Saturday, July 20, 2024

Laila AL Hadhrami: Champion of Smart Sustainable Cities

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Laila AL Hadhrami: Champion of Smart Sustainable Cities

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Laila AL Hadhrami


Laila is a visionary and global futurist leader with over 20 years of experience in the government and private sector. She is the Managing Director of Communities Connect Cities (C3), a leading advisory company in smart and sustainable cities that empowers organizations to achieve their goals and create positive impact. She is also the first appointed executive director in Oman IT Society. 
She is also a recognized expert and advisor in metaverse, digital transformation, innovation, and tourism, with multiple publications and awards in these fields.
With a strong focus on the Middle East, Laila has been instrumental in shaping the smart cities agenda and strategy for various governments, UN organizations, and consulting firms. She is the founder of the Smart Cities Ambassadors program, a global initiative that nurtures and mentors individuals to become leaders in the field. She is also a sought-after global keynote speaker and author, who shares her insights and vision on the future of smart and sustainable cities, metaverse, and tourism. Laila is passionate about creating a better world for everyone through technology, collaboration, and innovation.

What inspired you to pursue a career in smart sustainable cities, and how has your vision evolved over the past two decades?

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Laila AL Hadhrami: My journey into the realm of smart sustainable cities began with the inspiring initiatives I witnessed in Oman. Motivated by Oman’s success, I felt driven to contribute and position our nation as a global leader in sustainability. Over the past two decades, my initial curiosity evolved into a deep commitment to creating cities that are resilient, inclusive, and environmentally friendly.

Drawn by the transformative potential of technology, I aspired to leverage innovation to address urban challenges, particularly in Oman. As I explored further, I recognized the interconnectedness of sustainability, technology, and people’s well-being. Oman’s advancements in sustainability strengthened my resolve to develop pioneering solutions that protect our environment and highlight Oman’s leadership on the global stage.

You have been at the forefront of metaverse development since 2006. How do you see the metaverse impacting the future of smart cities and digital transformation?

Laila AL Hadhrami: The metaverse has been around for a while, but the pandemic has definitely increased public interest in it. It’s more than just a virtual world; it’s a smart system that combines different technologies to create a fully immersive experience. As we develop the smart cities of the future, it’s important to see how the metaverse can be integrated into various sectors.

The metaverse offers a unique chance to change urban living by creating interconnected virtual environments that mirror real-life interactions. Using metaverse technologies, cities can improve communication, collaboration, and engagement among residents, businesses, and governments. This creates inclusive and vibrant digital communities that go beyond physical boundaries.

Additionally, the metaverse provides a space for innovation and experimentation, allowing cities to find new solutions to complex urban problems. From virtual classrooms and telemedicine services to digital finance platforms and interactive urban planning tools, the metaverse can enhance city infrastructure and services, making them more efficient, accessible, and sustainable.

By adopting the idea of “Metaverse as a Service (MaaS),” cities can use this technology to offer customized experiences and services that meet the diverse needs of residents. Embracing the metaverse as a tool for digital empowerment and inclusive urban development can help cities move towards a more resilient, equitable, and prosperous future.

The Middle East has unique challenges and opportunities in the realm of smart cities. What are they? And how have your initiatives helped shape the smart cities agenda in this region?

Laila AL Hadhrami: In the Middle East, smart cities face unique challenges and opportunities, such as rapid growth, limited resources, and cultural factors. C3 Advisory is a leader in smart city development, shaping the agenda in this region. By tackling these challenges and using innovative technologies, C3 Advisory helps communities and cities create smart, customized plans to meet their specific needs.

Often, there is a gap between cities and their communities, with urban development sometimes ignoring residents’ needs. New cities might be built, but if people’s happiness and satisfaction are overlooked, sustainable urban living cannot be achieved. Bridging this gap is crucial. Our solution, “Communities Connect Cities,” focuses on putting people’s well-being first before adding the technology that makes cities smarter. Our approach emphasizes creating strong connections between communities and cities, understanding that true urban sustainability can only be achieved when both work in harmony.

Can you tell us more about the Smart Cities Ambassadors program? What are its key achievements, and how does it empower individuals to become leaders in the field?

