‘Sharjah is ready to embrace its next stage of development’ – that was the message delivered at the second Sharjah Forum, which was held on Sunday at Mleiha Archaeological and Eco-tourism Destination. Titled ‘The Future of Sharjah,’ the event organised by Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) brought together more than 200 representatives of Sharjah’s government sector to discuss capitalising on the opportunities being presented with Sharjah’s 2017 budget of AED22 billion (USD5.99 billion), the largest in the emirate’s history.
Hosted under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed bin Sultan Al Qasimi, Sharjah Crown Prince, Deputy Ruler and Chairman of the Executive Council and in the presence of Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed bin Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairman of Sharjah Media Corporation and Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson of (Shurooq), the event took place at the Mleiha Archaeological and Eco-tourism Destination – one of Shurooq’s key eco-tourist attractions and a prime example of the authority’s strategy to develop all of Sharjah’s geographical areas. The platform was designed to inculcate innovative thinking that will push the emirate forward economically and lead to a framework of ideas that will serve as a model for future initiatives.
“Sharjah has continuously demonstrated its capabilities to function as a prime destination for sustainability, distinction and innovation across the GCC and MENA region. The Sharjah Forum 2017 reflected the emirate’s commitment to a long-term and strategic business and infrastructure model, which has continuously developed its government services on a full-scale level. Today the forum represents the continuity of these efforts, with a strong focus on collaborating together in sharing creative insights on innovative solutions as well as new technologies as essential tools to our economic growth,” said Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi, Chairperson of Shurooq.
“Sharjah continues to embark on both its humanitarian and natural resources as part of its grand vision on the emirate’s economic sustainability, as well as moving forward and more strategic through its economic diversification process. These all fall within the wise vision of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, which highlights the importance of integration and working together towards one future, accomplishing a unified set of ambitions, expectations and milestones for Sharjah. Due to our efforts in developing a sustainable government integration framework, our economy continues to open its doors to more international investors, strengthening Sharjah’s position as a top investment destination in the region. These opportunities form a key launch platform for Sharjah where it can work towards catering and servicing new demands made by investors, as well as form strategic business models for its future,” Sheikha Bodour added.
Following on from the first Sharjah Forum, which was held on November 2, 2014, The Future of Sharjah placed a particular focus on four key sectors that have been identified as key to the emirate’s growth; namely transport and logistics, the environment, tourism, and healthcare. These areas are expected to receive a huge boost with the funds available from the emirate’s record-breaking 2017 budget, of which 30 percent has been allocated to infrastructure and 41 percent to the economic development sector.
Technology and innovation featured highly at the second Sharjah Forum, with Jared Cohen, Founder of Google Ideas and President of Jigsaw giving the first key note presentation titled ‘Technology and its Positive Impact.’ Among the issues he touched on were how ‘seismic disruptions’ in technology – such as the development of the printing press, the television and the fax machine – used to occur once in a person’s lifetime but now take place on an almost daily basis. He said that Sharjah could become a model for other countries by successfully marrying innovation with a family-focused environment and concluded by recommending that the emirate build the world’s largest children’s playground to place it firmly on the map as a family-oriented city.
Also addressing the issue of innovation in the second of the forum’s sessions was Alec Ross, a Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Johns Hopkins University and the author of the New York Times bestseller ‘The Industries of the Future.’ During his presentation titled ‘Inspirational Cities and Innovation’ Ross discussed the ‘accelerator effect’ of the economic cycle and examined the role that governments, private partners, businesses and stakeholders play in the realisation of smart cities. He provided an inspirational anecdote of how crime reporting via mobile phones was able to bring down two drug cartels in Mexico, with the level of reporting by concerned citizens going up 500 per cent in one year following the introduction of a secure network. He also predicted that we would all be able to understand at least 10 languages in five years’ time thanks to advances in translation technology and that Cloud computing would facilitate the rise in robots undertaking more and more cognitive tasks.
Included in The Future of Sharjah programme were brainstorming sessions, workshops and group presentations led by corporate training organisation ‘Select.’ Participants used the sessions to successfully come up with strategic solutions for Sharjah’s potential economic challenges by using a traffic light system, with red denoting what the emirate needs to stop doing, amber what it needs to continue doing and green what it needs to start doing. These strategic solutions highlighted multiple resolutions on the way forward for Sharjah as a brand, as an investment and tourism destination, its investment environment and its connectivity and infrastructure.
An overview of Sharjah’s economic landscape was also given by Hazem Galal, Global Leader, Cities and Local Government Sector, PwC, who highlighted Sharjah’s ever growing foreign trade, which was valued at AED 9.54 billion in 2005 and AED 42 billion in 2013. Galal also drew attention to Sharjah’s tourism sector which is set to be an increasingly important driver of the emirate’s GDP growth. He pointed out that in 2015 the market size for Sharjah’s tourism sector reached AED 1.2 billion and was on progress to hit AED 1.5 billion by year-end 2016.