Mariana Mazzucato
Mariana Mazzucato delivers a lecture titled “ Directing economic growth: A moonshot approach. Lessons for the UAE”, at Majlis Mohamed bin Zayed. Image Credit: Wam

Abu Dhabi: A leading international economist has praised the UAE’s ambitious goal-setting and community consultation approach towards its future, and urged the world to turn to more directed economic growth to solve the biggest global challenges.

Mariana Mazzucato, director at University College London’s Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose in the United Kingdom, has also called for policymakers to be more ambitious, and to lead innovation using a whole-of-government approach.

“[Globally], we talk about climate, future pandemics and the challenges of digitalisation, but we do not [yet] invest and innovate together to drive collective intelligence and tackle our most difficult goals,” Mazzucato said.

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UAE wins

“The UAE is very advanced in the access residents have to the benefits that a government produces. You have also been ahead of the game in the space missions, such as the Hope Mars Mission, and the different ways in which are investing in renewable energies, which I find very inspirational. The UAE leads in the whole-of-government approach [as well], and I [would urge you to] think about it with climate at the centre,” she said.

Mazzucato, who has written a number of books about the inclusive and sustainable economic growth, was speaking at the Mohamed Bin Zayed Majlis in the capital. Her address was attended by Hamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Managing Director of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, government officials, students, and private sector executives.

Urgent climate crisis

According to the economist, the climate crisis is currently one of the world’s most pressing challenges, and the one that needs to direct almost every other national effort because of its urgency. She also highlighted social inequity as a major concern, and said its resolution should underpin other efforts.

“[For instance,] the COVID-19 mission should actually have been to vaccinate the entire world. It wasn’t the vaccine [that was the mission], because we now have 80 different vaccines and we could have [been satisfied] with 20. But if we do not vaccinate the world, the [mission isn’t yet] accomplished,” she explained.

Moonshot approach

Mazzucato said policymakers should develop bold, realistic and inspirational goals. She explained that this usually allows for spillover effects that benefit the entire economy. As an illustration, she referred to the Apollo moon landing mission — the moonshot.

“The mission was to go to the moon in a short amount of time, and to do so, they needed hundreds of thousands of people to collaborate. There were 400,000 people involved in the project, and not just in aerospace. [Other sectors involved included] nutrition, materials, electronics, software. And all the problems that had to be solved along the way even got us a lot of economic value. The whole software industry as we know it today, [for example], is actually a spillover of the moon landing. Other things that came up were camera phones, athletic shoes, and home insulation,” Mazzucato said.

Advising a similar ‘moonshot approach’ in solving other challenges, Mazzucato stressed that governments should not shy away from setting strict and ambitious conditions on private sector and third party collaborators. Reducing the steel sector carbon footprint as a condition for securing a loan in Germany has put the sector ahead of the game, the economist offered. On the other hand, Sweden’s focus on making school lunches sustainable is driving green innovation in the supply chain.

Prioritise social challenges

“I have been coming to the UAE for quite a few years, and one of the reasons I have found it so interesting is this open discussion about the need to do government differently,” Mazzucato said.

“I am deeply optimistic [that we can make a difference], which is why I want to inspire. We can when we care, when we put urgency into our system, and when we [treat our] societal challenges as urgently and as ambitiously as when we go to war. We shouldn’t just put money and hope for the best, but e structure economic systems to be outcomes oriented,” she urged.