United Arab Emirates Success Pillars: Open, Innovative

A culture of openness, pluralism, and innovation has transformed the United Arab Emirates into one of the most advanced countries globally in less than five decades after the country was formed encompassing tribal lands  

A culture of openness, pluralism and innovation has transformed the United Arab Emirates into one of the most advanced countries in under five decades

By Sameer Arshad Khatlani

A building with a void atop a green mound stands out in Dubai’s skyline mostly dominated by modern skyscrapers. The 77-meter-high Museum of the Future in the United Arab Emirates financial hub straddling the past and the future over 17,600 square meters is meant to be so. 

The building’s design represents humanity, the earth, and the unknown future. The museum’s façade of 1,024 pieces of stainless steel manufactured through a robot-assisted process has United Arab Emirates Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s poetry carved in Mattar bin Lahej’s calligraphy. 

The Symbolism

Museum of the Future symbolizes the culture of openness, pluralism, and innovation that has transformed the United Arab Emirates into one of the most advanced countries in less than five decades. The museum is about a hopeful future without losing sight of the dangers of the present. 

The exhibitions, publications, films, and public events at the museum seek to demonstrate how problems can provide ‘the raw material’ for a better world. It is not a regular museum with relics but is billed as a gateway to the future. 

The museum’s imagination and design-themed Future Heroes section encourages children to develop future-proof skills in an open world of exploration. It provides children with opportunities to play and learn through activities based on collaboration, creativity, and communication.

 ‘Urgent missions’ at the museum present challenges needed to be overcome in a limited time under the guidance of experts to prepare children to work together for a shared goal, drawing the best video games offer and applying them to take on challenges in the real world. The section encourages critical thinking, courage, confidence, problem-solving, creativity, and innovation. 

Platform For Innovators

The museum is a platform for innovators, and scientists to share their visions for an inclusive and sustainable future. It showcases how technology can transform our lives and help overcome environmental, cultural, social, and political challenges for a positive future. 

The museum’s ‘Tomorrow Today’ section focuses on innovations with the potential to change the world. An initiative of the Dubai Future Foundation (DFF), each floor of the museum has been designed like a movie set for exploring and interacting with future possibilities.

Future-shaping

Maktoum formed DFF in 2016 to institutionalize future-shaping with a belief that leading in the present is insufficient and for a need to imagine, design, and execute the future. DFF was founded 56 years after Dubai’s ruler commissioned an airport in 1960. The airport is now the world’s busiest. 

In 1961, a decade before the United Arab Emirates was formed encompassing tribal lands, Dubai Creek was dredged for larger vessels. A gateway hub and a global trade link would emerge over the next two decades in Dubai and Jebel Ali Port the world’s largest man-made port connecting global markets in 1979. 

Quest For Sustainable Future

With a vision to sustain Dubai as a leading city of the future, DFF also runs the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution United Arab Emirates (C4IR UAE) in collaboration with the World Economic Forum. 

C4IR UAE opened in April 2019 for the collaborative development of technology governance and policy protocols for multi-stakeholder dialogue and cooperation on governance challenges and opportunities presented by technologies from the fourth industrial revolution. 

Science and technology including space exploration are key to United Arab Emirates quest for a sustainable future. Sarah Al Amiri, a 35-year-old woman, importantly heads the UAE Space Agency and oversaw the launch of the country’s first Mars mission. 

The United Arab Emirates launched Dubai SAT, its first Earth observation satellite, in 2009. Dubai SAT 2 followed four years later in 2013. 

In 2014, it announced a probe into Martian orbit by 2021 coinciding with the country’s 50th anniversary. Amiri was the deputy project manager and science lead of the project. Her team designed and built the spacecraft for the mission, which took seven months to reach the Red Planet. 

Amiri’s team included 80% of women. As state minister for advanced technology, she earlier put together a team focused on women in sciences. 

The United Arab Emirates next major mission—a flyby of Venus, a tour of seven asteroids ending with a landing on the last of them—will be launched in 2028. This will make it the fourth country globally to do so under Amiri’s leadership. 

Reclaiming Glory

Across the border, Saudi Arabia launched Vision 2030 in 2016 to transform the country as part of a determination to see the Middle East as a global leader. The vision refers to the region’s civilization, contributions to science, scholarship, and culture, and as a hub of global trade. 

At the peak of the Islamic Golden Age, Arabs helmed what has been described as the ‘most impressive period of scholarship and learning since Ancient Greece.’ Baghdad was at the heart of this age as the Abbasid Empire’s capital (750-1258) for 500 years. 

Western civilization has over the last five centuries eclipsed the rest and overtaken them militarily, economically, and politically to hugely reshape the world—both positively as well as negatively. 

The Middle East is among the places the West has also impacted negatively over the last century beginning with the Sykes-Picot pact, which Britain and France secretly signed to create nation-states in the region on the carcass of the Ottoman Empire without having their people a say in it. 

The pact changed the thrust of Arab politics and shifted focus from the building of systems to an assertive nationalism. It led to weak public institutions and tiny civil societies making countries in the region susceptible to instability. 

The United Arab Emirates has shown the way, and other countries in the region are taking a leaf out of its book to reclaim past glory built on openness and pursuit of excellence in knowledge, science, and technology.

Sameer Arshad Khatlani is a journalist and the author of The Other Side of the Divide

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