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Meet the Filipinos who are part of the Expo 2020 team

by | EDITOR’S CHOICE, News, TOP STORIES

Oct. 16, 19 | 8:25 pm

DUBAI: Just a year away before the opening of Expo 2020 Dubai, activities at the site in Jebel Ali have reached fever pitch as construction now in full swing and more structures near completion each day.

One can just imagine how busy and cacophonous the hard hat area could be with heavy machines rolling, cranes humming, hammers banging, loud voices giving orders and workmen going to and from.

At the center of this 4.38 sq. km. site is the Expo 2020 office, a main command post of sort, comprised of some 1,500 individuals, including consultants, from over 160 countries, stationed in 37 departments, making sure there is harmony in all this like a conductor would an orchestra.

And at the post are some 70 Filipinos holding key positions and contributing their for the much-awaited greatest show on earth.

Here are their stories.

First batch

Thirty-eight-year-old Jon Jon Catapia, was one of first eight Expo 2020 Dubai employees who opened office at Emirates Towers on Oct. 3, 2012 – more than a year before Dubai won its bid to host the global event – to help get the fledgling project off the ground.

Jon Jon Catapia

Catapia was working at the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) central office when he went to Dubai on a visit visa in September 2012 to join his wife and siblings.

During his first eight months on the job, Catapia would go to Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC) every day and man a booth, handing out brochures about Expo 2020 to passersby and explaining what the Expo was.

He recalls the fast turn of events ensuing after Dubai won its bid on Nov. 7, 2013: “Halos every week may bagong hires na five to 15. Dumami na kami. Hindi na kasya sa office sa Emirates Towers,” Catapia said, adding that they had to rent a space a Boulevard Plaza Towers in Downtown Dubai to accommodate an expanding Expo 2020 team.

By 2015, Catapia said the team has grown to 400 members, which necessitated that they move to the Expo 2020 site itself, south of Dubai.

“It was totally empty, with just one small road onsite. Talagang disyerto pa lang noon habang tinatayo yung temporary office naming sa site. Para syang cabin lang pero tatlongpalapag. Noong una kasya lang 500 people but every week, may new joiners na 15 to 20 staff. So, nagdecide ang management to extend office,” Catapia said.

Catapia started out as administrative assistant. He was promoted to the post as department coordinator a year and half later; and on to being management coordinator where he was given authority over the whole project. He is now an assistant manager with eight people in his team.

“Filipino tayo, hard working at saka mapagmahal tayo sa trabaho natin yun ang isa sa mga dahilan kung bakit ako naging successful sa Expo 2020,” said Catapia, who assisted in any capacity required to help the organization flourish – from being a receptionist to ordering office supplies and supporting the human resources, finance and procurement departments.

“Mula 2012 to 2015, nag-iisa lang akong Pinoy noon,” he said. Nowadays, he said there are Filipinos in each of the 37 departments that the Expo 2020 team has grown to have.

“Masabi ko na lucky ako kasi isa ako sa mga pioneers ng Expo 2020. Hanggang pagtanda ko… hanggang mamatay ako masasabi kong swerte ako kasi naging part ako ng Expo 2020. Maski saan ako mapuntang bansa, masasabi kong naging part ako ng Expo 2020,” said Catapia.

Web master

Meantime, everything runs on the web these days and for an event as globally humongous as Expo 2020 Dubai, operating a website flawlessly is key to success.

Did you know that a Pinoy is on the captain’s seat?

Roy Ramos, who has a degree in Business Computer Application from Foundation University in Dumaguete City on Negros Island is the person behind the Expo 2020 web site.

Roy Ramos

“Mahirap, yes!” says Ramos of his job which is all about the strategic development and management of the Expo 2020 website. “Sobrang demanding at dapat agile ka, things can change in an instant; at dapat attention to details – considering na isang pagkakamali lang, kita agad.”

“But I’m not scared,” he added. “I guess it comes with experience din. And I did learn the hard way; every day is a school day. But that’s what makes it fun. You learn something every day.”

“Besides, I will never put myself in a job that I will not enjoy nor I’m not passionate about. So kahit mahirap, I embrace the challenge because I love what I do.”

Ramos, whose Expo 2020 Dubai item is digital marketing manager, said efficiency is key in managing a web site such as Expo 2020 Dubai’s. “The website must be easy to use yet functional. In terms of content, less is more. Content structure, workflow and processes need to be defined correctly. Attention to details is imperative.

“We need to get things right right from the start otherwise, we will not have enough time to fix/develop it as the event is only for six months. Once you miss it, you miss it. We also have to be pragmatic in terms of decision-making,” Ramos, who came on board the Expo 2020 team on Sept. 18, 2017, said.

Ramos, who has bragging rights to 14 years of experience and being able to simultaneously managing 10 websites in four languages, said he is “honored and humbled to work with one of the biggest event/project of our time.”

His biggest challenge? “Making the team understand the complexity of a website from a technical perspective: What goes behind the curtain. How the Content Management System is being set up and implemented,”

Creatives

Twenty-seven-year-old Jude Valderrama, senior graphic designer, is the person behind Expo 2020 brandings.