Laila AL Hadhrami: Smart Cities Ambassadors play a key role in educating the public about smart cities. They engage with diverse groups across Oman through workshops, seminars, and community events, helping people understand smart city concepts and encouraging discussions about their future impact.

One major success of the program is training a new generation of leaders who can promote smart city initiatives. Ambassadors receive extensive training and mentorship, gaining the knowledge, skills, and confidence needed to handle urban development and use technology for positive change.

The program also encourages collaboration with government, academia, industry, and civil society. This comprehensive approach addresses the various challenges of developing smart cities. By empowering people to become advocates for innovation and sustainability, the Smart Cities Ambassadors program not only builds leadership but also promotes a culture of collective action and shared responsibility in creating smarter, more inclusive cities.

The adaptability of the Smart Cities Ambassadors program is one of its greatest strengths. It can be implemented in any country or city, customized to fit the unique culture and environment of its participants. This flexibility allows the program to connect with communities worldwide, empowering individuals globally. As a flagship program of C3 Advisory, it demonstrates our commitment to empowering communities through innovative solutions tailored to their specific needs. Through this program, we aim to build a global network of leaders and advocates advancing the smart city agenda, one community at a time.

As an advisory board member for various global companies in technology and energy, how do you leverage your expertise to foster growth and investment in these sectors?

Laila AL Hadhrami: As an advisory board member for various global technology and energy companies, I use my expertise to drive growth and investment. With extensive experience in building smarter, more sustainable cities and a broad role in the industry, I lead Communities Connect Cities (C3) and guide organizations to achieve their goals while benefiting communities. This has given me a deep understanding of how to apply technology and sustainable practices effectively.

At C3, we create smart innovation roadmaps tailored to each organization’s unique challenges and opportunities. This allows me to provide strategic insights to the companies I advise, helping them spot and take advantage of emerging trends in technology and energy. By promoting the use of advanced technologies like AI, IoT, and renewable energy solutions, I help these companies improve their efficiency, reduce costs, and meet sustainability goals.

Beyond C3, I collaborate with various sectors and organizations. As a board member for academic institutions, I encourage innovation and knowledge sharing, ensuring that the latest research informs the strategies of the companies I advise. My global advisory roles with leading tech companies give me a broad perspective on market trends and regulations, helping companies navigate challenges and seize growth opportunities.

Recently, joining nLUMINAIRE, a pioneering company in smart city lighting, has strengthened my commitment to transforming urban environments with innovative lighting solutions. This role keeps me up-to-date with industry developments, allowing me to continuously learn and apply new knowledge to drive sustainable and impactful investments in the technology and energy sectors. Through these combined experiences, I facilitate collaboration across sectors, public-private partnerships, and strategic investments, positioning companies as leaders in their fields and fostering a sustainable and prosperous future.

Could you describe your experience working with various UN organizations and how it has shaped your approach to smart cities and digital transformation?

Laila AL Hadhrami: Early in my career, I worked on national digital transformation projects and had the chance to collaborate with UN organizations. This partnership stemmed from a desire to share best practices in eGovernment and learn from the UN’s vast expertise. This experience highlighted the UN’s important role in fostering global positive change and showed how sharing knowledge and tools can have a broad impact.

More recently, I served as a research fellow focused on Smart City Indicators with the UN eGOV office. This role deeply influenced my approach to smart cities, emphasizing the importance of sustainability and inclusivity. I believe that technological progress must go hand-in-hand with environmental responsibility and social fairness.

Successful smart city projects require collaboration across sectors—government, academia, and private industry. The UN’s global viewpoint stressed the importance of creating solutions tailored to local needs and challenges. These experiences have led me to support data-driven solutions that prioritize sustainability and responsible data use, along with active citizen involvement and cooperation for long-term success. Ultimately, smart cities aim to create a better future for everyone.

My dedication to global positive change goes beyond research. I have also been a mentor, judge, and speaker with various UN offices. This ambition to make a lasting impact drives my ongoing work with the UN and my commitment to developing sustainable and equitable smart cities worldwide.

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