‘It will be life-changing’ - volunteering at the Dubai Expo 2020

Vision talks to Najeeb Mohammed Al Ali, Executive Director of the Bureau Expo Dubai 2020, about the important role volunteers will play in making the forthcoming mega-event a sucess

Vision: How many volunteers are there going to be at Expo 2020 Dubai?

Najeeb Mohammed Al Ali: The six month mega event will require 30,000 volunteers. Their contribution will be essential for the successful delivery of the entire event as well as everything that comes before and after it. We will be recruiting Emirati nationals and expatriates from all ages, and backgrounds. They will be the face of a truly global Expo.

Q: What sectors are they going to be working in and what are the types of things they’ll be doing?

A: The jobs of the volunteers will be cross-functional and they will be involved in every stage of the Expo. This could entail working with the international participants and delegations coming from different countries, assisting visitors or helping to prepare for the Opening Ceremony. As part of our workforce planning we are developing a detailed idea of what our volunteers will do. We do know that our volunteers will embody our theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’. They will help to connect people in a festival of ingenuity, by providing a human face for Expo 2020.

Q: Are there any previous mega-events that you’ve looked at and taken inspiration from in the way they use their volunteers?

A: All major events are different. You cannot compare a sporting event like the Olympics with a World Expo because there are so many things to consider, from backgrounds to cultural contexts and so on. We have looked closely at a range of global events to learn the lessons and ensure we show Dubai at its best when we host Expo 2020. Our programme for volunteers will be one of a kind – no other volunteer programme of this size has ever occurred in the region.

Q: Are you looking for any specific characteristics in your volunteers?

A: Yes. Our Expo is going to be unique because the UAE itself is unique. It is home to many cultures and languages and we want to ensure our volunteers represent this variety of cultures. Our volunteers will reflect the identity of the UAE. We want volunteers who know the UAE and feel the vibe of the country, the city and the Expo.

Q: What do you hope that they gain from the experience?

A: Expo 2020 will offer something unique to volunteers. They will obviously gain training through the programme, but more interestingly, they will gain a lot of experience through interacting with people – working alongside the professionals in the Expo team in an environment that combines so many cultures and activities from all over the world, in one emirate, one country and one Expo. It is a tremendous opportunity that they will learn a lot from. It really is a once in a lifetime chance.

Q: What about after the event, do you hope that it will inspire a culture of volunteering in the region?

A: The UAE already has a strong culture of volunteering. We are hoping the Expo will build upon this. It is going to be one of a kind event, and we hope that even after the doors close, volunteers will carry their experiences forward and be encouraged individually to do more in the future.

Q: What are the kinds of common mistakes you think other events have made and how are you going to avoid them?

A: We think it’s really important we analyse what things do and don’t work, and implement the approach that suits us and delivers the outcomes we require. Our volunteer programmes are going to provide a high level of support to the volunteers to ensure they get relevant and worthwhile work experience, and above all else, have fun.

Q: What is the importance behind recruiting young volunteers from the UAE?

A: We have a significant number of young people in the UAE. Ultimately they personally represent the future, both nationals and expats. Volunteering will give them the confidence to meet new people, the opportunity to interact with renowned professionals and be exposed to new insights and offerings. That is what the Expo is about, after all: Connecting Minds, Creating the Future. It will be life-changing not only for us, but also for the young people who have so many years ahead of them.