In 1851, approximately six million people visited The Great Exhibition in the UK – an international expo that demonstrated the country’s cultural and industrial heritage and wealth.
The first event of its kind, The Great Exhibition highlighted the success of Britain’s industrial revolution and proved to be a transformational force that helped shape British art, design, education, international trade and tourism. It was hugely beneficial for the UK, the wider region, and the world, sparking innovation, creativity and even competition.
With the UAE set to host Expo 2020 in the year of its golden jubilee, the country is embracing a similarly unique opportunity to demonstrate its growth over the last 50 years, and show how the nation is harnessing the Fourth Industrial Revolution to propel itself towards the next 50 and beyond. And there is no question that the country’s growth journey over the last 50 years has been an exponential one.
The UAE’s impressive growth trajectory can largely be attributed to its modus operandi. Just as Salim Ismail has written about ‘Exponential Organisations’ that have succeeded in accelerating their growth at exponential rates, so too has it been possible for countries to accelerate their growth through clear strategies, massive transformational programmes and ambitious development plans that maximise their resources and put them ahead of other nations.
The UAE, known for its visionary and enabling leadership, has already become an ‘Exponential Country’, with a bold ambition in its Centennial Plan to be the best country in the World by 2071.
From developing a smart government infrastructure that allows the public sector to be agile and responsive, to developing dynamic immigration policies that support the growth of the economy and its communities, the UAE is at the forefront of what it means for a nation to continually seek self-betterment and growth. Furthermore, government accelerator programmes, free zones, golden visa and passport programmes and ecosystems like Area 2071 and Hub 71, are helping drive the economic and social participation of all members of society, regardless of nationality.
The UAE’s success is also driven by its forward-looking approach to design and technology. The UAE has a Minister of the Future, a Minister for Artificial Intelligence and a dedicated Blockchain Strategy. The Mars Hope Probe Mission alone is testament to the country’s ambitions to push boundaries for the benefit for all of humanity, and to not give up in the face of challenges. Expo 2020 Dubai will be a chance to share this story with the almost 200 participating pavilions.
To illustrate the agility and ambition of the country, a personal anecdote comes to mind.
When the UAE first announced it was going to host Expo 2020 in Dubai with the theme ‘Connecting Minds, Connecting the Future’ and the pillars of ‘Mobility, Sustainability and Opportunity’, there was one company that for me personified this: Tesla. The only problem was that Tesla was not yet in the Middle East. So, I travelled to the firm’s HQ in California in 2016 to discuss the benefits of the UAE as a regional partner that is committed to investing in the future and diversifying its economy.
While responses were enthusiastic, a legal restriction on foreign ownership posed a significant challenge. As I fed back this information to the relevant parties, an almost immediate exemption was granted, paving the way for a more permanent, subsequent change in law. It was with enormous pride that we were able to welcome Elon Musk to the UAE exactly one year later where he launched Tesla under the shadow of the Burj Khalifa.
On that same day, Mohammad Al Gergawi, Minister of Cabinet Affairs, spoke with Musk on stage at the 2017 World Government Summit where they discussed the shared ambition for the human race to be a multi-planetary species. This was the moment when Gergawi announced that the ‘UAE Mars 2117’ programme aimed to establish the first inhabitable human settlement on Mars within 100 years.
This story captures the UAE’s ‘Exponential Thinking’ and standing as a country that welcomes the world’s best minds and companies to co-create the future.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, summed up the UAE’s ambitions beautifully with his first message on TikTok: “Every morning, when a gazelle wakes up in Africa, he makes sure he outruns the fastest lion or he will be killed. And every morning when a lion wakes up, he makes sure he outruns the slowest gazelle, or he will starve. In the UAE or in Dubai, I don’t care if you are a lion or a gazelle. When you wake up, you better start running.”
The Emirates looks well set to keep running at speed on its journey of exponential growth.
(This article is part of the “The UAE’s 50” series, featuring stories and journeys of people who call the UAE home. You can share your personal stories in the UAE via www.uaeyearof.ae)
- Tom Hudson is a lawyer by profession who has lived in the UAE for the last 15 years. He advises the world’s leading tech companies and entrepreneurs on how best to unlock all the opportunities that the UAE has to offer.