The Power of Vision

Posted: July 29, 2017 in Geopolitics
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by Richard Martin

It’s Saturday morning and I’m sitting in my hotel room in Dubai. I’m here to conduct courses in strategic and operational management and leadership. I’m pondering the power of a vision and the means to achieve it.

I first was in the United Arab Emirates in December of 2002, as I prepared to deploy to Kuwait as the Canadian Forces Liaison Officer to the Coalition Forces Land Component Command prior to the invasion of Iraq. I was able to get into the city of Dubai on a few occasions with some of my colleagues for some R&R. The city has grown a lot in just those 15 years, and even since I started conducting courses here in 2014.

It’s gaudy and slick, hyper-modern and traditional, avant-garde and retrograde, all at the same time. If you like cutting edge architecture in the most bizarre locations with basically nothing around it, then you must visit Dubai. The skyline looks impressive from the sea, but when you’re in the city, all you see during the day is buildings, roads, and a haze combining humidity and dust and the beige-grey desert merging into the same coloured sky on a horizon that you can never quite make out. At night, it’s lights everywhere, sometimes quite pretty. Not as gaudy as Las Vegas, but still extravagant.

What is it about cities in the desert that makes them so attractive to adventurers and admirers alike? There is really nowhere to walk, as everything is designed around roads and a superb metro system. But even if you could walk, you wouldn’t want to for most of the year, as it’s extremely hot and humid. As I write, it’s forecast to go up to 45 C today, but the humidex is predicting 81 C!

The United Arab Emirates, of which Dubai is the most famous state, was founded in the early 1970s under the visionary leadership of Sheikh Zayed, ruler of Abu Dhabi. Abu Dhabi has most of the oil, but Dubai has the chutzpah and international reputation. The current ruler of Dubai is Sheikh Mohammed, who acceded to the post upon the death of his older brother in 2006, but who was also the de facto ruler for a decade before that.

It’s hard to believe, but as late as 1965, the city had a population of only 20,000. Most of these were huddled close to the Dubai Creek, a small inlet from the Persian Gulf. It was a marketplace, but the majority lived off fishing and pearl diving! Now, it’s a global trade and financial centre, and increasingly a manufacturing location and tourist destination. People from around the world come here to work, to make money, and to play.

Most of what Dubai is today, from Emirates Airlines (based in Dubai), the Burj Khalifa (the tallest freestanding building in the world), to the Palm Jumeirah (artificial islands shaped like a palm tree), is a result of the vision and leadership of Sheikh Mohammed. One of his many books is available for sale everywhere, appropriately titled My Vision. As prime minister of the UAE, in 2010 he issued a long-term federal vision for the country, called Vision 2021. Not many countries are led this way—essentially as an integrated organization.

It’s an interesting study in the power of vision combined with the resources to achieve it. Contrary to expectations, though, the city isn’t built on oil money. Exactly the opposite; it’s designed to avoid dependence on oil and natural resources. A possible example for many other jurisdictions around the world.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

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