The Futurist: H.E. Ohood Al Roumi, UAE Minister Of State For Government Development And The Future Al Roumi has been tasked with shaping a progressive government for the UAE, while also keeping an eye on the horizon of tomorrow, and thereby enhancing the country's preparedness for the future, as well as for the opportunities it presents.
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"Bridging the present with the future." This is how H.E. Ohood Al Roumi describes the essence of her role as the UAE Minister of State for Government Development and The Future, and it is also perhaps the most succinct way to understand the nature of the work that she does on a day-to-day basis.
Having been appointed to this position in July 2020, Al Roumi has been tasked with shaping a progressive government for the UAE, while also keeping an eye on the horizon of tomorrow, and thereby enhancing the country's preparedness for the future, as well as for the opportunities it presents. Guiding Al Roumi in this particular endeavor are the directives laid out by the UAE leadership, and her job is to translate and implement their visionary philosophy to ensure that the nation continues to be a beacon of innovation, wellbeing, and progress.
Now, all of this is certainly a hard ask to be made of Al Roumi- but she's taking inspiration from the UAE's futurist gaze to make it all happen. Indeed, as the UAE gets ready to celebrate its 52nd National Day on December 2 this year, it's worth noting that this particular date has an added significance in that it has been, since 2021, been marked as World Futures Day by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)- a point that hasn't escaped Al Roumi's notice.
"The UAE has always been at the forefront of future-oriented thinking," Al Roumi notes. "Our founding father, the late H.H. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, instilled in us this philosophy: to shape the future, or be shaped by it. Embracing this legacy, our leadership continually looks forward, ensuring that the UAE is not just a participant in the future, but a creator of it. And, as a result, the UAE is viewed today as the country of the future. It's no coincidence that World Futures Day was chosen to coincide with the UAE's National Day on the 2nd of December!"
It's thus this forward-thinking mindset that has been exemplified by the rulers of the UAE that Al Roumi is hoping to emulate as the country's Minister of State for Government Development and The Future. "Our mandate is focused on making the government 'future fit,'" she shares. "This means constantly evolving our government to not only be resilient and adaptive, but also proactive in shaping a sustainable future. We realize that while daily operations are critical, they often overshadow the necessity to plan for the future. Our role, therefore, is to be the catalyst that institutionalizes future-thinking into the daily functions of the UAE government, building capacity, and motivating future-readiness efforts in a practical way. The ultimate objective is celebrating role models, and making the future a- 365-day job in government."
At the recently held Dubai Future Forum 2023, H.E. Ohood Al Roumi engaged with Jacob Ellis, UNICEF Youth Foresight Fellow, in a session looking at how policymakers can meet the needs of future generations. Image courtesy Government Development and the Future Office.
One of the initiatives that Al Roumi has spearheaded in this regard is the creation of the UAE Future Network, which brings together 100 officials and experts from the country's federal and local government entities who are "focused on the future." Armed with the aim to both create opportunities and build strategic partnerships that support the vision of the UAE and realize the aspirations of its leadership, the UAE Future Network allows its members to come together and exchange experiences, share success stories, and explore challenges to find strategic solutions that are based on future national partnerships between the government and private sector.
Al Roumi also highlights Jahiz ("ready" in Arabic), an integrated national initiative that has been designed to enhance the readiness of talent in the UAE federal government with future-centric skills. And it does all this with the aid of a smart digital platform that houses a variety of virtual modules and masterclasses under four main skills pillars- digital, 10X, new economy, and data and artificial intelligence (AI) skills. "Developed in partnership with leading national and global organizations, Jahiz has already engaged over 50,000 employees, who have earned more than 500,000 skills badges," Al Roumi proudly adds.
Another noteworthy undertaking Al Roumi has led is the creation of the Future By Design Toolkit, which is a set of tools that represent the next generation in practical future design, all of which are based on the UAE government's experience in designing projects fit for the future. It thus enables government entities to design and implement practical initiatives and projects that are informed by future trends, and, once again, enhancing the UAE's readiness for what lies ahead. Al Roumi also turns our attention to the Future Fit Seal, which is a national symbol that recognizes innovative and forward-thinking projects by local and federal government institutions. As such, the Future Fit Seal is awarded to projects that invest in future skills, utilize advanced technologies, and demonstrate tangible outcomes in priority sectors of the future like the new economy, food and water security, environmental sustainability, and future technologies.
