10 NYU Abu Dhabi initiatives in the Spirit of Zayed Humanitarian Day

Ten NYU Abu Dhabi Initiatives that uphold the lasting humanitarian legacy laid out by the UAE’s Founding Father.

Zayed Humanitarian Day, which marks the 19th of Ramadan each year, represents the values of giving, altruism, and good deeds left behind by the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. In his legacy of building the UAE, NYU Abu Dhabi (NYUAD) has embodied those pillars in our humanitarian work, research, volunteerism, and pursuit of global excellence. 

The NYUAD community contributes an average of 650 volunteer hours a year supporting children with disabilities in educational centers. More than 65 percent of students volunteer during their time at NYUAD. In addition to the investments students make in the UAE through volunteering and internships, NYUAD’s year-long mentorship program builds relationships with students and professionals in the UAE. 

From humanitarian initiatives to research in almost every field, NYUAD believes that a global education should look to overcome global challenges. In just ten years, our University has conducted research and launched initiatives all around the world that seek to help and inform those in need. Here’s a look at some of the initiatives that we are proud to say embody the spirit behind Zayed Humanitarian Day:

Engineers for Social Impact

NYUAD Hackathon for Social Good in the Arab WorldEngineers for Social Impact is a curricular program for all first-year engineering students that focuses on experiential learning and project co-creation in communities around the world. The program supports and complements the mission of the engineering division and the broad goals of NYUAD through courses that develop globally-relevant, locally-sustainable designs to meet engineering challenges and enable individuals across global communities to more effectively realize their aspirations and ambitions. 

Students travel to countries such as Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, and Jordan to help design and build infrastructure that improves quality of life for local populations. Students engage with the study of ethics in the classrooms and ethnographic fieldwork off-campus and are encouraged to examine projects broadly, through social, cultural, and economic vantage points.

NYUAD Hackathon for Social Good in the Arab World

Over the last ten years, the annual NYUAD International Hackathon has resulted in the creation of multiple innovations that are aimed at contributing to the region’s well-being. NYUAD remains committed to providing a thought-provoking platform that enhances innovation for the benefit of social good in the Arab World, as well as supporting the higher education sector in the UAE. The University’s focus on innovation, entrepreneurship, and advanced industries supports the UAE 2071 Centennial Plan to diversify and shift to a skills-based knowledge economy.

The most recent iteration of the event marked the inaugural edition of the Quantum Computing Hackathon, which  brought participants from all over the world to work in teams with quantum-based technology. Clinical Professor of Computer Science Sana Odeh, the organizer, founder, and chair for the annual NYUAD International Hackathon, said the decennial hackathon focuses on the “promise of using the technology of our lifetime.”

Special Olympics

NYUAD joined forces with the Special Olympics to serve as a partner for the 2019 Special Olympics World Games Abu Dhabi – the world’s largest sports and humanitarian event. The event saw over 150 NYUAD community members volunteering across campus and in community events to welcome 7,000 athletes from over 190 nations who came to Abu Dhabi to compete in the World Games in front of a crowd of over 50,000 spectators. Our work did not stop here, during the pandemic, NYUAD Athletics has launched Virtual Unified Partners, a virtual fitness support program, in cooperation with Special Olympics UAE. As part of the program, NYUAD student athletes will hold two sessions per week to train virtually with Special Olympics athletes. The initiative is designed to assist Special Olympics athletes without pre-existing support platforms to stay engaged in sports activities and continue being active while staying home.

As part of NYUAD’s commitment to support the development of a more inclusive society, our students participate in a variety of volunteer programs related to special needs. The community spends hundreds of hours a year engaging in several organizations and programs including Future Rehabilitation Center, Special Needs Adaptive Program (SNAP) basketball, and Special Needs Adaptive Program (SNAP) aquatics.

Strategic Philanthropy Initiative

NYUAD has launched the Strategic Philanthropy Initiative (SPI), the first academic and community-based platform that aims to shape a dynamic and strategic practice of philanthropy within the UAE as well as across the Gulf and wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. The SPI was established through a multi-year framework agreement between NYUAD and Emirati businessman and social entrepreneur Badr Jafar, who will support this initiative throughout its formative years.

The SPI, through three tracks of research, convening, and training will look to advance localized strategic philanthropy within and from the MENA region, at a time when historic wealth creation and transfer is expected to lead to a significant increase in philanthropic activity both within and from the region. This is expected to coincide with an era of enhanced collaboration between public, private and, social sector organizations in support of optimal social and environmental outcomes. Trends towards tech-enabled micro-philanthropy and online giving are also expected to accelerate transparent and impact-driven philanthropy practices.

Global TIES for Children

Global TIES for Children (Global TIES), a research center based at NYUAD and NYU in New York, works on bridging the gap between research, policy, and practice in education and human development. In collaboration with their partners, Global TIES aims to improve child and youth development by using science to inform and guide programs and policies which affect the education and development of children and youth in low and- middle-income countries and conflict affected areas.

During COVID-19, Global TIES partnered with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as well as governments to bring perspectives from research to the policy-making table. In the face of COVID-19, Hirokazu Yoshikawa, codirector of Global TIES, believes utilizing research and science in decision-making will help move the needle towards achieving SDG 4, ensuring equitable access to education for all children, especially those who need it most. “The already underlying issue of inequitable education in many countries has been exasperated during the pandemic,” Yoshikawa commented.

Nurdle Hunt

Organized as part of The Great Nurdle Hunt worldwide initiative, NYUAD gathers hundreds from the community to promote awareness of more environmentally conscious behaviors and foster greater environmental stewardship.

Volunteers collectively spend hundreds of hours collecting nurdles along Saadiyat Beach. They also attended community engagement events where they are encouraged to start their own nurdle hunts and reduce their plastic consumption, especially single-use plastics.

Ride for Zayed

Initiated to commemorate 100 years since the birth of the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the Founding Father of the UAE,  NYUAD continues to organize an annual community cycling event called Ride for Zayed

Over the years, the event has gathered hundreds of cyclists to promote healthy living, community engagement, and promote Sheikh Zayed’s emphasis on ensuring a healthy populace living in harmony. Even during the pandemic, the event did not stop with the University organizing the event virtually and through socially distant measures.

Healthy Future Study

Cardiovascular disease and diabetes are extremely common in the UAE and throughout the Arab World. While cohort studies have made tremendous contributions to scientific knowledge of the epidemiology and determinants of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer, none have been done in Arab populations. To study the causes of these diseases and other diseases common to Emirates, we have established a prospective cohort study, the UAE Healthy Future Study. It will be a resource for researchers throughout the UAE and the wider region with data accessible for all research which will be of benefit to the local population.

NYUAD is leading a collaborative initiative to study long-term health trends in the UAE. Called the Abu Dhabi Cohort Study, the project tracks the health and lifestyle of Emiratis over the course of their lifetime, and may offer insights into why the Emirati population has such a high rate of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Office of Community Outreach

At NYUAD, we develop mutually beneficial partnerships to foster a deep commitment to civic engagement and service. We design volunteering and community-based learning opportunities for students that promote meaningful community involvement, embrace the rich diversity of the UAE, and cultivate ethical and inclusive leadership.

We endeavor to strengthen local, regional and global communities through advising, supporting and empowering students that are driven by social purpose, what we call ‘NYUAD Heart’.

Community Learning

Over 40 courses at NYUAD have community-based learning components that bring theory to practice through regional academic seminars across the globe. Anchored in the communities around us, these learning engagements help faculty and students make connections with individuals, organizations, issues, and events