She said difficult periods usually inspired innovation and she hoped the world would emerge from the economic crisis on the cusp of a “third industrial revolution”.
“The most interesting ideas have come in times of recession... it is almost as if our brains go into idle mode when times are easy. [But] when we are pressured we press the creative button,” she said.
The president was speaking at the Abu Dhabi higher college of education during a trip to the United Arab Emirates.
The world had now reached a watershed moment and students, in particular, should view the crisis as a chance to “think again”. She pointed to how the inventiveness of people had fostered financial booms after severe economic shocks of the 1930s and the 1970s.
She spoke after the Irish delegation, including Foreign Affairs Minister Micheál Martin, were invited to view some of the spin-offs of UAE’s world renowned property boom in the last decade.
The delegation visited the 44,000-capacity Sheikh Zayed Mosque which is due to be completed this year, complete with the world’s largest chandeliers and carpet. The latter was hand-woven in Iran and cost €6 million.
The Irish party was put up in the Emirates’ Palace, dubbed the world’s most luxurious hotel.
However, despite UAE’s decadence it, like Ireland, has put its growth plans on hold since the credit crisis hit and question marks have been raised about the viability of its ambitions.
The problems have been more pronounced in Dubai where yesterday the president and Mr Martin met vice president of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
Afterwards Ms McAleese told the audience at the Abu Dhabi college the global recession would put every country in competitive mode, but it also required them to look for collective solutions.
She said this offered Ireland and the UAE opportunities to work together.
At Christmas, Mr Martin revealed plans to open an embassy in the Gulf state to serve the 4,000 Irish people who live and work there. Ms McAleese said this was an important step in building a lasting relationship.