x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Sheikh Zayed established a nation ready to help when needed

On the ninth death anniversary of Sheikh Zayed, we can all thank him by coming together as a country, standing strong, always being there to help people regardless of who they are.

I was an undergraduate student in the United Kingdom when our founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, passed away. I remember seeing my house mates glued to the TV in a state of disbelief trying to fathom what had just happened.

For something as natural as death, there seemed to be something strangely unnatural about Sheikh Zayed passing away. Our grandfathers and fathers had lived by his side. As children, we had grown up under his guidance. From day one, as citizens and residents of the UAE, his wisdom and leadership was all we had known.

On the nine-year anniversary of his passing, I find myself in a similar state, currently a student in the United States. On this day, I take the opportunity to reflect on the leader who brought together a divided people and established the political, economic and social foundations of the UAE. There are some lessons that Sheikh Zayed has taught me that I will proudly pass on to my children.

The first lesson is to lead by example. I will never forget the scene of Sheikh Zayed in a palm-tree garden, rolling up his sleeves, digging out dirt with his bare hands and directing the water with an industrial gardening hose, sending a strong message that he was a leader who would not ask of you what he wouldn't ask of himself. Elders talk about how he would visit development sites like Mina Zayed almost daily to ensure work progressed as planned. He paid attention to every detail to examine how any development would make the lives of his people better; everything else was secondary.

It is the symbolism rather than the gesture behind him gardening alongside the workers that day that sticks to our hearts - how he nurtured, fed and took care of those seeds by giving them everything he had. And with every day he lived, he gave us everything he had.

The second lesson is to never stop improving. In Japan, there is a tradition called kaizen, which means change for the better and to continuously improve, that has been applied everywhere from businesses to public services and governance. For the UAE, Sheikh Zayed represented kaizen in a human form. He transferred vision, knowledge and support and constantly sought to do something better for his people. He believed that if he was to consistently improve the lives of his people, they would in return consistently improve the lives of coming generations.

In a New York Times interview, Sheikh Zayed was quoted as saying: "Our system of government is based upon our religion and that is what our people want. Should they seek alternatives, we are ready to listen to them." That is, again, a testament to his willingness to constantly listen and respond for the betterment of his country and his people.

Despite the fact that almost every form of support and service has been bestowed upon us, Sheikh Zayed still felt that more had to be done and that he hadn't accomplished everything he had set out to do - that is the definition of kaizen.

The third lesson is to make a difference. At Stanford university, we are reminded every day to dedicate our lives to help make this world a better place. I can't think of a better role model that embodies the very spirit of changing the world than Sheikh Zayed. He had a gift of looking past all the elements that make us different as citizens of the world and seeing us as who we really are. No matter your race, colour or religion, if you needed help, the UAE would be there.

From hospitals in the US, airports in Pakistan, cities in Egypt, lecture halls in London, to housing and infrastructure projects across the world, no country and no cause was beyond the reach of the UAE. These important philanthropic practices initiated by Sheikh Zayed have led the UAE to become the 16th largest foreign aid donor in the world.

By dedicating our lives to making this world a better place, we too become better people in the process. That is how we change the world, by changing ourselves.

Even though the tears are yet to dry from his passing, I hope this day will bring us together to celebrate everything he stood for. His sons, the leaders we support today, and the lives we have enjoyed are a result of one man's vision for a better tomorrow. And for that, we can all thank him by coming together as a country, standing strong, always being there to help people regardless of who they are.

To our late Father Zayed, we miss you and I hope we make you proud.


Khalid Al Ameri is an MBA candidate at the Stanford Graduate School of Business

On Twitter: @KhalidAlAmeri