Public Sector Future Podcast | Episode 26: What the UAE government can teach us about innovation

Episode 26 guest speaker, Her Excellency Huda AlHashimi

Innovation in government

with HE Huda AlHashimi

HE Huda AlHashimi is Deputy Minister of Cabinet Affairs for Strategic Affairs for the United Arab Emirates Government

Episode 26: What the UAE government can teach us about innovation

Public Sector Future

Episode summary

In this episode host Olivia Neal speaks to HE Huda AlHashimi, the Deputy Minister of Cabinet Affairs for Strategic Affairs to the United Arab Emirates Government. We learn why innovation is so important in Government, how the UAE adapted during COVID, and AlHashimi shares her team’s innovative successes.

Listen to this episode on any of these podcast platforms:

Lessons from UAE’s Deputy Minister on how best to innovate in Government

HE Huda AlHashimi is the Deputy Minister of Cabinet Affairs for Strategic Affairs to the United Arab Emirates Government. She also leads the Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Government Innovation.

We learn why innovation is so important in Government, how the UAE adapted during COVID, and AlHashimi shares her team’s innovative successes.

A unique role and an ambitious agenda

As the Deputy Ministry of Cabinet for United Arab Emirates (UAE), HE Huda AlHashimi has a very unique role. Her team is responsible for two main objectives:

“One is articulating the leadership’s vision, setting ambitious, short, medium, and long-term strategies and agendas for the nation. And secondly, is making sure that the government actually delivers on that ambitious agenda.”

Focusing on innovation in government

AlHashimi explained that because the UAE is a relatively young country, established in 1971, innovation had to play a critical role in government from the very beginning:

“If we were going to do things the traditional way, it was really going to take us a very long time to catch up to other countries. So our ambitions were not just to catch up, but really to – to leapfrog.”

In 2014, the UAE government announced the Mohammed bin Rashid Centre for Government Innovation.

“And it was by design that the center was incubated within His Highness’s the Prime Minister’s office itself. And really it’s because to spearhead the drive for innovation across the public sector and not for it to be just a fad, but for it to be institutionalized as well.”

As the government grew, so did its need for innovation, especially during the pandemic.

“Innovation, in essence, is really about creating agility, robust government models and resilient societies. And we saw more than ever how important agility and readiness was in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re pretty proud of how well the UAE was able to get through that pandemic with minimal disruption to health, livelihood, and business as well.”

The main aspects of success

AlHashimi believed that innovation should be an everyday practice in government and outlined the three main aspects of the UAE government’s successful innovation process:

  • Experimentation
  • Enablement
  • Culture

Experimentation: “Allowing government to experiment is a tough ask. I mean, you’re telling government to take risks when by default they’re designed not to take risk. They’re designed to be very process oriented.”

Enablement: “We did a full view program to actually enable government by providing research, best practices, methodology from private sector reports, but also MOOCs and – and just trying to find many different tools and avenues for them to have access to knowledge and access to new things that are happening in innovation.”

Culture: This one is the most difficult to achieve and describe says AlHashimi, “How do you shift the culture? How do you get people to embrace this – this program? And that’s something that we’ve done through many different areas. One of the most exciting ones was to actually create a festival, which is called Innovation Month.”

Getting things done through acceleration

AlHashimi also implemented a government accelerators program that set strong, clear targets for teams to try and achieve in just 100 days. No budgets available, no more planning, just results.

“There’s that essence of a crisis mode happening, but also essence of removing the fat, removing the bureaucracy, getting whoever is relevant to make that target happen on the table, and working through a design, creative methodology, using innovative tools to get the projects done.”

One example AlHashimi shared was that of road traffic deaths. The national KPI wasn’t budging and the team in charge only aimed for a 10% reduction that would cost millions of dollars to implement. Instead, they were given no budget and told to reduce deaths by 20% using simply innovation. 15 different entities came together: the police, engineers, local governments, the media, etc. And in 100 days’ time they managed to achieve a 60% reduction by trying over 20 new program ideas.

