While the world is preoccupied attending to the pandemic health crisis, the UAE is busy planning its future.
In our latest Mondaq article we established why the UAE is at the forefront of technological innovation. We spoke about the close to full digitization of its private and public sector, the fast advancement of the Internet of Things in aviation, logistics and other sectors and other small and larger initiatives that make the country a frontrunner in digital transformation.
For our July Insight, we stay on the same trending topic and focus on two of the most recent developments. The UAE aspires to double its digital economy in just two years, and it is our belief that the latest initiatives send a strong signal that the country is serious about it.
National Program for Coders
On July 10th and under the supervision of the UAE Artificial Intelligence Office, the government launched its 'National Program for Coders', a program focusing on the following 5 pillars: software developers aka coders, entrepreneurs, startups, large companies and the academic sector.
The goal is to achieve the highest concentration in coders per capita in the world and by doing so, doubling the country's digital economy in just under two years.
Put into practice, the UAE:
- will be granting 100,000 Golden Visas - long-term residency visas - to entrepreneurs, company owners and startups specialized in coding;
- has teamed up with the world's best of the best in tech
such as IBM, Cisco, Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, Amazon and
- attract and train 100,000 coders who will
- set up 1,000 startup digital companies within the next 5 years;
- is more than tripling its investment in startups and unveiling a range of financing options to entrepreneurs and coders to support the setup and the projects of the startups
- formed Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy to attract major investment in e-commerce and emerging technologies. Read more on the fast growing e-commerce and crypto markets in our latest insights here and here.
- developed a comprehensive platform for linking coders with local companies and universities, via the organization of hackathons and special trainings etc.
One Million Arab Coders
In what it is said to be the largest initiative of its kind in the world, 1 million people from the Arab world graduated this month from the 'One Million Arab Coders' program. The program was initially launched in 2017 and aimed at teaching young students and tutors how to code.
And it did.
5 million working hours later, the graduates are now invited to participate in the biggest Coding Challenge ever introduced in the Arab world offering US$1 million for the most innovative coding project in the areas of blockchain, artificial intelligence, data, and cloud computing.
For many outsiders the above may seem quite close to coding obsession. And it could be. But as with any other 'grande' initiative taken by the UAE, there is great potential underpinning.
Coding is the future. It can be applied in various fields, from health, education and transportation to security and financial policy. Countries that learn to speak the language today, invest in smarter and safer environments, improved healthcare systems and in bettering their people's living standards.
The UAE devotes the means, money and resources, to unveil schemes of such magnitude not only because they realize it and have the means to do so but also because this is the course they have set for the country and they go big in making it happen.
Beyond all the predictable benefits of digitalizing your economy, we foresee the following long-term shifts in the technology landscape in the UAE and greater Middle East area:
Bringing it home:
For a country whose tech sector has been largely dependent on 'imported' technology - with software solutions provided by international firms and services performed either by migrant skilled workers or being outsourced, bringing home the technical skills and know-how is a huge step towards crashing innovation 'ceilings' and creating a sustainable environment for the development and application of digital technologies.
Granting long-term residency visas to start-ups and tech specialized talent means these people will come to the UAE, approach life and work there with a more 'permanent' mindset. This creates potential for the creation of a sustainable technology ecosystem in the country and the development of a permanent driver of economic growth.
What is more, it signifies a fundamental shift in the UAE's approach to its expat culture and a dedication -almost stubbornness - to transforming the country into a major technology hub creating vast opportunities for everyone concerned; employees, employers (tech companies), corporate service providers and the wider economy.
Power to the Small and the Medium:
Small and Medium size enterprises (SMEs) are a key economic pillar and supporting its growth has always been a strategic focus point for the country.
With access to finance being cited as the most common barrier SMEs in the UAE are facing today, it is more important than ever to invest in digital to break this barrier. More so in the UAE than any other country where approximately 95% of the business and more than 50% of the non-oil GDP is SME-driven.
We expect digital banking to enable immediate access to credit, to extending credit lines etc. therefore promoting SME growth. Moreover, the ease of selling online and the ability to increase your customer base through e-commerce are other ways where technology supports the SME sector. Especially in a post-Covid era where the consumer habits have been largely shifted online.
Statistics show that for every 9 men employed in the UAE in 2019 there was only 1 employed woman*. A striking fact that could be attributed to many factors, the main ones being that the country's population is highly concentrated in men and its economy driven by industries that are supported predominately by a male expat population.
The shift to digital will be penetrating companies in both 'traditional' business sectors such as travel and logistics but also digital oriented companies such as service providers offering digital solutions. This new 'breed' of services is widely expected to create a need to employ not only more people but also people with different skills and expertise.
As an example, digital marketing as an industry is particularly attractive to women as in theory, it offers more flexibility in location and working hours. Also, coding is, by default, a skill that is more attractive to the younger generation.
It is therefore a fact that digital contributes towards equaling employment opportunities. Narrowing the gender gap and lowering the employment age. Even more in the UAE where the gender gap starts off a larger base. Contributing, in turn, towards a more liberal and equal opportunities nation.
The UAE is under intense training to learn how to speak coding. The pandemic has provided the country (and the rest of the world) with a great opportunity to accelerate the digital transformation that will have lasting impacts on the country and the day to day lives of its citizens. Beyond this, digital is offering the UAE a unique opportunity to shift its course away from any notions of conservatism, rebrand its image to the outside world, diversify towards a more sustainable model of economic growth and position itself on a predominant spot on the map of technologically advanced countries.
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