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Sho'ala caption to come here
Minister enjoys fruits
of life's labours
By Archie D'Cruz
As a young boy, Abdulnabi Al Shoala could be seen at the football field like any other child. But while the other children were out playing, young Abdulnabi was waiting for them to take a break so he could sell them the peanuts he had roasted after school.
It was not an easy life for the young boy, who last his father when he was just nine months old. His was a poor family and the children had to help out in any way they could to make ends meet.
At the age of 10, Abdulnabi began working after school, taking up any employment he could find. One job was in the local produce market; another was as an office boy. During the school holidays, he worked as a labourer with a construction firm.
For extra money, I would even collect stamps from used envelopes and sell them, recalls the man who is now Bahrains Minister for Labour and Social Affairs.
Not that young Abdulnabi neglected his studies. During school breaks, while other students went out to play, he headed for the library. He was a good and fast learner, and was keen on getting a higher education.
However when he finished school in 1965, he had very little by way of savings, and so was forced to take up a job. He worked for three years with a contractor, all the while putting some money aside for further studies.
It was sheer chance that led him to St. Xaviers College in Bombay.
I didnt plan to go to India, says Al Shoala. But when my stepfather needed to visit India for medical treatment, he took me along with him.
The treatment took longer than expected and a restless young Al Shoala began to look at colleges in Bombay.
Admissions were on at the highly respected St. Xaviers College, and he decided that was where he would enrol.
I went to St. Xaviers wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, Al Shoala recalls. There was an enormous queue at the college and I didnt realise that it was the line to apply for admissions.
He strode right up to the counter and asked to meet the principal.
As I was dressed in a suit and was a few years older than the other students, the staff probably thought I had official business with him, said Al Shoala. He was led to the office of the principal, Fr Edward DCruz, who asked him how he could help.
Ive come here for admission, Al Shoala told him. A bemused Fr DCruz asked him if he had seen the line of students outside.
Its 300 metres long and theyve all come here for admission, he told Al Shoala.
But Ive come 3,000 kilometres to join your college, the young Bahraini replied.
The principal was simultaneously taken aback and impressed by the audacity of his answer. Despite some reservations about the standard of Al Shoalas English-which wasnt very good at the time-Fr DCruz handed him an admission form. He was shortly to get another shock. When the form was handed back to him, the principal noticed Al Shoala had put him down as guardian.
Surely you know someone in India, he told him.
I know you just as well as anyone else here, Al Shoala replied.
Fr DCruz took it in good grace, and as time went by, became a true mentor for the young man. Al Shoala continued to keep in touch with him long after finishing college, even inviting his former principal to Bahrain. When Fr DCruz died in 1980, Shoala flew to Goa for the funeral.
Back in college however, Al Shoala had begun to take an interest in politics. He joined several student associations, and was elected President of the Bahrain Students Association and the Arab Students Union. When Bahrain gained Independence, Al Shoala held what he says was the first reception abroad to celebrate the occasion. To cover the cost of the function, he sold roses to other students and invitees.
There was one momentous meeting from his college days that remains indelibly etched on Al Shoalas mind. He attended an international fair in the Indian capital New Delhi which was being opened by then Prime Minister Indira Ghandi.
Al Shoala bodly went up to her and said he wanted to thank her for the opportunity India was giving young Bahrainis to study in the country.
I think we will go back as better ambassadors for your country than anyone you might appoint, he told her.
The prime minister smiled, then invited him to meet her the next day. Al Shoala happily accepted. He would see the prime minister again, with a group of Bahraini students he took with him to Delhi especially to meet her.
Given his interests, it was not surprising that Al Shoala picked Political Science as his Major.
He returned to Bahrain in 1973, after for years in India, and joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as an attaché. But after exactly 11 months and 11 days in the job, Al Shoala resigned. His entrepreneurial streak surfaced and he decided to try his luck at business.
He picked a line that was as challenging as you could possibly find in those days-public relations.
Public relations, of course, is very reliant on having the media to spread your message. And at that time, there were no daily newspapers, no television and no culture of public relations, he said.
Al Shoala had a small office and he was Gulf Public Relations all-in-one staff.
