Dubai’s Quest To Become The World’s First Blockchain-Powered City

Dubai, the city and emirate in the United Arab Emirates, known for its luxurious amenities, high profile architecture and a fervent nightlife scene has a long history of rich, futuristic visions. Autonomous vehicles and flying taxis are among the futuristic scenarios being played out in coming years. And the city just recently appointed a minister in-charge of Artificial Intelligence.

But in a groundbreaking move Dubai is pursuing another major development to become the world’s first blockchain-powered government. By 2020, the goal is to ensure that all city services from visa applications and bill payments to license renewals, which involve over 100 million documents each year, to be transacted digitally utilizing the blockchain.

Smart Dubai, which is spearheading the initiative, believes that this move could save over 25 million man hours or $1.5 billion in cost saving for the emirate by employing the untamperable data capabilities of the blockchain.

All of this comes on the heels of a 2017 initiative launched by Dubai Land Department (DLD), the government agency which oversees land purchases and real estate trades. Here a blockchain driven digital system system has been employed to help secure financial transactions, record all real estate contracts, and connect homeowners and tenants to property-related billing systems such as water, telecommunications and electrical.

ConsenSys Provides Supportive Hand

ConsenSys, a rapidly growing blockchain venture project tied to the Ethereum ecosystem, recently announced the opening of its office in the Dubai Design District (d3). The office will be the company’s second largest operation globally. In March 2017 ConsenSys was appointed as the Blockchain City Advisor.

“ConsenSys is the largest Ethereum company in the world and is committed to growing the ecosystem in the Middle East,” said Joseph Lubin, founder of ConsenSys and co-founder of Ethereum. “Using blockchain technologies to build next-generation nations has always been high on our agenda, and there is no better place to witness this strategic transformation than Dubai, which is forging ahead with its aim to be the world’s first blockchain-powered city. As Dubai’s Blockchain Advisor , we are excited about the future and proud to be an integral part of the city’s vision.”

Lubin believes the city’s blockchain initiative will draw talent from across the world. “By embracing this revolutionary technology, Dubai has taken the lead and will quickly reap the benefits of this ecosystem by attracting startups, developers, and entrepreneurs into its fold, no more evident than at our vibrant new home in the Dubai Design District.” The ConsenSys Dubai office plans to house around 50 employees by the end of the year.

In cities around the globe, ConsenSys supports events as a cultural meeting-place for futurists, entrepreneurs, developers, philosophers, humanitarians, and artists to decide together how they want to shape the next generation of the Internet. Future events in Dubai will provide opportunities to bring the Ethereum community even closer together.

In 2017 Lina Hediah joined ConsenSys, the largest Ethereum blockchain technology firms globally, as Executive Director of the Dubai office. Hediah oversees strategy and enterprise professional services for the Middle East and North Africa. She plays a pivotal role in the Dubai mandate, working closely with government entities to help them build their blockchain strategy, use case ideation, technical analysis and enable them to issue RFPs.

A Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Hediah has been extensive experience to various markets from the US to Egypt to the United Arab Emirates.

Lina Hediah

In an interview via email, we asked Hediah to talk a bit more about this exciting initiative and its potential implications for Dubai as well as other cities throughout the world.

MS: What makes Dubai the ideal setting for the world’s first blockchain powered government?

LH: The leadership of Dubai is the driving force behind the adoption of innovative technologies for major impact. The focus on ‘Customer Experience’ and ‘Happiness Index’ are propelling factors for the government to embrace blockchain as a disruptive technology, having the power to transfer government services to a higher level of excellence.

MS: How does ConsenSys play into this?

LH: At ConsenSys, our design-led philosophy puts people at its core, and is anchored to three specific areas of innovation: emotion, process, and function. It is therefore an obvious choice to surround ourselves with strategic partners like the Smart Dubai Office and with a like-minded community such as d3, who both share our philosophy and can facilitate our journey.

MS: Are there any other nations you are benchmarking with?

LH: Dubai is a leading nation-state in terms of its blockchain strategy to support and empower its Smart City initiatives. Other governments routinely look and connect with the leadership behind Dubai’s blockchain strategy, which is the Smart Dubai Office (SDO) led by H.E. Dr Aisha Bin Bishr, of which ConsenSys is the official Blockchain City Advisor.

MS: What are the biggest challenges and barriers you face relative to this project?

In terms of challenges, the most important thing to note is the nascent nature of blockchain technology. Dubai is one of the first adopters of this technology and is spearheading a strategy for government-wide adoption. Dubai will continue to implement the latest developments in the technology; we like to say that this project is like building a car while driving it at the same time.

MS: How will the citizens of Dubai benefit? And what sort of efficiency and cost effective gains will be accrued by the government?

LH: There are both vertical and horizontal benefits of deploying a city-wide blockchain strategy. Vertically, every industry sector in the city stands to reap the benefits of applying blockchain to resolve decades old, foundational level problems, that traditional legacy systems have fallen short of resolving. Horizontally, across government entities and sectors, there will be complete processes and workflows that will be overhauled and disrupted by the blockchain, enabling efficiency and operational excellence that could not be attained in the absence of such a cross sectional strategy.

MS: Last October the emirate launched its own blockchain based cryptocurrency called emCash. What do they hope to achieve with this?

LH: emCash is focused on enhancing the transparency, efficiency and real time aspects of government related transactions. It will help all government entities by providing a foundational element of the blockchain ecosystem, namely a digital currency and a digital cryptographic means of transferring value.

MS: How is world of blockchain and cryptocurrency generally viewed by the citizens of Dubai?

LH: Because of the mandate of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohamed Bin Rashed Al Maktoum and the international success of the Dubai Blockchain Strategy (to have all government records on the blockchain by 2020), the citizens of Dubai are much more aware of the promise of blockchain technology than in other countries. Nevertheless, the most popular point of discussion, as with the rest of the world, would be a the focus on cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Ether and other digital currencies. Our focus is to shift attention from the cryptocurrencies, to the potential for blockchain to reach every citizen and change every industry for the better.

MS: What is the role of the Global Blockchain Council?

The Global Blockchain Council is a non-profit organization formed to introduce the blockchain ecosystem to Dubai, and to maintain a coordinated effort to deploy best practices in conjunction with similar initiatives and consortia around the world.

MS: Finally, your greatest hope for Dubai’s blockchain initiative within the next 12–18 months?

By collaborating with Smart Dubai on the Dubai Blockchain Strategy as the Blockchain City Advisor, ConsenSys is focused on helping all government sectors begin deploying use cases and targeting maximum impact in their respective fields. We also hope and are starting to witness the private sector embracing the blockchain movement and joining the government to widen the adoption of blockchain in the city of Dubai.