Eye on the ball: A new strategy will push the emirate to new heights

Level 112 of the Burj Khalifa offered a birds-eye view of Dubai to participants at the Dubai Plan 2021 Creative Labs event in March 2016. The symposium was a follow-up on the original cycle held in 2014, which formulated an ambitious strategy by which the emirate intends to build on the foundations it has already established. The 2016 proceedings were attended by a wide range of stakeholders, including experts, specialists and government officials, as well as representatives from the private sector and civil society.

On the agenda were some of the central pillars of Dubai Plan 2021, with a particular focus on individuals and their relationship to family and state, as well local development and issues surrounding sustainability. Discussions centred on six main themes: Government of Happiness, Happy Family, From Waste to Resource, Avid Readers, Made in Al Quoz and What’s in our Neighbourhood. The intended outcome of the discussions, as well as the future cycles of Dubai Plan 2021 Creative Labs, is to produce a set of recommendations aimed at achieving the objectives of the government’s development strategy. Future gatherings, therefore, will focus on other areas of Dubai Plan 2021, which in its variety of goals is the broadest blueprint for growth yet produced by the government.

Broad Themes 

Dubai Plan 2021 follows on the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015, the emirate’s first documented long-term plan for development. The strategic priorities of this important initial step were economic and social development, security and justice, infrastructure, land, environment and government excellence. Dubai Plan 2021 builds on these ambitions, with a distinct emphasis on the well-being of the emirate’s population. The strategy is divided into six broad themes, the first of them fittingly titled “The People”. The intention of the government here is to ensure that each citizen of the emirate feels a responsibility to themselves, their families and society “in pursuing and promoting education and personal development, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, to enable them to play an active, productive, and innovative role in all aspects of the society and economy.”


A number of more specific aims follow on from this broad ambition, including the creation of educated, cultured and healthy citizens, capable of being productive in a variety of fields, especially in crucial areas such as entrepreneurship. A significant emphasis has also been placed on the more abstract idea of happiness, with the ambition being to create a society of individuals satisfied with life, confident about the future and proud of their cultural origins.

This idea of a wider society makes up the second main thrust of Dubai Plan 2021. The government’s intention in this regard is to build on what is already a vibrant multi-cultural population, ensuring that it is economically and demographically stable. The values of tolerance and inclusivity are a particular focus, as is the idea of creating families and communities that provide nurturing environments for the personal development outlined in the first theme.

A Step Up 

The third major theme of the strategy concerns the “experience” of living in Dubai. This speaks to the government’s desire to exploit one of the emirate’s key comparative advantages: the high quality of life that it provides to its residents. Visitors, too, have come to appreciate the appeal of the emirate. In 2015 Dubai welcomed around 14.2m overnight guests, according to the UN’s World Travel Organisation, which represented a 7.5% increase over the previous year. Crucially, from a sustainability point of view, Dubai has established itself as a destination with global appeal: Western Europe is the single largest source of visitors, outside of the GCC, followed by South Asia, the wider Middle East and the Americas. The government has targeted 20m visitors per year by 2020, and if it is to meet this goal the continued evolution of the Dubai experience is essential. Dubai Plan 2021 aims to continue the drive to provide a rich cultural experience and globally distinctive entertainment destination. For residents, the city aims to have the best educational, health care and housing services across the spectrum, from luxury to affordable, while tourists and residents alike should feel that the city is a safe and secure place to be.

Dubai Plan 2021 also highlights the importance of good government in the development of the emirate as its fourth theme, centred on the idea that authority should be exercised for the people and not over them. Henceforth, the people’s happiness and satisfaction with public services will be the primary measures of the government’s success, and in order to achieve these results it will pursue three objectives: becoming a forward-looking and proactive body that is attuned to the needs of stakeholders; adopting a culture of innovation and excellence in its approach to the management of public finance; and enhancing the transparency and reliability of government, ensuring a fair and reliable application of all laws.

Practical Applications 

The latter goal will be central to the fifth main theme of Dubai Plan 2021: the economy. The emirate has already established itself as a key player in the global economy, and one of the region’s principal centres for trade, logistics, finance and tourism. In large part this has been underwritten by its robust legal and regulatory framework, which has made it a priority to treat institutions equally in their dealings with each other and the government. The focus of the government has now turned to moving Dubai towards a “sustainable economic model driven by innovation, and productivity in capital and labour,” all of which is to be supported by the most business-friendly environment in the region. The ambition here is to create an economy resistant to disruptive shocks and to attain a place within the global top five as a financial, trading and tourism centre. Finally, Dubai’s new strategy seeks to ensure that the anticipated development of the emirate is carried out in such a way as to foster a smart and sustainable city, with high-level infrastructure, a larger role for renewable energy resources, a safe and resilient built environment, and construction and transport safety codes, emergency services and crisis response capabilities that match international best practice.

Dream To Reality 

Dubai is not the only place in the region to have published a developmental roadmap such as Dubai Plan 2021. Nearly every state in the GCC has introduced something similar by which they have outlined their ambitions for growth. These strategies will be differentiated by the success with which they are implemented, and to that end the government of Dubai has established a comprehensive implementation framework that instils accountability and promotes transparency for those involved in and affected by Dubai Plan 2021. Dubai’s crown prince, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, chairman of Dubai’s Executive Council, highlighted its principal features and told OBG, “The framework utilises state-of-the-art systems to monitor over 450 key performance indicators, each with clear and specific targets. The system also oversees more than 500 strategic programmes to be implemented over the coming years to help achieve the plan’s stated targets. In addition to regular on-the-ground follow up by various governmental bodies, we will also be releasing annual reports that shed light on where we stand in achieving our ambitions.”

Dubai Plan 2021 establishes a clear roadmap for the development of the emirate, and therefore is of huge interest to its stakeholders. For Emiratis the plan outlines a city in which they can be assured of high-quality health care and education services, and an environment in which they can forge productive and fulfilling lives. The same concerns apply to non-Emirati residents, who have become an integral part of the economy, attracted not only by employment opportunities, but also its educational, health and housing services, as well as the existence of a rich cultural landscape. Young innovators and entrepreneurs can take encouragement from the fact that the government is continuing the policy of supporting these important facets of growth, a process that will be boosted further by a renewed concentration on the development of schools and universities.

All of the strategy’s points of focus, naturally, are of significant interest to the investment community. In terms of signalling a forward-thinking approach that focuses on health care, education, entertainment and infrastructure as sectors that will be attractive to private capital for the rest of the decade. Just as importantly, the provisions that relate to transparency in government and equality before the law send a timely reassurance, to foreign institutions in particular, that Dubai intends to operate a framework comparable to that of the large, developed economies from which much of the inward investment to the emirate will come. During this process, Dubai Plan 2021 Creative Labs will provide feedback regarding the success of the strategy’s implementation and key indicators.