How did Abu Dhabi fare as an Emirate during the pandemic, and what made it resilient?
Abu Dhabi takes a glass-half-full approach, and looking at the announcements, policies, and incentives, it has been streamlined, coordinated, and rapid in its response. The Emirate has addressed not only the main issue of health and safety but also all the subsequent issues emerging from the viral outbreak, including business continuity and private sector support. Abu Dhabi had a great deal of foresight in managing key programs in economic areas that needed support and focus. Even before COVID-19, the leadership recognized we need to focus on arid climate agriculture, biopharma, and medicine, and the last few months have only accelerated progress in these areas. In my recent conversations with companies, everyone has been impressed by how quickly we reacted and how the clear number-one priority in Abu Dhabi is the people who call Abu Dhabi home. Everything else that is important is downstream of the security, safety, and health of our population. Companies are run by and made up of people, so they look at what we have done and say they would like to explore working with us or being based in Abu Dhabi. In parallel with our emphasis on people, we also prioritize the progress of innovation and technology to create solutions that can benefit those in the region and beyond. While ambitious, Abu Dhabi has the infrastructure and ability to achieve these goals. Businesses and people from all around the world are eager to be a part of that story. There is also government support to ensure everyone is able to benefit from these ambitions. The opportunities are overflowing right now, and the government is pushing for several initiatives to help the private sector and the population of Abu Dhabi. The events of the last five months have made my job easier in the sense of highlighting Abu Dhabi as a great place to be, so we welcome the world and are putting in the work to support our words with meaningful actions.
Can you elaborate on how you are promoting resiliency?
Part of it is advancing innovation in the key sectors I previously mentioned, and the other is data, monitoring, and engagement. For us to understand what the private sector is experiencing, we have to be engaged at multiple levels with various committees, conversations and so on. That became an essential litmus test for the initiatives that we were introducing and understanding the reality for the institutions and the people who work there. One factor of resiliency is the engagement of policymakers and designing support mechanisms for beyond the short-term crisis. When we work with companies and discuss their business plans for what they are looking to accomplish in Abu Dhabi, we look at more than the individual company. We also consider how they can engage with the wider ecosystem in Abu Dhabi. We announced seven significant agtech partnerships with local and international innovators, and now it is great to see all seven companies working with one another and others across the ecosystem to develop technologies and solutions. We are seeing mentalities shift away from a competitive mindset to a more collaborative approach. The resiliency model we are building is complementary and driven around research and development, which by default means you have to work with counterparts. Moreover, it revolves around innovation and incorporates upskilling workers and sourcing high-skilled talent. Another piece is ensuring the right companies are looking to grow in Abu Dhabi, the region, and, more importantly, outside the region using Abu Dhabi as a hub. With this priority placed on resiliency, companies receive an unparalleled level of support in achieving their business goals.
How do the food security initiative and agtech factor into Abu Dhabi's plans moving forward, and has the scope or activities of the program been updated in light of COVID-19?
The agtech initiative is a longstanding one in Abu Dhabi that has been a long-term priority for the government. In light of COVID-19, food security has been highlighted in recent months. However, even prior to COVID-19, we have been working on the initiative to provide direct financial and non-financial initiatives to agtech companies. While the supply chain today is heavily dependent on imports, we are focused on shifting at least some of those core agricultural products to be manufactured onshore. Another component is building up and maintaining the presence of international partners while ensuring that they are testing crops that work for us. We have designed our program to ensure that the entities coming and setting up are able to test, localize, scale, and sell their products. A final, critical component is the development of solutions that are locally relevant and globally exportable. We focus not only on the food security element but also on exporting IP and knowledge. We see opportunities for R&D in Abu Dhabi whereby we produce crops and expertise here and then transfer this to sub-Saharan Africa or other regions with similar arid climates. Agriculture is important, and we are starting to see many goods being made in the UAE. This is a testament of our leadership's priority regarding the development of that sector locally, regionally, and globally.
What are your primary objectives for technological innovation?
Innovation in technology is a priority for us. We are making sure that any company from any sector that is focused on innovation, technology, or R&D is supported. There are some sectors that are especially critical to Abu Dhabi's economic diversification plans, but every innovative idea or company will be supported. An important thing to keep in mind when looking at these high-growth sectors is that, for some of these clusters, their largest market may be outside of the UAE. However, we still want to make sure we incubate them here and become an exporter of knowledge and technology; supporting growth outside of the UAE is also important.
Where do you see the challenges, and how do you anticipate overcoming them?
On a global scale, the main challenge we will face is the impact of lockdowns, movement restrictions and economic slowdowns as a result of COVID-19. In this regard, the UAE has responded quickly to ensure the safety and security of its people and the business community. Of greater interest to us is how remote working will change the way businesses will grow and expand internationally. This is why our focus is on innovation and R&D, as the idea of agility is fundamental to these pursuits. From the standpoint of an individual employee, we have an offering for people who can work remotely and have launched the Thrive in Abu Dhabi program to promote long-term Golden Visas. We have an enticing offering. From a corporate perspective, we want to make sure our offering is just as attractive and supportive of the new way of doing business. My greatest challenge will be how to grasp this new reality and bring companies to be based in Abu Dhabi. We have a great deal of traction, as companies are extremely appreciative of the leadership we have demonstrated and quick adaptation. While we will continue to see massive changes over the next six months and beyond, ADIO will be here to support companies.