A universe of possibilities is now visible to Emirati youth

The next generation of UAE talent is tasked with moving the country from an energy-driven economy to a knowledge-based one.

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At the first Emirati Youth Forum held recently at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, there was a trend on display. More than 300 Emiratis from universities all over the country were there to hear about Abu Dhabi's development plans - and the new opportunities that are being made available to young people.

"It is vital that you - as Abu Dhabi's next generation - understand the opportunities on offer and the pathways available," Khaldoon Al Mubarak, the chief executive of the government-owned Mubadala Development Company, told the assembly. "It is only fairly recently that options have emerged beyond the oil and gas sector. Now career paths exist across a wide range of sectors - from aerospace to satellite technology, and from health care to industry." It was a statement both of where we are going, and from where we have come.

The Youth Forum was just the one of many similar events that will take place across the country over the next few years. For all the strides that have been made, including investment in infrastructure, industry and human capital, many young people are still unaware of what we are doing and where we are going.

This is not altogether surprising. When I was at university less than two years ago, I knew nothing about Abu Dhabi government initiatives like ATIC, Yahsat, twofour54, Khalifa Fund and HAAD, which are just a few of the companies that were represented at the forum. I did not even know anything about Mubadala where I now work. Blame it on youthful ignorance - maybe I was too caught up with friends, family, fashion and Arsenal football club - but there is so much I am now discovering.

Emiratis are blessed by natural resources at a time when much of the world is energy hungry. The government provides many benefits such as housing subsidies, energy, water and health care. But this windfall will not last forever. We have a great opportunity and responsibility to build and develop our country.

Among the guest speakers at the Youth Forum were three Emiratis who had interned with Nasa in the United States. Shamma Al Qassim, 19, Hazza Bani Malek, 20, and Hamad Rajab, 21, recently returned from their 10-month internships. It's quite mind-blowing when you think about it. Arabs were among the first to discover the secrets of astronomy; now we are involved in research and development that is helping humans reach to the stars.

"If you set your mind on doing something, anything's possible," Mr Rajab said. "As the next generation, it's our responsibility to grasp the chance to make a difference."

From the desert sand to space, the sky is no longer the limit; we are seeking to go further. These opportunities are tremendous, but we should also think about giving something back. Sheikh Zayed, the beloved father of the country, once said: "The real asset of any advanced nation is its people, especially the educated ones. Every individual has to perform his duty."

For the nation's next generation, these stirring words are still as powerful and relevant today as they were all those years ago. There is a chance to do something for our own country that has given us so much.

We need to consider how we get involved with the community. It may be playing a sport, studying for a PhD, pursuing artistic endeavours or working at one of the many companies that have chosen to set up in Abu Dhabi or have been acquired as investments.

The future for all of those young people who packed into the exhibition centre is now. We are here to make the change. Each and every one of us can play our part in turning the country from an energy-driven economy to a knowledge-driven one. We can see the future almost within our reach. It is our job and our responsibility to realise this potential.

Dana Jamal Al Suwaidi works in the group communications unit at Mubadala