Dubai Can be the Silicon Valley of the Rest

For the first time in decades, the lion’s share of global GDP growth has shifted from the West to emerging markets, bringing new nexus points of the global economy into sharp focus.

By Xische Editorial, December 16, 2018

Source: Panimoni/ Shutterstock

Source: Panimoni/Shutterstock

Over the last two decades, an unprecedented shift has occurred in the global economy. For the first time in decades, the lion’s share of global GDP growth has shifted from the West to emerging markets. From China to India, the so-called non-West is upending how the global economy operates. Coupled with rapid changes in technology and connectivity, emerging markets are poised to be the powerhouses of the next century of growth.

While this shift is still unfolding and the West remains economically powerful, the new nexus points of the global economy have come into sharp focus. City-states such as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Dubai have carved out a critical place in the new economy. Connected to virtually all corners of the world through aviation, these cities are the convergence points for the new global middle class. With commitments to technological innovation, they are hives of activity.  

Dubai, in particular, is seen by many as a New York for the developing world. If you are a talented app developer in East Africa or a coder in Central Asia, chances are that you have an eye (or an office) in Dubai. Given the city’s internet infrastructure and its growing number of startups, Dubai is fast becoming the Silicon Valley for the rest. With a commitment to building a knowledge economy from the top down, Dubai’s leadership understands just how critical the rest of the emerging world is to its vision of placing Dubai at the forefront of the global economy.

The next step in the creation of Dubai’s knowledge economy is found on the national level as the UAE embeds itself in development of other emerging markets. In late 2018, for example, the UAE agreed to collaborate with India to launch several joint aid projects across Africa. The first project is the creation of an information technology center in Ethiopia.

This is only the second time that India has partnered with a third country in an African aid project. The first time was with Japan. As such, the project reveals the critical position that the UAE can play in the development of countries such as Ethiopia into technological powerhouses.

Given the global race in tech, the UAE’s involvement in development projects that focus on technology is significant in several ways. First and foremost, the UAE doesn’t share the same intentions as global leaders such as the United States and China. These companies are generally looking for user growth and will sometimes stop at nothing to sign up new users or extract the knowledge they seek.

The result is the replication of old colonial relationships, whereby powerful countries extract what they need from colonies without any attention to the development of the local economies or infrastructure. In the modern tech race, local ecosystems have been left to survive on their own as anyone with talent is poached for a job in Shanghai or Silicon Valley. 

The UAE’s intention is markedly different. Instead of poaching talent, the country has a distinct interest in building local capacity in concert with Dubai’s technology ecosystem. Given the proximity of many regions like East Africa to Dubai, fresh entrepreneurs and tech visionaries can develop their products at home while still enjoying the network benefits of Dubai. It is only a couple of hour flight to Dubai for a large majority of people in the emerging world. Innovators from diverse countries like Tanzania, Zambia, India, and Kazakhstan can all meet up in Dubai to share experiences and refine projects.

 For the UAE business community, strong local ecosystems in emerging markets provide an excellent return on investment. Instead of poaching talent or resources, it is in the UAE’s interest to see the creation of viable and self-sufficient markets that can be targeted for Emirati investment. Virtually no other country understands this dynamic of emerging markets as well as the UAE.

Underlying this push in development across emerging markets is the fact that the global middle class is growing and this is also a boon for the UAE.  Already members of the middle class from places like Nigeria or South Africa look to Dubai as a transit hub, a shopping adventure, a place to do business, or a vacation spot. As this segment of the emerging world population grows, so will Dubai’s economy.   

With more than 85 percent of the global population living outside of the West, the announcement that powerful emerging countries such as the UAE and India are working together to build up developing regions is a sign of things to come. The rise of the rest is an undeniable force in global economics and politics. The UAE has positioned itself to be at the front end of these encouraging trends. In so doing, it is ensuring that its own knowledge economy will be one of the most powerful as the global economy transforms in the next century.