With a number of Covid-19 vaccines about to be rolled out across the globe, people are increasingly anticipating a return to normal. It is worth pausing a moment to ask; after the pandemic’s huge disruption, what will normal look like?
There will be, among some, a temptation to only hark back to the past we miss. This would be misinformed. A quick scan of the news illustrates this. Last week, for instance, the once unstoppable retail company Arcadia Group, owned by British businessman Philip Green, announced it was going into administration.
The business was built on big department stores. For many years, the difficulty of keeping such shops alive in an age of online retail has been trundling along in the UK. But within a few months, the pandemic tore through the sector, leaving much of it bankrupt.
Knowing this, it can be hard to be optimistic about the future. Around the world governments have braced their citizens for tax rises and spending cuts in the years ahead.
And while technology has been central to keeping the world on track in the pandemic, it is important to remember that technological change - to be most beneficial - must be managed ethically and equitably.
However, a theory among economists argues that crises drive the development of economies, rather than stunting them.
The UAE, while acknowledging the unavoidable difficulties of the current scenario, is showing signs of viewing the pandemic as a chance to grow. This takes courage and foresight, because pursuing opportunities in a time of economic flux has risks. However, if underpinned by good strategy, the rewards can be worth those risks.
A good example are the decisions made by Mubadala Investment Company during the pandemic. It describes itself as "a global investment company with a mandate to create sustainable financial returns for Abu Dhabi" and this year it has channeled $11 billion into sectors it forecasts will benefit from this time of upheaval. Areas include vaccine manufacturing and transport technology.
On top of this, Abu Dhabi National Oil Company has announced that over the next five years it will inject Dh160bn into the local economy. This will aim to boost private sector employment for Emiratis. In the summer, ADNOC also secured $10 billion foreign direct investment. At a time when the country has also discovered unconventional oil resources estimated at 22 billion barrels, it is clear that the energy sector will also boost a swift recovery.
More broadly, UAE Cabinet appointments earlier this year also point to this emphasis on future-focused policy. New posts have been created, such as Minister for Industry and Advanced Technology, as well as one for Digital Economy, Artificial Intelligence and Applications for Remote Work.
On Saturday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, pledged that the UAE will have the fastest recovery of any nation.
He also referenced Gitex, this week’s technology exhibition being held in Dubai, as a critical moment in reconfiguring the country’s business environment. The event comes at an opportune moment and will give visitors a glimpse of the future-focused industries that will offer a safety net in the years to come.
But comprehensive recovery requires a revival of the global economy, a fact that the UAE has not overlooked.
While the country has set a unique pace for itself, hosting events such as Gitex, involving 1,200 companies from 60 nations, next year's International Defence Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi and Expo 2020 Dubai, which will have more than 190 countries represented, means also including the rest of the world in its domestic ambition.
By putting tech at the centre of its vision for the future, the UAE will be able to foster and responsibly integrate this ever changing field into the post-pandemic lives of its citizens.
This will not deny the world the normality is desperately seeks. It will augment it.