What part will you play in your future?
I was honoured to be invited to speak recently at Dubai International Academy’s graduation ceremony for the class of 2014.
This diverse class spanned 32 nationalities.What was remarkable for me was how the UAE provided an invaluable setting for this net increase in human capital development. Dubai and the UAE had offered these young people a solid base for the next step of their academic and personal journey. As a Singaporean, whose country relies on developing human capital as its key resource, this resonated strongly with me.
They were a talented and dedicated group of young men and women. They appeared all primed to succeed and as they embarked on the next phase of their lives, I asked them: “Where do you see yourselves in the year 2030?”
In 2030, the Class of 2014 will be nearing 35 years of age. They will then be at the peak of their adult lives and careers, biologically and physically.
My purpose was to ask the Class of 2014 to think about the world they would like to inhabit in the future. I told them that if change is the only constant, then it followed that they had to anticipate what lies ahead.
But doing so is getting harder with the dizzying pace of change. With the interaction of new technologies and demographics, it is anticipated that humanity could change more in the next 15 years than it has over the last 150 years.
Here is how Thomas Frey, innovation editor of the Futurist magazine, imagined the world we will inhabit in 2030: “By 2030 the average person will have 4.5 packages a week delivered with flying drones. They will travel 40 per cent of the time in a driverless car, use a 3D printer to print hyper-individualised meals, and will spend most of their leisure time on an activity that hasn’t been invented yet.
“The world will have seen more than two billion jobs disappear, with most coming back in different forms in different industries ... Over 50 per cent of today’s Fortune 500 companies will have disappeared.
“Space colonies, personal privacy, and flying cars will all be hot topics of discussion, but not a reality. Most of today’s top causes, including climate change will all be relegated to little more than footnotes in Wikipedia, and Wikipedia itself will have lost the encyclopaedia wars to an upstart company,” he concluded.
I have no doubt that quite a few of the Class of 2014 will be drivers of these remarkable changes. I also have little doubt that some of these predictions are unlikely to happen.
My own humble prediction is that in the future, cities will determine whether the world works well or not. Most of these cities will be in the Asia, although we cannot simply write off the West. The UAE finds itself in a unique position with both a global economic city, Dubai, and a global political city, Abu Dhabi. Few countries in the world can boast this unique combination.
Many of the Class of 2014 are likely to be living, working, raising a family or spending leisure time in one of these cities in 2030. They will have the chance to contribute to shaping an exciting future. But to do so, first they must imagine the future they would like to help make or try to avoid. This is what Singapore has been trying to do, especially since launching the first World Cities Summit in 2008, to help produce innovative solutions to the most pressing challenges facing cities today.
Next week, Singapore will in fact host the 2014 World Cities Summit. For the first time we will launch a young leaders component of that summit. This will allow young urban leaders to engage in cutting edge ideas and initiate concepts to tackle urban challenges.
In thinking about this future, I left the Class of 2014 with some words from Franklin D Roosevelt, one of the 20th century’s great statesmen, who wrote: “The only limit to our realisation of tomorrow is our doubts of today.”
Roosevelt conjured these words amid the ravages of the Second World War. They expressed a belief that contributed to the peace and stability enjoyed over the last half century after the Second World War.The winners of that war, led by the US, were able to design the post-war order. Roosevelt boldly set a vision for development, based on innovative ideas of global financial architecture and political alliances.
He did not live to see his ideas implemented. Nevertheless, the post-war order he helped conceive generated the political, financial and power structures that still drive our world today. It sealed the so-called American century of global leadership and stability.
Today, we are in a new era at the hinge of history. A rising and confident Asia and its growing middle class seek their own share of global power and influence in the 21st century. Doubts may delay the rise of Asia, but may not hold it back.
As young men and women entering the possible reality experiment of an Asian century by 2030, I asked the Class of 2014: what are the limits to your realisation of tomorrow? Can you overcome your doubts of today? Their answers to these questions could be a valuable experiment in creating their own positive reality.
Umej Singh Bhatia is Singapore’s ambassador to the UAE
Updated: May 31, 2014 04:00 AM