Jude Valderrama

He joined Expo 2020 in October 2017 after previously specializing in branding for a Filipino-owned design studio in Dubai.

As a member of The Narrative Lab, Expo 2020’s in-house creative department, the Cavite native has played a key part in creating branding for various projects. This includes helping design logos for the Expo 2020 Volunteers department and for Terra – the Sustainability Pavilion. He is also a keen photographer and incorporates this into his role.

“I feel proud to work for Expo 2020, because you don’t get the chance to be part of a massive event like this every day. It’s a great way for me to showcase my work to an international audience, and I hope it opens up opportunities,” said Valderrama.

“I enjoy learning from other nationalities at Expo 2020, and finding out first-hand about their lifestyles and cultures. You can get that by travelling, but I think working with some 1,500 people from over 160 countries day-to-day offers a constant flow of new and interesting insights,” Valderrama added.

He said he sees the excitement building among Dubai’s Filipino community for Expo 2020, and is looking forward to welcoming visitors from the Philippines once Expo opens its doors on Oct. 20, 2020.

He says: “My friends and family in The Philippines are very eager to come here for Expo. Even my grandparents, who have never been to the Middle East – Expo 2020 is an amazing reason for them to visit Dubai.

Communications

On the communications side of it is Cristine Dianne Braza who was browsing through linkedin one day and found the job opening.

Braza works with the Communications Department’s Media Operations with task as coordinator.

“I mainly do procurement, contract and payment processes for the team; ssists in events, conference, meetings and all admin-related stuff,” she said.

Braza, who has been in Dubai for five years, was admin and document controller working closely with the division manager of a construction company engaged in mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) engineering that was also among those the set up the Expo 2020 office.

“I got hired through linkedin’s expo careers portal. I was just looking at the advertisements back then and didn’t expect I would really be part of it.,” said Braza who was hired in April last year.

Procurement

Also in the thick of the action is Judy Ann Siddique, procurement manager who’s core responsibility and utmost priority is to ensure delivery of all requirements – operational and event needs – are on time, of the highest quality, at the best rates and from the most competitive suppliers in the local and international markets while continuously aiming to achieve the best value for Expo 2020 and deliver a successful world mega event.

“I was fortunate to have come across a job opportunity at Expo 2020 way back January 2016 and have immediately applied for the role. I was working then as assistant manager under the facilities management division in one of the biggest real estate companies in Dubai when I got a call for an interview and luckily after a couple of months, I’ve finally joined the Expo 2020 team,” recalls Siddique.

She added that “there was never been a dull day as we had to literally hit the ground running” for the past three and a half years that she has been on board.

“The excitement just never ends! I thought I’ve had it all figured out having lived in Dubai for over 14 years, but I was proven wrong as each day at Expo 2020 is just full of surprises. There’s always something to look forward to,” Siddique said.

She said working with the Expo 2020 team “makes me feel so welcomed as we are all a family here.

“In Expo, we are one big tribe from many different parts of the world, from various different ethnicity and backgrounds, religion, beliefs but we all work together in harmony. We all have 1 common goal and we work hard every single day with huge smiles and willing hearts to make miracles happen and pull off what others may perceive as impossible, but with the strong bond and determination we all have, we are confident that we will deliver the world’s greatest show..We will bring Expo 2020 to the world!” she said.

‘Beauty in the chaos’

It’s about finding the proverbial beauty in the chaos, says Dominique Villafuerte, coordinator for marketing operations whose job is to process purchase requests and invoices for suppliers, among others.

Dominique Villafuerte

“Meron kaming 40 members sa team,” she says, “so, minsan magulo… pero masaya.”

“Every day is different kasi different yung priorities. Minsan, isang supplier na need ng urgent payment ang kailangan. Minsan naman yung processing ng mga requests or arranging meetings with external stakeholders.

“We deal with Google, Facebook, Snapchat… linkedin kasi nasa amin yung digital and social marketing,” Villafuerte shares.

Villafuerte has contributed to a wide array of initiatives, including football star Lionel Messi’s first campaign as an Expo 2020 global ambassador.

The Expo 2020 team is divided into the following fields: communications, programming, social media, real estate and development, training operations, protocol, workforce planning, HR, integrated operations, catering, expo school program, operations, international participants, innovation and future technology, business support and community engagement, among others.

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THE FILIPINO TIMES is the biggest and most trusted Filipino newspaper in the UAE.

It has a print run of 60,000 copies and 250,000 readership per week; bolstered by 2.5 million visitors to its website every month. It also has an e-newsletter sent to its 250,000 subscribers every day.

The Filipino Times is FREE and has the widest targeted circulation across the 7 emirates of the UAE.

With more than 2,500 strategic distribution spots, TFT is available where the Filipinos are - at Smart Bus Shelters, Metro Stations, restaurants, supermarkets, schools, airport lounges, Emirates and Etihad Philippine-bound flights, churches, Filipino community events and many more.

THE FILIPINO TIMES. We are where the Filipinos are.

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