Exploring and preparing for the future are methods adopted by developed and emerging nations in their quest for excellence and leadership in global competition across various fields of human endeavour and civilisational progress. They achieve this by devising plans, policies and strategies that respond to reality and its challenges. In this way they create the future they seek and shape it according to sound scientific approaches and strict methodologies that leave no room for superstition or pseudo-science, and no margin for error or miscalculation.
The field of future studies, which is concerned with exploring and shaping the future, has become an independent discipline in its own right, with scientific roots, methodologies and philosophy. It sees the future as a dimension of time that can be shaped and controlled, in contrast to the view held for many centuries that the future is something metaphysical or an inevitable fate.
Exploring the future
There has been a significant increase in the number of future studies, scientists and researchers at universities and scientific institutes. Several specialised think tanks and research centres for futures studies have also been established to explore the future and devise plans and policies to help governments take the initiative in enhancing the status of their countries, as well as the well-being and prosperity of their people.
A leadership that believes the next generation will face different issues and challenges and will have different opportunities. Therefore, they should be prepared and equipped in a way that helps them address the future efficiently; they should be provided the skills and knowledge that makes it easier for them to achieve excellence and leadership
Anticipating, exploring and planning for the future are integral parts of the UAE’s policy, enshrined in foundations established by the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan. He was a wise leader with an insightful vision for addressing everyday realities and preparing for the future.
It is to this vision that we owe all the UAE has achieved today, particularly in terms of progress, well-being, prosperity and achievements in many areas, which have amounted to miracles. The essence of this vision was, and still is, focused on developing UAE citizens, investing in their abilities and cultivating their potential, as the greatest investment in the future.
This prudent approach has been carried on and consolidated by our current wise leadership — the President, His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
Wise UAE leadership
This wise leadership has made planning for and shaping the future a guiding principle of its endeavours and continuous efforts to realise the great ambition of seeing the UAE achieve first place globally in all indicators of development and progress. The leadership also strives to ensure that the UAE’s people are the happiest, most prosperous and advanced in the entire world.
There are countless indicators that measure the success of these efforts. Our wise leadership have launched many strategies to explore various aspects of the future, the most important of which include the following: the UAE Strategy for the Future, launched in September 2016, aims to devise government models that incorporate exploring the future as part of strategic planning within government sectors, conducting studies and examining scenarios that explore the future of all vital sectors (health care, education, societal, developmental and environmental sectors).
This strategy also focuses on strengthening the skills of Emiratis in futures studies. In early 2016, the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs was renamed the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and the Future to act as an institutional framework for exploring and working toward the future.
The UAE has also launched a variety of future development plans that aim to enhance the pioneering UAE development model, the most prominent of which are; UAE Vision 2021, launched in 2010 and aims to make the UAE one of the best countries in the world in terms of economic and social development by the Golden Jubilee of the Union in 2021; the UAE Centennial Plan 2071, launched in 2017 and aims to make the UAE the best country in the world by its centennial in 2071; and Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, launched in November 2008 with the aim of transforming the emirate’s economy into a knowledge-based economy by reducing the reliance on the oil sector as the main source of economic activity.
Over the past few years, the UAE has also launched several future strategies and plans that aim to enhance national competencies in fields and sectors viewed as decisive for the future, such as information technology, Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and the space sector.
Some of these plans include: the UAE Cabinet’s approval to establish the UAE Council for the Fourth Industrial Revolution; and the launching of the UAE Strategy for the Fourth Industrial Revolution in September 2017, with the aim of strengthening the UAE’s position as a global hub for 4IR and to increase contributions to its competitive national economy by advancing innovation and future technologies that integrate both physical, digital and biotechnologies; the National Space Strategy 2030, launched in March 2019; the National Strategy for Advanced Innovation, launched in February 2018; the UAE Strategy for Artificial Intelligence (AI), launched in October 2017; and the National Strategy for Well-being 2031, launched in June 2019. These plans are in addition to many future strategies that demonstrate the UAE has truly become a ‘country of the future’.
