Those of you who have visited Dubai in recent years may relate to what I am going to say: Dubai is in the middle of the desert, and its land, not that long ago, was really worth nothing. Now it is one of the most vibrant international cities in the world. All this happened in a relatively short time span.

Behind this impressive development, there was leadership, a vision that was converted into laws and policies, institutional reforms, and human resources development that made it possible. At the center of it all, was land and real estate policies. The Dubai Land Department is one of the best in the World. According to the World Bank Doing Business Report, Dubai ranks No. 10 in the world in registering properties, which far exceeds the ranking of many of the developed economies.

The choice of Dubai to host the first Arab Land Conference is no coincidence.

The conference, to be held from Feb 26-28, 2018, will address some of the most challenging topics in the Arab countries today: how to manage land to reduce conflicts, promote social and economic development and maximize the utilization of land and property for individuals, and the state and society. In other words, how to make Sand into Gold.

The conference is organized by the Government of the United Arab Emirates in partnership with the World Bank, the Global Land Tool Network, UN-Habitat, the Arab League and the Arab Union of Surveyors.

The conference is open to everyone; government officials, academia, students, real estate agents and developers, private sector and civil society. The conference will include high level Ministerial sessions but also will include technical sessions where papers and presenters will be submitted through the website. All papers and presentations need to address land and property issues in the Arab countries. The deadline for the submission of papers is December 15, 2017. Some funding will be available to finance a limited number of participants whose papers or presentation are accepted.

The conference will address very important topics that the region faces: such as access to land for sustainable business and investment; the link between land and housing policies;  education, research and capacity development on land policy, management, and administration; protection of land and property rights of displaced people and refugees to facilitate reconstruction; women, land and property rights; new technologies to support land and real estate registration systems, property valuation and taxation policies.

We will have several roundtable discussions on the side of the conference to discuss some of the important messages that will come out of the conference. At the end, we hope to promote more knowledge sharing, research and capacity development among the Arab countries on this vital topic.

As we all know, land governance, or lack thereof, has contributed to many of the region’s ills. We hope this event will initiate a conversation in the region to address many of the underlying land challenges and unlock its potential to build a better future through unlocking the economic and social potential of the region. In other words, we hope to learn from Dubai how to use sand to make gold.

I encourage you to register, submit a paper or simply come and participate in the discussion. A special invitation to the students and the younger generation to come and contribute.

I look forward to seeing many of you at the conference.