Innovative government, favourable geography, excellent flight access and world-class infrastructure are just a few of the reasons why Dubai has become one of the great new business hubs of recent times. We all know it’s an impressive, larger-than-life event destination, and – even if you haven’t visited – you will be aware of its many man-made wonders; the world’s tallest building (Burj Khalifa), the world’s largest shopping mall, the world’s largest replica of the world and the world’s tallest hotel to name but a few. Recently, you may also have read about the planned Hyperloop connecting it with Abu Dhabi, the construction of a rotating, shape-shifting skyscraper and the development of autonomous, single-passenger taxi drones which may be in the sky as early as July. It is due in part to these boundary-pushing achievements and progressive vision that Dubai was chosen to host the World Expo in 2020.
In support of the bid, Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum said: “In today’s highly interconnected world, a renewed vision of progress and development based on shared purpose and commitment is key. While a married human mind, an individual country, or a specific community is both unique and remarkable, it is by working collaboratively that we truly advance.”
The exposition (as a keen etymologist, I am a huge fan of this word) will be the first to be held in the region, and the preparations leading up to it are expected to result in 277,000 new jobs, and an injection of nearly $40 billion into the economy. The main site of Expo 2020 will be a 438-hectare area organised around a central plaza (entitled Al Wasl, meaning ‘the connection’ in Arabic), enclosed by three large pavilions, each one dedicated to a sub-theme (sustainability, mobility and opportunity). The future use and enduring legacy of the site has been an important consideration in the design and construction efforts. After the mega-event itself comes to a close, there is a comprehensive strategy in place to transition the site into an economically attractive and sustainable ecosystem.
There are of course further, less tangible elements to the legacy planning that include knowledge creation, youth empowerment, enhancing global and political reputation and promoting social change. Creating a progressive culture and sustainable community demands much more than just having the money to embark on elaborate projects. Cutting-edge architectural blueprints are great, but it’s intellectual capital and clusters of knowledge and expertise that will sustain these glittering monoliths over the decades to come. Currently, there are around 23 free trade zones in Dubai, including Internet City (an information technology park), Healthcare City, Media City and Knowledge Park (a human resources management, professional learning and educational campus). These areas have special tax, customs and imports regimes and are governed by their own framework of regulations. As the tagline for Dubai’s Expo 2020 bid so accurately and eloquently summarises, by connecting minds they are creating the future.
As the price of oil drops, Dubai has also been emphasising investment in environmental initiatives (it recently introduced the world’s largest solar power project) and giving equal prominence to public relationships. The Dubai Happiness Agenda for example, aims to make the city the world’s happiest by 2020. Additionally, grants that aim to promote living in balance with our planet through addressing issues around natural ecosystems, biodiversity, sustainable cities, climate change and green growth are available.
To achieve the ambitious-but-attainable goals of Expo 2020, the emirate has used a series of events, programmes and initiatives to lay the foundations for a collaborative platform which will shape planning and guide delivery. Expo has engaged with a cross-section of important audiences including multinational businesses, entrepreneurs and start-ups, government officials and multilateral organisations, as well as young people across the region.
The BusinessConnect series of events aims to engage the business community in the journey through open dialogue and by shifting the traditional procurement model to one based on the value of collaboration. The events have spanned a range of themes including technology, innovation, design and edutainment, and have been attended by some of the leading minds from a wide spectrum of industries, brought together to discuss delivering an exceptional experience and meaningful legacy. Additionally, 400 business representatives gathered at the Collaborative Entrepreneurship Summit in 2016 to identify synergies and opportunities for collaborative growth among established corporations, multinationals and start-ups, unleashing added value through collaborative opportunities.
With 65% of the population of the Middle East under the age of 25, young people will play a significant role in the future of the region. Initiatives such as YouthConnect, an apprenticeship programme and a university roadshow series understand the importance of youth empowerment. These programmes embody the connected and creative theme and provide opportunities for young people to reach their potential as future leaders. Programmes that are developed in partnership with youth are more likely to be effective at engaging the population and, therefore, to have a greater impact. Involving youth as partners in making decisions that affect them increases the likelihood that the decisions will be accepted, adopted, and become part of their everyday lives. In addition, empowering youth to identify and respond to community needs helps them become empathetic, reflective individuals, setting them on a course to potentially continue this important work in their future.
YouthConnect is an annual event designed for young people by young people with the objective of inspiring and instilling confidence in individuals between the ages of 16 and 25. The inaugural event attracted a total of 800 attendees with sessions led by the likes of Facebook and AstroLabs. By introducing elements of partnership, collaboration, network building, science-in-action, creative design, skills development, career coaching and cultural exchange, this pioneering nine-month scheme will offer valuable hands-on experience, vocational training and skills development to young people from across the UAE.
In keeping with the progressive vision of Expo 2020 and its commitment to empowering younger generations, nearly two-thirds of the Expo’s 140 employees are younger than 40 and will gain valuable experience that will help in their future careers. There is also an approximate 50/50 gender split, in line with the inclusive spirit of the mega-event.
Expo 2020’s theme – Connecting Minds, Creating The Future – is an aspirational platform for international thought-leadership. In today’s interconnected world, a renewed vision of progress and development based on shared purpose and commitment is important, and collaboration in an international context is key, especially for a destination like Dubai. Building strong engagement and strategic partnerships is at the heart of Expo 2020’s mission as Dubai partners with its key stakeholders to prepare, build and deliver the first mega-event of its kind in the region.
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