DUBAI: They can hardly wait. As the calendar brings Expo 2020 Dubai closer with each passing day, the excitement is growing not just for people who are waiting to visit the mega global event but also for those who have been working to put together the greatest show in the world.
Gulf News speaks to some of them to know what it means to live, breathe and ideate the Expo 2020 values and be a part of bringing an unforgettable experience to global audiences.
Lady Kristine M Reyes, 32, Filipina
Executive Assistant Operations Front of House Expo 2020
When Dubai won the Expo 2020 bid in 2013, it became her dream to be a part of it.
“Being part of this magnificent celebration is something you will never forget and will forever cherish,” says Reyes. A Bachelor of Arts in Political Sciences from Mindanao State University, her role in Expo 2020, she says, inspires her to be the best version of herself every day, and that has brought along its own rewards.
“I have received an appreciation award twice in one year for living the Expo values and going beyond what is expected of me,” she says. “Being given the opportunity to be involved in other projects, Expo 2020 has provided me with the means to grow. From a coordinator role, I was promoted to an Executive Assistant role under the Operations Officer running six function areas within a year.”
It also helps that Expo enables an environment where the diversity of cultures is the norm. It has helped her enhance her beliefs and behaviour, she says.
“I used to believe that language is the main barrier of effective communication but [not so], it’s ignorance,” says Reyes.
The Expo 2020 values — Cooperation, Humility, Respect, Integrity and Excellence — are what she and her colleagues live by. “These have become my working principles since I joined Expo,” says Reyes.
On Expo’s commitment to inspiring individuals be change-makers, Reyes says: “I read an article in Forbes about the ideals of a change-maker: a) Set your goal. What are you going to do in order to reach it? b) Embrace failure: This is what makes us better individuals who strive harder to create a better world. c) Take it one step at a time. d) Have integrity and humility.”
With one year to go, “I look forward to proudly showcasing Expo 2020 [as] the World’s Greatest Show,” says Reyes. “I am excited to create fond memories too to share with my peers and future grandchildren.”
Layla Khalid, 36, Emirati
Assistant Manager - Emiratisation
She loves culture, history and travel and working with Expo 2020 is like “having it all together in one place. [Listening] to our colleagues’ stories and experiences has heightened my respect and empathy for humanity,” says Khalid.
It was in April 2017 that she decided to join the Expo team. She had been working for Air Arabia for 12 years and wanted a change of pace.
“I landed a role in [Expo 2020] in August 2017. I received a call in July 2017 and was hired in a month,” she says.
A graduate from the Higher Colleges of Technology with a Higher Diploma in Information Administration, Khalid’s learning curve at Expo has taught her the virtue of adapting to high-paced changes, being patient while keeping up to speed and the value of commitment and time-focus.
What makes Expo 2020 Dubai different from all its predecessors, she says, is how it empowers the young.
“Children in school today are our future innovators and leaders,” says Khalid. She believes in promoting the Expo’s commitment to nurturing change-makers by passing on the message, helping those in need and always being creative. “I feel proud to give back to our country and follow through on our phenomenal promise to our leadership,” she says.
The diversity of nationalities working at Expo excites her and as does “seeing their collective ideas come to life as we aim for a singular goal: to deliver an exceptional Expo.”
With one year to go, she is most looking forward to “the testing phase when the site is delivered and the content that we’ll see in the pavilions.”
Shaikh Faizan, Millennial, Pakistani
Coordinator – Programming
“Would you pass on the opportunity to be part of something incredible that people will talk about for years to come? Don’t think so,” says Faizan. A Bachelor of Business Administration, from Karachi, Pakistan, Faizan moved to Dubai in 2014.
“Coming from a creative background, I have always been eager to contribute towards something extraordinary. After job-hopping a little and not really finding a passion, I arrived at Expo with big expectations for the role,” he says.
“And I have not been let down.”
He joined Expo in August last year. “It’s a historic moment, and the pride each and every one of us working here feels on a daily basis is amazing. I love the vibe.”
His fridge door can attest to it.
“[It] is packed with traditional magnets from almost every part of the world thanks to my multicultural colleagues. Frankly, Expo has taught me tolerance, humility, respect and that I will never be alone anywhere in the world.”
As Coordinator - Programming, Faizan’s role lets him be privy to the richness of Expo’s offerings to the world. “Do you know who is headlining Expo 2020’s ‘One Year to Go’ celebrations on October 20, 2019? Do you know the upcoming exciting innovations? Do you know all 192 countries participating? Do you get to see history rise from the desert every day? Well I do,” he says. “And there is a lot more, trust me... Just coming to work every day is exciting.”
He also enjoys the learning his role brings. “Expo 2020 has opened its doors to each and every nation regardless of the political, religious and cultural differences. It sets a beautiful example, teaching me how to spread unity and make peace. With sustainability being one of our core values, I am fully aware of the impact every decision has on our planet. I don’t use plastic bottles or straws anymore.”
With one year to go... “Oh my goodness…the doors, when they finally open.
“This is surely a story I will tell for the rest of my life.”
Hugh Ragg, 32, Australian
Human Resources, Workforce and Volunteers team.
Ten years ago, bitten by the bug of wanting to know as much as possible about the world, Ragg left Australia’s Gold Coast and arrived in Dubai on a job offer. “I moved here with only a backpack.”
He met his future wife here and now they have two children, Hudson and Henley. On November 27, 2013, having booked a table for a meal with his wife-to-be overlooking the Burj Khalifa, Ragg saw the fireworks lighting up the iconic landmark to celebrate Dubai’s winning bid for Expo 2020.
