Expo 2020 Dubai: What legacy has it left in its wake?
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Expo 2020 Dubai: What legacy has it left in its wake?

Expo 2020 Dubai: What legacy has it left in its wake?

Positioned as the ‘world’s greatest show’, Expo 2020 Dubai has drawn to a close. What impact did it have?


Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world ” – Albert Einstein famously said. It could be deliberated that this was arguably the premise on which the ‘world’s greatest show’, Expo 2020 Dubai, was envisioned.

Imagination leads to creativity which breeds innovation. The sprawling six-month exhibition held in Dubai from October 2021 until the end of last month was a breeding ground for the confluence of ideas and resources. From the Al Wasl dome – equipped with the world’s largest 360-degree projection screen – and 3D-printed food to robots extending assistance and mesmerising light shows, Expo 2020 Dubai stood out as a microcosm of an innovation-led, technology-centric future.

Meanwhile, the exhibition also served as a platform for ingenuity and collaboration to carve out a sustainable future and tackle pressing issues. From Brazil’s biodiversity, Netherlands’ integrated climate system and Singapore’s rainforest to Japan’s immersive realm and the Sustainability pavilion – Terra’s – thought-provoking enquiries, the event attempted to answer questions on how mankind envisions the future.

Expo 2020 led by example – the 4,912 solar panels on Terra’s 130-metre-wide canopy and 18 energy trees could create 4GWh of alternative energy annually, enough electricity to charge over 900,000 mobile phones.

Fertile ground
Expo 2020 Dubai was one of several firsts. It was the first world expo to be held across the Middle East, Africa and South Asia region. It was also the first world expo where each participating nation, 192 in total, had its own pavilion. Spread across three thematic districts based on the subthemes of opportunity, mobility and sustainability, the exhibition recorded 22.93 million visits as of March 29 – and thereby fulfilled its commitment to attract between 22.9 million and 25.4 million visits, a target range set out in the registration dossier officially ratified by the Bureau International des Expositions member states in 2015.

Besides being a melting pot for innovations, ambitions and ideas, Expo 2020 Dubai also ignited economic opportunities and alliances. Malaysia’s participating companies secured over $8.38bn in potential returns on trade and investments with the global business community in the first three months of the exhibition. During the Philippines Country Business Briefing held alongside the Southeast Asian country’s National Day at the expo, the Philippines welcomed letters of intent from GCC companies expected to bring in $600m worth of investments and generate 4,000 job opportunities across the country.

Australia’s New South Wales and the UAE meanwhile also cooperated on agri-food innovation and manufacturing at the event. Additionally, UK companies associated with Expo 2020 Dubai garnered £188m in export wins up until March 23.

One step down, several companies signed agreements and entered into alliances with their regional and global counterparts at the mega event. India, for example, is looking at wider collaboration with GCC countries in the steel sector, in the wake of the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement signed between the UAE and India recently. Pakistan’s Fatima Group inked over $1bn worth of MoUs with global agriculture firms at the exhibition. Additionally, Dutch-based Demcon Optiqua and PUB, Singapore’s National Water Agency, collaborated for real-time drinking water monitoring technology.

“Partnering with Expo 2020 Dubai provided us with exhilarating new possibilities as the world came together to explore, collaborate and innovate. It gave us an opportunity to share our vision, build a bridge to the future and transport millions of visitors to a reality that is far closer than we imagine. It gave us a chance to showcase the innovations defining tomorrow’s digital economy – and the sustainable growth it can unlock for future generations,” notes Girish Nanda, country manager – UAE and Pakistan, Mastercard, the expo’s official payment technology partner. “We did this through our Mastercard Cube at Expo 2020 Dubai, which helped connect guests to their passions through several immersive multi-sensory experiences.”

Onur Elgun, VP of Strategy at talabat, the official food delivery partner for the event, adds: “Expo 2020 has created a substantial impact for us. For talabat, we have forged new partnerships and strengthened existing ones. Some of our new partnerships are with Terminus Group, the official premier partner to Expo 2020 Dubai, and the company behind the now famous orange robot mascot, Opti and our own tala-bots. This allowed us to explore the future of food delivery starting with the Expo site which was a great success. Another example is with Grubtech for the 3D smart lockers and DG World using their AI tech for the robotic arms that served hundreds of thousands of customers with coffee and ice cream since Expo opened its doors. Finally, it allowed our team to explore new opportunities, some
of which are under discussion, as we look for ways to improve our operations and introduce new and innovative tech-ways of doing business.”

Enduring legacy
From pledges to partnerships, Expo 2020 Dubai’s legacy of impact and purpose is expected to come in several forms. Of the one million visitors hosted by Terra up until February 26, 95 per cent pledged to bring about a sustainable change, ranging from meat-free days, to swapping cars for public transport. Young thinkers also stood to draw inspiration from technologies and intent at display, having made up a sizeable portion of the overall visits. Since the start of the event, children under the age of 18 visited more than 2.8 million times.

“The legacy of Expo 2020 Dubai will continue through the partnerships made, the collaborations undertaken, and the technologies revealed, in line with the overall theme of the global event, which was to connect minds and create the future,” adds Mastercard’s Nanda. “Expo 2020 Dubai gave us a platform to join forces with other industry giants to roll out new technology and further fuel the business through key partnerships. Partnerships can bring real change and have far-reaching impact for consumers, businesses, and society as a whole.”

That Expo 2020 has helped convene the world to build a better tomorrow is now beyond doubt. What it does next is equally important as it transforms the sprawling area into a forward-looking mixed-use district. Expo 2020 Dubai will transition into District 2020 – a smart and sustainable city within a city.

Following the closure of the expo event, as much as 80 per cent of the build infrastructure will be repurposed into an integrated mixed-use community for people to work, live and explore. However, District 2020 will also be home to attractions retained from the exhibition, which include Terra and Alif – Expo 2020 Dubai’s Sustainability and Mobility pavilions, Al Wasl Plaza, as well as Rove Hotel. The district, which will develop over phases, will host 145,000 people at full capacity.

Prioritising sustainability and keeping people at the centre of its design, the district has a dedicated Dubai Metro stop and will host three 132 KV substations, while solar panels are integrated across the site. For people looking to call District 2020 home, the 15-minute city, in which everything will be accessible within walking or cycling distance, will make for an ideal residential locality, with neighbourhoods linked by pedestrian walkways and autonomous vehicle routes to other locations such as offices, schools, and parks.

More than 800 residential units will be handed over, starting from January 2023. Meanwhile, District 2020 also aims to play a significant role in enabling regional and global startups to scale up within the emirate. ‘Scale2Dubai’, the district’s global entrepreneurship programme will welcome its first cohort of 85 startups and small businesses before the end of the year, selected from 628 shortlisted applicants.

“This is an exciting milestone that reiterates District 2020’s commitment to continuing Expo 2020’s legacy of supporting entrepreneurs and contributing to Dubai’s status as an innovation-driven global startup capital,” notes Tala Al Ansari, director, Innovation Ecosystem and Scale2Dubai. “We plan to host a new cohort every year at District 2020 and look forward to our second cohort moving in by April 2023.”

Expo 2020 Dubai has beckoned the world to envision a better tomorrow and is expected to carve out an impactful legacy, that will likely leave an enduring imprint on people and their lives.

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