Talented Emiratis are being shaped into the leaders of tomorrow thanks to a forward-thinking initiative aiming to drive the nation's progress for decades to come.
The National Experts Programme was established by Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, in January 2019 to tap into the country's existing knowledge base to support the next generation of decision-makers.
Some of the brightest young minds in the Emirates have been paired with industry leaders, chief executives and government ministers as part of the mentorship programme.
The first class graduated later that year with another batch of 25 young people set to follow in their footsteps in September.
They are expected to become the true influencers of the UAE, who will propel their nation to even greater heights.
Five of the first 21 graduates have been selected as the first NEP fellows and will continue their journey under the guidance of the programme.
The National got the inside track on the five high achievers already playing a key role in the UAE's progress on the global stage.
The man revamping banking services
Khalifa BinHendi, 29, is making his mark after participation in the experts programme.
The business management graduate from London's Middlesex University works at the Prime Minister's Office, where he is responsible for various strategic projects.
He is developing plans for the UAE's own social bank, which will help to put Emiratis and expatriates on a sound financial footing.
Its services will include dedicated pension programmes for expatriates and a social enterprise think-tank.
"The UAE Social Bank project is designed to be a standalone organisation that will provide a platform for community services, community sharing and interactions. It does not currently exist and will provide banking services based on community and social services,” he said.
His mentor during the experts programme was Hessa Buhumaid, Minister of Community Development.
The eco champion with a global vision
Abdulla Al Remeithi is on a mission to protect the planet – one carbon footprint at a time.
The acting director for environmental policy and planning at Environment Agency Abu Dhabi helps to advance green policies.
One such plan is to reduce carbon footprints – the greenhouse gases generated by our day-to-day activities – for the betterment of the environment and society.
Mr Al Remeithi is moving towards reducing it for every person in the Emirates by developing a carbon footprint-tracking online portal.
“We will be calculating the personal carbon footprint of every individual – their water consumption, electricity consumption and carbon dioxide emissions of their vehicles. This will manage emissions and support projects that reduce carbon footprint," he said.
One approach would be to levy fines to encourage people to develop a green conscience, but the UAE wants to encourage people to take care of precious natural resources first.
“We want to introduce incentives that will promote the reduction of water, gas and energy consumption. Incentives will come in the form of green points,” Mr Al Remeithi said.
The project is in the approval process with a task force formed by the UAE Ministry of Climate Change and Environment and led by Mr Al Remeithi, who developed the concept while participating in the National Experts Programme.
Pilot schemes have been rolled out in parts of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.
“The aim is for this to be a global model. Our planet is in a climate crisis and we need effective solutions today,” he said.
The father of three was mentored by Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of State for Foreign Trade, who previously served as the UAE minister of Climate Change and Environment.
Finding a way to modernise philanthropy
The UAE prides itself on its support for other countries during times of need. During the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, the country has delivered plane-loads of medical supplies to countries facing shortages
But Aisha Saeed Harib believes there is a way for this generosity to flow more efficiently.
“It needs to be digitalised if we want to compete worldwide in international philanthropic performance,” said the 33-year-old, who works at the Community Development Authority in Dubai.
“We need to change our traditional methods of philanthropy and introduce new ideas, strategies and methods to impact a larger number of beneficiaries,” she said.
Ms Harib began her fellowship programme in January 2019. She is currently working on a PhD in social entrepreneurship at London’s Reading University.
She was guided by Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Co-operation.
“It was very intense and focused on capability building, knowledge sharing and how to utilise your skills for future contributions. They train you to think strategically, you are empowered with negotiation skills and you get the opportunity to network and raise different issues related to most sectors,” said Ms Harib, who welcomed the opportunity to learn from an experienced Cabinet member.
“I met her once a month for six months while at the ministry. I was exposed in terms of opportunities and got the chance to work closely to decision makers and most of all the best part is being known as a reference for decision makers and advisory boards on philanthropic projects.”
Learning simple lessons for success
Hadif Zamzam embraced the opportunity to gain insight from a man who has played a key role in building the success story of the UAE.
Mr Zamzam, a graduate of Reading University who works for Mubadala Healthcare, said he benefited greatly from the knowledge imparted by his mentor, Mohamed Alabbar.
Mr Alabbar is the founder of Emaar Properties, the developers behind the world's tallest building, Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
“The biggest lesson that I learnt from him was that at the end of the day, nothing beats performance. Always keep it simple in terms of getting the job done. A lot of times, people get distracted by processes or details that get in the way of getting things achieved.”
Mr Zamzam presented a strategy that would improve the real estate sector in the UAE through the creation of a unified system that would make services easier to access.
The importance of following your dreams
Mariam Al Meraikhi is a firm believer in the importance of pursuing your passions.
The support of the National Experts Programme encouraged her to follow her dream – to provide a launchpad for others to achieve their goals.
She is the co-founder and chief executive of Astrocloud Studios, a network connecting people in the creative sector that helps them to bring their plans to fruition.
“The idea behind it is to enable people living in the UAE and the region to pursue their lifelong dreams in the creative industries and to show that it is possible to make a living by pursuing your talents," she said.
The underlying goal, she said, is promoting mental well-being.
“When you do what you love, it helps your overall mental health, so we are looking at it from a cultural and social perspective as well. How can we help our community members to do what they love?"
The Zayed University graduate launched the business in May and one of its first major projects is a documentary series celebrating the talents of people from all walks of life.
Her mentor in the programme was Mona Al Marri, director general of Dubai Media Office, who encouraged her every step of the way.
“This experience helped me understand that we all have a role in making our lives and those around us better with a little support, kindness and guidance when needed,” Ms Al Meraikhi said.
“The fellowship helped me find my niche. It was a life-changing experience and I hope to extend this mindset to individuals I cross paths with.”