What is the concept behind the creation of the ICT Fund?
We have a mandate to build a knowledge-based society for the country. The UAE has moved away from being an oil-based economy to a services-based one. In the near future, we foresee that the UAE will become a knowledge-based society. The elements for a knowledge-based society are often a small population and lack of natural resources that an economy could rely on. We took countries like South Korea and Singapore as examples of this as both have small populations and no natural resources, so they emphasized investment in their people, thereby transforming themselves into knowledge-based economies.
What is the correlation between the ICT sector and the creation of a knowledge-based economy?
We have based our efforts on four pillars; the first is education, and we invest in a number of different projects in the field of education. We also place great importance on our second pillar, R&D, and have many investments there. We have also focused on incubation, which involves moving from a prototype element to commercialization, and then we finally support national projects. When you are in the process of building a knowledge-based society, education is fundamental. We inject capital into the education system through three different mechanisms. One is the provision of full-time scholarships to UAE nationals, for both undergraduate and graduate degrees. We have sent about 100 Emirati engineers to the US with others studying in other countries all over the world. We are also providing full scholarships for 200 students in the UAE. Besides that, we provide funding for educational institutes like universities that have requirements to set up laboratories or equipment related to ICT studies. Students may have ideas that universities may not be able to fund, which is when we step in and help. The three outputs are human capital, infrastructure, and ideas.
Moving on to the next pillar, which is R&D, we use human capital like engineering students or engineers who put some ideas together from which we get an R&D project. We also have funding for R&D centers that have full-time researchers dedicated to certain specific subjects. After that, the natural transition is to transpire those ideas, prototypes, or patents to spin-offs. We do that through two mechanisms: first, we fund the setting up of incubation centers that can host those start-ups, and we provide funding to set them up across the country.
The last pillar is national projects. National projects are nation-wide projects in ICT, such as the m-Government or Smart Government initiative. These projects indicate how healthy our educational systems, how effective our R&D efforts are, and how widespread entrepreneurial traits are among Emiratis. Every project has its own pipeline. Every incubating project is studied through its own individual pipeline, and then at the end of the day we have a portfolio of investments.
How are you performing in terms of Arabic language and content in the ICT sector?
We also have a mandate, from the Prime Minister's office, to fund and support Arabic digital content online. If someone wants to scan a book in Arabic and not all words are recognized, you just need to plug it into the re-capture system and it will be sent to the Arabic website. If two individuals put in the same inputs, it goes back to you as the correct version. Etisalat, Khalifa University, and British Telecom defined the technical challenges and developed this R&D center to enhance Arabic content through professors and students working at Khalifa University. They will be presented with the technical challenges that will be converted to a project, which professors and students will work on, and then the solution goes back to Etisalat and British Telecom. Khalifa University approached us for funding this project for the next five years, which we've agreed on and signed an agreement covering the next five years, providing AED70 million.