Unemployment lines seem to be the only thing still growing as the world's economy heads back into recession. The US, for so long the heartbeat of the world economy, the consumer of last resort, has slowed. Questions surround the ability of the European single currency to survive. Even China may not be able to offer a stimulus package this time around, as it did in 2008.
Closer to home, the aspirations of many in the region have raised expectations of growth, new jobs and higher standards of living that are at odds with current realities.
But meeting these expectations will not be achieved with the old economic policy ideas. In this highly competitive world, countries will have to rise above whatever they have been dealt by geography, history, politics or resources. They need to maximise their competitive advantages through science, technology and innovation (STI), and create economic value out of knowledge.
Early adopting economies, including the US, Japan and Germany among a handful of others, committed to STI more than half a century ago. They transformed their economic bases from manufacturing to knowledge, shifting exports from production to the export of ideas and innovation. In the process of transformation, these economies have also been able to seize the opportunity to the benefit of society, advancing them far beyond much of the rest of the world.
Over the past two decades, South Korea, Singapore and China have taken similar steps. Key to their success was a decision to focus on developing frameworks within which STI can flourish. STI can help to develop more diverse economies, with high-value and high-skilled employment opportunities and a competitive edge. These economies have also recognised the role of STI in establishing a double bottom line; that is, societal advancement. They are using the opportunity of STI to address global challenges such as food and water security, and health, among others.
Abu Dhabi plans to join the ranks of these economies.
Choosing to apply the route map of STI is a tried and tested approach. It has driven results in a diverse range of economies. Singapore, for example, has undergone a dramatic transformation, with the island city moving from a manufacturing-focused economy into a global science, technology and innovation powerhouse. This prowess is particularly exemplified in the biomedical engineering and information and communication technology industries.
In Europe, Dresden has transformed its economic base since the reunification of Germany two decades ago. With a focus on a number of broad areas including microelectronics, biotechnology and engineering, Dresden has raised the quality of life for citizens and residents.
In just a generation, China has emerged to become the ninth-largest source of international patents. Over the past 20 years, the economic giant has transformed itself, in part through a focus on STI. The number of researchers in China more than doubled between 1995 and 2005, when it moved up to the second rank worldwide, just behind the US.
But success for these economies has not taken place in a vacuum. Success has required - and continues to require - a long time frame, persistence and determination to achieve, co-ordinated leadership and action along a common vision.
Abu Dhabi, if it is committed to pursuing a knowledge economy, will need to follow a similar route map, albeit adapted to its unique circumstances. Work has already begun. The emirate is moving in the direction of STI. Strengthening the core traditional industrial base of oil and gas, in addition to diversifying into areas including clean technology, aerospace and semiconductors, has STI at its core. The emirate has taken significant steps to establish the supportive policy framework for such diversification in multiple areas including education and infrastructure, among others.
The reality is that no one knows which industry or technology will be pre-eminent in 20 years. But one thing is certain: the leaders will be those with a strong science, technology and innovation base. It is critical to plant the seeds today so that they can flourish over the next generation.
Ahmed Saeed Al Calily is the director general of the technology development committee of the Abu Dhabi Government