In less than five months, coronavirus has turned our lives upside down, introducing a new era of mandatory face masks, working from home, and economic hardship for many. While many businesses have been unable to cope with this new reality, the pandemic has also created new markets for our pressing needs that call, in part, for a return to local industries and businesses.
In the UAE, government entities and businesses have taken this as an opportunity to meet local demand and keep the economy afloat. On Saturday, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai, revealed to the public the first Emirati-made ventilator, at a time when these live-saving machines are in short supply worldwide.
The endeavour is part of the UAE’s drive towards self-sufficiency and innovation in the medical field. Mubadala Investment Company, Abu Dhabi’s strategic investment arm, has joined forces with Honeywell to produce N95 face masks in the first factory of its kind in the Gulf, based in Al Ain.
The facility is expected to produce more than 30 million masks per year, allowing the country to meet its own protective equipment needs and, eventually, to export additional masks. These initiatives are part of a new healthcare boom that has arrived in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
As governments and companies focus their efforts on healthcare and allot more funds to the medical sector, coronavirus has also changed the way the world does business in other essential fields. Companies must now rely on shorter supply chains that do not span the globe. Expanding locally or regionally is now relatively preferable.
Encouraging more businesses to follow this path will be the key to safeguarding the local economy and creating new opportunities despite the pandemic’s economic downturn. Abu Dhabi's Department of Economic Development is now implementing initiatives to encourage small and medium-sized companies as well as government entities to choose local products over imported goods, in the healthcare sector and beyond. SMEs employ more than 86 per cent of the UAE's private sector workers, according to the Ministry of Economy. Supporting them is crucial for our local economy to thrive.
Going local is not only better for our economy, it is also more eco-friendly as it cuts down on transport-related pollution. It is also a means of improving the country’s self-reliance in multiple sectors, including but not restricted to healthcare. In addition to promoting local SMEs and healthcare businesses, there is considerable public investment in local agriculture. A number of farms already exist that grow tomatoes, potatoes and leafy greens in the Abu Dhabi desert, a once unimaginable feat of technology.
Abu Dhabi Investment Office has invested $100 million (Dh367m) to attract agriculture technology companies to build upon the country’s budding agriculture sector and meet the new needs of its people for local foodstuff.
At a time when uncertainty pervades our daily lives, promoting initiatives that can help countries become more self-reliant, and more food- and healthcare-secure, is key to overcoming the challenges of the ongoing pandemic. And the good news is that everyone can take part in this effort. Small gestures such as buying local produce or ordering online from your favourite restaurant or business can truly make a difference.