Advertising billboards at Shaikh Zayed road. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: It’s an exciting time for creativity and innovation in the UAE.

In June, telecom operator du’s ‘Tuesday film’ campaign created by Leo Burnett Dubai won the Mena region’s first ever Gold Lion award at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, seeing off stiff competition from thousands of entries across the world. The du campaign also swept the board at the Dubai Lynx Awards and Mena Cristal Festival.

It’s no coincidence then that du appears to be at the forefront of embracing a culture of creativity and innovation. In Cornell University’s 2014 Global Innovation Index report, in which the UAE placed an impressive 36th out of 143 countries (up two places from 2013), du executives Ahmad Bin Byat and Osman Sultan discuss the Gold Lion winning culture they have fostered, which includes encouraging employees to innovate via an idea-sharing ideation platform.

However, this foresight is not limited to du. Knowledge-based industries and services make up 37.5 per cent of UAE’s GDP, having grown from 32.1 per cent in 2001. Bin Byat and Sultan note that throughout the UAE “cultural barriers to innovation such as fear of failure and an aversion to taking risks is falling”.

This supports a recent study on creative confidence in the workplace conducted by Jack Morton Worldwide, which found that 40 per cent of UAE respondents felt that they were allowed the freedom to fail and 51 per cent said that they are able to present and take creative risks – a relatively high proportion compared with other nations studied.

In addition, 54 per cent of respondents from the UAE said that they get space and inspiration from their working environment -- a significantly higher number than their counterparts in the UK (40 per cent), Australia (50 per cent) and Germany (52 per cent).

The UAE’s growing confidence is not an accident but the result of a concerted effort to become more creative and innovative. Within our own research, an incredible 95 per cent of UAE respondents believe that creativity is important to a company’s success. And this level of assurance can be seen at the very top of UAE leadership with government initiatives designed to support innovation and entrepreneurship such as Vision 2021, TRA’s ICT Fund, the Khalifa Fund, and Expo 2020 amongst others.

By 2015, the UAE is expected to see 185 new tech-based start-ups.

Another vital factor is the overhauling of and investment in the education system (allocated over 20 per cent of the government budget) including the Abu Dhabi Educational Council’s development of a new curriculum to build the 21st-century skills (such as critical thinking and creativity) needed to promote innovation. Progress has already been made; the country’s rank on the education sub-pillar of the Global Innovation Index made a huge jump from 65th in 2011 to 15th in 2013.

Our research found that rather than being restricted to a select few, we all have the ability to think creatively, which is why it’s important to create the right conditions and inspire this belief from a young age. An encouraging 76 per cent of UAE respondents in our study considered themselves creative, and there’s no doubt that in years to come this figure will surely rise.

In their report, Bin Byat and Sultan conclude: ‘In the UAE’s innovation eco-system, the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place. The nation now offers a number of unique advantages, including a strong education system, a diverse pool of multinational and local talent, a growing innovation culture, and a series of targeted research and development initiatives”.

Could du’s spectacular Gold Lion win be just the beginning of a creative surge in the UAE and wider Mena region? Although in our survey, both Saudi Arabia and Egypt scored somewhat lower in the creative confidence stakes, respondents from both countries believed just as strongly as Emiratis that creativity was important to a company’s success.

What’s more, Saudi Arabia placed 38th, just two ranks below the UAE, in the Global Innovation Index. The signs are good. This could be just the first of many creative accolades for the region from across the globe.


The writer is the joint Managing Director at Jack Morton Worldwide, Middle East.