The UAE is blessed with a young and vibrant population. As we celebrate International Youth Day tomorrow, the need to ensure youth are engaged and participating in society remains essential to achieving sustainable human development.
Inspired by the continuous efforts of Shamma Al Mazrui, the Minister of State for Youth Affairs, we at Expo 2020 Dubai strive to play an instrumental role in supporting youth so they are empowered to reach their full potential for the betterment of the UAE.
The UAE’s leadership has always recognised the potential of our nation’s youth, going as far back as Sheikh Zayed, the Founding Father, and they continue to develop initiatives that enable our young people to reach their full potential.
This value was a motivating factor in the decision to bid for Expo 2020 Dubai and it continues to influence many facets of the planning for this major national achievement. Not only are we engaging and working with young people in the run-up but we are also developing the infrastructure needed for a knowledge economy that will leave a legacy of opportunity for future generations.
Expo 2020 is a chance to learn, innovate and build a better future together. It is also an opportunity to expose young people from across our region to new ideas, cultures and experiences from every corner of the world, expanding their future possibilities and instilling hope and optimism.
We truly believe in young people and their potential. In fact, more than one-quarter of Expo 2020’s employees – a total of 157 out of 476 – are aged under 30. Sixty-eight of the young employees are in management roles. I myself was 23 when I was appointed director of Youth Connect.
Expo 2020 also welcomes graduates through our apprenticeship programme, in collaboration with Tumoohi, and we plan to offer a separate opportunity to non-graduates in the near future.
We believe that young people are our greatest asset. The more young people are connected and engaged in society, the greater their impact on economic growth and the security of the region.
Not only do we include young people in our team but Expo 2020 has also created a dedicated youth department, Youth Connect, as well as many other organisation-wide initiatives. Youth Connect engages with teachers and students across the UAE, creating fun and educational experiences to inspire our nation’s younger generation.
To date, we have reached nearly 50,000 students from 640 schools and we intend to engage many more before 2020.
In the next academic year, we will kick off the Expo 2020 Dubai Champions programme, which enables students from every school in the UAE to raise awareness about the event and champion this national endeavour.
Youth Connect has also developed a wide range of resources for schools to share information about Expo 2020 and excite students and teachers about the topics that will be explored. The purpose of these resources is to build prior knowledge among students to prepare them for an immersive learning experience at the expo. We are planning journeys for school children that will be so much fun they won’t even know they’re learning.
In addition to our outreach activities, we are creating an exciting interactive experience for schoolchildren onsite. Students and teachers will have exclusive insight to the project, giving them an opportunity to learn more about the power of world expos and the stories behind this one.
Our team will continue to build on these efforts during the six months of Expo 2020, with tailored experiences specifically designed to engage and inspire young people.
We also have initiatives that foster an innovative and collaborative spirit among older youth. For example, the $100 million innovation and partnership programme Expo Live is also supporting youth by funding, accelerating and promoting solutions that positively impact society or the environment.
In particular, Expo Live’s University Innovation Programme (UIP) challenges UAE-based university students to team up and develop ideas and solutions for global problems. The UIP has already awarded grants and support to 19 student teams in the UAE; the second cycle will open in September.
Young people also stand to benefit from the Expo 2020 volunteers programme, through which we aim to give unprecedented opportunities to more than 30,000 people within the UAE, most of whom we expect to be youth. Volunteers will gain work-ready skills and learn the art of welcoming and interacting with millions of people from all over the world.
We are already providing volunteers with opportunities and will soon reveal a variety of exclusive activities that they can benefit from in the lead-up to 2020.
Expo 2020 will be a destination where we hope the next generation will be inspired to explore what the future could look like as well as learn how they could be active participants on our journey to making a better world.
After all, our theme is "connecting minds, creating the future". To achieve it, we must believe youth are central to everything we do.
Alya Al Ali is the director of Youth Connect, Expo 2020 Dubai