When Sheikh Mohammed’s call changed a UAE minister’s life

Two government officials spoke about how the future of Dubai would look with the vision of the emirate's beloved Ruler

Wam file photo
Wam file photo

Nasreen Abdulla

Published: Thu 2 Feb 2023, 6:34 PM

Last updated: Fri 3 Feb 2023, 7:52 AM

Ever heard of the one phone call that changed lives? For Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al Hashimy, that one phone call came on a warm September night in 2011 from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

“He asked me ‘what do you know about Expo?’,” she said. “I had just returned from attending the Shanghai Expo and I said I know about Expo. He asked me to study the possibility of hosting the Expo in Dubai in 2020. That phone call changed the course of my life.”

Al Hashimy served as the managing director of Expo 2020 Dubai and is now the CEO of Expo City Dubai Authority.

The comments came during a discussion on the future of cities at the Emirates Literature Festival at the Mohamed Bin Rashid Library. Accompanying the minister as a panelist for the session that spoke about how the future of Dubai would look, was Hala Badri, director-general of Dubai Culture and Arts Authority.

Badri gave the Courtyard as an example of Sheikh Mohammed’s foresight. “A resident approached him with the idea of a Courthouse,” she said. “It was an idea for a cultural centre in the middle of a desert. No one could understand the need for it. But Sheikh Mohammed supported the resident and today courtyard is at the heart of theatre and other cultural activities in the country.”

People at the centre

The session, which was attended by Sheikha Latifa bin Mohamed Al Maktoum, chairwoman of the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, discussed how people and their needs were at the centre of the cities of the future.

“Cities focus on technology, but the main focus is on people and their needs,” she said. “Technology should help people achieve their needs. Because of the wise leadership we have, we seek what is good for our people. This is central to all our strategies and the rules we introduce.”

As an example of using technology to make the best of a situation, Badri illustrated how the Etihad Museum had begun virtual tours during the Covid pandemic. “This enabled 11,000 students from far-off locations like Kalba to visit the museum virtually,” she said. “Such a high number of in-person visits would have been impossible for us to achieve.”

Al Hashimy also went on to say how the Expo City would be a city of the future. “The transformation of an event site to a city will show to the world and our people that we are adaptable,” she said.

Quoting a designer she worked with during the Expo 2020, she said that a city’s nobility lies in the way it treats all its beings including animals and plants. “I was surprised when he used the word nobility,” she said. “But to link nobility to all aspects of God’s creations is beautiful. That is why in Expo City, you will see cats, birds, and plants.”

According to her, Dubai has made people welcome in a way that makes them feel like its home. “People who live here, if they go to a park or garden and see rubbish, they put in the bin,” she said. “People have a sense of belonging here. This relationship between human beings and this city has been created by our leaders. As long as we can keep up that sense of belonging, maybe other cities can learn from us.”


Culture and the city

Badri explained how culture and arts continued to flourish in the city, even during the Covid-19 pandemic. “We opened the door wide and conducted an ideathon,” she said. “We asked creative people what the ideas and opportunities were that we can tackle during Covid. Listening attentively is an important thing and it helped us to develop our rules and strategies during the time.”

According to her there are more than 15,000 companies and 140,000 employees in the creative sector and their contribution to the country’s GDP is increasing.

Badri also said that to develop a creative economy, it was important to give a platform to enablers. “Attracting talent is one of the most important yet difficult thing,” she said. “That is why in Dubai we give incentives to the enablers. The golden visa, ease of living and other incentives are given to creative people. If any talent person wishes to become an entrepreneur and invest in Dubai, we decrease the number of steps they need to start a business from nine to just two steps.”


More news from UAE