The clock is ticking for Expo 2020 – the largest event to take place in Dubai. In about two years, the international extravaganza will be ready to greet 25 million visitors. More than 170 countries are committed to taking part, bringing with them all manner of ideas and technologies.
And as the first Expo to be held in the regions of Middle East, Africa and South Asia, the event also promises to provide businesses with an unrivalled opportunity to access a chunk of more than 3.2 billion people with a collective GDP of more than $6.5 trillion (Dh24 trillion). Here, The National speaks to key members of the team putting the Expo together:
Emirati Eman Al Awadhi is the Expo's director of cybersecurity and resilience, innovation and future technology. She is part of a network of experts responsible for protecting the data of millions of visitors and businesses coming to the event.
“My job is to oversee the event’s cybersecurity objectives – ensuring risk management and compliance procedures are in place and that they meet international standards,” Ms Al Awadhi said.
"Generally in cybersecurity no one can say they are 100 per cent confident there will not be breaches, but I have great faith in our team and our external partners. Data has huge market value nowadays and it's essential we keep it safe."
Expo 2020 Dubai is teaming up with UAE-based tech firm DarkMatter to assist with policing the digital aspect of the event. But Ms Al Awadhi warned that even with the tightest security measures in place, it was critical that individuals also took responsibility for protecting their data.
“If you share your password with a stranger, for example, then no matter what processes and technologies are in place there is little we can do,” she said. “Cybersecurity is every person’s responsibility and awareness is key.”
Abeer Al Hosani is head of volunteers in the human resources, workforce and volunteers department at the Expo. She and her team are tasked with recruiting more than 30,000 volunteers for the event. The exhibit's theme 'Connecting Minds, Creating the Future' represents exactly what Ms Al Hosani has set out to do. She said she aims to bring together people from different backgrounds, nationalities and abilities to create an unforgettable experience.
“The need to recruit more than 30,000 people has never happened in the UAE before and it’s a huge challenge,” she said. “It’s why we started planning this a long time ago.
“We’re reaching out to potential volunteers right now and we’re looking for everyone from students to retirees to housewives. It’s not restricted to UAE nationals, so if you have a passion to volunteer, we’d love to hear from you.”
More than 7,000 residents have registered online to volunteer and that number is growing daily.
“The response has been overwhelming,” Ms Al Hosani said. “We’ve had entire families from a mother and her five children to a group of nuns – all wanting to volunteer.
“We aren’t pushing for this to be an exclusively Emirati event – it’s an event for all of us. Dubai is home to over 200 nationalities and we want to show the world our volunteers – our family.”
Khalid Sharaf is head of business relationships and business integration. His role is to help promote the opportunities Expo 2020 has to offer to businesses and entrepreneurs from around the world.
“I started working for Expo 2020 Dubai in September 2014, almost four years ago,” Mr Sharaf said. “My role can be demanding at times, but it's also very rewarding. Everybody in the UAE is excited about the exhibition.
“My team’s goal is to add value for both public and private sector entities in the lead-up to and during the six months of Expo. We are creating and managing platforms that benefit all of our stakeholders, whether visitors, participants, partners or government entities.”
Mr Sharaf said more than 22,000 companies had registered and that more than 16,000 of these were small and medium-sized enterprises. He urged all firms with an eye on the Middle East to sign up, ensuring Dubai 2020 becomes the most innovative Expo in history.
“The greater the number of companies that engage with Expo 2020, the greater the number of ideas and innovative solutions we’ll be able to harness,” he said.
“We aim to enable companies to take their businesses to the next level by connecting them with new and established markets around the world. And we hope to promote their supply chains to relevant audiences and expand their networks of industry contacts.”