Leading people has always required a great deal of resilience. In 2019, a major British recruiter asked 1,200 people which professions they least trusted. Almost 80 per cent put politicians. Even where confidence is high – in the UAE, for example, 87 per cent trust in the government, compared with the UK, where only 29 per cent have faith in their administrators, according to the 22nd Edelman Trust Barometer – responsibilities on governments are becoming increasingly complex and demanding.
The World Government Summit (WGS), which is currently being held in Dubai, tries to equip leaders, government officials and experts with the knowledge to navigate the future by "exploring the agenda of the next generation of governments and focusing on harnessing innovation and technology to solve universal challenges facing humanity", according to its website.
The event's itinerary gives a sense of the many complicated things countries now need to keep in mind when preparing for the future. Almost 1,000 sessions and workshops will take place this week, with more than 640 speakers. This year's has seen an emphasis on post-pandemic recovery, the climate crisis and tech. A particularly timely one has been the need to increase the number of women in leadership positions. Ohoud Al Roumi, Minister of State for Government Development and Future, has said doing so will “help build resilient societies”. Another major one for the Middle East is promoting regional stability. At the summit, Dr Anwar Gargash, diplomatic adviser to the UAE President, said the Emirates was "reaching out to friends and also adversaries to build bridges”.
Delegates should lend their ears to as many of these conversations as possible. Over the years the WGS has developed a record for being an early platform to discuss theoretical issues that have eventually become real-world problems. In 2018, a year before the first cases of Covid-19 were detected in China, World Health Organisation Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus made the case that the world was unprepared for a global pandemic. Undoubtedly, a number of the challenges being debated today will manifest in the future.
In the face of these increasingly complex developments, countries, some far more than others, are breaking from governmental traditions in a bid to manage change effectively. Last year, El Salvador became the first country to adopt Bitcoin as a legal tender, a risky move with such a volatile currency, but one that the government hopes will make financial services more accessible for citizens. The UAE has in recent years created new ministerial posts in an attempt to better equip government to deal with the future. These include ministers for artificial intelligence, tolerance and even happiness. The WGS is an important moment to start formulating such future innovations in government.
Nonetheless, no politician or leader can be fully prepared for what is to come, but driving flexible government, the principle at the heart of the WGS, is key to managing the years ahead as best as possible. The UAE wants to be a centre for this conversation. On Monday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, said the Emirates "will continue to support all forward-looking initiatives that aim to create a brighter future for our planet”. This mission will have no conclusion and there will always be new hurdles on the horizon. But if the world can overcome the difficulties of the past few years more sensitive to the needs of people and the planet, it will stand in good stead. None of this is guaranteed, but for those willing to take on the task, the WGS is a good place to get inspiration.