The United Arab Emirates (UAE) have experienced remarkable growth over the last 50 years. Their citizens represent less than 1.5 million of a total population of close to 10 million. UAE citizens enjoy free health care services, subsidized housing and free education with a 96.7% upper secondary graduation rate.

Foreign workers face different conditions. They represent over 85% of the population, cannot become citizens and must leave the country when they are no longer employed. They must pay for education and health services in addition to saving money for the day they will go back to their country. Much has been written about the situation of  citizens and resident alien workers. But one should not jump too fast to conclusion. The situation is more complex than it appears. An important experiment is in progress.

In 2016, the emirate of Dubai announced the creation of a Ministry of State for Happiness. H.H. Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, said that the Ministry has the responsibility to “align and drive government policy to create social good and satisfaction. We want a government that works on building the skills of its people, aside from providing services—a government that focuses on putting the happiness of its citizens at the forefront of its priorities”.

During a recent visit to the Emirates, PGI President Jocelyne Bourgon met with H.E. Ohood bin Khalfan Al Roumi, Minister of State for Happiness and Director General of the Prime Minister’s Office  (pictured here) to discuss the role and objectives of the Ministry of Happiness.

The Dubai approach is original and builds on the work of the United Nations, Bhutan, the French Government, the work initiated by Joseph Stiglitz and others. It is worth noting that the UAE ranks 21st on the Happiness Index of the United Nations, up from 28th two years ago. When UAE citizens only are included in the results, the UAE ranks 11th. If foreign workers were included in the survey results, the UEA would rank 27th, still ahead of countries like Singapore (28), France (31), Spain (34) and Italy (48). These results are worthy of attention even by countries like Canada and others  that achieve much higher ranking .