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Tommy Weir: Connecting Ideas

Tommy Weir: Connecting Ideas

The author of ’10 Tips For Leadership In The Middle East’ examines whether Dubai is using its hub status to bring ideas to the world or is the world bringing ideas to it.

Dubai is a city of connections, for that matter the region is, with the sheer volume of passengers that connect through our airports, tourists that walk the streets and cargo that transfers from one ship to the next.

Being a connecting point certainly is not something new for Dubai. Albeit today the vastness and sophistication of being a hub city outstrips what it was over a century ago, when Dubai was competing against local ports for prominence in the Arabian Gulf.

Unhappy with the revenue that it is was receiving, Bandar Lingah, in southern Iran, created the demand for what we know now as free trade in Dubai. The Iranian Government introduced a strict tax regime and appointed Belgian Officials to run the Port, which caused a financial pinch on the merchants who instinctively looked for a better place to trade.

Drifting across the Gulf, the natural places to look were Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah, the southern Gulf port cities at the turn of the last century.

But Sheikh Maktoum bin Hasher Al Maktoum, then ruler of Dubai, set out to make Dubai the most commercially attractive port on the coast. He offered free land in Shindaga, the mouth of today’s Dubai Creek. In 1901, he abolished most tariffs, making Dubai competitive against the other tax regimes – the genesis of today’s mega-hub was set in place.

When these merchant families came to Dubai, not only did they bring their trade, they brought their experiences, ideas and ways of living, which were welcomed by the ruling family. Their imported influence, replicating their homes they had left in the Port of Lingah, brought the “windtowers” designed to take advantage of cooling sea breezes.

Quickly, Dubai became a connecting point for local traders to bring their proficiencies and share with others – ideas flowed into Dubai.

Shortly thereafter, Dubai’s port became an important stopping call for British commercial steamers who began calling every two weeks.

The awareness of Dubai spread, and others came from near-by ports seeking to take advantage of the competitive trading terms.

With each decade that followed, the sphere of influence grew to where we are today, as a leader in global connections.

Nearly a century ago, another city, New York, rose to prominence as a connecting point, albeit by sea and rail. The growing United States economy, in contrast to the economic hardship in many European countries, fueled mass migration.

In the early 1900’s, millions of people came though Ellis Island seeking opportunity. New York city became a hub for immigrants coming in to the country to begin a new life. It was a haven for people from all religions and all nationalities.

In search of an opportunity, each person that stepped off the ship, from “First Class” voyagers to the “Steerage” passengers who traveled in crowded, unsanitary conditions near the bottom of steamships, not only brought their hands to labour, they brought their ideas and built New York into the largest city in the world in the 1920s, and today into the global cultural and financial capital.

New York began as a connecting point for people and expanded into a hub for inspiration – it went from receiving people to spreading ideas.

This raises a question – are we an import or export connection point? In other words, does the world bring its goods and ideas to us or do we showcase homegrown goods and ideas for people who connect here to take away with them, wanting to copy or export what they experienced?

You see, there are a lot of great cities around the world that people travel to only to make new memories. But there are only a few places globally that make people want to import what they experienced while away to their home country.

I believe Dubai has the potential to leverage its hub status to bring ideas to the world – to be an inspiration hub. This will require a break from the common practice of importing all of the brands of the world, and instead a shift to creating ideas and brands that we can export.

For any organisation’s innovations to work they need to maximise their geographical location. We have the geographical advantage – millions of people travel through the UAE every year. Are they bringing new ideas to us? Or is the UAE a stage to showcase homegrown ideas?


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