With half of Expo’s workforce being women, GN Focus speaks to a few inspiring leaders to understand how they will create an opportunity of a lifetime for participants and visitors
There’s a saying that goes, “If you want anything done, ask a busy man. If you want work well done, ask a busy woman.”
No one exemplifies the statement better than Reem Al Hashemi, Minister of State for International Cooperation and Director-General of Expo 2020 Dubai. She has been a proof that when it comes to getting the first World Expo in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia region (MEASA) up and running, it takes a woman to get the job done.
Al Hashemi has been the face of Expo 2020 Dubai from the moment the UAE won the race to host it. Ever since then she has been in the driver’s seat, earning the trust and respect of the world, inspiring millions to appreciate and support women empowerment.
Expo 2020 Dubai beautifully plays out the UAE’s vision to empower women. It promotes gender equality at all levels — from those involved in the design, development and delivery of the event, to the programmes it runs as part of the journey to 2020. Today half of Expo’s workforce are women. Not just that, 65 per cent of all UAE National hires at Expo 2020 Dubai are women, including persons of determination.
The UAE has always believed that empowering women has a multiplier effect, helping drive economic growth and development, and benefitting societies and humanity at large. So, when the responsibility of the delivery of Expo 2020 Dubai was taken up by a woman, it was no surprise. Today Al Hashemi is a hugely inspiring role model for many young Emirati women who aspire to give back to this nation.
Women as equal partners
One realises that UAE’s ecosystem works on the belief that women are equal partners in the development of the nation. His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has always been vocal about this, paying a rich tribute to Emirati women in many of his speeches, referring to them as “generation makers, mothers of martyrs, and the pride of the nation”.
Today almost 70 per cent of the Emirates’ university graduates are women, more than 65 per cent of UAE government employees are women, and more than 30 per cent of leadership positions are held by women.
In his book Flashes of Thought, Shaikh Mohammad has written that the UAE has “moved beyond the phase of empowering women”.
“We are empowering our economy by strengthening the role of women… we are launching development projects under the direction of women…we are improving our infrastructure, our health and education services, and even our military by relying heavily on women’s roles in these fields.”
Expo 2020 Dubai has provided an attractive working environment for innovative Emirati women, empowering them and enabling them to benefit from their creativity.
The world event has exceptionally talented women at the helm, such as Marjan Faraidooni, Chief Pavilions and Exhibitions Officer; Iman Alomrani, Deputy Chief Technology Officer; Maha Al Gargawi, Vice-President, International Participants, and Alya Al-Ali, Vice-President of the Expo Schools Programme. The Expo also provides opportunities for young women from different backgrounds. Women such as Fatma Ibrahim is the Assistant Manager of Expo Live, while Aisha Al Marzouki, a graduate of Zayed University, works for the Sustainability Department at Expo 2020.
Faraidooni says one of the strongest legacy aspects of the Expo, is the fact that women have played a leading role in a mega-event happening for the very first time in the MEASA region. “Our Director General (Her Excellency Reem Al Hashemi) is a female, it is something I take pride in,” she says. “It is also something that dispels a lot of misconceptions about the role of women in the region, again one of the key legacies of this mega-event. The role of women is also a testament of our leadership’s belief in our capabilities and continued support to excel in different parts of the economy.”
The role of women is also a testament of our leadership’s belief in our capabilities and continued support to excel in different parts of the economy.
As a woman in leadership position, Faraidooni makes sure that all deliverables are clear to her team. “This is especially important at this critical time with less than a year to go until Expo 2020 opens. I also make sure we address challenges together and don’t wait until it’s too late. I hold regular meetings to communicate key organisational updates, ensure we are all aware of what we’re doing, and identify how we can help each other deliver our work.”
Faraidooni oversees, along with her team, 15,000 sq m of exhibition space where the Expo 2020 theme and sub-themes will be brought to life. These include the Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability pavilions. She also oversees the Expo School Programme that involves the school community. The programme consists of various initiatives, such as the Expo Young Innovators Programme, where school children are encouraged to submit ideas that could improve the lives of the people in their community and the Expo Young Stars Programme, which provides an opportunity for the students of the UAE to perform in Al Wasl Plaza. Each participating school will create its own unique show based on the themes and spirit of Expo 2020. In addition to this Faraidooni looks at District 2020, the post-Expo legacy programme — ensuring the city lives on after Expo. “District 2020 has already started connecting with local and international companies who will establish bases on the site,” she says.
With so much on her plate, work-life balance is mandatory and she makes sure to encourage her coworkers to take time off responsibly. So, what’s her cool off mantra? “I sometimes surprise the team with lunches where we can celebrate milestones, or use it as an opportunity to share our concerns and issues,” she says. “No matter how much pressure we’re under, I also make sure we find the time to laugh and enjoy ourselves in the process. The primary focus right now is to make sure we meet all our milestones and are operationally ready.”
An amazing community
Maha Al Gargawi, who looks into International Participants at Expo 2020 Dubai admits that there are too many women to look up to in the UAE. “There are so many women in executive and leadership positions, working on a project that is going to shape the future not only of Dubai and the UAE, but also the region,” she says. “A female role model does not have to be an executive or a celebrity, or someone well-known. We are all surrounded by an amazing community of women who we learn from and look up to; women who want to make a difference. We also tend to forget that women are not merely their positions. Women are mothers, sisters, caregivers, employees, executives, leaders and much more beyond that. They carry various roles across different aspects of life, and that, I think, is what truly inspires me.”
