Aisha bin Bishr, Director-General, Smart Dubai Office: Interview

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Aisha bin Bishr, Director-General, Smart Dubai Office

Interview: Aisha bin Bishr

In light of reports of brain drain from global ICT hubs like Silicon Valley, how can Dubai ensure it attracts enough human capital to further boost the sector?

AISHA BIN BISHR: Latest reports show that Dubai continues to attract human capital at a global and regional level. Arab youth see Dubai as a place to pursue their professional and personal goals because of the many opportunities that exist here. To absorb this talent, however, we need to ensure we have the proper systems in place to boost technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, the internet of things, big data and data sharing. In a bid to further attract innovative entrepreneurs, we ran the second edition of the global Blockchain Challenge in 2018, which saw a 120% increase in the number of applicants, compared to the first edition in 2017.

The biggest challenge for start-ups now is to create a sustainable business model once a product idea is fully developed. This is where government support could prove to be more useful, by working together with start-ups as partners and clients, coaching and providing them with the necessary network. To this end, in the last few years the government has launched two accelerator programmes: the Smart City Accelerators and the Dubai Future Accelerators. Through these programmes, start-ups get the chance to work with different government entities on real challenges and needs, where their ideas can be implemented. This tests how viable and necessary their services are, and how they can mature into profitable companies.

In what ways are the authorities helping to ease access to credit for start-ups?

BIN BISHR: When we look at this situation closely, we see that it is not only about funds. Rather, it is more about how to transform start-ups into successful businesses. Though funds are provided by some of the programmes mentioned, Dubai’s true added value for entrepreneurs is that they get help in connecting with potential government partners, which gives them incentive to develop their innovative projects inside Dubai. A good success story that reflects what we aim to achieve with our policies is Educhain, which, having won the 2017 Blockchain Challenge, is now working very closely with the Knowledge and Human Development Authority and the Dubai Police.

How can the public and private sectors work together to transform Dubai into a smart city?

BIN BISHR: We very much understand that working with the private sector is key to transforming Dubai into a smart city and addressing the challenges of the digitalisation agenda. This also means that the private sector will shoulder some of the risks associated with major investments, as was the case with the Smart Dubai Platform, which was developed under a public-private partnership model.

Working together with private players has been a cornerstone of our strategy, as businesses provide valuable insight into the needs of the city. This has also improved efficiency: thanks to our work with blockchain start-ups, we have managed to reduce the time it takes to process inter-entity financial settlements and reconciliations from 45 days to zero.

What role can international cooperation play in further enhancing best practice and expertise in advanced technologies such as blockchain?

BIN BISHR: Industries that are being developed today offer cross-border benefits. It has to be like this because scale is essential for the IT sector. Therefore, the best policy that we can pursue is to continue to be an open and welcoming city and allow entrepreneurs to use Dubai as a test bed for their ideas and visions. This way, it serves as a base and an operating hub for a market that goes beyond Dubai and the UAE to focus on both regional and global scales. Our greatest advantage is the fact that Dubai is a melting pot of cultures, which works in favour of businesses with global ambitions.

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The Report: Dubai 2019

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