Here's How A Digital Bridge Between The UAE And Central Asia Can Create A New Global Hub Of Digital Excellence Central Asia's growing tech industry unlocks vast potential for mutual growth with the UAE as a digital hub.

By Anatoly Motkin

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Within the last few years, the leadership of the UAE and other GCC countries have prioritized the rapid digitalization of their states to diversify their economic models, and attract top-tier intellectual capital to implement ambitious projects. These steps also aim to facilitate knowledge transfer, and empower local talent trained by global engineering leaders. And this is where leading technology companies with a significant presence in Central Asia and the Caucasus can play a crucial role.

With the Central Asia and Caucasus regions gaining an important place on the global digital enablement map in recent years, there is an opportunity to attract companies from this region to develop local expertise, and provide digital services to the leading companies in the Gulf. These companies will naturally contribute to forming a single digital market between the Gulf, Central Asia, and Caucasus regions by relocating part of their business activities, including development centers. Thanks to the synergy between the technology sectors of these three regions, their single digital market has the potential to become the third global digital hub, on par with the US-centric and China-centric ones.

Now, to me, the formation of a new tech hot spot between UAE and Central Asia seems to be not only realistic, but it is also already gaining momentum. As for why, firstly, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the UAE are in the same time zone, they are a short distance from each other, and they are carriers of a similar cultural code. Working with developers from this region is more convenient for corporations from the Gulf countries as well as much cheaper than with developers from Western countries. Companies located there already provide digital services to the world's leading companies such as European banks, major retail chains, international financial institutions, major airlines, and new generation gov-tech solutions. These cutting-edge technologies are what the Gulf countries need today.

Related: Driving The Digital Economy: A Look At Dubai's Initiatives In Building A Resilient Tech Startup Landscape

Secondly, the Eurasian countries have developed a pipeline of more than 10,000 startups. Many of them have already become, or have the potential to, become global success stories. Thus, investing in startups from Central Asia and the Caucasus will provide investors from the UAE with very attractive investment opportunities, and the opportunity to significantly increase their digital footprint. That said, what are the real prospects for increasing interregional digital cooperation? They are high. It is enough even to study our own experience at StrategEast, an independent institution working to develop Eurasia's digital economy. You see, in October 2023, we organized a working visit of high-level Eurasian government officials responsible for the information technology (IT) sector development to meet their peers in Dubai and Sharjah. As a result of this visit, the parties began discussing various cooperation formats, and as the first immediate outcome, Kyrgyzstan decided to have a country pavilion at GITEX 2024 in Dubai.

Also, from the independent reports on the development of the IT ecosystem in the Caucasus and Central Asia, we can see how much IT exports from the countries of this region have grown over the past few years, which indicates the region's growing IT potential. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan created noteworthy IT export industries from scratch in just a few years. At the end of 2023, Central Asian countries alone exported digital products worth more than US$1 billion. Against this backdrop, amidst the recession in the United States and Western Europe, the UAE today has a significant competitive advantage in the struggle for digital talent and expertise from Central Asia and the Caucasus. The synergy that can be created today, both in the sphere of consumption of digital services of these companies, investments in startups that are located there, and soft landing of some of them in the Gulf, will allow the UAE in the short term to become a digital sprinter as well as a digital leader not only on a regional, but also on a global, scale.

For several decades, the UAE and other Gulf states supported African countries in developing agriculture, saving millions of people from hunger, and earning new allies on the continent. Today, in the world of a knowledge-based economy, the IT industry of the countries of Central Asia and the Caucasus provides the UAE not only with the opportunity to increase their digital expertise, and significantly multiply their investments, but also to continue the excellent tradition of being a welcomed economic gamechanger in the transition region.

Related: Huawei Cloud's Startup Program To Digitally Empower 1,000 SMEs In MEA And Central Asia By 2025

Anatoly Motkin

President, StrategEast

Anatoly Motkin is the President of StrategEast, an independent institution working to develop Eurasia's digital economy.

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