Still from video showing discussions during the interaction of NEP 3.0 in Masfout, Ajman Image Credit: Screengrab

Abu Dhabi: A group of National Experts Programme (NEP) participants have explored solutions to challenges faced by the local community in Masfout, Ajman.

Developed under the direction of President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, NEP is a launchpad for UAE-based specialists who are poised to play a transformative role in key sectors aligned with UAE’s national priorities.

As part of the third edition of the eight-month programme, 15 NEP specialists participated in a three-day immersive experience in Masfout. The government aims to boost the emirate of Ajman’s economy and the growth of the small regional destination, which has abundant land and is prominent for outdoor activities, in alignment with Ajman Vision 2030.

‘Design thinking’

The experience focused on applying ‘design thinking’, a strategic, hands-on approach to solving problems – with guidance from experts in the methodology.

The immersive experience is a fundamental part of NEP as it embodies Sheikh Mohamed’s values of placing people at the forefront of driving change and of working with UAE communities to contribute to the nation’s growth.

During the second edition of the programme, ‘NEP 2.0’ participants had visited the Delma Island community in the western region of Abu Dhabi. Their key learnings were applied to the third edition’s experience in Masfout to help deliver positive results.

Throughout the three-day experience, participants engaged with residents to gain a deep understanding of their needs and values, identify opportunity areas and explore ways to establish a sustainable cultural economy in Masfout.

Cultural centre

Hamad Al Shehhi, investment manager at ADQ and NEP 3.0 participant representing the Food and Water Security sector, said: “By listening to people’s opinions, we found that there was no central location to enhance community bonding activities and drive residents’ creativity. One potential solution that would improve community cohesion is to establish a wellness and cultural centre where residents can not only develop their local business to sell homemade products, but also be exposed to healthy lifestyle venues to exercise and experience.”

He added: “The centre can be a hub for residents and subject matter experts to exchange know-how and expertise for businesses and well-being while addressing community matters and concerns. Having a centre of excellence and creativity will be the initial step toward the community’s growth and prosperity.”

Irrigation upgrades

The immersive experience also provided an opportunity for Al Shehhi to observe some of the practices followed for water irrigation and treatment and think of possible improvements.

“When exploring Masfout, I observed that some of the irrigation systems in use by the local community don’t necessarily comply with current best practices. It’s an area that needs improvement and would benefit from technological innovation. The area also lacks a water treatment facility, which can be established to drive sustainable initiatives,” Al Shehhi said.

Upscaling business

Dr Abdulla Al Shimmari, NEP 3.0’s Technology and Innovation sector participant and CEO of, said: “It was great to connect with the local community and understand what support they need to improve their everyday lives. Masfout has great potential for growth, and I believe there’s an opportunity for technology to boost sales of the food items that are being produced there, as well as other products such as handcrafted merchandise and crops.”

He added: “A model where farmers or small businesses can work with big organisations would benefit Masfout and the local community. Technology can also help upskill local talent and give them the skillsets needed to thrive. As NEP participants, we are being given a fantastic opportunity to shape a better tomorrow. It has been an amazing journey so far and I am determined to play my part in positively impacting the UAE and its people going forward.”

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A key part of the immersive experience was an insightful two-part presentation from Dr Corey Phelps, the Dean and Fred E. Brown Chair of Business at the Michael F. Price College of Business at the University of Oklahoma and McGill University.

In his virtual sessions, he explained the importance of adopting the design thinking process and why it will be crucial in the participants’ personal development.

“Design thinking is a crucial toolkit that is going to be extremely valuable for the NEP participants going forward. As future leaders, they will need to use design thinking when it comes to problem solving and having the right mindset. Sometimes they may need to think outside the box or understand how to solve from a different perspective, so this tool will be really useful for their careers and one they can pass on to other people,” Dr Phelps said.