The World Expo is one of the largest global, non-commercial events in economic and cultural impact after the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic Games.

The 170-year-old tradition of world fairs is about to meet with a historic moment as Dubai hosts the World Expo 2020. It is the first time a country from the Middle East is hosting what is often cited as the world’s “first truly global event.”

From their origins as international gatherings of states showcasing industrial power and technological innovation, World Expos have evolved to become platforms for the international community to debate, probe, share best practices, and explore new solutions for the challenges our planet faces.

The first mechanical computer was showcased at the London International Exhibition of 1862, and Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the first telephone at the Philadelphia world fair in 1876. Other notable introductions at these international events are, for example: the elevator and the dishwasher, the Ferris wheel, the Eiffel Tower and the Seattle Space Needle, the ice cream cone and Cherry Coke, the x-ray machine and computer touchscreens, as well as broadcast television along with the first television sets, and later on colour television.

In the modern era, World Expos are large-scale platforms for education and progress that bridge governments, companies, international organisations, and citizens.

Another aspect of this period in the history of World Expos is the focus of themes around global challenges such as sustainability, climate change, the food crisis, among others.

The expo in Shanghai in 2010, for instance, was themed upon “Better City, Better Life.” The theme of Milan in 2015 was “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life”, and the theme at Dubai this year is “Connecting Minds, Creating the Future,” with three subthemes of opportunity, mobility and sustainability. The following World Expo will be in 2025 in Osaka, Kansai, Japan, under the theme “Designing Future Society for Our Lives.”

For millions of people, Expo 2020 Dubai is an occasion to reconnect with the whole world, engage with critical questions of universal importance, and showcase innovative and cutting-edge solutions to our global problems. Every participating country has its own pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai for the first time in World Expo history.

India, which is yet to host a World Expo, is to have the largest pavilion in Dubai where the four-storeyed pavilion is designed to showcase 75 years of India’s Independence.

Under the exhibition titled “New Perspectives,” the Women’s Pavilion invite visitors to recognise the central role that women, known and unknown, have played throughout history, leading up to the present. Celebrating women’s significant and often forgotten contributions, the pavilion will demonstrate an important principle: when women thrive, all of humanity thrives.

Burton Benedict, an American anthropologist, summarises the importance of World Expos in his 1983 book: “They were selling ideas: ideas about the relations between nations, the spread of education, the advancement of science, the form of cities, the nature of domestic life, the place of art in society.”