Omar Sultan Al Olama addressing the forum on Tuesday at Museum of the Future
Omar Sultan Al Olama addressing the forum on Tuesday at Museum of the Future Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Foresight has been deep-rooted in the history of Dubai and it is the secret that built the emirate as a futuristic city, thanks to the foresight of the visionary leaders, backed by dreams of people of multiple cultures, the Dubai Future Forum heard on Tuesday.

An airline from a desert land, a financial centre from a parking lot for trucks and millions of dollars of investment for housing tech and media cities were all examples cited by two top UAE officials who revealed the secret to the success of the emirate and the country during different sessions of the inaugural edition of the annual forum.

Held under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council, the two-day Forum at the Museum of the Future is being attended by more than 400 experts and future designers and 45 international institutions involved in foreseeing the future.

“Foresight has been ingrained in us,” said Omar Sultan Al Olama, Minister of State for Artificial Intelligence, Digital Economy, and Remote Work Application.

“We’ve always been embracing foresight and trying to work towards understanding what the future may hold. It was not about our luxury; it was a necessity,” he said, explaining that for centuries, the country’s supply chain was dependent on the forecast of the future.

“We are also blessed to have leaders who live with future foresight. Historically, future foresight has been ingrained in how we take decisions and who we go to for decision making,” said Al Olama.

However, he said, foreseeing the future transformed from a necessary tool to a practical and intellectual approach.

How Dubai surprised the world

At a time when turning Dubai into an air transport hub made no sense, he said the emirate’s founding father Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum and his son His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, set up Emirates Airline as they foresaw the era of long haul flights and the geographical advantage of Dubai to connect the east and the west.

Similarly, he narrated how Sheikh Mohammed took bank loans worth millions of dollars to establish Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City two decades ago, when the tech and media scene in Dubai was just in its infancy. Today, all these initiatives have proved the naysayers wrong, thanks to the futuristic vision of the leaders, Al Olama pointed out.

He said Dubai and the UAE became successful not just by having the resources.

“There are two things. The first is we embrace all ideas, we embrace all individuals and we let people believe that if they have a dream and they want to achieve it, it has to be here in the UAE and Dubai.”

Pointing out that there are people of 200 nationalities who call Dubai, the UAE, their home, the minister said: “Everything you see that is futuristic here is built by everyone… It is built by people with different backgrounds, different cultures.”

Dreaming big to design future

The minister said the UAE leadership is taking thoughtful and bold future decisions that empower talented people from everywhere in the world. He said the success of the county lies in embracing talent and visionaries, being able to adapt to changes and guiding the people in the direction of opportunity.

The minister also highlighted how the leaders of the country embrace the unknown by first looking at the opportunities that will arise out of it and think of the potential negative impacts and what it means to deal with the negatives.

Al Olama said the Dubai Future Forum was an important event for the UAE, as apart from believing in forecasting the future embracing the change, the country also seeks the advice and expertise of those who are able to see different points of view.

This event is going to dictate how we, as a country, are going to move to 2071, he said.

“Dubai was built by people from around the world who had a spark in their eyes. It was built by unleashing the potential of individuals who always dared to dream big…So dream big…and work with us to make it a reality,” he added.

Al Olama’s speech in the opening session was titled ‘Welcome to 2071’, denoting the UAE’s march towards its centennial.

Humanising vision 2071

In another session on ‘How can governments mitigate challenges through foresight’, another top UAE official spoke about the country’s preparedness to meet the future challenges with the 10 principles adopted for the next five decades.

Highlighting how the government humanised the public policy for 2021, Abdullah Nasser Lootah, director-general of Prime Minister’s Office, said the leaders came up with the centennial plan by engaging thousands of people in the process of formulating it.

“Not many governments would think about 50 years ahead like this,” he said.

“Without foresight we are risking our planet, we are risking our children and grandchildren, prosperity and sustainability,” said Lootah.

Talking about the foresight of the country’s leaders, Lootah gave an example of how a huge parking lot for trucks was transformed into the highly successful Dubai International Financial Centre. “The land where DIFC was located today is one of the most expensive pieces of land on earth,” he said.

He also cited the example of Expo 2020 Dubai which dismissed the apprehensions of many by attracting more than 24 million visitors, surpassing the target of 20 million visitors, double the population of the country, during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pointing out that thinking ahead has proven to eliminate the negative impact of catastrophic disasters, Lootah also spoke about how the country’s readiness in embracing digital revolution helped it tide over the movement restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The success of human capital

“Many people are under the impression that there [are] tonnes of oil and gas in Dubai. But the contribution of oil and gas to Dubai GDP is less than one per cent. Where does the 99 per cent come from? Human capital. It is the brains... it’s the people dreaming big. Future foresight is all about dreaming,” said Lootah.

He said the UAE government treats itself as a company with people as its shareholders who have the right to guide it.

However, he pointed out that while pursuing their futuristic vision, governments should not let their people down. Quoting Edelman’s Trust Barometer Index, Lootah said the UAE ranked second globally in terms of people’s trust in the government. He added that the UAE government also uses events like the Future Forum as a tool to engage with partners who are experts in various subjects and dream big.

“Engaging partners from different parts of the world in events like this…this is what makes things move faster and better for us,” he added.