-shape relationship remains. At high rates of outsider code preservation, the relationship changes to become positive curvilinear. We find outsider code preservation efforts to increase competitive threat and reduce authenticity segregation between insiders and outsiders. We use data from 152 Islamic banks worldwide from year 1999 to 2014.

Qatar Airlines flight taking off

Doha International Airport: a master of operations

Andy Neely and Jane Davies

Doha International Airport was the commercial airport for Qatar until May 2014 when it was replaced by the Hamad International Airport. During the preceding years it saw passenger numbers, cargo and aircraft movements increase significantly, yet in despite of this demand and pressure on capacity, it has been recognised as one of the leading airports in the Middle East and the World. Airports in general are pertinent examples of the complexity involved in managing operations, and Doha International Airport was an exemplar in managing this complexity.

This case was developed from the observations of the authors travelling frequently through the Doha International Airport, conversations with its operations staff, and information on the capacity and performance of the airport.

There are two primary teaching objectives for this case. The first objective is to provide an introduction to the key concepts of operations management. The second objective is to offer a framework to analyse highly complex operations.

The case enables the instructor to lead the students to identify some of the many hundreds of different operations that occur at the airport, and the differing layers of these operational processes. It also provides a basis for discussing the transformation of the different resources through these operational processes. The case prompts the students to consider the variety of customers that need to be serviced, not only passengers, but airlines, freight and mail carriers, retailers and government agencies, for example. It can also enables the instructor to introduce the operational strategy concepts of operations competitive priorities and internal operational capabilities. Finally the case leads the students to think about measures of quality and what makes a good airport.

The target audience for this case includes students enrolled in an operations management, operations strategy, service operations or operational excellence course at all levels from undergraduate, MBA to executive education. This case has been taught at the University of Cambridge to both executives and MBAs. The accompanying slides provide a basis for teaching the case.

The development of this case was supported by the University of Cambridge Middle East Research Centre.

Abu Dhabi mosque in a business area

Responsibility and reward in Islamic banking

Tiara Letourneau and Khaled Soufani

This case study is designed to be a classroom learning-tool for students of Islamic finance. Based on a real-world example, it is an exercise in management decision-making and ethics in retail banking. The bank in this case is small but growing fast, and one of its most popular products is the murabaha car loan. The country in which the bank operates is also a major destination in the international traffic of stolen automobiles.

Two years into the repayment of a standard murabaha loan the local police confiscated the car, declaring it was property stolen from Europe. The vendor who sold the automobile to the bank had no knowledge that the vehicles were stolen. The case asks students what is the appropriate course of action for the bank to take, and reviews the position of various internal stakeholders, including the branch, compliance department, legal team, and the Shari'a board.

Students will be asked to consider the nature of Islamic banking products versus conventional products. The case will prompt consideration of the risks and rewards associated with the potential outcomes, and give students a chance to reflect on the tension between doing the right thing for clients and for shareholders. It will also review the role of the Shari'a board vis-à-vis management in making key decisions.

Confused in Abu Dhabi: do MBA textbooks actually matter?

Kamal Munir and Maura Lightfoot

This is a short case about human resource practices in an American company operating in the Gulf. It is often the case that Human Resource Management (HRM) is a secondary or even tertiary matter for firms, though this can vary by company, geography, industry, etc. This is often because many managers think of it as an impediment to flexibility and even profitability. It is this notion that this case examines, weighing financial and operational priorities against personnel concerns.

Best practice of Human Resource Management (HRM) dictates that alignment must exist across recruitment, performance management, and training and development. The underlying discussion that this case provokes is whether firms in general and HRM in particular can be successful if this alignment is lacking. In this case, which concerns an oil company headquartered in Houston, but operating in Abu Dhabi, can the 'People Strategy' be insufficiently supported and the company still be successful longer term as it gains more international acclaim?

When does culture become a barrier to change?

Kamal Munir and Maura Lightfoot

This is a lively case, even controversial if interpreted the wrong way. This is because it brings to light several issues that we know exist in many organisations around the globe but we prefer to keep quiet about them, including silence over sexual harassment. The case just happens to be based in Qatar, but it could have been anywhere. Themes include ethics, maintaining competitiveness, cultural differences in the workplace, local versus regional and head office practices, leadership styles and sources of power.

The objective of this case is to encourage students to consider how to handle moral and ethical dilemmas in the workplace and the impact this can have on professional relationships, in this case both external clients and internal employees. While the case has been written primarily for an executive audience in mind, it could also be taught to executive MBA or relatively experienced MBA students grappling with these and related issues. If the instructor thinks it is useful for higher-level undergraduate students (who might be contemplating working in environments where they could face such dilemmas) it could be taught there as well.

Specifically, it concerns a young American college graduate who has started work in Doha, Qatar, as a recruiter for Buildings Unlimited, a construction management firm. With no previous recruiting experience, she encounters processes and organisational relationships that her previous experience hasn't prepared her for. To begin with, she realises that given political sensitivities she cannot hire the best talent. Things get worse when she begins to receive personnel-related concerns including verbal abuse claims, working hours complaints, and a sexual harassment charge against a project manager. Towards the end of the case, she is left unsure as to whether she should discuss these issues with her boss or not.

Women's innovation and growth-oriented entrepreneurship in Egypt

Shima Barakat

This piece of research will focus on one particular case from Egypt to explore the realities of women entrepreneurs in the Middle East, considering their perceptions, drivers and motivations, the entrepreneurial practices they enact, their development and support needs on a growth trajectory, and how they can secure and sustain their position as global leaders. Women entrepreneurs make up less than 25 per cent in the MENA; the lowest rate in the world.

