I strongly believe ideas that are likely to have the biggest impact on the world tomorrow will not come from Silicon Valley, New York or London, they will come from new minds with fresh perspectives and from the developing world. One of the most exciting cities in the world is Dubai, not only for its wealth and architecture but its open minded attitude to explore, experiment and create. Future innovative disruption is more likely to come from places like Dubai where investment in its young people is creating a positive change that the rest of the world is not yet seeing. (This trend is also evident in China today where freedom of speech laws are starting to be more relaxed when it comes to nurturing young talent).
A forward thinking and innovative person who caught my attention recently is Noura Hawilo, a Conceptualiser at Mice International, a UAE events management company. Originally from Lebanon, Noura studied design management at the American University of Sharjah, before joining MICE International where she and her team conceived a new arts festival called ECHO. ECHO describes itself as the UAE’s first art, design and technology festival which aims to redefine ways in which brands communicate and engage with consumers, as well as championing artistic expression through forward thinking mediums. The festival will combine advanced technologies with a wide range of sound, visual and digital media, creating an interactive, multi-sensory experience on both a business and consumer level.
I wanted to learn more about ECHO and what’s driving innovation in Dubai. In this interview I spoke to Noura about the exciting developments taking place, we start with ECHO:
“The idea of ECHO started with some research in terms of what we wanted to achieve and why we could not achieve it in Dubai, which is creating installations or products for our events that are beautiful yet functional. This integration of art and technology is not mature in the region and from there we saw an opportunity for growth, and knowledge exchange. ECHO’s team is multi-faceted and each member has a different background which helped shape ECHO into an all-encompassing event that embraces art, science, technology, music and design. Creating a venture like ECHO comes a responsibility, we are the first in the region to explore and introduce this intersection of art and technology, we wanted to do it in the best way possible, which is why we are hosting the best in these fields making our content strong and appealing”.
The first ECHO festival is themed as “Interacting with the future” and will take place from the 14th to the 16th December in Dubai’s Design District ‘d3’. The festival will include an expo showcasing immersive installations by local and international exhibitors, a conference to exchange knowledge and generate new ideas within the industry; workshops across a range of artistic and creative disciplines hosted by international experts; and a sound festival that combines leading musical talent with audio-visual technology, to offer a truly immersive experience. The event is built on the idea that Dubai makes dreams happen.
Dubai is an incredible city with so much innovation, but how is the city embracing fresh ideas, innovations and experimenting with the “new”? Noura explains, “Innovation is not only about the application, innovation is an explorative process that requires experimentation. Dubai is investing in its youth and ensuring knowledge from the best innovators in the world is transferred. The fact that we are supported by Dubai Design District as our venue partner and the ministry of culture, proves Dubai is visionary and open in embracing new ideas”.
There are many examples of “innovation” in Dubai and it’s here where ECHO is clearly playing a part by expanding and dissecting this term to cover all aspects of what innovation is, from fashion tech to biotech. Moreover, what is also hot is art, where the introduction of immersive experiences is becoming a new format and medium for people to enjoy and explore works of art.
Another clear vision of the region’s investment in art can be seen in the opening of the new and stunning, Jean Nouvel designed Louvre museum in Abu Dhabi – a landmark building that will not only bring culture and creativity to the region but create new thinking by the young culture creators of tomorrow.
I wanted to explore the lifestyle changes taking place in Dubai. Social media has brought wider awareness to us all through the content we consume and share, food, diets and nutrition are changing and wearable technology is being adopted for both health and fashion reasons. What function is wearable technology playing in Dubai? “Dubai is on a health and fitness mission! We have a countrywide challenge called 30/30 in which the entire nation is involved in participating in sports for 30 minutes a day, for 30 days, so fitness trackers are big here for tracking and aesthetic purposes, however, they don’t expand beyond this”.
Historically a lot of innovation, (especially in design) has been imported into the UAE, I wanted to get Noura’s thoughts on what’s happening at a local level that’s globally inspiring? She explains, “At a local level, we see more and more students studying design and technology, the students form NYU Abu Dhabi are producing amazing work that have useful functions, one such example is as a machine that recycles plastic and produces small objects which people can reuse. MEAL (Middle East Architecture Laboratory) who is also part of ECHO, is a creative-economy, a nomadic community of Makers, Programmers, Material Scientists and Entrepreneurs creating amazing projects that are both beautiful and innovative.
The scene in the region is still explorative, but with time I am certain many designers from the region will earn global acclaim”.
Finally I ask, how does Dubai see the future, what does life in the city look like in ten years’ time? “Dubai has an action plan for a smart future (by 2021) and they are working hard towards the goal. We have a future foundation, a museum of the future, and have programs geared towards imaging and designing the city of the future.
The city already invests in high-tech buildings, but if I were to imagine, I would see buildings in the desert that blend into their environment like a chameleon able to change color to preserve energy, I see a city dependent on biotechnology and cars that fly and are fully dependent on solar energy”.
As I thank Noura for her time and insights, I leave thinking about the possibilities. The creative and innovative changes taking place today across the UAE are still very embryonic, the region is still learning, but learning from the best in the world. The region’s rulers are seeing developments across the world and have started to embrace the talents and ambitions of everyone (not just men), whilst being open to experimentation. The first flying cars and adoption of bleeding edge technology will probably happen here first, we look forward to seeing developments and home-grown talents emerge. Until then, go and participate in the amazing ECHO festival or follow the ECHO here: