The prosperity that we have witnessed has taught us to build our country with education and knowledge and nurture generations of educated men and women.
– Sheikh Zayed, the late President of the United Arab Emirates
On Tuesday March 12th, I was invited to give a seminar on recent development in innovation to his Excellency Mohammed Omar Abdullah, Undersecretary of the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (ADDED), the staff of the department and invited executives and officials from both government entities and the private sector in Abu Dhabi.
My hosts were Dr. Adeeb Al Afifi, the Director of Exports Support and Foreign Trade and Hussein Alawi Al Ameri from Bearings partner firm Emirates Experts Consulting. I really appreciate the honor to be invited to give the speech. Please follow this link to read the ADDED´s presentation of the seminar.
The first time I visited Abu Dhabi was in 1997, when the company I worked for was hired to reengineer the asset management system and processes at the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA). ADIA is the sovereign wealth fund of the emirate and it is one of the largest investment funds in the world.
I was in Abu Dhabi several times during 1997-1998 for steering committee meetings related to the project and I usually flew to Dubai and took a taxi during the night to Abu Dhabi. It was then a taxi ride of about two-three hours. For the past fifteen years I have been returning for meetings and work in Abu Dhabi regularly and I have seen the incredible development of the emirate during this period first hand.
In 2013, The United Arab Emirates economy ranks first in the Arab world and 23rd globally among economies which are based on creativity and innovation. Abu Dhabi is the capital and the second largest city of the United Arab Emirates in terms of population and the largest of the seven member emirates. The core of Abu Dhabi is a wedge-shaped island which is full of skyscrapers. Because of them, Abu Dhabi is also known as the Manhattan of the Middle East.
Abu Dhabi has become incredibly wealthy since the 1960s when large oil fields were discovered and the wealth has been managed well through a competent and visionary leadership. The emirate currently holds 9% of the world’s proven oil reserves and almost 5% of the world’s natural gas. Recently the government has been pushing to diversify the economy and it is in this context I was invited to present international best practices in innovation management in both public and private sectors.
Dr. Adeeb Al Afifi opened the seminar by wishing His Excellency the Under Secretary and the people attending welcome and then said “the seminar stems from the belief that innovation is the most important driver affecting world economies today, and it is been adopted by developed countries, hence the U.A.E. in general and Abu Dhabi in particular seek to continuously apply in all field".
Dr. Al Afifi then spoke about the importance of innovation in developing and diversifying the economy. He also said that General Electric’s Global Innovation Barometer 2013 revealed that 89% of executives in UAE companies consider innovation a strategic priority to help drive business growth, adding that more than half of them believe that new business models innovation is the best way to boost performance in the future.
Following Dr. Al Afifi, Hussein Alawi Al Ameri gave a speech and made an example of the ghaf tree, to pay tribute to His Highness late Shaikh Zayed Ben Sultan Al Nahayan the founder of the UAE. The tree can be seen as a symbol of the nation’s innovative heritage ,which has helped the emirates to survive the harsh climatic conditions of their desert environment. The tree is native to the Arabian desert, where it grows and shoots up to a great height requiring very little water.
In my speech, I started by explaining the current situation in Europe, where the effects of globalisation and hyper competition forces a transformation of economies. I then spoke about the effects of hyper competition on individual businesses and how the relentless effects of disruptive competition hits companies much harder and faster than ever before.
I then spoke about how focus on innovation is a must in a changing world and how incremental, radical and disruptive innovations complements each other. I also pointed out that innovation does not only focus on products, but also services, particularly those provided by government agencies. I emphasized the importance of the public sector coping with the needs and requirements of the private sector-led innovation to stay within the heightened global competition.
I also explained how innovation and creativity contributes to advancement of regions regardless of their geographical locations and initial comparative advantages, and I gave the example of Túttlingen in the south of Germany, which is the home of hundreds of surgical equipment companies. In spite of being a small place more than half of the world’s surgical equipment is manufactured there. The example proves that the favorable investment environment encourages innovation to realize major global achievements.
At the end of the speech I recommended the government to proceed with innovation through the use of two major policy tools. The first concerns encouraging innovation internally within the organizational culture and spreading it among officials and staff, to better serve clients and meet strategic goals and policies. The second tool centers on fostering innovation through the creation of external policy and regulatory environment that will contribute to the dissemination of the culture of innovation in the private sector to make it more competitive in global markets.
The interested reader can review the presentation from the seminar here below.