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Mekki, Muhammed (2023) Developing Regional Innovation Systems in the Gulf: A Study of Dubai’s Journey from a Rentier to a Knowledge-based Economy. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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As countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council pursue an economic diversification agenda to move beyond their rentier roots, fostering environments conducive to innovation is a key objective. Academic research on Systems of Innovation—the field concerned with all the actors and interactions which come together dynamically to build these environments—has recognized that these systems are highly dependent on their territorial contexts, and, although much has been theorized and empirically explored in Europe and the Americas, research on the Gulf is almost non-existent. To bridge this gap in the literature, this study closely examines the case of Dubai, United Arab Emirates—the only example of a Gulf regional economy that has effected a successful transition from oil-dependency to diverse industries. The objective is to develop insights from Dubai's unique journey that are relevant to other Gulf regions currently in earlier stages of similar innovation-driven diversification efforts. This study follows a mixed methods approach, combining in-depth interviews of senior decision makers at four leading entities in Dubai (DP World, Emirates Airline, Dubai Internet City, and Dubai Multi Commodities Centre) with a quantitative firm-level Community Innovation Survey—likely the first of its kind deployed in the Gulf—to answer the following central research question: How do different actors of the economy—government, industry, and academia—interact to impact the development of Regional Innovation Systems (RIS) in a Gulf state context? The findings of the study show that Dubai has achieved high levels of innovation despite its atypical RIS. The government plays a unique leading role setting the innovative vision, while counterintuitively limiting direct financial support and insisting on open competition. Knowledge spillovers from people and firms migrating into Dubai serve in lieu of deep research institutions. Although these features have served Dubai well while developing a service-based economy, becoming a knowledge-based economy requires further strengthening of the RIS components, especially the underdeveloped university sector.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Reinhard Bachmann
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 08 Dec 2023 13:31

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