Creating an innovation environment in the UAE through Vision 2021

By Priya Chetty on November 8, 2019

Since the foundation of the UAE in 1971, the Emirates has been a distinguished icon for bringing innovation and creativity, trying to enhance their social and economic status, and transforming primary destinations for talents and businesses. Since the country believes that ‘innovation’ is the future for human investment, the UAE leader has been emphasizing this element across all sectors. With the onset of ‘Vision 2021’, the country has been emphasizing growth in all public and private sectors, and in government entities.

The country believes that ‘human capital’ is by far the most crucial in building urban development, and the UAE is keen on creating human resources capable of meeting the desired needs. The country has been able to attract and retain many international talent and skills by becoming the primary destination for many people. By taking such context of innovations into perspective, this article looks into how the UAE has come so far in adopting, creating, diffusing, and applying innovation across various public and private sectors, and government entities over the years. Activities such as the ‘Vision 2021’ implemented by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has been taken into consideration in bringing out facts of innovation in the country.

The inception of the innovation idea in the UAE

The UAE country under His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum took the innovation strategy very seriously when the ‘National Innovation Strategy’ was announced on 19th October 2014 (Obeidat & Saleh, 2015). The National Innovation Strategy aims towards bringing much work into operation, which includes:

  • Initiating the stimulation of the environment in the form of supportive institutions and laws in order to bring in innovation.
  • Supporting the government to bring in more innovative work.
  • Making all government entities reduce spending by 1%.
  • Making the government dedicate savings for R&D activities.
  • Encouraging private sector innovation towards setting up a research centre for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics that will bring more development in schools and universities (Obeidat & Saleh, 2015). 

2015 as the year of innovation

Following this, the year 2015 was designated as the ‘Year of Innovation’, in order to make the UAE a world innovation leader. Making 2015 the year of innovation was conditioned by making many reasons like making the country to keep up with rapid changes and continuous development across the world. Such endeavours to bring the country into a better future led to the designing of ‘Vision 2021’ (Holzer & Lemaitre, 2015; Obeidat & Saleh, 2015). It was again His Highness Al Maktoum who asserted that the government is keen on bringing innovative development through ‘Vision 2021’ (Khalaf, 2016).

Understanding the UAE’s Vision 2021 goals

‘Vision 2021’ targets seven sectors:

  1. renewable energy,
  2. transport,
  3. education,
  4. health,
  5. technology,
  6. water, and
  7. space.

These sectors will help in initiating innovations in the country (Obeidat & Saleh, 2015). UAE came up with this banner of ‘Vision 2021’ that aimed towards making the country as one of the best in the world (IBP Inc., 2016; Obeidat & Saleh, 2015). To quote the main motive of ‘Vision 2021’;

In a strong and safe union, knowledgeable and innovative Emiratis will confidently build a competitive and resilient economy. They will thrive as a cohesive society bonded to its identity and enjoy the highest standards of living with a nurturing and sustainable environment (IBP Inc., 2016, p. 66).

This ‘Vision 2021’ believes that innovation can be achieved through ‘united in responsibility’, ‘united in destiny’, ‘united in knowledge’, and ‘united in prosperity’.

Statistically, ‘Vision 2021’ aimed for the country to be ranked among the top 20 countries (from 35) in 2021 in terms of Global Innovation Index. It aims to improve R&D expenditure from 0.5% of GDP to 15%. Finally, making the non-oil GDP to move up from 3.5% to that of 5% (Obeidat & Saleh, 2015).

Furthermore, Al Maktoum’s vision is expected to make the UAE as most innovation nation across the globe. The strategy encompasses initiatives to be taken in the field of regulation, capitalization in specific skills and improvements in the innovative drive in the government organizations (Arabian, 2014). It was revealed that the success of this strategy will depend upon a perpetual flow of innovative thoughts, as well as pioneering management by means of different approaches and techniques to direct the transformation.

Importance and need for innovation in the UAE’s governmental practices 

Broadly, the productivity and efficiency of government organizations improve with innovations. As such, many innovation practices are required for the government to grow. The need for such innovation practices in UAE governmental practices is seen in:

  • improving the knowledge-based innovation,
  • transforming the oil-based economy to harnessing human capital to improve the economy,
  • commercializing with innovative models,
  • the introduction of e-governance, and
  • transforming through information and technology.

Based on these needs, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is rapidly transmuting itself from an oil-based economy to a pioneering, knowledge-based economy (Wentling, 2015). The UAE is vigorously functioning to encourage innovation through strategies directed at evolving the social element of the ecology. The government of UAE assumes that human capital is central to all pioneering change. In order to realize the potential of innovation, a well-educated and extremely skilful populace and personnel are essential. The government is also keen on capitalizing in building indigenous aptitude by refurbishing primary, ancillary, and advance dedication systems and proposing various occasions for occupational teaching (Byat & Osman Sultan, 2014).

Diving large-scale changes in government organisations for vision 2021

In a report by The Government of Abu Dhabi (2008), it was also revealed that the Emirates’ commercial setting requires to become better armed to comprehend and gain from innovative commercial models and to contribute in the international development of trade in services. It was necessary that this should be united with an operative program to:

  • rouse exploration and development,
  • indigenous innovation and,
  • aid the assimilation with worldwide modernization centres (The Government of Abu Dhabi, 2008).

However, in order to manage the innovation in the organizations, General Secretariat is accountable for synchronizing the expansion of departmental strategic policies across all administration entities and for forming an operative enactment management scheme.

Al-Khouri (2011) asserted that government organizations in the UAE have adopted e-governance programmes. It is necessary to renovate numerous dimensions of their processes, to craft more manageable, translucent, operative, and responsible government. This is was done to bring transparency and effectiveness in the operations of the government.

However, it is difficult to achieve the outcomes and meet the requirements of the citizens with uneven e-government initiatives. In such conditions, government of UAE tried to adopt an integrated approach to enhance the efficiency of providing services to their inhabitants. Technological changes, that enhanced performance and introduction of new IT projects or web services are also done by way of organizational and administrative innovation in government organizations (Bourn, 2006).


  • Obeidat, O., & Saleh, A. (2015). UAE Officials declare 2015 “Year of Innovation.” Retrieved May 6, 2016, from
  • Holzer, J. P., & Lemaitre, R. (2015). UAE – Review, Analysis, Year of Innovation – Dubai Abu Dhabi – Shifting. Retrieved May 6, 2016, from
  • Khalaf, N. (2016). Agrodiversity, IPR, Green Economy: UAE’s Case. In M. A. Raouf & M. Luomi (Eds.), The Green Economy in the Gulf. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • IBP Inc. (2016). United Arab Emirates Internet and E-Commerce Investment and Business Guide – Strategic and Practical Information: Regulations and Opportunities. Washington D.C.
  • Arabian (2014). UAE launches plan to be “among the most innovative nations in the world” within 7yrs – Technology –
  • Wentling, E. (2015). Innovation, not oil, the key to future of UAE. The Telegraph.
  • Byat, A. Bin, & Osman Sultan, D. (2014). The United Arab Emirates: Fostering a Unique Innovation Ecosystem for a Knowledge-Based Economy.
  • The Government of Abu Dhabi. (2008). The Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030. New Zealand.
  • Al-Khouri, A. M. (2011). An Innovative Approach for e-Government Transformation. International Journal of Managing Value and Supply Chains, 2(1), 22–43.

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