Tell us more about how your office is spearheading innovation in the UAE Government. How was the set-up of the world’s first government accelerator and the world’s first virtual ministry?

The primary role of the Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Government Innovation is to develop strategies and policies around innovation. It works with ministries, public and private sector stakeholders, and international partners, to develop cutting-edge strategies which position the UAE as one of the most innovative governments in the world. Setting up the world’s first government accelerator and the world’s first virtual ministry was extremely exciting. Operating on new ground, we were able to pioneer new ways of working and collaborating to help speed up the achievement of national objectives and enhance government services. Launching the virtual ministry – the Ministry of Possibilities – in the UAE Government, we ushered in a new era of government collaboration. The ministry is helping to build future government systems and cut waiting times for government services.

How can innovation help governments to face up to their greatest challenges?

In this age of rapid social, economic, and environmental change, governments are facing unprecedented challenges. Their primary role of serving citizens is becoming quite difficult as external pressures mount, not least because of the impact of climate change and supply chain vulnerabilities. But by investing in innovation, governments can build more resilient public sector models capable of tackling crises effectively in the future. Designing and implementing new mechanisms, processes, technologies, and data tools have a significant impact on how governments operate and the functions they fulfil. Primarily, by equipping themselves with better tools, governments can become agile entities that are able to evolve quickly and find solutions in an unpredictable and ever-changing environment.

Why is it important for governments to invest in public sector innovation projects?

The pandemic has underlined the value of innovating on a public sector level. Few times before have governments called on the private sector to collaborate so heavily in such a short space of time. Technology companies stepped forward to respond to governments’ need for healthcare and supply chain solutions and enablers. And technologies, such as artificial intelligence and drones, were deployed to monitor mobility trends and curb the spread of the virus spread. But governments stand to benefit greatly by investing in public sector innovation projects on a long-term basis, allowing them to harness opportunities around new technologies. By promoting a permanent culture of innovation among public sector officials, governments can ensure a continued flow of innovation projects within a nurturing framework. These projects will help to fuel a digital economy, boost essential services, and ultimately serve citizens and improve their wellbeing. All these elements are important to the prosperous and sustainable society, countries around the world are aiming for.

What role do Emirati women play in the government’s innovation strategy?

Emirati women have a central role to play as architects of government innovation strategies. Any government innovation strategy must draw on a diverse range of expertise from across society. It is vital, therefore; that governments engage not only women working in the public sector, but those in the private sector too, as well as women in society. In the UAE, many of our flagship organisations are led by women, who have accumulated knowledge and contributions, ready to offer their insights. Emirati women are key instrumentalists to offer counsel and advice to the UAE Government as it continues to evolve and develop its futuristic model and work strategies.

How and why is the UAE transitioning to become a global hub for talents and innovators?

The UAE has a clear vision and strategy for the future. It is our continued efforts to draw global talent which has helped transform the nation. We have grown from a limited local economy to a diversified global economy, from having a lack of streets to building roads to Mars, from a small fishing port to having 77 global ports. The UAE Government offers a platform to attract global collaboration and some of the world’s top talents, minds, and innovators to conduct business and exchange knowledge, ideas, and experiences. We recognise the value of creating a rich, deep pool of talents which the public sector can tap into.

There are several factors behind the UAE’s emergence as a global hub for innovators. First, the UAE is emerging as one of the best countries for expats to live and as a result, was able to attract an incredibly diverse demographic mix which cannot be found anywhere else. Such is the global community here that anything developed in the UAE immediately becomes globally relevant, which makes the country a particularly attractive proving ground. Similarly, a supportive regulatory environment that cultivates a culture of innovation and a strong R&D ecosystem combine with a young population of early technology adopters. All these elements are helping to build a knowledge-based economy where innovators can test and upscale concepts to eventually deploy them. We also attract talent by awarding global and local innovators through competitions and grants and provide recognition for outstanding cases and practices. The favorable business environment and active investor community in the UAE makes it an attractive ground for start-ups too. More broadly speaking, the UAE provides a nurturing and sustainable environment for quality living, which attracts talent from around the world.

What are some of your highlights from 2021 from a public sector standpoint?

The UAE Government is fast becoming one of the most innovative in the world and this was underlined by a number of highlights in recent months. During the worst months of the pandemic, the government proved to be extremely resilient, agile, and steadfast in its response. A swift and assertive response by the public sector has seen the UAE lead the world in terms of vaccination programmes and business recovery. In fact, the UAE recently rose to the top of Bloomberg’s Covid Resilience Ranking, proving its ongoing ability to manage the health crisis.

Specifically regarding Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Government Innovation, the launch of the Edge of Government project and the Moonshot Pilot Grant are two of the main highlights of 2021. They embody the government’s work to engage with the public and the world to call attention to innovations and improve them to the next level.

The Edge of Government project includes a novel activation in Dubai which employs immersive technologies to educate people about key solutions helping countries to navigate future challenges. For example, people can learn about everything from the benefits of space exploration here on earth and the limitless applications of data to the role of cryptocurrencies.

The Moonshot Pilot Grant is also enthralling because it aims to turn the UAE into a public sector innovation hub by inviting and funding talent from around the world to pilot their concepts in the Emirates. The most successful pilots have a chance to be scaled up and even exported around the world. This initiative represents a new milestone towards making the country an innovation hub, as it opens opportunities for public sectors and luminaries around the world to design the future models of governments.

Another highlight in 2021, was welcoming new graduates of the Moonshot Apprenticeship Program. The flagship initiative is designed to leverage local and global talents to promote innovation in the government sector. The apprenticeship program aims to attract elite graduates from top universities, colleges, and academic institutions in the UAE and the world. Finally, in February, the UAE Innovates festival capped off UAE Innovation Month, which aims to enhance the development of innovative ideas and capabilities. It celebrates innovation in the UAE and supports the national innovation strategy. It is one of the largest festivals of its kind in the world and a consolidated effort by government, academia, the private sector, and individuals to help create a widespread culture of innovation in the UAE.