The annual meeting of the global future councils sets the agenda for the big WEF gathering that takes place in the Swiss town of Davos in January.
It comes as Gulf economies, including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, race to invest in disruptive technologies such as robotics, artificial intelligence and blockchain, to position themselves in anticipation of what WEF-goers know as the coming “fourth industrial revolution.”
“We are looking for the answers to the question of the future,” said Mohammed Abdulla Al-Gergawi, UAE Minister of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, at the opening of the event, which he also co-chairs.
Gulf states are seeking to add high value jobs in new technologies as they emerge from decades of dependence on generating income from selling oil.
Such revenues are increasingly under threat – both from cheaper sources of shale oil and gas that have become easier to extract – as well as investments in new forms of renewable energy that is weighing on demand for heating oil and gasoline worldwide.
The region is also grappling with the paradox of finding work for a rapidly growing and youthful population – whose job prospects are being threatened by many of the disruptive technologies in which some Gulf economies have become key investors.
Al-Gergawi told the opening of the meeting in Dubai today that such changes could be a force for good despite the challenges they sometimes represent.
“Amid the changes that are taking place, changes that affect us all as global citizens, we should be able to turn them into opportunities,” he said.
“Successful countries have been able to transform that to positive change in vital areas.”
The event is taking place against a backdrop of mounting regional tension, with a political crisis unfolding in Lebanon, an ongoing boycott of Qatar by four of its regional neighbors and a crackdown on corruption in Saudi Arabia that has seen the arrest of several prominent businesspeople.
The WEF gathering in Dubai will compile work from more than 30 individual working groups that will be thrashed out at the group’s Davos meeting – the theme of which will be “Creating a shared future in a fractured world.”