How the UAE is cementing its global innovation hub status

06/12/2022 by Ali Sajwani

Innovation has long been a business driver in the UAE and the wider region. It’s a term we see everywhere, from government to gaming, and it’s a subject that I’m incredibly passionate about. 

Innovation is what drove the development of the UAE to the significant nation it has become today, and I believe the world now regards the UAE as a global innovation hub. 

So, I’d like to take a moment to discuss exactly how the UAE has become renowned as a global centre of innovation. 

Firstly, we can’t ignore the government-level desire to encourage innovation across all aspects of society, business and government. This blog could never cover all the schemes, projects and future-looking national blueprints which promote innovation. But I am especially interested in the fact that back in 2014, Sheikh Mohammed launched a UAE National Innovation Strategy, with the aim to make the UAE one of the most innovative nations in the world within seven years.

At the root of the strategy is the declared concept: “Innovation, research, science and technology will form the pillars of a knowledge-based economy.”

With that in mind, the strategy laid out a national desire to inculcate a culture of innovation, embedded amongst individuals, companies and governments. It primarily focused on “priority sectors” that would drive future innovation, including renewable and clean energy, transportation, technology, education, health, water and space.

Backed by redoubled efforts to create strong STEM education across the nation’s schools, the strategy laid down the roots of today’s highly innovative environment.

The groundwork emanating from the strategy included new legislation, the creation of innovation incubators, investment in specialised skills, private sector incentives, international research partnerships and an innovation drive within the government.

That strategy has clearly paid off, despite the issues created by the pandemic. 

One example of an innovative concept and environment is DIFC.

DIFC, Dubai International Financial Centre, presided over by Sheikh Maktoum Bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, has driven innovation to create a world-leading financial hub. It encourages start-ups and has a specific ‘Innovation Hub’, which includes more than 500 companies working in cutting-edge sectors such as FinTech and crypto. 

The financial free zone has become something of a bustling community of growing start-ups, scale-ups and investors. DIFC is designed to encourage success among technology and innovation companies by easing access to the capital, talent, and resources they need to succeed – and its Innovation Hub is the driving force for entrepreneurs.  

Launched in May 2021, the Innovation Hub is part of “Dubai Future District”, the UAE Innovation Strategy and Projects of the 50. 

Events such as Blockchain Week, an AI Festival and others underline the drive for innovation. From licenses and visas to accommodation and legal support, the hub has a great deal to offer innovators. 

It’s perhaps no surprise then, that the UAE remains in the top three most innovative nations in the North Africa and Western Asia region, according to the annual Global Innovation Index, which also puts the UAE ahead of every other GCC nation. 

There’s a way to go — the UAE ranks 30th among the 48 high-income group economies on the index, and relative to GDP, the United Arab Emirates’s performance is below expectations for its level of development. There’s no doubt in my mind that we can all contribute to an innovation-led knowledge economy, and all benefit from that growth journey. 

I think one of the most exciting and innovative things we will witness in coming years is the move to turn the Expo 2020 site into Expo City. Not only is the new ‘city-within-a-city a ripe breeding ground for innovation, but the city’s wise leadership is offering a fantastic range of benefits from free office space and visas to a luxurious, sustainable living and working environment. 

I believe when people think of innovation, they think of the UAE. It’s an exciting time to be here, especially when you realise that in the UAE, innovative ideas are only limited by the imagination. 

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