We follow the driver out of the lobby of the Emirates Palace hotel. It is early morning but the heat hits us immediately. In front of the hotel, limousines are waiting to pick up guests and dispatch them to their appointments in Abu Dhabi or Dubai. The driver leads us to a powerful-looking four-wheel drive.
“Strange,” I say to Maarten, “the Etisalat offices are just a few miles from here. Why would we need an SUV?” We leave the hotel’s landscaped gardens and turn east. The car picks up speed on the wide boulevard and the city is soon behind us.
We are going to meet Essa Alhaddad, the Chief Commercial Officer of Etisalat Group, a telecom and internet provider serving over 170 million customers across the Middle East, Africa and Asia. “You said we were meeting him in downtown Abu Dhabi,” Maarten says to me. “I assumed we were,” I say, watching the passing landscape turn from urban to desert.
I am just about to ask the driver if he has understood Essa’s directions correctly when we slow down and turn onto a sandy track. Two kilometres further, the driver shifts into four-wheel drive. The motor roars and a cloud of sand shoots into the air behind us. We climb a steep dune and see another jeep waiting for us at the top.
As we get out of the car, a man dressed in a white kandoora comes towards us. “Welcome, I’m Essa,” he greets us. “I arranged for you to come here because I wanted the right setting to share my story.” He walks round to the front of our car. “We connect and empower people to achieve what they aspire to in life,” he says. “In urban areas, our advanced infrastructure makes reliable mobile coverage and fast internet connections easy.” He points to Abu Dhabi’s skyline, which is just visible on the horizon, then nods towards the desert behind us. “In remote areas like this, that’s much harder. Harder but not impossible.”
He puts an iPad on the bonnet of the car. “In parts of Nigeria, where people can’t access essential services such as banking, our mobile services allow them to manage their finances without ever having to go into a bank.” He picks up the iPad and shows us some of Etisalat’s latest mobile innovations. “One of the services I’m proudest of is Mobile Baby,” he says. “It’s a perfect example of our purpose to ‘connect the unconnected’. Hundreds of thousands of pregnant women die each year because they can’t access proper medical care. Through Mobile Baby, we connect women and hospitals.”
“Wow,” I say, “Etisalat has really created a higher purpose for mobile services and given new meaning to the word ‘connecting’.” “Absolutely,” says Essa. “In our business, the right connections are everything.”
© 2012 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands
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