Sheikh Dr Majid Al Qassimi, Director of Animal Health & Development in the Ministry of Climate Change and Environment of the UAE on his mission to generate a sustainable revolution.
What do the first 30 minutes of your day look like, your morning routine?
I have started skipping for the first 30 minutes of the day, as a quick and easy, gym anywhere kind of routine. But once that’s done, I usually spend an hour reading to learn, with some deep focus time and a good coffee. Once that’s done, the day can start.
How do you personally approach sustainability in daily life and how can we all drive towards a brighter future in this arena?
My approach to sustainability in daily life is about finding how I can tweak and adapt my day-to-day activities to become more sustainable. We started off by getting rid of bottled water, even the large ones. We did away with plastic bags from shops, and each car now has shopping totes. Food Waste is a major aspect most people could tackle if they put some thinking into their household. I bought a Tesla and trying to look at solar systems to take my vehicle off the grid. It’s small steps and adding up all those small steps rather than simply just banning plastic straws.
Which are the worst contributors to our environment and what are the small steps we can make to combat these?
Food waste is a major contributor, as the whole supply chain is majorly inefficient, only for us to throw up to 50 per cent of our food away globally, which ends up gassing off in landfills. So, everything around managing the household food, and then looking at how we minimize packaging and even diverting food from landfills into other some other value at home is essential. Plastics in packaging and the many materials we go through in the consumption every day are major landfill contributors too. The amount of carbon our cars, air conditions and other machines push into the air can all be reduced with a bit of simple energy management and conservation. We even redid our landscaping to reduce our water use and still enjoy a green garden.
You have worked on projects ranging across policy and regulation for agriculture, animal production, food safety, as well as conservation and sustainability. Which do you lean toward most and why?
I trained as a veterinarian and started my career in the Zoo and conservation field, which later grew into a larger conservation and sustainability scope. In the last 5 years, I moved to the federal government by working directly with the food and agriculture space. The trick is, it is all connected, and so I am always engaged in one side or another. I guess if I had to put my finger on one thing, it would be food security. I have been thinking about food security and sustainably since I was at university between 2000 to 2010. I wrote the primer for the food security strategy that the UAE has today and my consultancy SOMA MATER today focuses on food security and sustainability.
Have you seen a change in recent years to sustainability and the approach to it?
Absolutely, since the Paris agreement, the world has slowly made its transition, just not fast enough. We now have it as part of our corporate language, and it is in every government communication. We need to see the UN Sustainable Development Goals not just represent lofty government ideals, but real economic pillars. To have these SDGs as part of founding legal documents for SMEs and corporations not just as a corporate social responsibility. We have to avoid talking about sustainability as part of our culture, but rather make sustainability THE culture. It is coming and we are here to help facilitate that. Consumers are more conscious, as businesses understand the financial and stakeholder value. Now is the time for action.
Have you had any mentors to guide you to date and what was the best guidance you’ve received?
I have had many mentors and still do today. I know I respond well to it and so seek guidance from many of them. There are so many, but one theme that keeps coming up is to understand what my value is. I think the best advice I got, was very early on when my mum mentored me out of University. She had me do a SWOT analysis on myself, to understand how to play to my strengths and outsource my weakness. Still true today 20 years later. So, I now have someone to manage my time, making it out to be the best decision ever. The other advice was, to raise my price until I started getting more no’s than yesses. That’s how you learn your value in the market.
You have both Emirati and German heritage- how has positively impacted how your ability to make an impact in your chosen field?
This gives me multiple advantages. Firstly, I can see things from different perspectives. I can always appreciate things from a different vantage. Secondly, I have a different culture that I can tap into, I can be very German, and very Emirati in different situations. Thirdly, I have understood and spoken another language, and it is totally underestimated how much being able to speak a second or third language actually does to break down barriers.
What advice would you give to your younger self starting out?
Learn to build a team and apologize afterwards rather than ask for permission. Find a leader who inspires you to work to your strengths.
What are the hurdles that you’ve experienced in your career and how have you overcome them?
I will always rise to a challenge, but at times I could burn myself out, trying to carry everything. As a leader, you need to be able to delegate and not be afraid to task things out. I moved into leadership quickly and learned slowly how to build a team.
What are the key milestones you’ve achieved?
I helped establish ecotourism for Abu Dhabi, initiated the program that led to the reintroduction of the Scimitar-horned oryx from Abu Dhabi to Chad, lead the development of a Food Security strategy that was the Primer for the Current UAE food Security Strategy, along with being the youngest and only serving UAE delegate to the World Organization for Animal Health that has taken a seat at the Council on the executive board of the organization.
What are your hopes for the future of sustainable food culture in the UAE?
The UAE represents a beacon and example for the rest of the arid lands on the Globe. What we are doing today and continue to pioneer globally, will become the blueprint to how all arid land sustainable food systems are developed.
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