PROPERLY DIRECTED

Abu Dhabi 2020 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Her Excellency Maytha Al Habsi, CEO of Emirates Foundation, on volunteering, environmental challenges, and private sector funding.

Can you tell us about the Emirates Foundation?

The Emirates Foundation was created by the Government of Abu Dhabi, but works across the whole UAE. We are focused on equipping Emirati youth for the future through several flagship programs designed on the basis of regular, rigorous research that we conduct around the country every three years. Our largest program concerns building a culture of volunteerism within the UAE and creating opportunities for youth to give back to their society in a structured manner. Volunteerism is a great way to develop skills, build your networks, get access to job opportunities and develop self-esteem and soft skills. Ours is now the biggest volunteering program within the UAE. Its centerpiece is Voluneeters.ae, an online government platform managed by Emirates Foundation that coordinates volunteering activities. Another major Emirates Foundation focus is entrepreneurship, particularly social entrepreneurship, which is a major priority of the government. We have developed training programs, prizes, and partnerships with various entities geared towards promoting entrepreneurship and incubating the projects of youth entrepreneurs. Our main priority, however, is equipping youth well in advance (between ages 15 and 17) with the skills they need to create their own enterprises one day. For the past eight years, Emirates Foundation has invested in a program called Think Science, which is now the region's biggest youth science and technology fair, almost equivalent in scale to ISEF in the United States. In 2019, we had 4,000 submissions from the UAE alone, and in 2020 we are planning to scale it up to become a truly global science competition. Several years ago, research showed us that more work has to be done in the area of promoting financial literacy among young people—not just in the UAE, but globally. Emirates Foundation decided to create a UAE-wide financial literacy program called 'Esref Sah,' which in Arabic means “spend right,” and this is precisely the message it promotes to young people. We provide mentors and workshops, conduct awareness campaigns, and work with the education authorities to integrate financial literacy into the moral curriculum of Emirati schools. We recently completed the most comprehensive youth survey that has ever been conducted in the UAE, called the National Youth Index. When it is published, the index will provide important insights to various entities across government and society on what the country's youth want and need, making initiatives for the youth more targeted and impactful.

What are the most important ways that young Emiratis can prepare for the job market of the future?

Emirates Foundation focuses on the workforce of tomorrow, the youth, and for that demographic we believe that adaptability—navigating the complexity of the future and reading the opportunities available around you—is the skill they will need the most. Soft skills, like adaptability, are always on the top of the list because they are not really the core focus of the formal educational system, so as a foundation we try to fill that gap. Other, related soft skills that we emphasize include interpersonal skills, boosting self-esteem, and leadership skills. Within the Emirates there are no hard and fast rules about career paths. With the right soft skills, you can become a leader in different sectors. We are constantly assessing the future skills needed in the Emirati market by reading publications, attending conferences, and consulting decision-makers and thought leaders. Our partners in the private sector are also very helpful. Our collaborations with private sector partners do a lot for the broader national effort of 'Emiratization' because employers sometimes have difficulty finding the right local candidates for their openings, and our huge database of youth across the UAE helps to bridge the gap.

How would you assess the current state of environmental awareness among the youth in the UAE?

Environmental awareness has certainly grown as a whole across the UAE, especially among our youth. Our Think Science competition for youth innovators involves government entities presenting an array of environmental and social issues to the participants. The students must propose solutions to these issues. I have been super impressed with the level of awareness and curiosity from our young people. They can articulate issues such as climate change and resource scarcity. Some were even able to link these challenges to the national strategies in place to address them. There is a willingness among younger people to be active participants in society and to be part of the solution to environmental challenges.

What are some of the ways in which the private sector is involved with Emirates Foundation's work?

Emirates Foundation projects are 100% funded by the private sector. In 2015 we created an endowment fund based on private sector contributions, which was then matched by the government as gesture of encouragement. In addition to funding, we also rely on the business community for technical and advisory support. Many private sector entities also have a passion for our entrepreneurship program 'KAF'AT' and supply funding for this. For example, we have a partnership with Google whereby they provide our digital marketing content. Shell has a program called Explorer that is focuses on building entrepreneurial skills and teaching young people how to tackle problems being faced in the real world. Facebook also has a program called She Means Business, which encourages female entrepreneurship through participation in digital spaces. Similarly, we have entered into another program with UPS which seek to help women bring their products to the export market.

What does the Emirates Foundation offer to companies looking to integrate better into the UAE market?

The Emirates foundation helps new businesses in the UAE to better understand how they can socially invest within UAE society by acting as an information source for them. Moreover, the foundation provides advice on where to invest and how investments can link to the national strategy. Our board consists of ministers and members of the Royal family. We are well connected and aim to ensure that investments are well measured, impactful, and properly directed. The Emirates Foundation has been successful in its partnerships because it provides organizations looking to undertake social development initiatives with a benchmarked system with a clear recognition of return on investment.