"Sharjah is ready to embrace its next stage of development" - that was the message delivered at the Second Sharjah Forum, held on Sunday at Mleiha Archaeological and Eco-tourism Destination.
Titled "The Future of Sharjah," the event was organised by Sharjah Investment and Development Authority, Shurooq, and brought together more than 200 representatives from Sharjah’s government sector to discuss how to capitalise on the opportunities presented by Sharjah’s 2017 budget of Dh22 billion (US$5.99 billion), the largest in the emirate’s history.
Hosted under the patronage of Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed bin Sultan Al Qasimi, Sharjah’s Crown Prince, Deputy Ruler and Chairman of the Executive Council, and held 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 reflects 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 into innovative solutions, as well as new technologies as essential tools for our economic growth," said Sheikha Bodour Al Qasimi of Shurooq.
"Sharjah continues to leverage both its humanitarian and natural resources as part of its grand vision of the emirate’s economic sustainability, and also moves forward more strategically through its economic diversification process. These all fall within the wise vision of Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammad 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," Sheikha Bodour added.
Following on from the first Sharjah Forum, which was held on 2nd November, 2014, The Future of Sharjah especially focussed on four key sectors that have been identified as key to the emirate’s growth, namely, transport and logistics, 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 gained maximum importance at the second Sharjah Forum, with Jared Cohen, Founder of Google Ideas and President of Jigsaw, giving the first keynote presentation titled "Technology and its Positive Impact."
Among the issues he discussed was how seismic disruptions’ in technology - such as the development of the printing press, television and fax machine - used to occur once in a person’s lifetime but now take place almost on a daily basis.
Cohen said Sharjah could become a model for successfully espousing innovation with a family-focussed environment, and concluded by recommending that the emirate should build the world’s largest children’s playground to place it firmly on the map as a family-oriented city.
Alec Ross, a Visiting Fellow at Johns Hopkins University and the author of the New York Times bestseller "The Industries of the Future," also addressed the issue of innovation in the second session of the forum.
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 came up with 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 percent in one year following the introduction of a secure network.
He also predicted that everyone would be able to understand at least 10 languages in five years’ time, thanks to advances in translation technology, and said that cloud computing would facilitate the rise in robots undertaking more and more cognitive tasks.
An overview of Sharjah’s economic landscape was presented by Hazem Galal, Global Leader, Cities and Local Government Sector, PwC, who highlighted Sharjah’s ever-growing foreign trade, which was valued at Dh9.54 billion in 2005 and at Dh42 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 Dh1.2 billion and went up to hit Dh1.5 billion by the end of 2016.