I expected our 12+ months in Dubai to be a slog, working very long hours, living in a huge, faceless, wealth-obsessed metropolis. I left the UK with two toddlers in tow in February 2014 after a long winter of rain, ice, relentless spiralling debt and post natal depression.
What I found was a revelation, as well as our chance to turn our lives around. We now owe nothing to the student loans company or the banks (mortgage excepting) and have only three individuals left to repay, I’m off the medication and we have a bright future ahead of us. We have nearly turned it around out here in the land of opportunity for the hard-working. If only everyone had such a chance without having to forsake the country of their birth to do it!
We didn’t just find nearly endless sunshine (which definitely helps!) but also a wonderfully welcoming and accepting atmosphere of industry, warmth and wisdom. Almost everybody I have met here has a story, and a compelling reason to be here in Dubai, from the young Brits working hard, playing hard and saving up to come home with cash for a deposit, to the bright young Asians growing careers and supporting families in India, Pakistan and the Philippines.
I am talking about Dubai, not to gloat, but because I think that we can learn some valuable lessons from how other countries are run. A number of our closest neighbours in Europe can afford to have both free higher education and a prized national health system without crippling the poorest sections of society with austerity, so why can’t the UK when our GDP is about the same?
The UAE has a much higher GDP than the UK, and people seem so much happier. I think that a significant factor contributing to this is that wages are higher. Much higher. Here, Western, Eastern and African ex-pats alike are all able to earn enough money to have a better standard of living than they would have in their own country and are still able to send money home (or pay down debts in our case).
The happiness and higher wages don’t come simply from limitless oil-wealth (less than 7% of Dubai’s GDP comes from oil) but also from the vision and drive of its leaders, and the people really do love their leaders.
I used to joke, when hearing people moan about how “x-section of society shouldn’t be allowed to vote for whatever reason”, that the ideal system of government was surely a “benevolent dictatorship” (where a far-seeing and compassionate king-like figure takes advice from counsellors but has ultimate power which he or she wields for the genuine best interests and happiness of all his or her people). Dubai has as close to that as surely exists in the world. Sheikh Mohammed seems to be an inspirational leader and a great man and is the source of the following pearls of wisdom.
The following quotes are from Sheikh Mohammed’s latest book (Flashes of Thought) which moved me to tears a number of times. I am in no position to judge the author on any level, but there are some real gems of wisdom and compassion here which all leaders (especially leaders of countries and the EU) could do with meditating upon. (I tried to cut it down, but failed, don’t feel you have to read to the end, many are here for my personal reference as much as anything!).
“‘Impossible’ is a word coined by those who do not want to work, or rather, those who do not want us to work…it is a word used by some people who fear to dream big. It is like chains that tie a person down, hindering his every move…preventing him from moving around, living life and achieving great heights.
… The seemingly impossible is not a gauge of our strength and potential, but rather of our faith in ourselves, of our confidence in our capabilities and belief… There is no impossible in life.”
“The government’s job is to achieve happiness for people… We see government as an active part of society, never something that is separate of isolated. The government works for the people, achieves its objectives through the people and measures its success through their satisfaction. The government is an authority, but it as an authority at the service of the people and not an authority over them. Its mission is to please them and to build a promising future for their children.”
“I would like to point out that when we talk about government of the future, we focus on the delivery of services and not on political structures… How can a government be closer to its people, faster, better and more responsive in providing services?”
“My advice to all is to arm yourself with positive energy and to use this energy to raise you team’s morale… Do not undermine your team’s moral with pessimism or hesitation.”
“The success of this 41-year-old nation [UAE] teaches important historical lessons to whoever wishes to draw upon them. The most important lesson is that a union has a spirit. No union can thrive if it is based solely on material interests. We are not uniting companies; we are uniting people… My advice to any leader, whether of a country, a company, a team or anything else, is to unite hearts before uniting efforts, and to feel the spirit before building the place.”
“A leader should be a father to his people.”
“I would like to make clear that credit is due to the thousands of hard-working teams who stand behind our accomplishments. I am nothing more than their leader.”
“One of my principles in life is that every minute of our life is worth filling with accomplishments, happiness and good deeds. If you want to achieve, make the most of every single minute in your life. Never stop working, thinking, innovating and enjoying every single minute and sure enough, it will bear fruit.”
“People want governments that provide excellent healthcare, education, housing, justice and safety… Until all governments commit their energy to such principles, unrest and crises will continue to shake our world.”
“The fresh thinking that fuels constant progress in government does not come only from the centre and the top, but from all around and from the roots. Employees must be empowered as a source of innovation. Creative ideas are the fruit of interaction between leaders and their teams… Ideas come from all kinds of people: citizens and residents, children and adults, officials and employees. Everyone contributes ideas, no matter how simple. I have a habit of asking everyone I meet to provide me with fresh ideas that may contribute to our development.”
“Creativity is the most valuable asset in any public institution; without it you can never challenge your past achievements, change your current situation nor surpass others. Progressive governments embrace creativity. It is the lifeblood of our quest to improve services, advance our people and develop our country.”
“To all creative minds, I say: you will always find someone who will fight your ideas. This will be the first indication that you are on the right track. To all officials, I say: do not fight change – embrace it.”
“The progress of countries, peoples and civilisations starts with education. The future of nations starts in their schools.”
“Nothing is more valuable than a human life.”
“Justice is the foundation of governance.”
“To risk and fail is not a failure. Real failure is to fear taking any risk.”
“An exaggerated fear of mistakes stands in the way of creativity.”
“When economies are less stable, they can be boosted and anchored by large projects… launching projects is far more useful than launching rockets… building the future is only possible by consensus, reconciliation and team spirit.”
“The fastest way to happiness is by installing happiness in the hearts of others…true happiness comes from drawings a smile of satisfaction on a mother’s face, or instilling a sense of security in an orphan, or by showing a worker that the whole society appreciates his or her services.”
“First, act like a leader, for true leadership is not in one’s position, but in one’s way of thinking and acting: it is in the nobility of one’s objectives and goals.”
“Do not carry out your work as an employee, but as a leader who loves his country, as a craftsman who is passionate about his craft, and as an artist who excels in his art.”
“If you look at civil service as a mere job, you will be a mere employee.”
“It is necessary to ensure employees’ happiness in order that they in turn can bring happiness to others…a great leader creates more great leaders, and does not reduce the institution to a single person.”
“the future starts today, not tomorrow. When people ask me “Why do you want everything now?”, I answer, “Why not?” There is no point in waiting… The future does not wait for hesitant people. The more we achieve, the more we realise how much we can achieve.”
“We want to change the concept of leadership so that is includes anyone who has the ambitions and the will to change himself, and also to benefit his society… Leadership is a combination of intelligence, resourcefulness, wisdom, a strong personality and the aspiration to the greatest of things.”
“Every single achievement you make, every single life you change and every single skill you acquire brings you one step closer to becoming a better leader.”
“When the interests of our country dictate change, I will not hesitate to take such a decision.”
“Our objective is not change per se, but changing for the better. If we can achieve this with the same team, then so much the better. If we cannot then we will consider changing the team.”
“To those who would like to leave a mark on this country I say ‘The stage is yours’.”
Not what you were expecting? Me neither.