Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Despite lingering conflict and stymied governmental maturation, there are still places in the Middle East making leaps and bounds in social and governmental development. As recent reports reveal, one country is leading this trend.

Over the past decade, the United Arab Emirates has successfully positioned itself as a leader in global business and innovation. It has earned this standing while simultaneously diversifying its economy and improving the lives of UAE residents.

The UAE’s status as a growth leader of the region has been years in the making. It is the result of many years of meticulous planning and cultivating a productive, competitive, and resilient business mindset.

By 2014, the country was recognized as a dominating force in several industries running from commerce to tourism, not only in the Persian Gulf region but internationally as well.

A few key strategies have contributed to the Emirates’ outstanding progress. One of the most important is a trend that at first glance would be uncharacteristic of the nation, for long perceived to be a country with its focus solely on the petroleum industry.

According to the IMD World Digital Competitiveness Ranking, the UAE is one of the most advanced digital economies in the world, landing in the top 20 globally and the very first in the Arab world.

A new edition of that authoritative report showed the UAE moving up in the overall list from 18th to 17th place and beating Germany, New Zealand, Ireland, France and Japan, as well as several other developed economies around the world.

This upward movement for the UAE did not come effortlessly. Emirati leadership has for long made substantial investments in improving the country’s digital and technological profile. Late last year alone, two landmark digital initiatives were launched as a cooperative effort by several agencies.

The first was the Dubai Internet of Things Strategy (DITS), a three-year plan that seeks to build the world’s most advanced IoT ecosystem. The strategy is aimed toward protecting Dubai’s digital wealth and encouraging governmental organizations to transition their infrastructure to digital.

One of the first goals is to achieve a 100% paperless civil administration by next year. By shifting to digital and expanding technological platforms, the plan has opened new prospects for private sector growth and improving overall efficiency across all sectors and Emirati society.

The DITS was launched in congruence with the Digital Wealth Initiative, a program focusing on increasing security and stability for the UAE’s rapidly growing digital infrastructure. 

The UAE has also been expanding its tools and programs for capital investment, a driver desperately needed by the region as a whole. Recent reports have cited the UAE as occupying third place globally and first place regionally in investment in critical infrastructure projects and investment in public facilities.

As part of its broader strategy to expand its economic horizons, the UAE has set its sights on the industrial sector. These activities have already contributed to boosting productivity in sectors where it is already firmly established, such as energy, petrochemicals, plastics, metals, and manufacturing.

But beyond these areas already familiar to the Emirati market, the initiative is providing resources to other strategically vital services including food supply chains, agriculture, water, non-hydrocarbon energy sources, and health care.

Observers have noted that these investments have over the years benefited not only in-country services and facilities but also infrastructural development around the region. Capital investment across the Gulf region, the broader Middle East, and much of North Africa are projected to expand even more thanks to the Emirates’ strong economic stability and a promising investment environment.

The UAE has been able to cultivate these vital assets thanks to its strategic location, strong, unfettered financial reserves, large sovereign wealth funds, and robust government spending programs. 

Considering these important strides, it is not surprising that the Emirates is ranked among the highest in the world for social-security-spurred migration. Research conducted by Deep Knowledge Analytics and Henley & Partners on the social and health stability of dozens of developed nations ranked the UAE as No 6 globally in Investment Migration Programs.

The data reveal the extent to which Emirati policies are attracting migrants – especially affluent individuals with regional business interests, as well as people educated in vital scientific fields.     

At the base of all this success has been the Emirates’ future-focused attitude in gearing the country’s industries to the paradigm-shifting changes of the modern era. Despite the conservative character of UAE society, its leadership has been able to inculcate openness to the international community as well as emerging technologies and global trends.

This, in turn, has allowed the UAE to become the force of progress and modernization for the entire Middle East.

The story of the UAE’s 50-year miracle is not only one of accomplishment for Emiratis, but of fostering growth and flourishing for the region at large.     

Anita Haugen is an Oslo-based security adviser with a focus on Asian and MENA affairs. She works with a number of research centers and consultancy agencies in the Nordic region.