november 2016 | Knowledge Hub
Converting to Convention
Dubai is a world-leading destination for medical conferences and a growing knowledge hub for medical science. How has the emirate achieved this position?
One man with an inside view on Dubai’s rapid development in the medical field is Abdulla Bin Souqat, a member of the Board of Trustees and the Executive Director of the Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Medical Sciences.
“The health sector is a combination of three pillars: the public, private and academic services. These three areas are partners. They are not supposed to work individually, they are supposed to work together. But, we see in many countries throughout the world that there are no links or proper communication between the private, public and academic services. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum came up with the idea of the Award as one of many ways to connect these three pillars.”
The Award was established in 1999 under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance & Industry.
“He wanted the Award to honour excellence in the medical field rather than being a competition. Honouring people focuses on the idea of connecting people internationally. It brings medical scientists around the world in contact with researchers in our country and this region. It creates bonds and promotes proper communication and the exchange of ideas and knowledge.”
Over the years the Award has expanded to include a diverse array of award categories at global, regional, and local levels. The 16 winners of the ninth term of the awards (2015–2016), which mainly focuses on gastroenterology, will be honoured at a ceremony in conjunction with the 9th Dubai International Conference for Medical Sciences to be held December 14–16.
Another aspect of the Award is to highlight the importance of scientific research in boosting progress in the UAE. Through its Research Support Center, the Award organisation plays an active role in promoting medical research.
“Funding research is another one of the tools we use to bring about connections between the pillars of the health sector. The Award has been supporting medical research since 1999 and is recognised as the first funding of its kind in the UAE.”
The emirate has continued to create connections in the health sector. It has established dedicated communities to share knowledge in the medical field such as the Dubai Biotechnology and Research Park, and Dubai Healthcare City, the world’s largest healthcare free zone, which was launched in 2002. Investment in Dubai’s medical facilities means that the emirate’s level of healthcare is widely recognised as the best in the Middle East, attracting healthcare experts from around the world and creating the basis for a thriving medical tourism industry. Major investment in universities and research centres that are paving the way for technological and scientific advances has enhanced the emirate’s standing as an international knowledge hub.
It could be said that Dubai’s approach follows the blueprint of the Triple Helix, a concept developed by Henry Etzkowitz and Loet Leydesdorff in the 1990s that suggested new knowledge, innovation and development in science, technology and research was best generated by dynamic relations and interactions between universities, the private sector and government. However, Dubai had adopted its approach long before the Triple Helix was conceived and medical conferences were one of the original cornerstones of this connective strategy.
“Today Dubai is considered an important hub for conferences in many fields, but it is seen as the biggest hub for medical conferences.”
Among the many major medical conferences confirmed for 2017 is the Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics Conference, and 2018 will see a large number of events including the World Congress of Hernia Surgery and World Congress of the International Federation for the Surgery of Obesity and Metabolic Disorders.
“But it’s important to remember that we have been planning and building towards being a hub for conferences and activities since 1968, concentrating first on medical conferences and then expanding into other events in the sporting and commercial fields. What we see today is a result of the government’s vision of how to create a hub.”
Planning is at the heart of Dubai’s drive for development in every sphere and it is something that resonates with Abdulla Bin Souqat who remembers an “Aha” moment when he was a student in Birmingham. “Our lecturer used to write the word “Plan!” on the board every day without explanation. Eventually I asked him why he did it and he said it was simply to emphasise that ’If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail’.” That quote, often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, created a lasting impression: “It really sums up everything you need to know about the importance of planning.”
Abdulla Bin Souqat says that the drive to connect and integrate in a planned and strategic way has been crucial in the emirate’s success as a conference destination.
“The government started to plan and build up the infrastructure, which has made integration of services possible. You can build up systems and rules and regulations to make things work, but we see throughout the world that integration does not necessarily take place. The sense of integration is not there.”
“Although the government has built up the infrastructure and services, the government just makes the playground. You can put billions of dollars into it, but you need to have people with the right attitude who know how to make it work. In Dubai everyone has been happy and willing to make the integration of services happen. So today when you talk to anybody in one of the government bodies or private bodies about any kind of event, you will find that people are ready to help and know which button to press.”
“We have succeeded not only in building the right facilities, but also in combining the infrastructure and the infostructure. And this is what really has made the country into one of the most attractive hubs. Ticketing, visas, documentation, transportation, leisure – they are all interlinked. We have learned how to built up the infrastructure for your use. We have all these things covered so visitors can get these things arranged with ease. Everything should feel like it happens with the press of a button.”
“It is not just The World Trade Centre, convention centre or a particular area that hosts a convention. From the start, the government saw that success as a conference destination depended on far more than conference facilities alone. The combination of infrastructure and infostructure means that Dubai has become the convention itself. Seeing Dubai as a convention was the key factor for success. We consider ourselves as a successful convention and feel there is no limit to our ambitions in this field.”