In a bright conference room in the basement of the Park Plaza Hotel in central London, Shaikha Al Maskari is trying to find Emirati graduates who want to help the UAE go into space.
Ms Al Maskari, chief corporate officer at the UAE Space Agency, is listing the qualities that the next generation of Emirati scientists will need: hard-working and smart goes without saying, but the agency needs team players, too.
“You can’t get to Mars on your own,” she tells the crowd.
The UAE-UK Pioneers Forum 2015 attracted hundreds of Emiratis studying in British universities to London on Saturday, seeking to connect them with potential employers from the UAE. Around the stands, representatives of the country’s major private and state-owned firms chatted to nationals about their future.
One firm that is seeking to persuade young Emiratis to opt for a career in the private as opposed to public sector is accountancy firm PriceWaterhouse Coopers.
Last year PwC launched its Watani programme, recruiting 24 Emiratis to a three-year programme – one year in its offices in the UAE then two in the UK.
The firm says that although salaries and hours may be better in the public sector, the opportunity to get a qualification with one of the world’s biggest businesses is worth the sacrifice.
Emirati Ghassan Yusuf, who heads the Watani programme, says the message is a success.
“People are beginning to see that there is a satisfaction to working hard. They often say that although the hours are shorter in the public sector the day actually feels longer,” he says.
Emma Campbell, director of PwC in Dubai, says that the programme aims to recruit a total of 100 Emiratis by 2021 and that of the 24 who joined last year, not one has dropped out.
“When we launched it we were told: ‘No way will you be able to bring 24 graduates in on a level playing field – all with the same work ethic, salary and level of academic achievement’. Well, we did it,” she says.
Ms Campbell added that 50 per cent of graduates in the Watani programme are women, particularly those from the northern Emirates, many of whom are the first generations of working women in their families.
Indeed, of the graduates in the Park Hotel, an overwhelming majority are women.
Amna Al Mehairi and Aysha Al Jaberi are both PhD students from Nottingham University.
Neighbours in Al Ain, both did their masters degrees in Glasgow, but are looking to pursue their careers at home.
This despite the fact that in their fields, biochemistry and immunology, are far better served in the UK or US and are relatively new to the UAE. But they feel that being part of changing that at home is important.
“We’ve had some opportunities here but the best place to work is in the UAE, especially as it is growing. In our fields, the country is really starting from zero. It is important to pay back the UAE, the country invested in us,” says Ms Al Jaberi.
As for Ms Al Maskari, she says that the UAE Space Agency has received dozens of CVs from Emiratis hoping to be involved with the UAE mission to Mars.
She says the agency wants graduates from many fields.
And she has her own ambitions: “I want to be the first Arab female astronaut,” she says with a smile.