“So, this is sort of a nice example of speeding up delivery, so people feel the sense of achievement, but at the same time, honestly, giving the space for governments to innovate and to actually get things done. And when they see the results, they get encouraged to do more.”

Eliminating collaboration barriers

The government accelerator program brought teams together in a new way that encouraged results above all else, and with all new programs comes a level of risk.

“Originally when we started this, nobody wanted to join it, because it’s a tough thing to join and put yourself out there and you could easily fail, and 100 days, people are looking at you. But we now actually have a queue of challenges and [people] wanting to come through this program.”

The program has even been shown to inspire collaboration outside of it.

“The ministers that come to this platform and – and here they team up, they probably didn’t get a chance to hear that shining star who’s working on an X department or who probably never got a chance to talk. But with the accelerator, that shining star is actually now presenting to them. And – and actually, really some of these individuals who came through the accelerator have really their career has jumped up and they’ve really become leaders in what they’re doing as well.”

AlHashimi explained further: “With private sector less so you have that issue of hierarchy. In government you tend to have that. Any government around the world you have, you know, the person who is in – in a unit, probably is not allowed to speak to an undersecretary. And with this accelerator, there’s no titles. It’s really who is relevant to get the thing done. And with that, you eliminate barriers, but you also find stars. That’s the beauty of this.”

Learn to embrace change and disruption

While the government accelerator program is successful, AlHashimi’s team changes the curriculum every year.

“An important lesson that I’ve learned always is that you can’t sit on success for long. To be honest, one of the defining characteristics on how the UAE really operates is how quickly we evolve the approaches we use to drive results.”

“Every year, we change the curriculum because you can’t be stagnant in what you think. It could have been highly successful in 2015, but totally irrelevant now. So this is something that always keeps us on our toes. And some might say this is disruptive and difficult to manage to constantly change, but honestly, we – we celebrate disruption.”

But before you move on to what’s next, AlHashimi says it’s crucial to acknowledge your wins:

“It’s also equally important to celebrate. With the pandemic, we realize every short, small success, every small achievement is something that should be really cheered. And it doesn’t mean we’re only celebrating success, but we’re celebrating people taking risks, people making change as well.”

Where does all of this inspiration come from?

“Obviously, you have the usual countries that are the forefront with digital transformation, Estonia being one, Singapore being one as well. And these are usually countries that we’re always regularly inspired [by] because they constantly change as well and they’re constantly pushing boundaries as well.”

While those countries’ governments offer some inspiration to the UAE, AlHashimi often looks outside of her own industry to find new and inspiring ideas:

“For example, I’m very curious with what’s happening in the world of virtual assets and how interesting people are trying to navigate the risks, people are trying to navigate the governance, people are trying to navigate the transformation of that and – and how digital transformation is playing a big role there as well with how we’re disrupting what currency means.”

Looking towards the future, both near and far

“The more we understand with what’s happening in the digital world and the transformation that’s happening, that’s exponential, and the faster we are in that, the more we are able to actually make this – this new industry prosper”

AlHashimi shared an example of why she values innovation in the digital world:

“A few years ago, we had a minister of AI and people questioned, why do you need a minister of AI? But it really is because we know that’s the future and we know if we don’t understand it sooner, we will be playing catch-up. And it’s unfortunate for government to play catch-up. Government needs to be at the same bandwidth as all the new changes that’s happening around us as well.”

There’s another vital part of planning for the future of any workplace or government and that involves retaining talent that can help you achieve your goals.

“The most important element across all of this is having a very strong, happy and healthy workforce that will drive the change. And really, that’s something that we’re going to put more and more attention to going forward.”

To find out more:

Learn more about UAE’s focus on government innovation

About the Center of Expertise

Microsoft’s Public Sector Center of Expertise brings together thought leadership and research relating to digital transformation in the public sector. The Center of Expertise highlights the efforts and success stories of public servants around the globe, while fostering a community of decision makers with a variety of resources from podcasts and webinars to white papers and new research. Join us as we discover and share the learnings and achievements of public sector communities.

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