There is an exciting energy that emanates from Dubai and the UAE, an aura of possibility and momentum that is refreshing and reduced but not fully hijabed by the global economic crisis and local market bubble burst (gulf area GDP growth of 1% expected in 2009 vs. average worldwide contraction). Things can happen very quickly in the UAE because it is a managed economy with greenfield opportunities;
socially, economically and politically, everything is architected;if the right person can be reached, decisions can be made quickly, world-class talent can be recruited and economic incentives, funding and operational support can be provided. However, just because things can happen quickly does not mean they do or will.
Strategic plan for the UAE
What would have to happen to make Dubai and the UAE have a higher probability of being a long-term world-leading society, to shift into being an ideas and innovation-driven economy?
First, there would need to be a wide-spread awareness and interest in really being a leading society of the future, moving beyond energy, cargo, financial services, construction and tourism.
Second would be building a culture of ideas and innovation, having world-class scientists based onsite in a large scale conducting research and development. This could be executed by either building research labs or more fundamentally, by establishing one or more externally-recognized world-class accredited universities with scientists and technologists focusing the majority of their time on research.
Third would be creating a broad culture for entrepreneurship including standard financing entry, expansion and exit mechanisms, liberalization of visas, business licensing and facilities requirements (e.g.; legality of home-based software programming businesses; visas automatically issued to those with computer science degrees) and the establishment or improvement of bankruptcy laws.
Example: Masdar City
Masdar, city of the future, is an interesting experiment that if executed correctly could be a pilot project for a larger effort, expanding from energy and materials to infotech and biotech. Masdar could benefit from a research focus at the MIST university and a tight linkage between university tech transfer, tech incubation and entrepreneurial efforts in Masdar City.