“In our continued pursuit of excellence, we encounter new responsibilities.” Those were the first words by Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed, Foreign Minister and Chairman of Emirates Diplomatic Academy “EDA”, during the first EDA board of trustees meeting. The use of those words is interesting, for many reasons but one reason in particular is that those words are basically the story of our lives, the words that best describe us, the lives of the people who call the UAE home.

Since the UAE was founded we have been in this constant state of adapting ourselves to the ever growing responsibilities. When oil was discovered we had new responsibilities of utilizing the the natural resources in a way that helped our country and its citizens prosper. When the United Arab Emirates was formed we had new responsibilities of building a united front that brought seven emirates together to form one federation. When UAE’s vision and diversification strategy for the future was announced we had to prepare ourselves for new responsibilities in a post oil era. Encountering new responsibilities is in our DNA.

Even though a country and it’s people may be ready, willing, and excited for those new responsibilities, they come with their own unique set of skills needed to be prepared and take advantage of vision and the needs that lie ahead for the UAE. Being prepared is something the UAE and its leadership have never taken lightly, and they have spared no expense in proving that point. Universities have been built within the UAE and brought in from abroad to educate Emiratis in line with the social and economical demands of the country, and in 2015, through a very similar thought process, the Emirates Diplomatic Academy was brought to life.

Chaired by HH Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and supported by board members H.E Lana Nusseibeh, H.E Ali Al Shamsi, H.E Omar Gobash and H.E Mohammad Abu Shehab the Emirates Diplomatic Academy is housed within the Al Hosn District, also known as Abu Dhabi’s symbolic birthplace. A total of 55 students have been selected by EDA for the program with one goal in mind, to be the best diplomats in the world. Each and every one of the students were required to take leave from their places of work, which is an act that in and of itself requires one to be fully committed and aware of the impact a course like this can have on their lives as well as their careers.

Throughout one year post graduate program the students engage in intense course work, mock simulations, rigorous debates and hear from global political leaders who make it a point to visit the academy to share their personal experiences and lessons throughout their journey of politics and diplomacy. The 55 students will be the first batch of students to graduate this year and will mark a key milestone in the evolution of political and diplomatic responsibilities that lie ahead for the United Arab Emirates.

There is no doubt on the impact that diplomacy has played in the regional and international reputation the UAE has built. The fact that the UAE jumped from 47th place to 31st in Arton Capital’s Passport Index, placing it first among countries in the Middle East and North Africa region was a result of UAE diplomacy. The fact that my wife and I travelled to Europe last year without a visa, a first of any GCC passport holders, is a testament to UAE diplomacy, I still remember crossing the Italian border with my wife for a holiday after the EU visa waiver was announced for UAE citizens, it was one of our proudest moments, a day I will never forget. Lastly the campaign to win the bid to host the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in 2009 led by His Highness Sheikh Abdullah and spearheaded by Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber is a testament to UAE diplomacy. IRENA is the first international agency to be hosted in the Middle East ever and today it includes 148 member states and 28 members who are in the process of becoming members.

From a diversification perspective the hard work and diplomacy of Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed and UAE Ambassador to the United States Yousef Al Otaiba resulted in the most significant energy development in the UAE since the discovery of oil, the U.S.–UAE 123 Agreement for Peaceful Civilian Nuclear Energy Cooperation. This agreements has resulted in the formation of the Emirates Nuclear Energy Agency which is currently building it’s first nuclear plant in the western region of Abu Dhabi, Barakah, will see nuclear plants delivery electricity to the UAE grid in 2017 and that nuclear energy will be responsible for almost 25 percent of the UAE’s electricity needs by 2020.

There is no shortage of work to be done as the UAE plays an increasing role in regional politics while in parallel innovating within it’s own regional political system and it will call upon the wisdom and experience of the previous generation while harnessing the energy and dynamism of the current generation for answers. The Emirates Diplomatic Academy is where the two generations meet to try and come up with those answers. It is where they will collaborate and plan the different strategies for a future where nothing is certain, where nothing is guaranteed, where the dynamics within the political arena can change in a day, where a civilian tweeting behind her phone can have a voice louder than a leading politician on mainstream television.

To end I think it’s safe to say that I don’t know much about politics however I did learn one important lesson about politics and diplomacy during a course I took at Stanford University with former secretary of state Professor Condoleezza Rice, one of the cases we took was on DP world. The UAE’s global port operator had acquired a company that owned US ports and was seen as a sensitive and controversial issue by people within US politics even thought it was supported by then president George W. Bush. As we went through the case Professor Rice often referred to the counterparts she was working with in the UAE as her friends. Through her course I was less focused on the case and more focused on how she kept referring to them as friends.

However naive you think it may be I found it spoke deeply to how I view the world. It was then that I recalled a quote by another former secretary of state Madeleine Albright where she said “The thing that I learned as a diplomat is that human relations ultimately make a huge difference.”. After visiting the campus and meeting people associated with the project that is what I personally feel is the heart of of Emirates Diplomatic Academy, teaching students diplomacy and guiding them through the process of human relations, building them, maintaining them, and growing them, within our borders and beyond them, all in the interest of making this world a better place for generations to come.