Designs On The Future: Area 2071 Aims To Make The UAE The Leading Nation In The World
As someone who has been involved with Area 2071 ever since it was first announced in 2017, Dubai Future Foundation Deputy CEO Abdulaziz Al Jaziri remembers a meeting with a global consulting firm during the initiative’s early days, where he and his team presented its aim to be an ecosystem to “design the future.” In response, the consultants asked for a benchmark on which Area 2071 was being modeled on, and Al Jaziri and his team replied that, well, there hadn’t been anything like this done ever before in the world.
Now, this little anecdote should, I feel, serve well as an indication of the pioneering nature of this particular initiative being led by Dubai and the UAE, and why, by virtue of this factor alone, it can be hard for many among us to understand what Area 2071 is all about. With this in mind, it perhaps makes sense to go back to the origins of this initiative, which Al Jaziri says were through a speech delivered by H.H. Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince, and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, at the conclusion of the Mohamed bin Zayed Majlis for Future Generations in early 2017. At the event, which had about 3,000 Emirati youth in attendance, Sheikh Mohamed noted how surveys had revealed that 70% of Arab youth wanted to come and live in the UAE.
“The reason is that 47 or 50 years ago, Allah blessed us with a wise leadership that laid the sound foundation and infrastructure for the launch of nation-building and development. Now, we breathe fresh air, and live a happy life. Yet, we have to make further efforts, and develop a long-term vision, and plan in a sound way to reach the set goals, and enable the coming generation to live happily and safely just like you do.” It was this idea that provided the basis for the UAE Centennial 2071 project, which H.H. Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, launched in March 2017 as a five-decade government plan that aims to make the UAE, by the time of the 100th anniversary of its founding in 1971, “the world’s leading nation.”
Dubai Future Foundation Deputy CEO Abdulaziz Al Jaziri. Source: Area 2071
This is, of course, a deceptively simple premise, but, as an ambitious plan that’s focused on setting up future generations of the UAE with continued success and prosperity, its visionary aspect cannot be denied. But how can this actually be realized? “It’s not just about being the best at things,” Al Jaziri replies. “We truly believe that you, being the leading nation in the world, means that you have the most outsized contribution to humanity.” And it is to realize this grand dream that Area 2071 has come into being- it is, as its official website declares, “a physical manifestation of this vision, with the sole purpose of creating positive global impact.”
In terms of its actual location, Area 2071 is located at Emirates Towers in Dubai, with the first phase of the space having been officially inaugurated by Sheikh Mohammad in May this year. But describing what the space actually is remains a fairly difficult task, according to Al Jaziri. “It’s not a startup ecosystem,” he says. “It’s not an incubator. It’s not an accelerator… It’s not [just] a government play. It’s much more than that.” Indeed, having had this conversation with Al Jaziri, I have now come to the conclusion that Area 2071 is not just one of those things he has listed- it’s better described as a combination of all those things, and much, much more.
Area 2071 wants to bring together the government, private sector, youth, academia, entrepreneurs, and startups to work on how the world should be in the future. This community is thus tasked with thinking up solutions to some of the world’s most pressing questions and challenges- and this will also involve an innovative reimagining of the various sectors that will drive the future, such as education, transport, healthcare, etc. “What Area 2071 is trying to build is an ecosystem that changes with time, but an ecosystem that’s focused on solving universal challenges,” Al Jaziri says.
The Area 2071 space at Emirates Towers, Dubai. Source: Area 2071
This, in turn, should explain why Area 2071 has tied up with both local and international partners to help facilitate this redesign of the world as we know it- this list of allies includes the United Nations, IBM, Proctor & Gamble, SAP, Emirates, Ernst & Young, Pfizer, Wamda Capital, GEMS Education, and other prominent entities. Its physical location at Emirates Towers is also especially significant- the office tower today plays host to everything from the Office of the Prime Minister of the UAE, to the Dubai Future Accelerators, to the Youth Hub, and much, much more. Now, all of these different entities at Area 2071 are here to reimagine either themselves or their respective industries- but that doesn’t mean they are going to be working in isolation either.
Under the umbrella of Area 2071, the common location at the Emirates Towers Boulevard means that all of the different players housed there will now be walking distance away from each other, which will allow for collisions between the entities to happen –sometimes in a literal sense- that will enable the collaborative aspect envisioned for this space. “So, if a startup [at Area 2071] needs to work with a government entity, or if it needs to work with a private sector entity, they can just walk towards them,” Al Jaziri notes. “What I really love about this -and I hear it from our partners; I don’t hear it from my team- is [hearing] that GEMS going to SAP, or Pfizer, or Ernst & Young, and saying how can we work collaboratively.”
Indeed, Area 2071 encourages all of the entities it has onboard to interact with each other, learn from each other, and, indeed, work with each other. The openness of the space is rather forthcoming, and while one may assume it to be a detractor in terms of interest, the fact that Area 207 is getting pretty crowded should serve as an indication of its attractiveness as a concept. “After we launched Area 2071, we haven’t done any business development,” Al Jaziri says.
The Area 2071 space at Emirates Towers, Dubai. Source: Area 2071
“All of these partners have been flooding in, coming to us, to talk to us, and seeing how they can work with us. And we always say, if you abide by the principles of this space, of you being open to change, of you being open to working with this ecosystem, then, sure, there’s a space for you. If you just want to close doors, and work by yourself, this is not the space for you. If you are open to working with everyone in this ecosystem, then this is home.”
At this point, I’m going to wager that for most of us, the fact that Area 2071 is focused on a future that is, to put it quite simply, so far ahead in time, can be a reason for not being able to comprehend it. Al Jaziri agrees with this notion, but he also notes that it is the far-reaching aspect of Area 2071 that makes it such a landmark initiative. The north star, Al Jaziri explains, is the UAE’s vision to be the leading nation of the world by 2071- and Area 2071 is simply bringing together the people and the companies needed to realize this future. “They’re not looking at how much is this going to cost us, how much is it going to bring us, what’s the return on investment,” AL Jaziri says. “I think everyone here believes in that vision of His Highness that you need to come together to redesign the future, and the fruits of your labor are going to come to life then.”
And while communicating what Area 2071 is may seem like a challenge now, Al Jaziri is firm in his belief that when we see actual results and outcomes come out of this space a few months down the line, its significance will be better ascertained then. After all, the efforts in the reimagination of existing entities and sectors have already begun, and so have the creative collaborations that Al Jaziri and his team hoped for. “I think at the beginning, we were anxious about the space, how would people understand and perceive it, and the support we’re going to get,” Al Jaziri remembers.
The Area 2071 website. Source: Area 2071
“But we got all that and beyond; things that have been happening have been enormously successful. And just saying we’re running out of space -I mean, we can actually pick and choose our partners, depending on what our needs are- means success for us. Now, we’re at a stage where we actually know the vision- I think, [earlier,] it was a bit more of walking through a foggy space of how this is going to come to life. Now, everything’s clear; our mandate is clear- our vision is clear for the future.”
Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.
Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.