For the United Arab Emirates, social development is not an elusive aspiration, or a goal set out in a government document, gathering dust, it is an inextricable stitch in the nation’s fabric – an integral part of its history, its present and its future. When the seven emirates united back in 1971, so important was social welfare to Sheikh Zayed, he didn’t just incorporate it into the national agenda, he founded the very nation on it.
More than four decades on, the words of the Emirates’ Founding Father serve as a constant reminder of the values that have underpinned the meteoric rise of a nation: “No matter how many buildings, foundations, schools and hospitals we build, or how many bridges we raise… the real spirit behind the progress is the human spirit, the able man with his intellect and capabilities.”
Today, Sheikh Zayed’s words still ring true. With Abu Dhabi as its capital, the UAE has risen to become a regional front-runner on almost every count – economic strength, technological advancement, sustainability – but without the social development to match, then these triumphs can only take the nation and its people so far. A strong and prosperous country demands a strong and prosperous society, and its development is a responsibility that each and every one of us must shoulder. To quote an old African proverb, it takes a village to raise a child. If the United Arab Emirates is the village, then our society is the child – the precious life that requires nourishment, opportunity and encouragement in order to grow.
It is not a responsibility to be taken lightly, but in Abu Dhabi, thanks to steadfast leadership, the course has been set for all to follow. Through a range of targeted strategies and initiatives, the government is guiding society to become the very best it can be. But a government cannot build a society alone; the nation’s stakeholders must work hand in hand, in order to turn strategy to reality. Abu Dhabi’s government has thoroughly developed the frameworks, initiatives and infrastructure that will facilitate social development, and now it is the turn of the people to seize those tools with both hands and run with them. It is incumbent upon every one of us to be proactive, capable citizens – to assume responsibility and be accountable for our actions.
In Abu Dhabi’s campaign for social development, the Nordic model serves as a useful reference point. Through a unique combination of unabashed capitalism and social benefits, the model has enabled societies in the Nordic countries to thrive, with Norway ranked first on the United Nations Human Development Index, and both Iceland and Sweden making the top 10. A capitalist economy enables these states to administer top-class education, healthcare and social services, and in return, citizens are motivated to work both with the government and each other to create opportunity and address challenges as they arise. Simply put, by participating in their own societal development, Nordic residents of all ages and backgrounds have a stake in their countries’ futures.
In Abu Dhabi, we are striving for the same. However, the momentum does not stop with our government and communities; the private sector also has an important role to play. In an emirate that values private enterprise, innovation and entrepreneurship, business-led initiatives are vital to social development, particularly when it comes to knowledge sharing and all-important job creation. From infrastructure investment to R&D and platforms for transferring ideas, skills and technology, the private sector can help to boost talent, education and job quality, all the while engaging society through a wide range of CSR activities.
Together, businesses, governments and the most important stakeholders of all – people – can serve as a unified and potent force for change. Cognisant of this, Abu Dhabi has made a commitment to uniting its public, private and government actors around a set of common goals and a shared vision of the future.
Through the UAE Vision 2021, the country is striving to nurture a nation of confident, well-rounded and socially responsible Emiratis, while Abu Dhabi’s Department of Community Development (DCD) is hard at work engaging and collaborating with all parties to ensure decent standard of living for all citizens, as well as a responsible, proactive and inclusive society founded on cohesive family values.
In a further commitment to its social agenda, Abu Dhabi has also launched the three-year Ghadan 21 development accelerator program, designed to enhance the emirate’s competitiveness. The Dh50 billion initiative is based on four tenets that include society, alongside business and investment, knowledge and innovation and lifestyle. Counting as one of Ghadan 21’s four pillars, the society tenet encompasses citizen employment, housing projects, quality yet affordable education, and a number of social welfare measures, all intended to foster a prosperous future and ensure a meaningful and dignified life for all who call Abu Dhabi home.
Whether through Ghadan 21, UAE Vision 2021 or the pioneering work of the DCD, the Abu Dhabi Government and its visionary leaders are investing in the emirate’s most important asset: its people. Now, it’s time for all of us to give back – to take ownership and play our part in shaping a sustainable and prosperous future that we can all be proud of. Sheikh Zayed founded our nation on social welfare, and it is incumbent upon every one of us to carry the torch.
Dr Mugheer Khamis Al Khaili is chairman of the Department of Community Development