Every time it’s written off Dubai surprises you. It takes some heat, makes a few unexpected moves, then takes centre stage once again. It happened in 2004 with the opening up of property markets to expatriate investment. In 2008 with the successful battle against global recession. Now it is happening again as our daily newsfeeds unfold.
It is news that is consistently positive: visa liberalisation and extensions of stay; leniency towards people aggrieved by public and personal tragedy; a furthering of the free zone principle; 100 percent ownership and a reduction in several fees. These are just a few of the far-reaching changes that are being rolled out as a response to economic conditions. The aim? To boost investment, trade and business, and to stimulate the commercial and social environment of the country.
Such moves are helping to create advocates of Dubai once again, bringing to mind the time – just a few years ago – when every Facebook post ended with the hashtag #MyDubai. When expatriates doubled up as brand ambassadors as they travelled overseas or headed home, and when Dubai’s progressiveness and innovation were cherished and nurtured. It feels like the praise is beginning to roll in again, just as the storm clouds are being dispelled.
To be fair, we live in a changed world. The days of irrational exuberance are gone and with them much of the effusive favourability that was once shown Dubai. We can’t hide the fact that the economy has plateaued due to global conditions; that the low price of oil and regional uncertainty have taken their toll; and that shrinking client investment and falls in advertising expenditure have been painful. The rising cost of living has also made life untenable for many.
I know that times are tough. My head is not stuck in a bubble. What’s more, the elasticity needed to handle the needs of a dynamic start-up world have yet to be fully embraced, while arduous bureaucratic obstacles are still to be removed. More initiatives need to implemented as we enter the home run to Expo 2020, but none of it will be achieved through criticism that lacks a constructive element.
Memories are short, it would seem, and allegiances are fickle, but spewing vitriol and Dubai bashing is not the answer. Let’s not flippantly forget that the UAE is still home to the region’s most favourable business environment. That it also provides access to capital for entrepreneurs, is cultivating an ecosystem that favours innovation and individualism, and is busily embracing the formation of a knowledge economy – of AI, blockchain, robotics and driverless transport. Where else in the Arab world will you find such a country? One that continues to effectively elevate the living standards of its citizens and residents even as it consistently transforms itself.
No matter how tough the times, we don’t deserve the level of Dubai bashing that I have witnessed over recent months. We should not forget so quickly the opportunities that we have been granted by Dubai. Nor should we forget the prosperity that we have enjoyed or the stability we have been fortunate enough to experience. Change can come from us business leaders as much as it can from Dubai. We need to ensure that the country we have made our home continues to climb the ladder of global commerce. That we grow with it, and it with us.
It’s our responsibility to give back, to help grow the economy, to encourage investment, to innovate, to disrupt and to be brave. What’s the point of praising your city’s ethos if you don’t live by it?
There are sticking points and bones of contention that have to be addressed if we are not to progress further as an exemplary society, but maybe it’s also about an individual’s – and a community’s – outlook and mind-set. An optimistic mentality – of understanding that there are ups and downs and that whenever there’s uncertainty there are also opportunities – is what I would recommend we adopt as colleagues, partners and clients. Such a mentality requires us to act confidently. Only by acting confidently, and without ignoring the necessity for evolution, will a sense of positivity flourish.
We have all chosen to make Dubai our home. We therefore owe a degree of loyalty and commitment as it takes unprecedented steps to furthering its goals and builds its future. Change happens from within after all, and it’s always a learning curve for all.
Reda Raad is chief executive of the communications powerhouse TBWA\RAAD
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