A female role model does not have to be an executive or a celebrity, or someone well-known. We are all surrounded by an amazing community of women who we learn from and look up to; women who want to make a difference.
According to Al Gargawi, each of the 192 countries that have confirmed their participation at Expo 2020 will highlight its priorities under the theme of Connecting Minds, Creating the Future and within its three sub-themes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability. “For the first time in a world expo countries have not been grouped geographically,” she says. “In previous expos you might have seen an African cluster or a Latin American cluster, but not in Expo 2020 Dubai. The theme of this Expo is Connecting Minds and countries have been allocated spaces based on their interests and on the three broad themes of opportunity, mobility and sustainability.”
We are a platform for cross pollination and international cooperation, says Al Gargawi. “So we believe that countries should be driven by their interest rather than their geography or economy,” she explains. “In Expo 2020 Dubai you will find an African country next to a Latin American one or an Asian country next to a Scandinavian one. What brings them together is their common interest. For example, a country in Africa might be facing challenges in electricity, while another country in a developed world might be well advanced in alternative sources of energy. So their common interest could be sustainability.”
Al Gargawi says it’s interesting to see how countries have interpreted the sub-themes. “For one country opportunity could mean tapping into new markets, while for another it could mean empowering women and girls,” she says. “Expo 2020 Dubai upholds the concept of One Nation One Pavilion, where each of the countries participating have chosen their sub-themes, and they have told us where they want to sit.”
She says countries have expressed interest in using the Expo 2020 platform to tackle global matters that range from climate change, to urban development, water and energy solutions, and women’s empowerment. “This truly is an Expo for the world, not just an Expo for Dubai or the UAE.”
Technology for empowerment
The woman in charge of enabling Expo 2020 Dubai to operate and run seamlessly is the Deputy Chief Technology Officer Iman Alomrani. She says, “To empower visitors to make the best of their time at Expo 2020 Dubai, we have used technology in all its forms to create a memorable and impactful visitor experience. This not only covers what we call the brilliant basics of visitor needs such as navigating the site, it also includes a ‘wow’ factor giving our visitors a feel of the future at their fingertips. Technology is our biggest ally to empower every visitor to connect, learn more, break down barriers, and to bring the world together both physically and digitally.”
To empower visitors to make the best of their time at Expo 2020 Dubai, we have used technology in all its forms to create a memorable and impactful visitor experience.
As a decision maker in her field, what is her message to the future generations? “Be the artist and create your masterpiece. Learn the technology, understand it, and then use it smartly to better our world. Innovate by filling the voids.”
Alomrani says she is now waiting for the launch of the Expo 2020 Dubai mobile app. “Through the app, there will be a portal to another world, and we can’t wait for everyone to experience it. Technology has allowed us today to design and create immersive experiences through different forms of mixed realities. Such experiences introduce new ways of connecting with one another and of how we perceive the world around us.”
Giving back to the nation
For the young Fatma Ibrahim, Assistant Manager of Expo Live, it has been a dream to give back to the nation. Being surrounded by so many inspirational women leaders is an added blessing for her, she says. “It keeps you going, reminding you of how important your role is and how valuable your contribution is.”
Asked what motivates her to work harder every day, Ibrahim says, “It’s the smile I see on the faces of our leaders when they visit the site and witness the progress. This country has given us a lot, and contributing to its beautiful journey is a humble opportunity. I can’t think of anything more meaningful.”
We believe that this platform will unlock solutions to our world’s most pressing challenges and help create a better future. Today, and to us, this is more than a promise, it has become our mission.
Ibrahim graduated with a Bachelor in Law in 2016 and a couple of months later joined the Expo team. As her first job, the Expo 2020 is undoubtedly presents a unique opportunity. “Expo Live is a promise we made during the bid phase for Expo 2020 Dubai,” she explains. “We believe that this platform will unlock solutions to our world’s most pressing challenges and help create a better future. Today, and to us, this is more than a promise, it has become our mission. I have been raised in the UAE and it has given me access to the best education systems, healthcare and much more. Being raised in a country that believes in the power of giving back, it was only natural for me to be interested in the field.”
For her this job is nothing short of a dream come true. “I still remember the day I was reading about what Expo Live aimed to achieve, and now I can see how far we’ve come. Visiting the field, talking to the beneficiaries and seeing the impact of our work on the ground is extremely fulfilling. Yes, challenges do exist, especially in a time-limited project, but the rewards are far more powerful.”
In a recent interview to Becky Anderson of CNN, Al Hashemi briefly looked back at the evening of November 27, 2013 when the UAE won the Expo bid. While doing so, she spoke of having her three-month-old baby with her when the news came in. As a young mother, as a leader, as someone who is entrusted with the care of the 32,000 workers on site, and the responsibility of ensuring 25 million visits, her next challenge is to ensure that when visitors come in on October 20, they walk away with an “opportunity of a lifetime”. But Al Hashemi is in no hurry. She knows it will all happen. In good time.