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News from the Middle East

Interview with Philippe Blanchard – Senior Advisor of H. E. Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State and General Manager of Expo 2020

Tell us about the beginning of your work in the United Arab Emirates. I had the pleasure of joining the teams of Her Excellency Reem Al Hashimy, Minister and CEO of Expo 2020 Dubai, at the beginning of the candidature since February 2012. I had previously worked at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) where I had created the department “Information and Knowledge”. With my teams, we had developed knowledge transfer tools, to understand how to prepare and manage the most complicated of projects: organizing the Olympic Games. Dubai had fully understood the complexity of an application so we organized a team, light enough compared with our competitors, but extremely expert and motivated. For this designation, Dubai faced four other cities: São Paulo (Brazil), Izmir (Turkey), Yekaterinburg (Russia) and Ayutthaya (Thailand). In the final round, Dubai won with 116 votes against only 47 votes for the city of Ekaterinburg campaigning under the theme of “Global Mind”. On a personal level, I have always loved projects that want to change a country or region, and create new economic and social opportunities for communities. Before the IOC, I had several projects for the European Commission. The adventure of Dubai’s application was a human and intellectual experience that really changed my life.

Milan has successfully hosted the 2015 World Expo but we do not really know the importance of this global event: what does it mean for a city and a territory? Universal Exhibitions are events governed by the International Exhibitions Bureau created in the mid-nineteenth century (http://www.bie-paris.org/site/en/). This event was initially intended to highlight the various achievements in different fields (industrial, technological, etc….) Today, it also allows to develop innovative infrastructure and guarantees a strong international reach to the host territory. The event is organized on average every five years, but there are also other types of exhibitions in addition to those called “universal”: there are the international exhibitions (duration of 3 months) and the horticultural fairs. The IBE also manages the Milan Biennial. In any case, the event is a real demonstration of technological and commercial promotion for the city and the organizing country. Historically, the first World Fair was held in London in 1851. Among the most illustrious exhibits, we find that of Paris in 1889 with the exhibition of the Eiffel Tower.

So what are the stakes for Dubai, and more generally for the region? The theme of Expo 2020 Dubai is “Connecting minds, creating the future”. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum justified this choice by stating that “in today’s highly interconnected world, a renewed vision of progress and development with agreement on goals and shared commitment is the key”. The themes of Mobility, Opportunity and Sustainability will structure the image and development of Dubai. More generally, this exhibition is a unique opportunity to highlight the impressive transformation of Dubai and the United Arab Emirates only forty-nine years after the country’s independence. Dubai has become the first city in the MEASA zone (Middle East, Africa and South Africa) to organize a World Expo and will thus strengthen its position as a privileged place on the world stage.

How do you see the future of Dubai after Expo2020? The universal exhibition will develop Dubai’s economic and tourist activities in depth. It also marks an important turning point in the international projection of Dubai, as the Expo is also a diplomatic opportunity for the United Arab Emirates. The infrastructures created, the professional contacts made, will favor the development of a megalopolis, “Abu Dubai”, based on the Los Angeles model: a dense urban development along the sea, that will connect in the future the city of Dubai to the capital of the United Arab Emirates, Abu Dhabi.

I know you are working on an extraordinary project, could you tell us more about it? I was lucky enough to hold positions of responsibility in two of the most interesting projects in the world: the Olympic Games (for a series of sports competitions) and universal exhibitions (for highlighting innovative technological solutions). With some colleagues, all leading experts from the Technology, Media and Entertainment industry, we have followed the combined decline of classical sport organisations and the growing aspirations of Youth. Technology impacts more than the future of sports, the competitions and disciplines: a real revolution is under way, the whole ecosystem is changing: new objectives, new stakeholders, new business models, new expectations from the spectators and the competitors. We are bringing together the essence of the Olympics and of the World Expo. We will use the convening power of sports and competitions to change the relationship between our communities and Technology: information, communication and education. We call this event “Futurous”: Future and Us. With Futurous Games, we will master these disruptions and technology-based innovation in order to reengage with the Youth and align with the ways sport and international competitions are promoted, played, sold and consumed. It will be a pleasant surprise for everyone, to learn more: www.futurous.org.

Credits image: Le Petit Journal

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