As the UAE continues to navigate a new era of diversification and Emiratisation, Maytha Al Habsi, CEO of Emirates Foundation, discusses how the organisation is helping young people become leaders of the future.
THE WORD ‘CHANGE’ has become synonymous with the UAE since the union was formed more than 46 years ago.
The country’s rapid growth and development has seen the seven emirates change beyond all recognition since the 1970s, and that change is still evident around us today as we enter into a new era for its governments, residents and businesses.
Among the most important changes at the present time are those based upon diversification and Emiratisation. Finding new ways to drive economic growth, and encouraging more Emiratis into the private sector are two key strategies for the long-term success of the UAE, requiring new ways of thinking and placing a huge reliance on the country’s youth population.
One group looking to prepare young people for this future is Emirates Foundation – an independent philanthropic organisation set up by the Government of Abu Dhabi to facilitate public-private funded initiatives to boost youth development and welfare across the UAE.
Part of its mission is to help young people bring positive change and a sustainable future to the country through a variety of means including volunteering, education and developing enterprise.
In December last year, the foundation appointed a new CEO, Maytha Al Habsi, who follows in the successful footsteps of previous incumbent Clare Woodcraft.
Having been with the organisation since its launch in 2005, Al Habsi has been party to the many changes throughout the UAE, and understands the challenges facing young people.
“Today more than ever, as we enter this new era of diversification and Emiratisation, young people need a lot of support to make sure they have, for example, analytical competencies,” she says.
“They need to be able to think systematically and long-term, challenge the norms, find good solutions and be good leaders who can lead in a crisis and manage the difficult times along with the good ones.
“These are skills that young people need at a personal as well as professional level, yet they are not necessarily things that are taught directly in the formal education.
"Education is changing globally and in the region, but it is not a quick process and the results don’t show overnight. However, a lot more can be done to make sure we equip young people with the skills they need to navigate the complexities of the 21st century.
“We consider ourselves lucky having leadership that strives to place UAE education at the global forefront. Our chairman, HE Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, told the World Government Summit last month that the UAE will revamp the education system to produce bright young graduates that are ready for the age of artificial intelligence and the next industrial revolution.
“There is still a huge amount of work that needs to be done to help young people have the self-confidence, self-mastery, support networks, peers and mentors that they can use to help them thrive professionally and personally and that is exactly the kind of skill sets that we are trying to offer to young people through our programmes.”
With 13 years of helping young people in this way, Al Habsi says that the foundation has engaged directly with more than 120,000 young people in the UAE – always keeping youth development at its core in a bid to address social and economic challenges faced by young people.
“We apply a ‘market-based’ approach to youth development,” she explains.
“Our six key programmes operate as social enterprises, deploying business principles for the creation of social value. Rather than surmising the needs of youth, we listen to them. We undertake market research and respond to the targeted needs and challenges of youth between the ages of 15 and 35. Based on this we develop solutions to real problems with a focused operational portfolio.”
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