Opportunity is a word of hope and promise. It encompasses endless possibilities and the prospect of something better and greater. And it is a word that the world is clinging onto – on a macro and micro level, as we slowly emerge from one of the toughest periods in human history.
World expos have always been destinations for path-breaking innovations – the United States’ first expo in 1876 saw the telephone and typewriter introduced to the world on a public stage; the mobile phone was revealed at the 1970 expo in Osaka, Japan; and the Eiffel Tower was built for the Paris Expo of 1889. Several new foods have also become global stars after their debuts at expos.
Hence it is no surprise that ‘opportunity’ is one of Expo 2020 Dubai’s subthemes, as the event offers the perfect platform to champion new ideas and products at a time when the pandemic has recalibrated ways of living and working.
The Opportunity district, which features pavilions from across the world including from most GCC countries – the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Qatar – the US, China, India, Japan, Israel and the UK, among others, will highlight how our lives and actions are interconnected and how social innovators are creating the realities of tomorrow.
The main Opportunity pavilion, aptly called ‘Mission Possible’, has been designed by AGi Architects and is themed around the urban history of the plaza and its universal significance as a place for people to connect across age, language and culture. The pavilion will take visitors through the journey of three individuals – Mariam, Abel, and Mama Fatma (representing different countries) – whose seemingly small actions have created a big impact in their communities in the areas of food, water and energy.
“The pavilion is centred around individual action having the potential to have a community impact. And in that we focus on the Sustainable Development Goals and the role that we can play around supporting their implementation. As a visitor, you would have the option of living the lives of three people – from the UAE, Zanzibar and Peru, and you go through their journey of what action they took in their community, and how that has impacted people. And you’re also involved in games and towards the end, you would be asked to take a pledge. And that pledge, we hope as a visitor, that you take it on forever, as something that you would be committed to,” explains Marjan Faraidooni, chief experience officer at Expo 2020 Dubai.
‘Vision’ is a word that countries, companies and business leaders often like to throw about – it offers the gravitas required to showcase a grand plan for the future. And yet, it is the implementation of a vision that is more essential and critical. Last month, the UAE – which celebrates its golden jubilee this year – announced plans to launch new projects for the next 50 years and followed that up with actual programmes and initiatives.
The ‘Projects of the 50’ includes schemes such as the ‘Green Visa’ for expatriates which allows them to sponsor themselves, a federal freelancers visa as well as other work permit reforms. It also includes a new Dhs5bn programme ‘Tech Drive’ to support advanced technology adoption in the industrial sector and a new data law that will ensure privacy of individuals and international companies in the country. The country also revealed plans to create 75,000 private sector jobs for Emiratis as part of the ‘Nafis programme’ and has allocated Dhs24bn to support the plan.
“The green visa is a brilliant step forward in reaffirming UAE’s increasingly attractive status as the global hub for talented expats. Not only does it provide flexibility to top talents who are looking to build a long-term career in UAE, but also assures him/her of a promising future with their families by their side,” says Dr Azad Moopen, founder, chairman and managing director of UAE-based Aster DM Healthcare.
Indian businessman Firoz Merchant, chairman and founder of Pure Gold Group, agrees that the new policies will bring about numerous opportunities in the near future. “These new changes will bring about a major impact both politically and economically – specifically on the investment landscape in the UAE. This country has made clear that it is headed in a new direction and we will see lots of changes in the next five to 10 years. In the last two years we have already seen reforms when it comes to visas and immigration laws – the UAE is becoming more welcoming and flexible and wants to support people in the country by providing a friendly atmosphere where they can stay comfortably, peacefully and with safety and security,” he says.
But while the focus remains on economic growth – both locally, regionally and globally, what the opportunity pavilion will highlight is also the need for socially inclusive growth. And that’s where technologies of the future will have a key role to play. Technologies of the future will enable the delivery of human-centred solutions that will ensure people’s holistic wellbeing and bridge social, geographic, and physical barriers, according to Dima Sayess, partner with Strategy& and the leader of the firm’s Ideation Center in the Middle East. Such solutions cover all industries and aspects of our daily lives.