Now, while the aforementioned are just a sampling of the many initiatives that Al Roumi has led in her current role, it would be remiss of us at Entrepreneur Middle East to not mention one other project she's leading that's definitely in our line of sight: the Future 100. As a partnership between the UAE Ministry of Economy and the Government Development and the Future Office, the Future 100 has been conceptualized as a showcase of the top 100 startups in the country, which promote its readiness for the future, as well as the competitiveness of its future economic sector. "The Future 100 initiative is a pivotal project for the UAE, resonating deeply with our long-term aspirations as outlined in our Centennial 2071 and the We the UAE 2031 vision," Al Roumi adds. "This initiative is a corner- stone in our strategy to forge a new economy that will pave the way for a better tomorrow. It aligns perfectly with our ambitious goal to double the UAE's gross domestic product by 2031. Launched last December, the Future 100 is a testament to our commitment to nurturing and celebrating the top 100 startup and scaleup companies that are set to make a profound impact on the UAE's economic landscape. These companies are not just business entities; they are the drivers of our future economy, accelerating our readiness for the global market."
H.E. Ohood Al Roumi, UAE Minister of State for Government Development and the Future, and H.E. Abdulla Bin Touq Al Marri, UAE Minister of Economy, (in center) at the partnerships ceremony for the Future 100, an initiative led by both their ministries. Image courtesy Government Development and the Future Office.
Operating in sectors like advanced manufacturing, fintech, intelligent mobility, biotechnology, food security, space exploration, renewable energy, cybersecurity, blockchain technology, and 3D printing, the companies that will be included in the inaugural edition of the Future 100 will therefore be those that are at the forefront of enhancing the competitiveness of their respective industries. "The Future 100 embodies a partnership with the future," Al Roumi adds. "That is why we also aim to provide these companies with accelerated access to investors, regulators, and the business community, as well as comprehensive support in funding, legal advice, commercial assistance, and capacity building."
And while the Future 100 companies are only going to be revealed on December 8, 2023, Al Roumi believes that the reception it has had from the UAE business ecosystem is indicative of how exemplary it is set to be. "The response to this initiative from both entrepreneurs and our 25 partners has been extraordinary, with over 1000 applications received, highlighting the UAE's robust entrepreneurial spirit," she says. "Our rigorous selection process, including 200 online interviews by 45 expert judges, showcases the depth of talent here, with a healthy mix of startups (61%) and scaleups (39%)."
It is clear here that Al Roumi has a keen interest in the UAE's entrepreneurial ecosystem, but it is fueled not just by the contributions it makes- it's more about how it's representative of the nation as a whole. "The entrepreneurial ecosystem in the UAE reflects our national ethos- an embodiment of the restless, innovative spirit that propels us towards a new tomorrow," she explains. "As the UAE Minister of State for Government Development and the Future, I see this entrepreneurial spirit as integral to my role. It's what drives our approach to governance, with the government operating in a startup mode, taking lean and agile approaches to projects, and constantly striving for innovative solutions on a grand scale. Indeed, this spirit is not confined to the government alone; it permeates every facet of our society- from individuals to the private sector, shaping our economy and society as a whole. This entrepreneurial drive is why the UAE ranks first in the Global Entrepreneurship Index, and first globally in the Talent Attraction Index. These rankings are a testament to our commitment to fostering an environment where innovation and entrepreneurship can flourish."
Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and the numbers that testify to the growth (and potential) of the UAE entrepreneurial landscape continue to be remarkable. According to the UAE Ministry of Economy, the SME sector represents more than 94% of the total number of companies operating in the country, and they provide jobs for more than 86% of the private sector's workforce. Entrepreneurs in the UAE have also recently been delighted by a number of government measures and decisions that serve to enhance their businesses in the country, be it by allowing full foreign ownership of companies in all activities, or with the provision of long-term residency and a host of other benefits through the nation's Golden Visa program.
H.E. Ohood Al Roumi at the UAE Government's Annual Meetings in 2023. Image courtesy Government Development and the Future Office.
The UAE is thus leaving no stone unturned in its drive to make itself a hotspot for entrepreneurial minds from around the world, and Al Roumi is emphatic about the criticality of such efforts. "The role of homegrown entrepreneurs in shaping the future of the UAE cannot be overstated," she says. "They are pivotal in transforming our economy, enhancing its readiness for future challenges, and ensuring sustainable growth. Our belief in their potential is what motivates us to create a 'future fit' entrepreneurial ecosystem- one that not only attracts, but also nurtures and supports, talented entrepreneurs. Initiatives like Future 100 are a part of this vision, designed to provide a platform for entrepreneurs to thrive and contribute to the nation's prosperity."
