How would you characterize Finnish experiences of sustainability, and how can those lessons be translated into a country like the UAE?
In 1917 when Finland gained its independence, we were a poor country, hungry from disease and war. In the span of a hundred years, we have emerged from poverty to become a developed country. Things happened fast as they have happened here in the UAE, and we basically focused on three things: education, equality, and openness. Once these facets are prioritized and balance is achieved, then success will develop. Our big success story started at the end of the Cold War in 1989 when we did two things; we opened our economy and joined the EU, which bolstered Finland's promotion of sustainability and sustainable development. My message to the Executive Council was that issues of sustainability are part of the global agenda and the UAE and Sharjah should focus on these. The fourth industrial revolution and technological development will play a big role in this.
What are the difficulties in implementing sustainable targets in the UAE?
The countries that have adopted the sustainable development goals (SDGs) have been divided into two groups: one half is non-oil producing and the other one is oil-producing. If we look at the targets given to the oil producing countries, they are going to be at a disadvantage from the start in terms of their rankings. The bottom line is that the UAE in a broad sense, less so in the case of Sharjah, has to figure out how to transition from gas and oil toward solar power or other renewables. If it can take a lead on that, then its ranking will improve. The SDGs are intrinsically linked to modern technology, so if the right infrastructure is in place that is already a step in the right direction.
What lessons can the UAE learn from Finland in educating and employing their nationals?
As a former prime minister, I would like to see the rate of people getting a degree and transitioning to jobs increase. The way in which everyone in the world works will radically change through the fourth industrial revolution. First of all, paradoxically, the link between a university degree and a job will diminish, and we will have to keep reeducating ourselves all the time and develop new skills in line with the technology that becomes available on the market. Similarly, our job structures will change; there will be no more nine-to-five because the world today has tools that enable remote access. Thirdly, the link between the physical workplace and work will become further removed. Fourthly, we will not be working for the same employer anymore; we will have many jobs at the same time. Finally, many jobs will be, by definition, global, so one may not only work in Dubai, or the UAE; they might be working around the world, again facilitated by devices. The pace at which computing is advancing is rapid so these developments are only around the corner.
What is your impression of the UAE education system, and is there any collaboration between the UAE and Finnish government in the sector?
The bottom line is that it is impossible to bring a Finnish school to the Emirates and say this is what and how you should learn. Education has to be tailored to the culture in which it will exist. Three pieces of advice from the Finnish system would be the following; first of all, teachers are respected, and it is not easy to become a teacher as a master's to teach is required. Secondly, teachers should have a high level of autonomy so there is a curriculum but they can teach it as they like, and, thirdly, teachers should be well paid.