“Virtual hospitals and smart monitoring wearables will enhance access to quality telehealth and increase life expectancy through predictive and regenerative care. Digital education and job-matching platforms will allow individuals from disadvantaged socioeconomic communities and geographies to pursue personalised and life-long education and decent employment. Virtual workplaces will enable agile work arrangements, and assistive technology and exoskeletons will enhance productivity. Digital finance has the potential to significantly boost financial inclusion and reduce transaction costs. Social integration and volunteering platforms, virtual tourism and e-sports will enable the community engagement of otherwise marginalised groups. Digital resource redistribution and crowdfunding tools will channel surplus (in medicine, energy, water, food, etc) to people in need. Renewable technologies will facilitate the sourcing, allocation, and sustainable consumption of water, energy and food of deprived areas and segments. Connected smart homes will increase citizens’ comfort and optimise consumption levels. Vehicles of the future, such as hyperloops, self-driving cars, and drone assisted deliveries will offer more connectivity and affordable solutions,” elaborates Sayess.
Aster’s Moopen agrees that integrating digital technology, particularly in sectors such as healthcare, is the “only way forward” to ensure a sustainable future for the industry. “It will solve the worldwide issue of access and affordability which millions of people around the world face today. With the use of digital tech like telehealth, access to quality healthcare can break geographical barriers and reach people in the remotest corners of the world. By increasing efficiency, automation and reducing dependency on a physical setup for primary care services, the use of technology can reduce costs and make healthcare affordable for all,” he states.
Power of youth
It is probably a cliché to say the future of the world lies in the hands of the youth. And yet that statement is gaining more power with the younger generations having more access to information and technology – and in turn having a larger influence on decision making. Youth empowerment is one of the main aspects of the Opportunity district and it will offer activities specifically designed for skill-building.
Expo 2020 is hoping to start early and inspire the very young with a curated Expo School programme, which will see the site offer guided tours for free to students across the country. Faraidooni says the tours, which cover four journeys – Legacy of the UAE, World of Opportunities, Sustainable Planet and Universe in Motion – are bespoke for different age groups.
“These tours have been very carefully planned and these four journeys are linked to our theme. We’ve also linked the tours to diverse UAE curricula, and we did that so that teachers can find the link between what they’re teaching in the classroom and what’s at the Expo. The way we like to explain it is that through this Expo, we are bringing the classroom to life,” she says, adding: “The journeys are safe, educational, inspirational and we did this because the school population represents the future generation.”
Beyond smaller children, youth aged between 15 and 24 currently account for around 16 per cent of the global population.
However, they face several challenges including inequitable access to affordable quality healthcare, education, stable income, and non-crowded housing, especially for vulnerable groups, explains Sayess.
“They also face high drop-out rates, low education attainment, and declining interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) disciplines, despite the pressing importance of Industry 4.0 and the need for digital skills. These challenges have led to an increase in youth unemployment, reaching 15 per cent, which has been further exacerbated by Covid-19.
“However, youth face a unique opportunity today. Technological advancements and globalisation will empower them to play an active role in shaping their future. From designing their personalised education pathways, to the prevalence of diversified career paths and entrepreneurship opportunities with the expansion of the gig economy, they have the chance to craft unique paths adapted to their abilities and interests. They also have access to innovative platforms and channels to strengthen their civic participation, voicing their issues, and engaging in government decisions and policy making, steering efforts towards positive change,” she adds.
Looking ahead, Expo 2020 will play a major role beyond its six-month period to re-energise large scale events, drive investments in startups and support local economic growth. “Expo 2020 will project Dubai as the most futuristic city in the world which is capable of evolving with time and turning any crisis into an opportunity,” believes Moopen.
In the words of Expo 2020: “Even one person can be the key to unlocking eight billion opportunities that can help individuals and communities create a better tomorrow, today.
“Each of our actions and choices have an impact on others, be it at home or on the other side of the planet. Join the universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. Become an agent of change. What change will your action bring? Commit to make a difference and feel empowered to actually get things done, then see the ripple effect as the pledges multiply.”