Dubai: The raging coronavirus pandemic has come as a rude shock for the entire world. In its aftermath, this crisis, apart from its obvious toll on global economy, has also inflicted a sociological and even psychological blow on humanity. While some of us have baulked under the ravages of a viral contagion, there are many others who have taken these challenging circumstances in their stride and tried to find some meaning out of these trying times. While many of us are fortunate enough to have been able to take recourse to the safer option of working from home, there are others whose professions necessitate a more people-oriented role. For them, maintaining a human interface is as much about their job profile as it is a matter of braving the hard times. These are the ‘unsung heroes’ from the tertiary sector who may not be meeting infected persons on a daily basis, unlike those bravehearts from the health-care sector who are in the frontline, but are nonetheless making a difference to humankind’s resolve and resilience by helping ensure maximum safety and convenience for the maximum numbers.
One such person is Dubai-based Emirati Abdulla Mohammad Al Mahri, a high-ranked official in the public ector, who has tried his best not to delve too much into the negatives of a pandemic and has instead tried to focus more on the ‘takeaways’ in terms of knowledge and a lived-experience from a pandemic that has brought practically the entire world to a standstill. In a candid and free-wheeling chat with Gulf News, Al Mahri shared his thoughts and offered some insightful observations on the current crisis. Following are excerpts:
GULF NEWS: As an individual, and not just as a professional, how do you look at the current situation, given the fact that you have a family and you also have responsibilities ...
ABDULLA MOHAMMAD AL MAHRI: To begin with, I personally look at this entire crisis in terms of a set of three management parameters: Health management, education management, and professional management. Now let me tell you that what we are seeing in Dubai currently is nothing new. If you go back in time and study the history of Dubai around 1958, you will notice the prevalence of a similar situation. So for us this is not a new challenge. But in terms of health, one needs to be prepared for a scenario such as this. For that, you need to educate the people, you need to educate your family and you need to educate your friends. You ought to do that through available resources such as technology, social media and so on. Now for that to happen effectively, one ought to gather all the relevant information from reliable sources such as the government, media and the World Health Organisation.
It is also important not to focus entirely on the negative aspects of this crisis. For more than two months now, we are constantly hearing about ‘corona’, ‘corona’ ‘corona’. It is time we stop concentrating only on the negativities and instead try and focus on something positive. We must never forget that there is an immense psychological impact of a crisis like this. We need to keep any psychological blow to a minimum.
The second important parameter is education. For that, we need to make sure that our children and their teachers and instructors are well-trained in handling distance learning and teaching, using the various tools and platforms for e-learning. This needs fair bit of planning and training as well. We need to familiarise our children with the tools of e-learning such as laptops and make them understand that technology and gadgets are not just meant for playing online games. These tools can be put to good use for learning and education. Moreover, parents need to keep a tab on their children’s progress with e-learning because under the changed circumstances, the school as a physical entity does not exist and all learning and teaching is taking place from home.
In terms of the professional aspect, as far as I’m concerned, I’m a government employee and I have certain responsibilities on a day-to-day basis. We have virtual meetings now that help save time and energy. We don’t need to travel all the way to office to discuss something work-related. We don’t need to use our cars either because the meeting can be held remotely, by taking the help of technology. In fact, this is one of the positives to have emerged from the current situation.
Professionally, how have you managed to tackle the challenges posed by this outbreak?
Right from Day 1, we ensured two things. Firstly, we had to get the technology aspect right, such as using the right tools for working remotely. We had to make sure that we had access to the right kind of technology and had to sort out the logistics part in just one week’s time.
About three months ago, when this viral infection started spreading, many people didn’t realise its ferocity. Many thought that this was just like a flu and will blow over with time. As the team leader, I had to convince my colleagues to stay at home and work from home, for their own safety as well as the safety of others.
The second one is the psychology aspect. Remote working is a new concept for most of us. In fact, initially, some of my own team members were not very comfortable with the idea of working from home or working remotely. Some people have an old mentality and their minds are not adaptive enough to changes. About three months ago, when this viral infection started spreading, many people didn’t realise its ferocity. Many thought that this was just like a flu and will blow over with time. As the team leader, I had to convince my colleagues to stay at home and work from home, for their own safety as well as the safety of others. I had to explain this to my team members that we ought to be prepared for all future challenges. So one ought to prepare the mindsets of others and show them how to go about this new workflow, step by step.
Who inspires you?
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has always been a tremendous source of inspiration for me, both in terms of his words and deeds. And the second person who has inspired me a lot and from whom I have learnt a lot is my father.
Hypothetically speaking, lets’ say within the next couple of months, all restrictions are lifted and we are allowed to live life just like the way we used to before the coronavirus outbreak. Do you think our lives will return to normal immediately?
I believe people in Dubai are special. Our case is very special. Dubai or the UAE is not like most other places on this planet. Here, we have more than 200 different nationalities living together. We have different sets of thoughts among people of these different nationalities. Some of these people have seen the current crisis as a challenge and are ready to face it, while some are not. Then we have the religious aspect as well to factor in. Having said that, I believe that once this pandemic is over, Dubai will be back to normal, and unlike most other places around the world, life in Dubai will return to normality at a much faster pace.