Now, hearing Al Roumi speak about all that she does in her role as the UAE Minister of State for Government Development and the Future, it's really hard to not be impressed by this national leader's relentless passion to serve her nation, and secure for it the best path forward it could possibly have. Of course, all of this might well be because she had a great role model to learn from- her father, the late H.E. Khalfan Mohammed Al Roumi, was a national pioneer who, through a variety of ministerial roles, had an integral role to play in making the UAE what it is today. "One of the best pieces of advice I've received on leadership came from my late father, a man of profound wisdom and dedicated service to his country who served as a minister for over 20 years in various capacities," Al Roumi reveals. "He taught me that serving our country is not just an honor, but a duty and a responsibility. Through his actions and perspectives, he taught me the importance of looking at situations from various angles, and always putting oneself in other people's shoes. This empathetic approach, combined with a deep- rooted culture of service, has been a guiding principle in my career, shaping my leadership style to be more inclusive, understanding, and compassionate."
A note needs to be made here about Al Roumi's career trajectory, which has truly been nothing short of exemplary- indeed, even before she made her presence felt in her current role, she had made headlines in 2016 when she was appointed the UAE's Minister of State for Happiness and Wellbeing, which was the first time the world at large had seen a government position in such a capacity. But her journey to these roles actually started in 2006, amid the inception of the UAE federal government's first strategy, which was when Al Roumi, as an economist by education and a policy maker by practice, was chosen to lead a pivotal project that marked the beginning of a transformative era in our government. "The experience was intense yet exciting, driven by a team unyielding in its pursuit of the extraordinary," she recalls. "Shortly afterwards, I was appointed to head the Prime Minister's Office, and I had the privilege to oversee the inception of multiple strategic programs, including government services, excellence, performance management and leadership programs."
Fast forward to 2010, and Al Roumi found herself working on the UAE's Vision 2021, which was a long-term plan that aimed to make the UAE one of the best countries in the world by the year 2021, which was when it would also celebrate the Golden Jubilee of its formation as a federation. Looking back at it now, Al Roumi considers the realization of Vision 2021 as having been a particularly memorable moment in her career. "Being an integral part of this national dream, and contributing to the hard work over the years to bring this vision to life was immensely rewarding," Al Roumi says. "Witnessing the UAE ascend to the top 10 most competitive countries globally, and leading in over 180 global indicators, is a dream realized. It's a testament to our leadership's aspiration for our future generations to live lives even better than ours. Vision 2021 was more than an aspiration; it was a national ambition brought to fruition by the collective effort of hundreds of national teams, all working towards a singular goal. To be part of this transformative journey, from its inception to its realization, is a source of immense national pride. Along this journey, we faced numerous challenges, but it was through these trials that I learned the most valuable lessons in resilience, agility, wisdom, and courage. The unwavering support from our leadership was crucial in overcoming these obstacles, reinforcing the belief that in the UAE, the race for excellence indeed has no finish line."
H.E. Ohood Al Roumi. Image courtesy Government Development and the Future Office.
In 2020, Al Roumi was also appointed as the Secretary General of the UAE's Preparation for the Next 50 committee, which was responsible for crafting a comprehensive development plan for the country till its centennial in 2071. "My role was to translate the vision of UAE President and Ruler of Abu Dhabi, H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan that 'we want to ensure that the coming generation would be more prosperous than the present one,' and the aspiration of UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, that 'the future belongs to those who can imagine it, design it, and execute it,'" Al Roumi recalls. "With these guiding directives, I was privileged to orchestrate the design of the UAE's future trajectory for the next 50 years. This pivotal task was carried out through an extensive network of national working teams, bringing together diverse expertise and insights from across government, industry and society. Our collaborative efforts culminated in the formulation of the UAE Centennial 2071, a comprehensive and long-term vision spanning five decades, which constitutes a roadmap for government action with the aim of making the UAE the best country in the world by 2071."
