The Business Year

Abdul Sattar Al-Taie

QATAR - Health & Education

The Search for Tech

Executive Director, Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF)


Abdul Sattar Al-Taie has an educational background in Chemical Engineering and is the Executive Director of the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF). He has over 30 years of diversified experience in all engineering disciplines, including project management, design, feasibility studies, research, technology transfer and assessment, science and technology incubators, environmental protection, water treatment technologies, and technology policies. He has had more than 40 publications accepted by research journals and technical papers, and published over 50 technical reports.

"Without the research component, you cannot transform the country and diversify the economy."

What is the history of the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF), and what was the strategy behind its establishment?

QNRF was established back in 2006 as the enabling arm for research within the Qatar Foundation. Since then, there has been a paradigm shift at educational institutions in the country. Qatar University, which used to pride itself on being an educational institution, now considers itself both a research and an educational institution. Research is also taking hold in the health sector; the logo of Hamad Medical Center says, “health, education, and research.” This is thrilling for us because people are now recognizing the role of research in the development of the country. This also reflects the vision of HH Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, the Chairperson of Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development. All of this is based on the realization of transforming Qatar’s economy from being a resource-based economy to a knowledge-based economy, for which research is a very important pillar of the Qatar National Vision 2030. Without the research component, you cannot transform the country and diversify the economy. Another important aspect is that QNRF has taken the research culture down to its roots, and we have started introducing research programs to high school students and undergraduates, all the way up to the world-renowned scientists. We have tried to cover the full spectrum.

What are some recent success stories of the projects that QNRF is currently funding, and what implications do they have on a wider scale?

From my perspective, all the grants are success stories. So far, QNRF has committed over $500 million in grants, at all levels. Every researcher or key investigator who received a grant from us has worked very hard and they earn their grants on a competitive basis—only one out of five applicants receives a grant—so, from a global perspective, they are all success stories for us. What makes QNRF unique in the region—and maybe the world—is that we are open to collaboration internationally, meaning we do not limit our grants to inside Qatar; we open the door to applicants from outside the country, creating an excellent collaborative atmosphere and environment for research. In the beginning, more than 50% of applicants came from outside Qatar, because we had the opportunity to provide funding, and researchers are thirsty for funding opportunities; therefore, they took advantage and applied. However, we also placed conditions on the external applications, and firstly not more than 35% of the grant can be used outside of the country. They have to find a cooperating team inside Qatar, which is very important because it is win-win. We also made sure that a minimum of 50% of the funded research, measured in man-hours, should be expended inside Qatar. Most of our success stories involve international collaboration. One of our funded projects involves researchers from the Juva Truffle Center in Finland, which is working to increase the yield of desert truffles in Qatar. These are top-notch scientists receiving grants of up to $1 million. However, we cover the full spectrum of research, from high school and undergraduate students and so on. Some of the undergraduate research also resulted in some interesting stories. We are not only funding science, we cover a vast array of topics and research, from arts and humanities to ICT, healthcare, education, and economics. One of the awards was awarded to a researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College related to genealogical studies. They identified the date palm gene, and the genome from the palm, as well as identifying the gene that is responsible for the gender of the palm. What does that mean? It means that one can now know the gender of the palm when it is being planted, so instead of having a 50% chance of yielding fruit, and not knowing for five or six years if it is male or female, one can know immediately, and so the results of this research have huge commercial applications.

“Without the research component, you cannot transform the country and diversify the economy.”

To what extent do women play a role in the research that you fund?

Women are already empowered here. In Qatar, they now represent more than two-thirds of the student population. QNRF’s Undergraduate Research Experience Program (UREP) supports young women in Qatari society in particular to develop their skills in science and research. The most recently concluded 13th cycle of UREP had 44 women participants amongst the 68 Qatari students who were awarded. We are investing heavily to promote the participation of women in science and research to help develop and encourage a new generation of well-established female researchers.

What evaluations do you carry out to ensure that all sectors in Qatar are explored in terms of R&D?

A huge effort that was undertaken in 2012 culminated in the release of a very important document: the Qatar National Research Strategy (QNRS). Simply put, this strategy states that Qatar should concentrate on four pillars: energy and environment, healthcare, computer sciences and ICT, and social sciences, humanities, and the arts. For these pillars, we now have national institutes: the Qatar Environment & Energy Research Institute (QEERI), the Qatar Biomedical Research Institute (QBRI), and the Qatar Computing Research Institute (QCRI). For each of these pillars, we identified the most compelling challenges for the country. Through QEERI, we looked at how to enhance oil recovery, which is very important because revenues in the country are predominantly generated by the petrochemical sector. We also have environmental challenges, because of Qatar’s high carbon dioxide footprint. This is because it is a small country with a large petrochemical industry. New ideas involve reusing carbon dioxide as well as fluids for enhancing oil recovery, which are being developed and used in some of the depleted oil fields. In regard to the health pillar, we have a major challenge both here and in the Gulf region, where there is a high prevalence of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, as well as some forms of cancer. The same goes for the ICT pillar; IT is an ongoing source of development.

© The Business Year – April 2013



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