Expo 2020 Dubai: How 30,000 volunteers were selected as faces of World Fair

UAE citizens and expatriates ready to guide visitors during six-month event

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Tens of thousands of volunteers are preparing to welcome visitors to the first World Fair in the region, which opens in less than two weeks in Dubai.

Citizens and expatriates are collecting cream-coloured uniforms and having training to get ready for Expo 2020.

Abeer Al Hosani, director of Expo 2020 volunteers, said 30,000 UAE nationals and expatriates were hired from more than 180,000 people who applied.

We encouraged people to be part of the magic
Abeer Al Hosani, director of Expo 2020 volunteers

“We want them to be energised and welcome people with a big smile. We want them to learn a lot from this experience,” Ms Al Hosani told The National in an interview.

The initial target was 100,000 applications and organisers were overwhelmed by the sheer number who applied to guide millions of visitors expected when the site opens on October 1.

About 10,000 volunteers have taken part in Expo-related events.

“I love to say our volunteer programme is like opening a gate for everyone to participate from different and diverse groups,” Ms Al Hosani said.

“We encouraged people to be part of the magic.”

She described volunteers as the "face and heart of the Expo," and said they were key to spreading information about the World Fair.

“We needed to build a rapport, reach out to the community members, be it employees from the private or government sector, people of determination, homemakers, students or retirees,” said Ms Al Hosani, who has been with the Expo since 2016.

“We wanted to invite our community to be part of Expo.”

Volunteers at the World Fair site. Photo: Expo 2020 Dubai

The Emirati with a background in human resources is responsible for developing and managing the programme strategy for Expo 2020 Dubai.

She said excitement was mounting with the opening weeks away.

“I’m excited to show all the beautiful buildings on site and the experiences that have been created by teams working for years,” she said.

“I have mixed feelings. It’s something you are super excited about and want to share with the world but you don’t want to have an end date.

“I want to see how friends, family and visitors will react. But it’s bittersweet because I will miss the experiences with my colleagues and the volunteers when all this ends.”

She explained the selection process and the role the volunteers would play.


Who was eligible?

The volunteer programme was open to all citizens and residents from the age of 18. The oldest volunteer is 79 and the youngest is 18. The 30,0000 volunteers are from more than 135 nationalities.

UAE nationals make up 45 per cent and expatriates 55 per cent. There are 54 per cent men and 46 per cent women volunteers. The proportion of volunteers aged under 30 is 39 per cent and over for 30s it is 61 per cent.

What sort of jobs does this cover?

There are more than 30 jobs.

Those assigned to country pavilions will be responsible for delivery and management of daily activities.

Volunteers will support school teams on group visits during the week. Others have been placed in protocol, IT and event ceremonies.

Team leaders have been appointed to manage volunteers and will be given extra training to support this additional work.

Will applications be reopened?

Online applications were closed in March this year. There are more than 180,000 people in the Expo database. The Expo currently does not have any plans to hire more people. The focus is to get the existing pool of volunteers ready. If further opportunities arise, this will be announced.

How much time does a volunteer need to commit?

Ten consecutive shifts for employees from the government and private sector.

For the general public, the 10 shifts do not have to be consecutive and can be completed according to the person’s preference.

The Expo schedule was broken up into three phases, with each phase covering a two-month block.

Volunteers list their preference of day or night shifts.

Students have been taken on board for a six-week internship programme to complete university credits.

In many cases, their course and work placement have been matched so media students will be placed at the Expo media centre.

Emiratis completing UAE national service are committed to work for six months.

What activities have been held?

Orientation sessions have helped to define volunteers' role and the type of training required. Volunteers have been sent information on collecting their uniforms and details of their schedules.

A newsletter keeps them up to date with progress on site.

What are the perks?

Meeting people from across the world and guiding them to make their experience at the Expo memorable.

Volunteering is unpaid but transport to the site will be offered. Free parking is provided but not encouraged as volunteers are asked to use public transport in line with Expo’s sustainability goals. Meals will be provided during shifts.

A reward and recognition programme will give motivational gifts to show appreciation for a job well done. Completion certificates will also be handed out to all volunteers

Top five qualities

Committed, welcoming, respectful, energetic and must have a big smile.

“Respect is among main values because the UAE respects people from different backgrounds and ethnic groups,” Ms Al Hosani said.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We want people to really learn, make friends, learn new skills, create memories and have fun.”

Updated: September 20, 2021, 8:09 AM