In this respect, the wise leadership announced in December that this year is to be designated ‘2020: Towards the Next 50’. This proves to the whole world that we have a unique leadership in terms of their characteristics, wisdom and insightful future vision. A leadership that never stops working and is never complacent with the achievements that have been realised, no matter how great they are. Rather, it always works to achieve the best for the country and its people.
A leadership that believes the next generation will face different issues and challenges and will have different opportunities. Therefore, they should be prepared and equipped in a way that helps them address the future efficiently; they should be provided the skills and knowledge that makes it easier for them to achieve excellence and leadership.
Our wise leadership wants 2021, in which our beloved country will celebrate its Golden Jubilee, to be a year for the second great launch toward the future … a foundational year for a new stage in the pioneering urban, human and development progress of the UAE and its people, as our leadership realises its legitimate ambition that the UAE becomes the best country in the world by the 2071 centennial celebrations.
2021: Year of the great launch
This was made clear by Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, when he said: “We want 2021 to be the year of the great launch … we celebrate the first fifty years and embark on the journey towards the next fifty years.” For this reason, 2020 is devoted to preparing to realise this goal by formulating a great strategy for national action, one that builds the UAE’s future over the next fifty years, preparing all sectors for the post-oil era, as pointed out by Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
Our wise leadership wants 2020 to be a year for concentrating efforts and energy, mobilising national physical and intellectual resources and capabilities, and promoting societal partnerships as the starting point for a new stage in our journey of advancement. This follows the success of the first point of departure, established by the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and his brothers, the members of the Federal Supreme Council of the UAE.
They created the most successful unionist Arab experience and paved the way for the UAE to foster a unique civilizational and developmental model of progress, one that has been replicated by many people and nations, and has garnered great admiration and appreciation for the UAE.
Our leadership continuously stresses that shaping the future and constantly promoting the UAE’s development and progress requires united hands, concerted efforts and teamwork. This means that every person in this nation should play a part in the UAE’s success story and in making the future of this nation even brighter.
Our ambition is great and efforts to achieve this ambition are greater still, especially from academics and intellectuals, think tanks and futurists. This is in order to contribute to supporting the astute attitude of our wise leadership and to continue to generate innovative and creative insights that support the decision-makers and their ambitious vision for the future of the UAE.
In this spirit, I have decided to devote a series of monthly articles, in this distinguished newspaper, throughout this new year of preparation for the next fifty years, to answer a pivotal question: How can we shape the UAE’s future in the next half century? My aim is to provide some intellectual contributions that can help decision-makers realise their ambitious goals for the future of our dearest nation and to encourage all future-oriented institutions, agencies and organisations in the UAE and the Arab world to think about our future as well as our position on the map of the future.
Therefore, the articles in this series will propose ideas, initiatives and scenarios for the UAE’s future plans in different spheres, as well as respond to aspects of change that the region and world are expected to witness in various domains.
The articles will also consider the challenges these changes are expected to bring, and the opportunities they could offer, identifying how the UAE can approach and prepare for these changes in order to realise its ambitious goals and genuine aim of becoming a leading nation.
However, there are some preliminary comments that I would like to make in this context. First, the extent of change the future is expected to witness confirms that tomorrow’s world will be totally different from our world as it is today. This means that as part of our preparation, we will require greater efforts to cope with the changes our world experiences. We will need resilience and adaptability, not only to cope with accelerating change, but also to harness and take advantage of these changes to realise our ambitious goals.
Second, we need to tackle the future and the changes predicted in our world by adopting new, innovative and out-of-the-box ideas and visions. This requires us to promote a culture of innovation and creative thinking and to consider all possible scenarios, even if they may seem science fiction. After all, what we once thought of as science fiction is a reality today.
Third, investing in human capital has been the key for UAE development in the last fifty years; it will continue to be the main driver of development and progress in the next fifty years. This means that we need to continue efforts to develop Emiratis’ abilities, skills and talents, using techniques of the future, not those of the past, or even from the present.
— Dr Jamal Sanad Al Suwaidi is a UAE author and director-general of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research.