This week, Kafkadesk spoke with Adrian Malinowski, general commissioner of the Polish Section of the Expo 2020 Dubai (postponed to October 2021-March 2022 due to the Covid-19 pandemic). We talked about the role of Expo in global economic relations, ideas for effective economic diplomacy and what the Polish pavilion will impress the world with.
What is the role of an event such as the World Exhibition, particularly the Expo 2020 Dubai, for the Polish economy and entrepreneurs? Is it mainly an image event, demonstration or also a place to obtain new contracts and business partners?
Looking at the last year and the last months, we can see that the world we have known so far has changed dramatically. All economic and promotional events – fairs, exhibitions, conferences – have stopped. The Expo, after many, many months, will be the first event of this rank that will take place in traditional physical format, which will additionally focus the attention of the economic, political and cultural world at this event. The importance of the Dubai Expo cannot be overstated.
This edition of the World Exhibition will put great emphasis on economic issues. After the decision to postpone this event for a year, organizers sent a questionnaire to each exhibitor to learn about our expectations and probe which aspect in this post-pandemic reality should dominate at the Expo. Earlier editions of the World Exhibition focused on promoting, for example, culture, technology, education and the environment. Of course, these issues will also be present in Dubai, but the vast majority of countries – about 90% – indicated one key area: the economy. Each country feels a great need to return to the economic situation and pre-pandemic indicators as soon as possible. And for this, it is necessary to rebuild and establish new economic contacts, supply chains or business relationships. The Expo in Dubai will be a catalyst for these processes.
Poland’s promotional activities will also focus on the economic area?
Yes, we look at the Expo in the same way as most other national participants. This is a great opportunity, a huge potential for business reconstruction for the entire economy, for Polish regions and companies. I am glad that Polish entrepreneurs see the opportunities offered by the World Exhibition – for the Go To Brand program run by the state-owned Polish Agency for Enterprise Development, we currently have 4 times more applications from Polish companies than before. The Expo is a place where the whole world meets, it is a place where you can establish new relationships, often in markets that have so far been unknown or undiscovered by Polish businesses.
The time of the pandemic has shown that our entrepreneurs are flexible, respond well to changes in the economic situation, and are able to attract contractors from various geographic directions, often from outside the European Union. This is evidenced by the results of our exports for 2020. Many of the existing global supply chains – both in export and import – have been broken by the pandemic. Polish entrepreneurs can therefore fill some gaps, look for new markets, break through with their offer, especially in non-obvious markets. There will be no better opportunity than the Expo for building relations with non-European partners.
What are we trying to present to the world – rather, are we consolidating the already existing positive associations with the Polish economy, or trying to show new areas in which Poland is less known?
We do not want to cut ourselves off from our beautiful history and tradition. We would like to perpetuate these beautiful qualities that we have both as a nation as a whole and as entrepreneurs. Behind our backs is the slogan “Poland. Creativity inspired by nature”. We are known in the world for creating, for example, designer furniture or interior design elements, and we will showcase this creativity. In addition, we will emphasize our traditional national values, such as nature-based tourism, healthy food and agricultural technology. But we also focus on new elements – we want to present Poland as a modern, dynamic country, to show new sectors in which we’re increasingly present in the world.
We are becoming leaders of global solutions in such industries as game development, fin-tech, med-tech, IT or ITC. We are also pushing ourselves harder and harder in the space industry or the UAV industry (unmanned aerial vehicles). I am delighted that entrepreneurs from these modern sectors are increasingly applying to programs supporting the expansion of our companies, such as Polish Tech Bridges, run by the Polish Investment and Trade Agency, or Go To Brand, run by the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development.
How, then, is Poland and the Polish pavilion going to stand out from among dozens of other, let’s say directly, competitive ones? How to give the visitor a positive association with the Polish economy, creativity or technology in his head after a day-long walk around the Expo site?
During the Expo more than 200 countries and institutions will be exhibiting. Each of these exhibitors has a goal to present themselves as well as possible, to be noticed and remembered. We made sure that we stand out both in terms of form and content. The Polish pavilion will be built of wood, which is considered a very luxurious material in the Middle East.
The pavilion will be flanked by a kinetic sculpture with images of a flock of beautiful birds, whose seasonal migrations are the element linking Poland with the Arabian Peninsula. Both outside and inside the pavilion, we focus on uniqueness and use only tailor-made solutions – the elements of the decor have been designed specifically for the needs of the pavilion. Each zone and each stage inside will surprise with its design and creativity – these solutions will not be duplicated anywhere in the Expo or outside the Expo.
The content of our exhibition will also be unique on a global scale. First of all, it will be variable, which should encourage people to visit our pavilion again. Every week we will present different content, a different story about Poland – we will show our history, scientific and cultural achievements, development of international relations, sports successes.
The complete story about Poland will consist of five chapters that will create a series of experiences and content that result from each other. One of the parts will be devoted to a temporary exhibition and – what I would like to strongly emphasize – it will be an integral part of the entire tour of the Polish pavilion, and not a separate room or block. Another unique experience awaits our guests in the last room – the course of events in it will depend on the people who will be there at a given moment. They will create the scenario of events themselves.
Since we position ourselves as a modern, digitally advanced country, will the pavilion also be available on-line?
Of course. Guests who are physically unable to visit us will have access to the pavilion on-line. Perhaps this option will function even longer than the six months of the World Exhibition, and virtual walks will also be possible after the end of the physical part of the Expo.
