Expo 2020 Dubai — A Hopeful Vision for the Future
Exploring Connections and Intersections
Expo 2020 Dubai is a magnificent showcase of a big and breathtakingly optimistic ideal. Namely, that if we can connect minds across our planet in the right way, we can create a better future. The Expo 2020 Dubai experience is truly global and inclusive; every one of the 192 countries recognized by the UN are represented. And it is — literally — awesome in the way it engages mind, body and soul, activating every sense via every form of creative technology, architecture and spatial design, and stunning audio-visual experiences.
The beating heart of the Expo 2020 space is the Al Wasl Dome, the central focal point for visitors and events, an open space formed by a massive yet intricate trellis structure that creates an atmosphere that is mesmerising.
The name Al Wasl means “connection” in Arabic, and “connection” is by far the most potent metaphor running through the Expo 2020 Dubai experience. The idealism, vision, and innovation on display at Expo 2020 is simply bursting through the intersections of our collective experience. The intersections between past, present and future; between the natural world and human technology; between nations, cultures, and religions; and between art, science and business. The feeling of connection that I experienced was at times spiritual.
And as time and progress unfolds, those connections and intersections are constantly evolving and changing, providing humanity and the visionaries amongst us with an endless source of creativity and opportunity.
The view from (a small sample of) the world
There is an abundance of experiences available at Expo 2020 Dubai. And a very real risk of experience overload and indigestion. In the two days I was there, I made a careful effort to restrict myself to two handfuls of spaces, pavilions and events. And like any good tourist, I tried to combine the intentionality of must-visit recommendations with the serendipity of happy accidents. My personal sampling bias meant I drifted towards the less known, less developed countries of Africa, Middle East, Asia and Central America. Spending sometimes as little as 30 minutes in an unknown nation’s space, immersed in their story, their vision – on their terms – without judgment is an exercise in socio-cultural empathy which shatters stereotypes, builds allegiance, and sparks human connection.
It was a privilege to be able to practice leaving my preconceptions, my expectations, and my ego at the door while I explored the new and the different with open eyes. And I was reminded that this is the mindset which we all need to embrace the true potential of a radically more inclusive and sustainable future.
We are all familiar with the survival plight of the gorillas. And we have all seen them on TV in the natural habitat. But I will never forget the experience, from within a very rudimentary VR device, where I witnessed a mother gorilla and her two infants, on the mountain side of Rwanda, brush past me almost within touching distance through the tangled forest undergrowth. A fleeting, private and unexpected moment of intimate connection. It is that version of the metaverse that I will gladly visit.
And the honey! Proudly displayed and retailed in almost every pavilion I visited, from Kyrgyzstan, Burkina Faso to Yemen. Not just sweet and delicious, but medicinal and potent too, and available in such a diverse array of colour, texture and taste. The output of a delicate symbiosis between flower, bee and human; a symbol of the fragile yet hopeful and lucrative relationship we have with nature. A super food, sometimes with eye-watering prices - cultivated, innovated, and marketed in a way that leverages scarcity, functionality and sensorial pleasure to drive new forms of value.
Lessons for a brand builder
So what reflections can guide my remit of helping businesses and brands accelerate the transition to a more sustainable future? Here are just a few.
- Brands are instruments of connection to a more sustainable future. Just as art, architecture or a cultural experience can connect us with an idea, an innovation or a possible future, so can brands. The whole purpose of brands is to connect business with people. The distribution of brands, and pervasive presence in our lives, means that brands enjoy a scale of connection few other institutions can dream of. And if connection is the source of change and hope for a better more sustainable future, brands have an exciting role to play. Indeed, every brand must make a serious obligation to this future.
- There is a new generation of brands emerging that are tapping into new dimensions of humanity. As with any major event, Expo 2020 Dubai is commercial with retail kiosks in country pavilions, souvenir shops, and many restaurants, bars and food courts. The brands on offer in the pavilions - typically grassroots, niche, authentic, humble brands – conveyed a level of humanity and authenticity in their origin stories, their designs, and their product manufacturing processes that is rarely seen in the global and regional blockbusters we recognize. Coffee brands owned and managed by female farmer collectives in Central Africa. Exquisite luxury honey and bees wax brands derived from organic permaculture in Yemen. Tech brands that drive digital and financial inclusion across South America and unlock new forms of social enterprise and innovation. These brands are born of sustainability and equity, serving a human and community need that goes well beyond the narrow consumerism of the last 50 years.
- Empathy, care and values will be the new drivers of value. For decades, brands have been built on functional performance and quality. Manufacturing and distribution processes have maximized efficiency and standardization but have removed the human touch in the process. How much of the food, clothing and machinery we buy these days is actually touched by humans who really care? We are craving more human intimacy, passion and craft in our brands. Modern systems and technology should be able to give us the best of both worlds – human love, care and attention, delivered with quality control and at scale. A few brands are already delivering this magic formula, enjoying massive commercial and societal success in the process. It is time for the rest of us to catch up.
- Brands must be bolder in exploring the intersections of our collective experience. The breadth of the human experience captured in Expo 2020 Dubai is a reminder of the possibilities available to us, so long as we give ourselves permission to dream more boldly, more imaginatively and more laterally. We all know we must innovate and create a more sustainable future, the question is “how?”. The answer, I believe, comes from exploring new intersections of our experience, technology and society. Only that way we will find the ideas to develop sustainability solutions, services and platforms that will guide and inspire new lifestyle choices, and create new business models and new economies of sustainable value.
Expo 2020 Dubai reminds us that we will always live in a world with a multitude of views, voices and variations. But it presented us with a rare and wonderful vision that, if we can all harness this creative human energy, there is a real prospect that we can achieve the harmony, sustainability and shared prosperity that we have all been yearning for.
Thank you, Expo 2020 Dubai, for that hope.
About Ogilvy at Expo 2020 Dubai
As the global marketing and communications partner for Expo 2020 Dubai since 2017, Ogilvy has been in the privileged position to witness its audacious vision revealed and realized over the last few months. This January, the UN chose to host its annual Global Goals week at the prestigious “Programme for People and Planet” (https://www.expo2020dubai.com/en/understanding-expo/programme-for-people-and-planet ) at Expo 2020 Dubai, to which Ogilvy’s Andy Wilson was invited to speak on how brands can accelerate the transition to a more sustainable future.
You can see his presentation here https://virtualexpodubai.com/listen-watch/events/how-brands-can-accelerate-the-transition-to-a-more-sustainable-future#video
Expo2020 Dubai is still open until end of March 2022:
Explore and book tickets for Expo2020 Dubai: https://www.expo2020dubai.com/
Virtually visit and join sessions at https://virtualexpodubai.com/