What Makes a Moon Shot?

In an increasingly connected world, new moon shots are emerging from unexpected corners.

By Xische Editorial, July 12, 2019

Source: kmlmtz66/ Shutterstock

Source: kmlmtz66/Shutterstock

Given the pace of technological innovation in the past ten years, every day seems to brings a new milestone. Yet with so many advancements, have we lost control of the terms we use to describe aspiration? When the United States set the goal of sending a man to the moon, the boldness of the project and its extraordinary vision was accurately described as a moon shot. It wasn’t just the incredible effort of sending a human to the moon but the notion that the impossible was attainable. The future would be shaped in precise detail by actions taken in the present. 

The race to the moon captured the attention of the world. Fast forward and more than half the planet now carries the computing power that it took to send a person to the moon in their pockets. With so many technological achievements defining our everyday life, the potential to shape the future with new moon shots feels ever present. But should we refer to every innovation as a moon shot? Obviously not. 

The essence of a moon shot is the distillation of the aspirations and ambitions of a group of people. A moon shot is about people, first and foremost. Sending humans to the moon was a global ambition with a western complexion and the United States emerged as the front runner. Technology was one tool that made the original moon shot possible. Technology wielded by a dedicated community with a nationwide support system put a man on the moon. 

To move past the overuse of the term on the anniversary of the moon landing, let’s look at the moon shots unfolding around us today. Consider the story of a small nation, rich in history and traditions but hardly known outside its regional borders. That small country was blessed with the visionary leadership of its founding father, who embarked on the ultimate moon shot: the transformation of a nation. With the vision to translate the discovery of ample natural resources into the building blocks of a 21st century global hub, that small nation is now home to one of the world’s most powerful knowledge economies. We are speaking about the moon shot at the core of the UAE’s unfolding story. 

Just as any great change begins with a great story, any moon shot starts with a great narrative. The narrative of the UAE (and, in a profound way, the story of emerging markets as a whole) is that people have the power to transform forgotten corners of the world into global centres of innovation. Over the last three decades, Dubai went from a quiet fishing and trade outpost to a global leader in future technologies. 

Bolstered by rapid urbanisation and unprecedented internet connectivity, countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and South America are becoming the powerhouses of commerce and innovation. Through its aviation, trade, and cultural connections, the UAE sits at the nexus of the new world order. From humble origins to its current leading position, this is an honest moon shot tale. Smart investment in the infrastructure needed to build and maintain a knowledge economy has transformed the Emirate into a lab to solve the world’s challenges. From food security to the right use of robotics, Dubai’s next moon shot is to find solutions. 

Capturing the hearts and minds of a nation is exactly the story of the UAE’s growth and development. It is also the larger narrative of emerging markets regaining the lion’s share of global productivity. 

Beyond the Middle East, there are other moonshot tales unfolding on the national level. As we outlined in our Smart Cities Index this year, the small landlocked African nation of Rwanda is aiming to make its capital city Kigali the world’s next Silicon Valley. Nearly three decades after a devastiving genocide that ripped the country apart, Rwanda is investing in the best techonological infrastcutre on the contient in order to push African tech forward. 

The alchemy of the moon shot is more accessible than ever. In an increasingly connected world, the next moon shot in the realm of disease prevention might not come from one country but several. Consider the eradication of polio or malaria. The scale of these challenges extend beyond the humble means of one nation, even one as strong as the United States. Rather the solution will come from groups of nations with the vision to work together.