Within the region, around nine per cent of women in the MENA region start businesses, while it is approximately 19 per cent of men. The potential for economic value creation by increasing women's participation is great, yet there is very little understanding about what it takes to achieve global excellence and how to maintain it for women from the MENA region.

Digital innovation and ecosystem leadership in the Qatari construction sector

Michael Barrett

The case aims to highlight the potential of digital innovation in the construction sector, focusing on building information modelling (BIM) and smart connected products in terms of value creation and productivity improvement. It will also examine the challenges of leadership in setting up and orchestrating new business ecosystems to effectively realise this promise of improved productivity and value creation. The context for this case study is Qatar. Qatar is currently undergoing a £200bn building boom, and the nature and size of the ensuing projects has led some stakeholders in Qatar to turn to BIM to facilitate its ambitious building schedule.

This innovative technology bridges communications between the architecture, engineering and construction industries (AEC), holistically integrating all stages of a project together for easier collaboration, as well as enabling better control of the construction process. Another important digital innovation with the potential to facilitate ecosystem leadership in the Qatar construction sector is the use of smart connected products for building Smart Homes. We will explore strategic developments by Ooredoo as a rapidly transforming telecom provider in Qatar in partnership with a large construction firm Alfardan.

In the GCC, does a change in political leadership affect the economy in identifiable ways?

David Reiner and David Tingle

Shifting oil prices and global economic conditions, changes in technology and the rise of unconventional resources have changed the energy landscape for every state in the Middle East and North African (MENA) region. We plan to conduct a comparative analysis on how MENA states have employed new oil and gas revenues.

Substantial variation exists in the re-investment activities MENA states have pursued: Sovereign Wealth Funds (SWF) have increased in size and scope; some states have invested in new plays elsewhere in the world, or in alternative energy and technology, or in improving their upstream extraction and management capabilities. This research compares and analyses the different strategies MENA states have pursued since 2000, and examines the degree to which different pathways are determined by market forces, domestic political dynamics, and leadership strategy.

Ijarah is the answer: the psychological benefits of using Islamic finance

Joe Gladstone and Jaideep Prabhu

The project investigates novel consequences of using Islamic versus Western-styles of financing (e.g. loans / mortgages). Islamic finance prohibits interest payments, instead offering rent-to-buy arrangements. This has a significant cognitive framing effect in that the purchase a consumer makes (e.g. a car) is framed as something they do not own until the loan is paid off in full. We hypothesise this arrangement benefits both the consumer and lender by motivating the consumer to pay down the debt earlier, as people have a psychological preference to own rather than to borrow (e.g. endowment effect).

What is the role of overcoming supplier dependency in driving micro-enterprise performance?

Jaideep Prabhu and Magda Hassan

Microenterprises, i.e. businesses that employ less than five employees, are the most common type of businesses in the world. They are especially common in the developing world, where they make up a large part of the informal economy. Egypt, the Middle East's largest economy, has seen a dramatic recent rise in the percentage of its micro-enterprises, from 33 per cent in 2010 to 48 per cent in 2013 (CAPMAS 2013). 

Most of these micro-entrepreneurs operate at the subsistence level: their businesses are informal and unprofitable, and offer very limited scope for employment. Some micro-entrepreneurs do, however, manage to escape the constraints they face and scale up performance. Understanding what strategies micro-enterprises and micro-entrepreneurs may use to improve the scale and performance of their businesses is likely to have an important, positive impact on Egypt and similar economies in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Achieving diversification through a Smart Nation strategy: lessons from Dubai and Singapore

Michael Barrett

Over the next decade, many countries in the Middle East need to develop diversification strategies, particularly in light of recent low oil prices, and the development of a Smart Nation is increasingly viewed as integral to these efforts. Models developed by countries such as Singapore and Dubai are often looked to by countries in the region to help them develop a localised strategy which is appropriate for their nation.

Earlier e-government efforts at a country level in the Middle East have tended to focus on improvements through efficiency in government services. However, the disruptive nature of recent digital technologies allows a whole new set of value-driven diversification possibilities. This research report will share key insights learned from Dubai and Singapore on the development of a Smart Nation. It will also focus on key strategies by which countries can develop digitally enabled services, and in so doing help them to diversify their economies.

Apply for a MERC research grant

As part of its establishment, the Middle East Research Centre supports research initiatives, especially those likely to contribute to impact publications. The Centre's Research Grants will provide funds to cover one-off expenses such as:

  • Funds to collect, code and analyse data 
  • Funds to conduct field experiment costs
  • Travel money to conduct a series of pilot interviews in preparation for a case study and/or a project.
  • Travel money to disseminate the output of the research conducted under the auspices of MERC in academic conferences, research workshops, etc.

Who is eligible to apply?

All research staff on Cambridge Judge Business School's payroll. People associated with the University will also be considered on a case-by-case basis. PhD students from the University may apply, as long as their supervisor approves and they partner with a member of faculty (this can be arranged by MERC on behalf of the student).

How much is available?

We offer grants of up to £5,000 (and will potentially consider proposals for more on a case by case basis). Please ensure that you put a detailed breakdown in your proposal so the board can review where the money is being spent. If your case is approved the MERC Project Manager will inform you of this. Please note no money can be spent on the case without approval from the board and ethical clearance.

Please note any fees agreed with PhDs, RA or EA need to be sent to the MERC Project Manager before being finalised. All fees will be paid via the University Payroll System. 

How and when do I apply?

Send a completed application form to the MERC Project Manager, Rhiannon Smith, at any time. Grants will be awarded by the Management Board of the Centre at their meeting every two to three months.

Anticipated outputs and deliverables must be clearly specified in the request for funds, along with an estimated timeline.

Download the application form (docx, 135KB)