Marjan Faraidooni-1648822768542
Marjan Faraidooni said the “general mood was very emotional” as the curtain came down on Expo 2020 Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: They connected with people from all over the world. They were the first ones in line up when the gates opened in the morning and the last persons to leave at night. They were the thousands of Expo 2020 Dubai workers who kept the show going for the past six months.

It was indeed an emotional and bittersweet day for them to say goodbye to the world’s greatest show on Thursday, March 31, the last day of Expo 2020 Dubai.

Speaking exclusively to Gulf News, Marjan Faraidooni, Chief Experience Officer, Expo 2020 Dubai, said the “general mood was very emotional”.

“But it was also a moment of great pride,” she added, noting: “The pride is reflected in the number of people who have visited the Expo.”

The first World Expo to took place in the region and the largest global gathering since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Expo 2020 Dubai gathered more than 190 countries from around the world and registered more than 23 million visits since it opened in October last year.

“It was not just about celebrating 10 million, 15 million or over 20 million visits. It was more about what we went through to gain the confidence of the community and the world to come here,” Faraidooni underlined. “We proved to the world, and made people recognise, that even in the most difficult times, there was optimism.”

She added: “We have faced and overcame many challenges. Personally, I’m proud of what we have gone through. We had been through many ups and downs, but we had to continue. We never closed our doors — whether it rained badly or whether there was Omicron (a variant of COVID-19) surge. People asked ‘Why are you still letting visitors come? Aren’t you putting them at risk? But we still kept our doors open because we were very sure that we had processes in place to safeguard the health and safety of everyone.”

Emotional goodbyes

On any given day, the Expo workforce was between 25,000 and 36,000 people, who worked on three shifts. The workforce was composed of different types of staff — volunteers, support staff and those in charge of events and entertainment — from all over the world

Approximately, between 18,000 and 21,000 people were hired by the pavilions, while around 7,000 to 10,000 were direct Expo employees. Their jobs were co-terminus with the end of Expo.

Saying goodbye to Expo was inevitable, but the impact was cushioned by the preparation that Faraidooni and her team had made for the outgoing employees.

She said: “We have managed expectations and prepared people mentally for this eventuality. We worked on a very compressed time frame and we carefully managed this difficult process of offboarding. Whether you’re here for six months, one year, or in my case eight years, there is an emotional burden because the event is closing. In many cases, the job is over.

“We have developed into a family. We call ourselves the Expo Tribe (direct Expo hires), but extended the family to Expo Heart (volunteers, security support staff, cleaners, visitor guides, buggy drivers, school bus assistants). It was very rare to have a job where you knew when your end date was,” noted Faraidooni, adding emotionally: “We began saying our goodbyes for the past week.”

Because of the limited lifespan of work at the Expo, an outplacement programme was introduced as early as November last year to prepare the staff for their next work journey. Two virtual career fairs were also held for outgoing staff. Some, however, will remain as part of the dissolution team who will take care of archiving all the Expo data captured over the years.

Rich experience

A big chunk of those directly hired by the Expo were fresh graduates or only on their second job. Faraidooni noted the young workforce benefited from the rich experience they gained at the Expo, even if it was for a limited time period only.

“The one year or less they spent at the Expo is equivalent to five years they will get in many other organisations. They had to learn very quickly; they were given many responsibilities and we equipped them with lots of training. I have complete faith in our workforce at the Expo that they will thrive in their next careers,” Faraidooni said confidently.

Faraidooni added she was also proud of how a team comprising people from more than 60 nationalities spoke in the same language, delivering the core messages of Expo 2020 Dubai. “Working at the Expo was not only about professional development, because they connected with people. It was the human experience — learning more about other cultures,” she explained.

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Enduring Expo memories

On the final day of Expo 2020 Dubai, Faraidooni could not help but become emotional. She said: “When we opened the doors back in October, the whole world was watching us. And we connected with the world, literally, over the last six months. It is very overwhelming to say goodbye, but what is most beautiful about everything is that we created memories.”

Quoting a message from a friend, Faraidooni said: “The Expo is definitely not over because it will be in our memories forever.”