Why The United Arab Emirates Is In The Perfect Position To Take On Global Challenges
“The delicate state of the world we live in affects every single one of us, but the choices we make about consumption can change this. Embed social and environmental values in your organization. “
These are the words of Sheikha Shamma bint Sultan bin Khalifa Al Nahyan, The UAE’s Chief Executive Officer, Alliances for Global Sustainability, at the recent opening of the pitch event for the Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity. In partnership with more than 30 other organizations (including MIT Solve and Cambridge University), the initiative set out to unite the world’s leading manufacturers, startups and entrepreneurs, governments, UN agencies and philanthropists, academia and researchers, to form a community dedicated to spreading global prosperity.
Starting With Black Gold
The UAE had initially built its wealth from Black Gold. However, at a very early stage, its leadership had recognized that to build a sustainable future, the country had to diversify and move away from oil and gas. Therefore UAE invested heavily in building a strong manufacturing base, allowing it to become an essential contributor in many GVCs such as aerospace, mining, defense, etc.
This may well be why the UAE decided to be the first backers of the Global Manufacturing and Industrialization Summit (in partnership with UNIDO) — establishing the UAE as a manufacturing hub could ensure long term economic growth especially should the global demand for oil drop even further. This drop might happen sooner than anticipated, with the exponential development taking place in alternative and renewable energy sources. Establishing the region as specialists in the manufacturing sector helps hedge their bets.
According to Badr Al-Olama, Head of the Organizing Committee for the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit (GMIS) and also Board Member at the UAE Space Agency, these ambitions are now coming together to shape a path forward, “In 2006 Abu Dhabi started the Masdar City project that relies entirely on solar and renewable energy resources. Today the former CEO of Masdar heads the UAE’s Oil Company — a sign that we are committed to making this a cleaner, more environmentally friendly business.”
With a large percentage of the Arab world being under the age of 30, it’s crucial for the UAE and other Gulf countries to focus on being future facing. The focus on giving back has been something that has been part of the culture ever since the days of Sheikh Zayed, who is seen as the father of the nation and as the interest in Space exploration demonstrates they are not planning on changing their future facing ways any time soon.
The second quality that the UAE has going for it is that it is very pro-open-innovation. It actively invites innovators from around the world to help them continuously improve. According to Sandeep Pahuja, director at design & innovation company Ideo, this is the right way to approach innovation challenges.
Co-creation is a significant driver of success when it comes to innovation. And this is not a new concept in the UAE which has actively opened up their government and created entire departments to drive data-driven and open innovation. The government also enters into dialogue with the leading innovators around the world to ensure they incorporate real world-class thinking and solutions that address real-world problems..
Families Can Help Move This Forward.
While governments might be on board with tackling these challenges head-on, they cannot do it alone and ensure long-term results. Business & families would do well to help lessen the load by getting involved.
GMIS organizing committee head, Badr Al-Olama paints a clear picture of the opportunity, “Most families here used to be traders, and that mentality of just buying and selling goods can be prohibitive to the development of the economy in the long term. I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for these family offices to take that trader mentality and start betting or hedging more on future innovation that has the potential to be disruptive.”
Even though the UAE government is very progressive, they cannot operate on every level and rely on a healthy business ecosystem.
The role of government should not be so focused on startups from an investment perspective, as much as family offices should. This way family offices can diversify away from traditional trading.” continues Al Olama.
Families need to work harder to attract the top talent, partners and investment opportunities. Initiatives like the Global Prosperity Initiativemake it easier for families to identify and get involved with the funding of solutions that have already been vetted for their potential to have a real impact.
Having categorized the challenges, Sustainable Energy, Digital Divide And Digital Literacy, Rural Transformation And Zero Hunger and Sustainable Cities, the initiative had over 1000 startups rising to the challenge. Apart from the ones shortlisted as potential winners of the official grants, there are plenty of global startups that are making a real impact that families could get involved in.
Global challenges should be looking for a global solution that may require collaboration between private individuals, businesses and governments.