Idoia Iturbe

Economía global

Fjords of Arabia…new female ministers and a ministry for happiness


“Ohood Al Roumi, appointed Minister of State for Happiness “. If you read a headline like that, and if it’s not for the name, most probably the countries that would come to mind would be Denmark or Sweden; and to the most adventurous maybe Bhutan; or surprisingly, perhaps Venezuela.


Well, none of them. It is UAE, the happiest nation in the Arab world and almost in the top 10* worldwide, a young country (in December 2, it will turn only 45 years old) with leaders who have once again taken a historic decision for their country but also for the world.


¿GDP or GDH?

Kingdom of Buthan, Himalayan country of happiness

We are used to hearing GDP, gross domestic product, as a regular macroeconomic indicator of a country. But, what if we would measure the development by the GDH, Gross Domestic Happiness index instead? Surprised? Well, there is a country that already does it, Bhutan. It is the only country in the world where Tantric Buddhism is the official religion, and as a result, the government believes that the pursuit of happiness for all its citizens is the main goal. This objective is even consecrated in an article of their Constitution (Article 9) .


I don’t know if Emiratis will whether change one of their development indexes from GDP to GDH as Bhutan does, but what is clear is that what Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, President of UAE has approved and what Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE’s Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, has announced this week is the biggest structural change in the federal government since the country’s founding, and that if I would have to paint a face to this twelfth Cabinet, that would be of a young woman.


Ohood Al Roumi, Minister of State for Happiness

And, why? Because this new cabinet of Ministers of State for Tolerance, Future, Youth, Happiness and Climate Change (5 new departments) will be led by eight young new women ministers.


Shamma Al Mazrui, Minister of State for Youth, only 22 years old, will lead a National Youth Council comprising young men and women to act as advisors to the Government on youth issues. The Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, will “prepare the country for a post-oil future” and the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment, will preserve a clean and sustainable environment for the next generation of emiratís.


The new changes include allowing the private sector to take over the majority of public services and the commitment to offer an image of modernity and progress.


Dr. Al Marzooqi, professor at the University of UAE, believes that a government department for happiness will have a major impact on the way people will face the challenges and difficulties of life itself but also of potential economic decisions, or even the future. “If people are happy, they will face problems with a positive attitude rather than just see them with negative light”


And a young student from Abu Dhabi made a point mentioning something that can be a problem for the black-gold generation: “Being healthy and being close to family and friends is what makes me happy, but for many others here, is all about luxury and wealth,” and she believes that the Minister of State for happiness should increase the true values, distancing young emiratís from materialistic happiness.


Why now, is it a coincidence or has something to do with the current economic situation?


From left to right, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum (Ruler of Dubai and Vicepresident of the UAE) and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan (Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces)

It is true that the sharp drop suffered by oil prices has severely affected the economies of the Arab countries, announcing the elimination of some subsidies, especially on fuel, postponing some infrastructure developments or even investments in public projects. However, emiratí leaders said that these changes are the result of their long ago reflections about how to anticipate to future challenges. And if the strategy implies that its citizens would face potential economic difficulties with positivism or that international countries will continue investing in one of the most modern countries in the world, we should not question issues like timing but assess the success of their strategies.


Strategies and timing aside, what I hope is that these measures, taken by an Arab country (not all are Islamic extremists), led by many young women (yes, female ministers) and in order to ensure the happiness of their citizens (what is wealth without happiness?) serve as an example for many western nations that may not be as modern as they defined themselves.


Musandam, Oman. Known as Fjords of Arabia.


 And, Emiratís friends, ironically, in the end, what most resembles you to the Nordics are not the so-called “Arabian fjords” in your neighboring Musandam but your own spirit, your ancestral values of tolerance and progress.




Shiekh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, father of the nation, founder of the country, Ruler of Abu Dhabi and first President of the UAE



And if you, a young Emirati, end up reading this post, I humbly propose you to continue assessing whether the emotion that your grandparents express about a sunset over the sand dunes and surrounded by their beloved ones is not happier and more valuable than the emotion of your Lamborghini accelerating on Emirates Road. And, like this week, I would love to continue seeing in you true successors of your grandfather’s, Sheikh Zayed’s, legacy and values.


Idoia Iturbe Juaristi

Follow me on Twitter @idoiaiturbe 





*More phrases from the unprecedented three-hour social-media event during the World Government Summit, when Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum said:

“Governments must be flexible. We don’t need more ministries, but more ministers capable of dealing with change,”

“We want a young and flexible government that will fulfil our youth’s aspirations and achieve our people’s ambitions.”

Minister of State for Happiness, who will have the responsibility to “align and drive government policy to create social good and satisfaction”, and a Minister of State for Tolerance, who will “instil tolerance as a fundamental value in UAE society”.

“We want a government that works on building the skills of its people, aside from providing services … a government focused on putting the happiness of citizens at the forefront of its priorities,”

The Ministry of Cabinet Affairs has been specifically given the task of devising plans “preparing the country for a post-oil future”.

In foreign affairs, the Ministry of International Cooperation and Development will merge with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which will now deal with UAE foreign aid.

“The past decade had been one of establishing strategies and systems, and the next decade will be a confident leap into the future with all its challenges, competitiveness and variables”.


And, Emiratís friends, ironically, in the end, what most resembles you to the Nordics are not the so-called “Arabian fjords" in your neighboring Musandam but your own spirit, your ancestral values​​ of tolerance and progress.



Experiencias, curiosidades y reflexiones sobre internacionalización, emprendimiento y liderazgo.

Sobre el autor

Nómada impulsora de la internacionalización; innovadora y global al tiempo que cercana y comprometida; emprendedora, fundadora de Globalik Business Group, profesora de Deusto Business School. // A pro-internationalization millennial nomad; global and innovative while personable and committed; entrepreneur, founder of Globalik Business Group and lecturer at Deusto Business School.

febrero 2016