When the internet went mainstream, it did not have to be this way: Dubai’s ‘digital village’ is now a hub for the world’s creative industries
Dubai is an online city, and the UAE is a hub of global digital design and development.
But there are few places in the Middle East where the internet has been as influential, or as widely adopted, as Dubai, where its citizens have created the country’s first-ever virtual village, called The Digital Village, in 2019.
Dubai’s Digital Village is the brainchild of the UAE’s government, which created it as part of its push to boost digital technology employment, and also as a means to create a more inclusive digital society.
The UAE is known as one of the most digitally connected countries in the world, with nearly 80 per cent of the population online, according to the United Nations Digital Index, with an internet penetration of 93 per cent.
Its Digital Village was created in the aftermath of the 2020 earthquake and tsunami, when the city’s main thoroughfare was shut down to prevent debris from flying.
In the early days of the digital village, there were only a handful of businesses offering services like booking tours, renting a room or ordering food, says Mohammed Al-Sulaiman, a lecturer at the University of Dubai and one of its creators.
“But then the economic crisis, which affected tourism and the economy, made it harder to get a job, so now we have a large number of companies that are able to offer their services online,” he says.
It is not just tourism that is changing.
The country is also starting to embrace online shopping.
It is now the fifth-largest online shopping market in the UAE, after Saudi Arabia, UAE, United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, according the UAE Tourism Association.
Dublin’s Digital village was also created in partnership with Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which was founded by UAE-based businessman and entrepreneur, Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, in the late 1980s.
“The digital village is a showcase for Dubai to show the world that we are not the first place to build an online village,” he said.
Dubaisi Digital Village The Digital village’s website features information on how to create digital projects, such as how to design a digital map, how to build a virtual playground, and how to use a tablet to make a digital video.
There is also a guidebook about the digital community.
“We hope that through this project, the digital economy will develop in a more sustainable way and that it will become a part of the economy of the country,” says Mr Al-Maktouman.
Dubaysi Digital village, built with funds from the European Union, has also been a model for other countries to create their own virtual villages, like New York’s digital village in 2014, or Singapore’s digital island, known as the Digital Village.
The Digital Village’s success has also brought Dubai more attention to the region’s other online industries, including tourism and tech, which are among the fastest-growing sectors in the country.
Dubay’s digital industry is expanding rapidly, says Mr Sulaiman, and Dubai is the only UAE city where a company can get a contract for a digital project, without having to apply for a government contract.
In 2019, Dubai became the first city in the Arab world to launch a citywide website to share its digital landscape, which includes an interactive map, and a guide to the city and its people.
This is the digital age for Dubai, says Ahmed Mansour, head of Digital Media and Technology at the Dubai Institute for Strategic Studies, an independent think-tank.
“What is happening in Dubai now is the first time in a very long time that we have an environment where the digital revolution is occurring, in a global way,” he adds.
Duban is also one of just a handful in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) that has its own digital village.
Its digital village began in 2014 and has been running since.
Dubani is one of a number of Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate, to offer its citizens a virtual village to work online.
Duba is also the first Arab country in the GCC to have a city-wide website, which is a first for the region.
Dubai’s digital community, which has over 1,300 members, uses a virtual version of the city website to post updates, updates on events, and updates on social media, like social media profiles and Instagram accounts.
There are about 300,000 active members, and about 15,000 new ones every day.
“We see that Dubai has the potential to become the next Silicon Valley, or to be the next tech hub in the region,” says Ahmed al-Qasimi, chief executive of the Dubai Digital Village and CEO of Dubai Digital Business Association.
“Dubai is the most digital city in South East Asia, and we see this as a real opportunity for the