Dubai: Emerging Capital of Innovation

When you think of Dubai, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Dubai has always been synonymous with a staggering rate of change, famous for transforming deserts into towering landmarks and oceans into islands. And over the past few years, I’ve witnessed Dubai reinvent itself as the emerging capital of innovation.

Not limited to transforming landscapes, Dubai is now actively transforming mindsets. The government is taking innovation seriously with a view to foster an entire generation of creative and innovative thinkers.

This mindset is being cultivated through practical initiatives and meaningful projects that I’ve either observed or been involved with directly. These include the recent Dubai 10X project, the entire Area 2071 precinct, Future Foundation & Future Accelerators, and the forthcoming Museum of the Future.

IDEO & NASA teams brush shoulders with leaders and innovation practitioners from all over the world. There is a palpable buzz walking around the whole Emirates Towers area and my meetings there, a shared sense of purpose & vision that I don’t find even in the Silicon Valley.

A skeptic would view many of these projects as simply a branding activity to keep momentum for Dubai’s growth and unique buzz engine. But I’ve spent time with enough people involved to feel their genuine intent for positive impact and meaningful design-driven change for their people, the region, and globally.

My last week looked like this:

First stop Dubai Design Week at d3, the Design District. While this district mostly embodies the beauty of design as art, it is home to an initiative that I’m very excited about: Dubai Institute of Design and Innovation (DIDI). DIDI is bringing together the best of MIT and Parsons to create a unique tertiary-level curriculum that embodies the best of design as an approach to solving problems.

We met with the Dean of DIDI who shared her passion for the future of design in Dubai, where design is a mindset enabling the next generation to create unique & positive solutions to regional and international challenges.

Just downstairs from DIDI’s learning spaces, Mauro Porcini – PepsiCo’s Chief Design Officer – was giving a talk on design thinking & innovation as one of the keynotes for Dubai Design Week. We caught the tail-end of his talk which dived deep into the message that good design thinking is about leading innovation through change.

Also at Dubai Design Week I found my friend Adam Williamson running a workshop on the beauty and mathematical proportions behind Islamic geometric art, and also serendipitously bumped into an old university friend who happened to be running a workshop for the Royal College of Art.

For me, these unplanned moments of connection with leaders in the design industry all in the same space is an outcome of Dubai’s vision. It’s only by investing in the creation of places and platforms for people to connect and learn, where relationships can be built and brilliant ideas can be formed.

We also met with Jazia, the CEO of Dubai Design and Fashion Council (DDFC), who shared her vision to help upskill their members by bringing on more experts to run mentoring sessions and workshops.

This eagerness for sharing knowledge about design also extends to teaching young children. I was invited by Dubai Culture to run a Design Thinking workshop for kids at Rise Dubai Creek Harbour.

I was also invited to run a session on branding at a startup bootcamp, an initiative of Dubai Culture, DIEDC, Rainmaking, and DTEC. It was a great chance to hear from the young founders putting their efforts into their startups. I was left inspired by their determination to contribute good to the world.

Another brilliant initiative starting up in Dubai is Goodforce Labs, created by the team at DinarStandard. We held our Like-Hearted gathering in their new startup incubator space at DAFZA.

No other city embodies change and growth quite like Dubai – it is the emerging capital of innovation.