The latest conference of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research offered further recognition that challenges often come with rare opportunities that need to be harnessed.

One of the four sessions highlighted the issues that need to be addressed to absorb tech developments and enhance the competitiveness of economies. However, such a complicated relation is not easy to understand, especially for developing countries, and this may further widen the gap between them and rich countries. This would in turn create complex issues such as migration, terrorism and social inequalities.

This highlights the need for tech advances to be widely integrated, particularly those created by digital transformation, which need sizeable investments not available in all countries.

Let’s take the case of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) on which developing countries depend. It goes without saying that boosting SME competitiveness through technology necessitates financial support to bring in digital technology. This is what the UAE recognised early on where it has set up a Dh535 million tech investment fund.

It has also established a Dh520 million platform to support emerging tech projects, in the hope this would bring about a paradigm shift in the transformation to a digital economy. The UAE also approved Dh5.6 billion to support research and development in vital fields such as energy, food security and water for the next five years, which will help speed up the integration process and enhance the competitiveness of domestically produced goods.

These steps represent part of a general strategy aimed at promoting competitive sustainability in the domestic and international markets. Such strategies top the priorities of many countries, whereby the latest in technology is harnessed for sustainable development.

Dominique Foray at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology said: “Smart specialisation is not a planning approach that entails dedicating certain area to a particular group of industries, but rather seeks to find strong and transparent means of identifying activities at the regional level. This means the smart specialisation should be concerned with missing or weak links that must exist between R&D and innovation resources on the one hand and the sectoral structure of the economy on the other.”

Such a scientific approach along with the transformation into a digital economy will be the key for countries engaged in such transformations and to which they allocate the necessary funds to achieve their goals. Although there are challenges, they create real opportunities to upgrade local economies and provide the infrastructure necessary to raise competitiveness.

Other sessions at the conference - under the theme ‘Abu Dhabi Dialogue: Challenges and Opportunities for Change in the 21st Century’ - discussed many topics related to this central issue, including that of security and job opportunities.

This will definitely reflect on teaching methods, which will require changes to the education system to avoid high rates of unemployment. It will also meet the needs of tech-based economic sectors through skilled manpower. There are many practical aspects that can be used to restructure some of the sectors to be a more competitive digital economy.

Dr Mohammad Al Asoomi is a UAE economic expert and specialist in economic and social development in the UAE and the GCC countries.