x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Economies the UAE can learn from

Finland, Singapore, China, Korea and Japan have histories of rapid economic growth largely based on technology, which offer some lessons for the UAE, write students from Masdar Instotute.

If the UAE is to transform itself into one of the world's leading economies by 2030, there is much to be gained by looking at the examples of a few other knowledge economies.

In particular, Finland, Singapore, China, Korea and Japan have histories of rapid economic growth largely based on technology, which we believe offer lessons for the UAE.

In Finland, successful information technology companies such as Nokia, Rovio Entertainment and Supercell are the result in part of a national innovation system, which emphasises interdependency and mutual interaction.

Information clusters in different industries have ensured continuous generation and dissemination of knowledge and skills through networks of universities, research institutes and companies.

Successful Finnish companies make use of this interconnected system and benefit from the educational system, skilled labour and state funding for research and development.

The UAE could greatly benefit from such a connection between its intellectual institutions.

Singapore, meanwhile, has experienced rapid growth thanks to massive inflows of foreign direct investment, a strong reliance on international markets and a large degree of government involvement.

In the early 1990s, Singapore identified a few sectors in which it wanted to grow and started to promote research in these areas - similar to the way the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 has identified sectors for the emirate to focus on.

Today Abu Dhabi is where Singapore was in the early 1990s. To help Singapore grow and advance, venture capital financing schemes were set up to promote entrepreneurship and innovation development, mainly by the government.

This gave the government a say in the innovation processes and created connections to Silicon Valley in California, which helped in building innovation capabilities of the nation.

Singapore also had a separate five-year national technology plan, which set certain goals for research and development.

Similarly, outlining a detailed plan for the development of Abu Dhabi's technology sector could provide a helpful roadmap and direction for the economy.

South Korea has grown rapidly since the early 1960s and is today a leading exporter of high-tech goods.

In the 1960s the country had meagre natural resources, a low savings rate and a tiny domestic market. It established a network of government and private technical support systems, and it passed strong laws such as the basic research promotion law in 1989, which established support for research in universities.

It also took a very hands-on approach, choosing specific technologies in which it sought to excel, such as high-definition TV and vehicles.

Abu Dhabi could likewise do well by developing strong laws to promote technology and setting up centres that help develop specific technologies.

The most amazing success story of the 21st century is that of China, which has moved swiftly from a labour-intensive manufacturing-based economy to become a bastion of science and technology.

That success can be partially attributed to almost 80 per cent of China's research and development expenditure coming from state-owned enterprises.

The UAE could also benefit from such a move. Since its university system is still young, it would make sense for state-owned enterprises within the UAE to build up their research potential.

Lastly there is Japan, known for its technology management and innovation. After the Second World War, Japan created industries almost from nothing, setting up government-owned companies that were later privatised and developed into highly successful global conglomerates.

In Abu Dhabi, too, innovation through the private sector with government backing could be key. The UAE could set up companies in sectors it wished to promote and then hand them over to private players. In this way, government wealth can be used as a fertiliser to grow young start-ups until they are strong enough to turn private.

Finland's education system, Singapore's technology plans, South Korea's governmental policies, China's state-run research centres and Japan's privatisation all helped these countries become high-tech giants.

With continuing attention to policies that support technology and innovation, the UAE has the resources and the leadership to do even better.


Ghita Wallin, Imran Syed, and Mohamed Al Hadhrami are students at the Masdar Institute.