Dubai: The City Fueled by Filipino Talent

Author James Michael Lafferty flanked by the kabayans of Fine Hygienic Holding in its Dubai offices.

After nearly 12 years living in the Philippines and truly calling it “home,” one of the most difficult decisions in my life was leaving (if only temporarily) to move to Dubai. But, like so many, one has a family to provide for, and hence must seize the right opportunities when they come along!

The good news is Dubai is a city that is infused by Filipino culture at every turn, and in fact, is fueled by Filipino talent. It can be argued Dubai would struggle to function without Filipino talent supporting the city in every conceivable way; and that Filipinos have played a crucial role in facilitating this city’s rise into the ranks of “supercities.”

The population of Dubai sits at almost exactly three million people. Local Emiratis make up a mere 20 percent of the country’s total population. The rest are a blend of nationalities, making Dubai truly an international city in every sense of the word.

There are an estimated 450,000 Filipinos living in Dubai, with another 150,000 making a daily commute into Dubai from neighboring emirates — such as Sharjah — where rents are more affordable.

This means Filipinos alone constitute in the range of almost 20 percent of the total population! Everywhere one goes, a touch of the Philippines is around you! From hearing Tagalog on the streets, to seeing a Jollibee or Chow King in a mall, there is an unmistakable Filipino presence everywhere you go.

Based on the figures, Dubai is one of the largest Filipino cities in the world! Filipinos are such a force they create an economy all by themselves. There are specialty stores catering to Filipino products, including a fake SM store! Even major international retailers such as Carrefour have a special “Filipino” section loaded with Filipino delicacies. There is the Filipino Times newspaper and importers of specialty products such as Goldilocks.

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The “SM” store in central Dubai

Filipino talents permeate every level of the Dubai economy, contributing in a breadth that few other nationalities can boast. When I walked into my new company, Fine Hygienic Holding, the leading consumer paper manufacturer in the region, I met a thriving group of kabayans who are delivering outstanding results in every sector of the company: human resources, sales, marketing, and finance, just to name a few.

It was no surprise to discover that our “star” in-store sales representative is a dynamic and charismatic Filipina from Batanes named Mona. A veteran who has lived and worked in Dubai for over a decade, Mona is an exceptional salesperson who consistently delivers best-in-class results. I often go and observe her in action and just marvel at her sales prowess. A few weeks ago, a group of us observed Mona in action, and our visiting general manager from another country asked, “Can I take Mona back with me to my country?” She’s that good and dedicated!

Dubai is indisputably one of the leading cities in the world today — dynamic, forward-thinking, thriving. It’s a future-focused city that many large metropolitan areas can learn from. Dubai is, in simple terms, a winning city in today’s world, attracting people from every continent to come work and live there. The winning way of Dubai has Filipino fingerprints all over it.

And this is no surprise at all to anyone who knows the greatness of the Philippines.