UAE: Emirati’s inspiring journey from a shy boy to volunteer leader

The 32-year-old Hasan Al Ali is the project lead of the Emirates Foundation’s Takatof programme


Ashwani Kumar

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Photos: Supplied
Photos: Supplied

Published: Thu 17 Aug 2023, 1:15 PM

Last updated: Thu 17 Aug 2023, 9:01 PM

As a shy teenager, Hasan Al Ali was sitting alone in his room when his sister dropped in, urging him to join her in a volunteering initiative. A hesitant but curious Ali obliged. Making a life-changing decision, he took his first step towards volunteering, and there has been no stopping since then.

Today, 32-year-old Ali is the project lead of the Emirates Foundation’s Takatof programme. In his role, he develops projects, which promote the culture of volunteering as a way of life.

“As a child, I was shy to talk to anyone. I would mostly remain confined to myself. Even if someone talks to me, I wouldn’t like to engage in a conversation,” Ali told Khaleej Times in an exclusive interview.

He lights up while recollecting the day when his sister took him to a volunteering initiative.

“My sister was already volunteering. One day, she asked me to join her in a volunteering opportunity. I was 16 or 17 years old then. I wasn’t aware of the importance of volunteering. But my sister gave me the confidence to participate. And I went. The event was a triathlon challenge. I was a marshal for that event and was placed in a different spot than my sister.”

Suddenly, Ali, then an introvert, found himself in a situation where he had to constantly communicate and coordinate with unknown people and be responsible and accountable for his actions.

“Till that day, I thought of myself as a person without any skills. But volunteering at that event helped me explore my innate abilities. I started learning new things, building new relationships and making new friends. And this is what has made me a volunteer for life.”

By the time Ali was in college, he didn’t let go of any opportunities to be a volunteer.

“My mother used to say that volunteering was my second home. She always used to wonder why I was so engaged in volunteering. What she didn’t realise is how being a volunteer improved my skills.”

Benefits of volunteering include developing interpersonal communication, leadership qualities, problem-solving abilities, time management, relationship building, teamwork, organisation and planning, among others.

“This is my life now. I love it. I don’t mind maybe working 18 hours a day. If you’re doing something that you love, then you will not care about anything else. Maybe all the volunteers they know that.”

Today his phone rings non-stop with calls from volunteers, and there is a flurry of messages asking for opportunities to serve the community.

“They keep reminding me not to forget them for any upcoming opportunities. But I tell them to keep checking the official website for new initiatives.”

600,000 volunteers and counting

Ali noted that volunteering means working for a noble cause and serving society.

“People need to understand the significance of volunteering. We have learned this from our fathers, grandfathers, and Sheikh Zayed. He used to water the trees, even while he was the President. This is what volunteering is all about,” he said while referring to the inspiring acts of UAE’s Founding Father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

In 2005, President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, launched the Emirates Foundation to empower and guide youth to become future leaders. Two years later, the Takatof programme was established to offer citizens and expats opportunities to volunteer for social causes. The programme features diverse activities like a beach cleanup, blood donation drive, organ donation awareness campaign, distributing clothes for needy people, hosting entertainment events for orphans, and making wishes come true for critically ill children among others.

“We are a volunteering programme with regular community projects. Our database is huge. It’s around 600,000 volunteers from all over the UAE.”

Volunteers are from diverse backgrounds and specialisations, and range from teenagers to those in their 70s. “Recently I found a 72-year-old volunteering for an event.”

How can I volunteer?

Anyone can become a volunteer by registering through the official website There are dozens of initiatives to choose from. At times, specialised volunteers are called up to participate in certain initiatives requiring expert hands like divers are invited for beach cleanup, and healthcare staff for medical checkups. The enthusiasm and zeal among the volunteers for community service are such that some of them travel from the northern emirates for an initiative held in Abu Dhabi.

“They don’t mind travelling. They just want to be part of volunteering. We also have volunteers coming from abroad. We welcome all those who wish to volunteer. Come and register on our platform,” Ali added.


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