The euphoria is totally understandable, and the win well deserved. After all, if there is a city that can be described as self-made, then the city of Dubai is one of the most deserving in recent history, if not the most. The Expo will be the subject of many a conversation, article and debate, and will consume a considerable amount of ink, paper and airtime. After all, who doesn’t want to support a winner, especially a self-made one?
Clearly, everyone’s focus will be on making this upcoming event a resounding success, and to ensure that it becomes the standard by which future Expos will be measured. As such, it is not surprising that major resources will be martialed and dedicated as this upcoming event becomes the bar none number one priority.
There are amazing benefits to be reaped from such an event, from infrastructure to technology, visitors to job opportunities, tourism to travel, and from real estate to transport. Financial optimism will ripple across the emirate and the implications will touch many a sector, giving a major economic boost to a city that has provided an opportunity to people from all over the planet.
But what does success look like? Is it the rebounding of the real estate sector, which will undoubtedly benefit and experience resurgence? Will it be in the arrival of the 25 million visitors who are forecast to come? Or will it be in the new infrastructural projects, completed in time? Should it be the spread in the distribution of the population of Dubai to the lesser-developed parts of the city? Perhaps, further growth in the hospitality sector and the thousands of new hotel rooms expected? GDP growth? While all these are indicators and rightful beneficiaries of a successful event and lead up to it, and people and businesses that invest in such sectors should get a return, from Dubai’s perspective, I sincerely hope that there will be additional and nontraditional indicators that will see the city, and its people benefit long after the Expo and its transitory effect have subsided.
Perhaps there is an opportunity for the city to use this coming period to prepare for the road ahead, as the city evaluates how to harness the energy of, seek contribution from and grow participation of its many stakeholders. It should re-examine the different sectors, such as health and education, that have to be re-prioritized in order to build a stronger foundation for a sustainable future. This could lead to yet another discontinuous leap in development and economic evolution, that is not dissimilar in essence to what the Emirates have long practiced, and that is equally unexpected and once again very lateral.
There is an obvious opportunity that lies in the more rigorous and strategic penetration of the private sector that continues to suffer from a dearth of local talent. Whether it is in the medical profession, engineering or even in the specialized financial services, these represent golden opportunities for exploration and diversification. It is equally as interesting to see Emiratis become standard bearers in the likes of management consulting firms where they can demonstrate their talent and make a contribution to the home economy, be it through bringing talent and expertise to family-owned businesses, or any other industry sector.
Understandably with limited resources, it is not realistic for local talent to be in every industry sector or area of economic practice, though this would be a wonderful development. It also stands to reason that some sectors are a priority and others of a lesser one, but would it not serve Dubai’s economy to see local sons and daughters in engineering positions driving and contributing to the infrastructural projects that are about to go into hyper drive? Should Dubai not aspire to having its financial brains invested in the creation and designing of financial products, especially as Dubai’s financial market stands to benefit from the investment of the coming years? And as we review the websites of some of the more prominent management-consulting firms, should local talent continue not to play a role in such a high-margin practice? As Dubai’s determination focuses on healthcare, can this sector not benefit from the contribution of local talent, who can benefit themselves, and benefit their own communities?
It has never ceased to amaze me how Dubai has defied convention and expectations and has proven to be a city of possibilities, not a city of why but a city of why-not, and the city that has shaped its own future and modeled it along the lines of its dreams. So, and in keeping with this mindset, perhaps we now face an opportunity to move to the next stage of defying convention and defining what is possible.
Is it unreasonable to dream that this can-do city uses the upcoming Expo to set itself on a path for the creation of manufacturing capabilities? Would it make sense to expect another mammoth transformation that moves Dubai and the Emirates from a trading and a services-based economy to one where manufacturing contributes to the GDP, and where we can see that the products of today and tomorrow, if not innovated here, are at least – in some part –manufactured here? Farfetched as this dream seems today, would it not be wonderful for Dubai to become a total net exporter?
Throughout the years, Dubai has proved to be welcoming, embracing, generous, and optimistic. It is a city that continues to approach the future with courage and conviction. I wish it success and prosperity, and I look forward to the day when I can buy a “Made in Dubai” product, and when that day arrives, I will know that Dubai has used the Expo as a springboard to a spectacular future.