Can cities in the UAE become innovation labs? Mohammed and Peyman Al Awadhi offer their thoughts on the subject shortly after moderating a panel during the Clinton Global Initiative last week.
What is your take on the UAE as an innovation centre?
Mohammed: Given that there are 150 nationalities living in the UAE, the country has a huge potential to be a hub for innovation in entrepreneurship, in culture, in everything really. Having said that, it's also really young. It's not as established as a New York, a London or a lot of the other countries around the world.
Peyman: Dubai is positioned very well for that to happen. There's obviously a very large percentage of the population that is very young and very well educated, and while obviously the Government provides a lot of opportunities for jobs within the Government, there's also a bigger need for people to get into the other side of the industry – which is entrepreneurship. The Government has a lot of initiatives to support entrepreneurship in Dubai, and that is why you'll see a lot of infrastructure, a lot of entities. There's a lot of money to support entrepreneurs and innovation generally.
How do you take it from that level, whether it’s corporate America or corporate UAE, and get to the social good level?
Peyman: During Ramadan, there are organisations that mobilise and put together care packages for low-income construction workers just to show they're being thought of and cared for. Don't forget as a country we're quite new. There are a lot of other – I wouldn't say priorities above that – but at this stage of development of the country, the infrastructure, things like education, all of that is taking up a large portion of the budget in the UAE. But what's happening is recently there's been a heavy move toward social good entities, whether they're government or private and supported by these government entities.
What’s great is there’s an encouragement from the government to get more UAE nationals involved, because seven to 10 years ago that work was predominantly done by people who were doing it in their home countries, they moved to the UAE and they’re sort of continuing that in the UAE. Now you’ll see that a lot of social initiatives are being done by UAE nationals.
Peyman: There's an entity called ThinkUp, and they'll regularly gather Emiratis and do social initiatives – like we have the National Day celebrations on December 2, and usually everybody is in the streets. ThinkUp GCC, the next morning, got lots of UAE nationals and helped the city of Dubai clean up the city. We also have an Emirati national who used to work for the government entity in Dubai and has left that job and is now helping refugees in Zaatari camp in Jordan.
How is that movement going to accelerate?
Mohammed: We make up 15 per cent of the population, and of that 15 per cent what percentage of the population are adults? And what percentage are the entrepreneurial, social good type? We're talking about a fraction of society.
The social good movement is in its infancy, but what I’m seeing happening is that because of the internet and social connectivity, people from Dubai are reaching out to people across the world and they’re collaborating. So the impact of that is not necessarily seen in Dubai or the UAE – it can be seen anywhere in the world. Over the next five or 10 years we’re going to see even more such collaborations, and it’s driven by this social connectivity.
Peyman: The Ruler of Dubai just this Ramadan announced the Suqia [Water Aid] campaign, which is similar to what the guys at Water.org are doing on a smaller scale at this point but something that we want to grow. His initiative raised Dh180 million that went towards providing clean water for five million people. The target was five million people but they overshot that just in one month of Ramadan. You had private money coming in, you had government money coming in, you had individual money coming in – it was great. I see this [sector] growing heavily.
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