“I’m pretty sure that was the day I decided I wanted to be involved in Expo 2020 in some way,” he says.
With a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science and Business in 2007 from Bond University, Ragg has been working with Expo 2020 since July 2015.
“My first role in Learning and Development was to redesign our induction programme, which I’m happy to report holds a 90-plus per cent satisfaction and value rating among our new joiners.
"I’ve now been given the responsibility to ensure our participant and contractor workforce is trained to deliver an exceptional service to all of our visitors throughout Expo 2020.
"I believe this is a key initiative, not only to ensure we exceed our visitors’ expectations, but also to integrate the workforce during the event to a level that they feel an unbreakable connection to the organisation.
"I am also the Project Manager for the Expo Generation Programme, which will develop and deploy 350-plus UAE graduates into operational roles during Expo 2020. This programme focuses on developing the future leaders of the UAE and I’m so proud to be a part of something that will have such a huge social legacy for the nation’s youth.
"Finally, I was offered the privilege of hosting our Expo 2020 Quarterly Majlis. Nothing gets your heart racing like standing up on stage in front of more than 1,000 of your colleagues; our CEO and Director General among them,” he says.
The three things he has learned at Expo 2020 Dubai? “I have learnt so much more than three things at Expo, but if I had to choose I would say: 1) If you’re passionate about what you do, it won’t feel like work 2) Everything comes back to the process, so don’t blame people — change the process 3) Don’t lose sight of the overall mission.”
Mingling with diverse nationalities has given him a lot of confidence, says Ragg.
“We as humans have far more commonalities than differences. I have a deepened respect for words like legacy, humility, integration and integrity. I owe that to my colleagues, who are consistent role models for these behaviours, and I hope I can do the same.”
With one year to go, he is “enjoying the journey. Our mantra this year has been ‘2020 is now’. I think this was to centre everyone’s attention on having a delivery-focused mind set, but it also helps us put in perspective the short amount of time that all we have to enjoy working together on such a unique opportunity.”
Virginia Wesley, 50, Canadian
Senior Manager – Uniforms
After her last project in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, in 2017, she was looking for upcoming global events and “Expo 2020 Dubai topped the list,” says Wesley. “I knew I had to be part of it and truly believed it would be transformational for the UAE.” She joined Expo 2020 in April last year.
Having studied fashion design at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, Virginia transitioned into the events industry. “Expo 2020 Dubai is the fifth international mega-event I have been involved with,” she says.
She is of the firm belief that Expo 2020 will be revolutionary.
“Not only for the UAE, but also for World Expos. Expo 2020 is positioned to change lives across the world. I believe in some ways, it already has. Just take a look at the 120 Global Innovators who are part of Expo Live, Expo 2020’s $100 million global innovation and partnership programme helping to improve people’s lives, preserve the planet or both — and touching on each of Expo 2020’s three subthemes of Opportunity, Mobility and Sustainability.”
Expo 2020 has taught her to value the moment, more than ever before, she says.
“And to look up every once in a while — to appreciate the team and the incredible experience we are so fortunate to be part of,” she says.
Working with diverse cultures has made her realise how small and how large our world is.
“Those who know me know that I’m not shy with the use of words. I believe working at Expo, with such a rich and diverse multicultural group of people, has refined my approach to communication, based on the range of languages that everyone speaks. I try to listen more so that I am able to understand the intent of the message. I clarify details more and, while I’m not always successful, I do my best to choose words more carefully so others are clear on my intent as well.”
On Expo’s commitment to inspiring individuals to be change-makers, she says, “I think that the most important part of being a change-maker is continuing to remain open — to people, to opportunities and to experiences. These are the key things that allow growth personally and professionally — and I hope that never stops. I would like to take forward how to manage gracefully under pressure. It’s a lesson I’m still learning and I hope to continue to work towards as Expo 2020 approaches. I aspire to keep this one with me always.”
With one year to go, she is most looking forward to: “The Canada Pavilion, of course! I really look forward to sharing the pride and amazement of the Canada experience with my friends and colleagues, and I also look forward to them sharing the pavilions of their home countries with me. I’m especially looking forward to the UAE Pavilion and celebrating the incredible journey.”
Shobha Srinath, 36, Indian
Senior Manager – Marketing
The sense of responsibility that Expo 2020 has instilled in her has made her determined to pass on the lessons to her daughter.
“Change begins at home,” says Srinath. “The next generation are the light bearers of the future. Moulding them in the right way is how I am going to be the change maker of the future.”
A Master’s in Comparative Literature from Kolkata, India, Srinath moved to Dubai after working with Accenture in India when she heard about Expo 2020. “I knew I had to be a part of something that was so large-scale,” she says.
Her role has brought immense learning rewards.
“The most exciting part is the number of countries that I need to build Expo’s presence and awareness in. My role marketing in different countries has helped me learn so much about people’s behaviour, interests and travel preferences. The most exciting part is that Expo’s marketing has to touch all these in the right way, to inspire them to travel to the Expo.”
The different cultural experiences that people bring, she says, has made her more empathetic and patient, and a better listener.
Working for Expo 2020 has also provided her valuable insights into macro urgencies and micro imperatives: “Water scarcity is a reality that we all need to accept, the sooner the better. Every drop matters. The inventions of the Expo Live grantees are very inspirational. It helped me learn the magnitude of the problem.
“Health, both physical and mental, is extremely important. Expo has taught me the importance of maintaining calm and dealing with both favourable and unfavourable situation with the same ease.”
With one year to go, “I am [looking forward] to what each of the 192 Country Pavilions is bringing.”