Let’s go back to the economy. The pavilion will only be a place to showcase Poland, or also a place to “make money”?
The pavilion is a physical demonstration of Poland and Polishness gathered in one place. In our Euro-centrism, we sometimes forget that for many people from Asia, South America and Africa, Poland is a little-known country, it is only a small point on the map. The role of this pavilion is to provide such people with as much information as possible about Poland in order to build positive associations, also in the field of economic diplomacy.
In the pavilion, we will have a separate area for meetings, conferences, talks and presentations. We will provide these rooms free of charge to our entrepreneurs, state agencies and institutions, as well as local governments, so that they have a comfortable space for business and networking meetings. The pavilion will also be open to Poles living in the Middle East – we really count on their commitment, knowledge and local contacts in fostering economic diplomacy.
Which sphere of economic diplomacy during such events as the Expo is the most important and brings the most benefits – meetings at a political summit, additional side events such as workshops or conferences, or maybe informal meetings?
Each of these elements is very important. These economic relations will also form outside the pavilion – the agenda of Expo 2020 Dubai is full of occasional promotional events organized by the hosts. There will be trade fairs, scientific symposiums, seminars and workshops. As Poland, we will be strongly present in them. One of such events will be the Polish-Arab Economic Forum scheduled for December 6. We already see a huge interest in this event from the United Arab Emirates and we can say that it will be one of the largest events of this type. Such meetings are also an excellent platform for building relationships with both representatives of the UAE and guests from neighboring countries.
Finally, the informal, backstage part. Let us remember that the whole world will gather in Dubai for these six months – from the highest-ranking politicians and authorities, through big businesses, the world of science, culture, sports, to representatives of local governments, modern start-ups and millions of ordinary visitors. It’s hard to find another event with similar scope and possibilities.
You mentioned the Polish-Arab forum – will this be the clue of the Polish agenda, both economically and politically?
The most important events for us from the political point of view will take place in Dubai on December 6 and 7 – first we have the Polish-Arab Economic Forum and the next day, Polish Day, our national celebration at the Expo. There will be high attendance on the forum by both our site and our Arab partners. Several hundred entrepreneurs will come from Poland to take part in the symposium, presentation and investment part. The aim of the forum is to stimulate relations between the Middle East and Poland. We want to show the support instruments and incentives that we have prepared to increase investments and trade.
Stimulating foreign direct investment in both directions, i.e. only attracting Arab capital to Poland?
Definitely in both directions. Poland is very positively assessed by foreign capital, we are third in terms of the inflow of foreign direct investment in the EU. Foreign investors appreciate our economic stability, even during a pandemic. But we also want to look for a place for the expansion of Polish companies that are more and more boldly coping with the Arab markets.
So, December 6 and 7 will be the days when the Expo will be visited by Polish President Andrzej Duda?
We are in talks with the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland. These will be events of great political and economic importance. The Polish Day marks the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Polish embassy in Abu Dhabi, and also will take place at the same time as the celebration of the Golden Jubilee week – the 50th anniversary of the unification of the United Arab Emirates.
Who is the main recipient of Polish promotional and diplomatic activities during the Expo?
We profile our activities for recipients from the Middle East, we want to show Poland mainly to the inhabitants of the United Arab Emirates, countries of the region and Africa. Africa is still a bit of a “terra incognita” for our entrepreneurs, and it is, after all, a continent with great economic potential, including due to demographic reasons. As in the case of partners from the Arabian Peninsula, we have prepared a special event for partners from Africa to build mutual relations: the Polish-African Economic Forum.
What funds were allocated from the Polish government for the organization of the Polish pavilion and side events?
The amount of funds that were originally – before the pandemic – reserved in the central budget for the mission “Expo 2020 Dubai” amounted to PLN 80 million, or approximately €18 million. Moving the event for a year clearly left us with a big challenge to be able to implement our previous promotional plans without increasing the budget. And we did it, which is a great achievement. Of course, we have to wait for the final effect of our actions until the end of the event, but we feel that we used these funds very effectively and wisely. The very fact of keeping the costs within this budget, even though the duration of the project – and thus some expenses – has been extended by a year, is worth emphasizing.
What are the budgets for Expo of other countries with similar economic position to Poland? So let’s not mention China or Persian Gulf countries, which will probably allocate horrendous funds for promotions.
Some of the countries with a similar economic position on the world map have up to four times more funds for the Expo than we do. But it does not mean that they will have more interesting offers for visitors in their pavilions.
Apart from those PLN 80 million, are there any other funds involved in the Polish mission in Dubai?
The implementation of some plans is financed from state-owned agencies – e.g. the Polish Investment and Trade Agency – and from EU funds. In total, it is an additional PLN 10 million (around €2 million), so the total cost of promoting Poland on such a large scale during the Expo will likely be less than PLN 100 million, or approximately €20 million.
Interview conducted by Nikodem Chinowski
Journalist, PR officer, copy-writer, book author; in one word – a scribe, Nikodem has been writing for over a dozen years and observing contemporary geopolitics and geoeconomics. As a PR expert, he contributed to shaping the image of the Three Seas Initiative and of the foreign network of the Polish development bank BGK. He was also setting up Polish economic diplomacy in Asia (Mumbai, Ulaanbaatar) and Africa (Lagos, Kigali, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Johannesburg).