Given how closely Al Roumi has been associated with the leadership of the UAE throughout her career, it should come as no surprise then that they stand as her greatest inspiration when it comes to role models in leadership. "Their ability to think grandly and strategically about the future, coupled with their genuine humility and commitment to support teamwork and collaboration, and their belief that nothing is impossible, has profoundly influenced my leadership style," Al Roumi says. "They embody the principle that true leadership is about leading by example, empowering others, fostering a spirit of teamwork, and maintaining an unwavering commitment to progress and innovation. These qualities resonate deeply with my personal leadership mantra: unlocking human potential. In every team I've worked with, my focus has been on nurturing team members to become leaders in their own right. This involves challenging them, guiding them through these challenges, and leading by example. I place a strong emphasis on excellence, adaptability, agility, and the importance of constant learning and self-reinvention, all while ensuring a collaborative environment that harnesses the collective power of the team."
It is with these principles that Al Roumi aims to continue with her service to the UAE, and her futurist mindset comes to the fore again when she makes it clear that this is going to be a lifelong commitment for her. "Looking forward, my personal goals are aligned with the continued prosperity and advancement of the UAE," Al Roumi declares. "I am excited about the next 50 years of our journey towards the future, where our focus is not just on sustaining progress, but on propelling our future generations to greater heights of prosperity. The lessons learned from our leadership -to be agile, resilient, to always think big, and that the word 'impossible' is not in the UAE's dictionary- will be instrumental in this endeavor. As we look towards 2071, my ambition is to contribute to future-proofing our nation, preparing our younger generations for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. I hope to continue serving my country, playing a role in shaping a future where the UAE remains a beacon of innovation, progress, and prosperity on the global stage."
H.E. Ohood Al Roumi is the Minister of State for Government Development and the Future in the UAE government, a ministerial portfolio created in 2020 with the aim of advancing government development, and enhancing the UAE's readiness for future challenges and opportunities. Image courtesy Government Development and the Future Office.
THE EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: H.E. Ohood Al Roumi, UAE Minister of State for Government Development and The Future, shares her tips for entrepreneurs in the UAE
Understand the power of positive and innovative thinking "Cultivating a positive and innovative mindset is crucial in the entrepreneurial journey. Believing in your ability to achieve your goals significantly increases the likelihood of success. This mindset encourages creative solutions, and it helps you navigate the complex landscape of entrepreneurship with optimism and innovation."
Adopt a growth mindset fit for the global market "Embrace continuous learning and self-improvement. Understand that your abilities are not static, but can be developed over time. This growth mindset will not only serve you well in the UAE's dynamic market, but also prepare you for global competitiveness. Viewing challenges as opportunities to grow will position you to seize international opportunities, and expand your entrepreneurial impact."
Build a support system "Entrepreneurship can be a challenging path, filled with ups and downs. Establishing a robust support system of mentors, peers, and industry experts is vital. This network provides guidance, emotional support, and practical advice, helping you navigate obstacles and setbacks more effectively."
A note for the women: be bold! "For female entrepreneurs specifically, my additional advice is to be bold, and actively seek opportunities and platforms that amplify your business endeavors. When the team was going through the Future 100 applications, they found that 20% of the applicants were female entrepreneurs, compared to 80% males. I am hoping to see 50% female applicants in the next edition of Future 100!"
LEADING BY EXAMPLE: Q&A with H.E. Ohood Al Roumi, UAE Minister of State for Government Development and The Future
What would be your advice for women in the UAE, both Emirati and otherwise, who look to you as a role model?
"In my journey as an Emirati woman, I have been fortunate to witness and benefit from the UAE's unwavering commitment to women's empowerment, a vision passionately advocated by our founding father, the late H.H. Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and continued by his spouse, H.H. Sheikha Fatima bint Mubarak. And we continue to be blessed by a leadership that recognizes women's capabilities, and their integral role in advancing society, government, and the economy.
Today, the UAE's dedication to gender equality is evident, with women holding significant positions in government and contributing to all sectors. We rank 11th globally in the United Nations Development Program's 2022 Gender Inequality Index, and we have led the MENA region for three consecutive years.
As women, we bring to the table greater responsiveness, diverse perspectives, co-creative innovation, cooperative working habits and new types of solutions. This inclusive approach to our work and our endeavors results in more balanced policies and outcomes across sectors.
For women aspiring for success in their lives and businesses, my advice is concise yet profound: trust in your own abilities, and be confident in your decisions; remain authentic, always staying true to your personal values and ethics, as these are the foundations of your actions and leadership style; embrace a service-oriented approach in your roles, aiming to serve and positively impact those around you; and importantly, know and align with your life's purpose, as this alignment is crucial for making meaningful and lasting contributions in your career and beyond."