Id wake up at 5, come to the office at 5.30 and proceed to clean the room and prepare a flask of tea, he recalls.
Al Shoala never offered his visitors a choice of beverage-whether they liked it or not, they would have a cup of tea poured from them from his flask. Theyd normally drink it, he said wryly.
Soon Al Shoala turned his attention to other fields. He started translating news and features from Arabic newspapers into English and put them into a weekly newsletter which he got cyclostyled. He initially had 50 subscribers and went personally to deliver the sheets. The newsletter, incidentally, is still published regularly.
Al Shoala continued to build on his success, in time setting up other companies like Gulf Advertising & Marketing, Falcon Publishing and TeleGulf. His core public relations business tied up with an international partner to transform into the well-known Gulf Hill & Knowlton. Within five years he had moved into trading, setting up Gulf Markets International, and would later be drawn into industry with the launch of Bahrain Alloys Manufacturing Company.
Despite his growing business, Al Shoala maintained an interest in a role on the public platform.
In 1982, he decided to stand for election to the board of the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce. Many people thought Al Shoala was making a mistake- he was still in his early thirties and didnt come from an established family.
You dont stand a chance, they told him.
Al Shoala however campaigned on a platform of change. I cant claim experience, age or wealth, he told voters. However it is important to constantly infuse new blood into this Chamber.
He was elected by the highest number of votes ever achieved till then and went on to serve three terms at the Chamber, becoming its second vice-president.
When he finally left the chamber, it was to take up a role in the Shura (Consultative) Council, the advisory body to Bahrains cabinet. Within three years, he was called up to join the cabinet itself, as the countrys new Labour and Social Affairs Minister. The wheel had turned full circle. The man who quit a ministry job to become an entrepreneur had to hand over charge of his business affairs to partners as he returned to government as a minister.
It was the latest in a series of high points in the life Abdulrabi Al Shoala, who despite his modest beginnings reached the pinnacle of both business and private life.
Al Shoala, who was recently made Bahrains Minister of State, said one big regret in life was missing out on a normal childhood, had a word of advice for todays youngsters.
If there is one thing I would like to tell them, it is to believe that nothing is impossible. If you want to achieve something, no obstacle is too great, he said.
Having the support of ones family is important, admits Al Shoala. He recalled how, at the time he quit his job in the foreign ministry, he spoke to his soon-to-be wife Rabab Al Mahroos and asked her to consider if she still wanted to marry him now that he was unemployed.
She took the risk and said yessaid Al Shoala with a smile, adding his wife had been a constant support through all his ups and downs. I would never have been here without her, he said.
Asked for his vision of Bahrain in the 21st century, Al Shoala predicted the country would become a major player in the affairs of the region and would be in the forefront of development.
Use of the new technologies meant time was running out for the large workforce of foreign manual labourers.
Our growth will increasingly rely on our own people. While expatriates will continue to be a part of the workforce, the emphasis will be on quality rather than quantity.
" Abdulnabi Al Sho'ala
" Fahmi bin Ali Al Jowder
" Johnny Young
" Engin Turker
" Farouk Almoayyed
" Karlheinz Aumann
" Mohammed Buzizi
" Mohammed Dadabhai
" Ebrahim Al Dossary
" Haji Hassan
" Faisal Jawad
" Khalid Kanoo
" Saleh Al Kowary
" Iqbal Mamdani
" Akram Miknas
" Abdul Rahman Morshed
" Khamis Al Muqla
" Mustafa Al Sayed
" Jamil Wafa
" Khalid Al Zayani
Archie DCruz, a seasoned editor, writer and designer, runs his own publishing and design firm A Type Of Magic in Toronto, Canada. He has edited several newspapers, books and magazines, including Middle East Expatriate and all seven of the Visitors Complete Guide book series.
As a designer, he has been involved with several major advertising campaigns, including those for Mirage Speakers, Zenith Electronics, Samsung and Mail Boxes Etc.
A self-confessed workaholic, his two passions when he can be dragged away from his beloved Macintosh are reading and travel, which prove rather useful when it comes to handling a project like this guide.