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Expo 2020, District 2020 and a legacy for the future

As 2020 ends, we look ahead to 2021 — the year that the UAE’s Vision 2021 plan draws to a conclusion, and in its place comes a new vision and new set of goals to guide the country forward.

It’s fitting that the UAE will be marking its Golden Jubilee and 50th National Day during such a transformative time in its history. In December 2021, as the country reflects on 50 years of remarkable progress, the nation’s leadership will have one eye fixed firmly on the five decades ahead. This will be the year the UAE’s Vision 2021 plan draws to a conclusion, and in its place comes a new vision and new set of goals to guide the country forward. 

The UAE Centennial Plan 2071 provides a roadmap ahead from 2021; crystalising the government’s priorities as it seeks a bold new ambition: to make the UAE the best country in the world by 2071. Four pillars define the plan: future-focused government; excellent education; a diversified knowledge economy; and a happy and cohesive society. Look closely, and we can see that these pillars point not only to the UAE government’s decades-long commitment to its people, but also a modern definition of success that is emerging globally. 

“The vision is based on the lecture of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, for future generations, and the goal is for future generations to live a happier life in a better environment, with bigger opportunities and stronger communication with the world,” tweeted Shaikh Mohammad on the plan’s announcement.

This goal — for future generations to live a happier life in a better environment — underlines the priorities across the world that the UAE’s next 50 years are aligned to. This is a focus that was accelerated by the pandemic and its influence on human behaviour, causing success today to be redefined. Success is no longer quantified solely by dollars and profit, but is instead a holistic and human measurement with personal wellbeing at the forefront. 

This priority and narrative isn’t new to the UAE. According to the United Nations’ World Happiness Report 2020, the country retained its position as the happiest Arab state for a sixth consecutive year. Meanwhile, in 2016, the UAE government launched the National Programme for Happiness and Wellbeing to cultivate wellbeing as a way of life. The UAE Centennial Plan 2071 places this modern measurement of success into the hands of generations to come, yet it also guides and galvanises the efforts of two major developments happening in the UAE’s Golden Jubilee year — the arrival of Expo 2020 and the continuation of its legacy. 


Expo 2020 and a legacy for the future 

Expo 2020 marks a convenient milestone in the UAE’s future, being an event that encapsulates the UAE’s ambitions. The mega event will bring the world together to encourage open dialogue and inspire new ideas towards a better future in themes of mobility, opportunity, sustainability and global cooperation.  This includes driving smart city advancements through its physical and digital infrastructure, and reimagining the urban environment to better promote wellbeing, and — ultimately — support industry growth. 

While progress towards these same initiatives and goals has long been underway across the UAE, Expo 2020 will place them on the world’s stage, expediting progress through collaboration. And although Expo 2020 will conclude after six months from 1 October 2021, its vision will be carried forward long into the future. In planning the first world fair to be hosted in the Middle East, its legacy has been a fundamental pillar to ensure the momentum built over Expo’s six months continues, and the investments made will create lasting impact. That is the role of District 2020: to carry the mega event’s vision forward, as an innovation ecosystem that enables global start-ups and big business across industries to collaborate, scale, and thrive. The ecosystem will play an active role in directly facilitating growth opportunities for the entire community, driving progress among industries and technologies crucial to Dubai and the UAE’s future. 

“When District 2020 evolves and comes to life after the conclusion of Expo 2020, it will do so with real purpose. Rapid growth defines the UAE, and as this continues into the future, our innovation ecosystem will be dedicated to this mission — to foster a community of global talent and businesses working together, and enabling industries and technologies to collaborate innovate and create solutions towards a more sustainable and resilient future,” notes Tala Al Ansari, Director Innovation Ecosystem & Scale2Dubai, District 2020. 

“We’re carefully curating this ecosystem and smart city for success by co-designing it with government, businesses and startups.  This human-centric approach will allow our community (both our residents and businesses) to have everything they need, this includes a more sustainable and balanced lifestyle, and equipping them with the technology, partners, and opportunities they need to grow” adds Al Ansari.


Contributing to becoming the best 

The balance Al Ansari speaks of is mirrored by her nation’s leadership. In its own unique way, District 2020 will contribute to the UAE’s ambition to be unrivalled on the global stage through the experience and opportunity it will craft for its community. Achieving this, says Al Ansari, depends on a small but essential group of success factors.

“Smart technologies are now a fundamental underpinning of modern urban spaces, being the antidote to some of the challenges brought by rapid urbanisation. The UAE is investing big in emerging technologies such as Blockchain and Artificial Intelligence to reshape citizens’ everyday experiences with the aim of enhancing their lives. District 2020 is following this same path with its human-centric focus.” 

Through these technologies, the ecosystem will be a unique urban environment and a future blueprint for a more human-centric, smarter, and sustainable way of life. Set against the backdrop of a global pandemic, these characteristics have never been more needed. District 2020 will serve as an example of how others can reshape the urban environment to safeguard these same characteristics and support a better future of working and living.

At the core of this rests a key element vital to the UAE’s ambitions as it enters its next half century: human centricity. “A successful and balanced city or community starts with a holistic understanding of what people need to thrive and be happy,” says Al Ansari. “To us that means co-designing with our community through inclusion, diversity and engagement. It also means the natural integration of spaces that promote an active lifestyle, and from a professional perspective, physical and digital connections that foster new ideas and creative thinking.”

Indeed, District 2020’s blueprint for an open, inclusive and diverse destination has human-centricity embedded from the very start. Pedestrian-friendly streets with close-set, low-rise buildings and a sprawling 45,000 sqm of parks and green spaces hint at what Dubai of the future may see much more of. Meanwhile, autonomous vehicle routes will provide cleaner and efficient mobility to all corners of the ecosystem.

Taking the lead from the nation’s leadership, District 2020 will harbour values of inclusivity and tolerance as it brings together businesses and businesspeople from across the world. 

“The mix of cultural and life experiences we’re curating at District 2020 — whether provided by a senior Fortune 500 Chairman or a daring young entrepreneur — is the spark that will ignite ideas and breakthroughs within our ecosystem” states Al Ansari. 

Tolerance has long been championed as a fundamental part of the UAE’s prosperity, and as communities and ecosystems such as District 2020 look to drive progress into a new decade, it’s arguably needed now more than ever. “2020 has shown us that no country is immune to the challenges of another. And, no one nation can address a challenge alone,” says Al Ansari. “Where global collaboration is needed — as it is today — tolerance must exist.”

The goals lighting the path of the UAE’s future are deeply woven into those of District 2020, and perhaps the most noteworthy is the quest for betterment. When District 2020 opens its gates to its first tenants and residents in October 2022, it will do so just a few weeks prior to the UAE’s fifty-first National Day. Each milestone will represent not only a new beginning, but the start of shared efforts towards the nation’s next 50 years and beyond — a future focused on resilience, innovation, sustainability, and our collective wellbeing.


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