Using information and communication technology to foster entrepreneurship, improve education and empower individuals in developing countries was the subject of the International Conference and Exhibition on Knowledge Parks, hosted by UNESCO in Doha, Qatar, in March 29-31, 2008.
infoDev was invited as a core partner to UNESCO and the Qatar Foundation to provide a keynote address, convene a panel on “Enabling Innovation and Entrepreneurship,” and to leverage its extensive business incubation network to bring 5 youth entrepreneurs as active participants in the Conference.
“Knowledge has always been a prime mover for nations. Unfortunately today the knowledge divide has gaps in all its building blocks of creation, preservation, sharing and application. (...) Information and communication technology (ICT) is extremely vital to transforming the lives of the world’s poor and the only way of meeting the UN’s development goals for developing nations, set out in 2005", said Abdul Waheed Khan, Assistant Director-General for Communication and Information, UNESCO.
The myth that only certain societies, ethnicities and races are pre-disposed towards innovation has no basis at all. No one is born more qualified than any one else,” said , which hosts the infoDev secretariat. Khalil emphasized the need of knowledge parks, research based education and training and said that “the challenges remain promoting a culture of risk taking, policy framework and incentives, along with a vision and political commitment by the government.”
Tidu Maini, CEO of Qatar’s Science and Technology Park, and Advisor on Science and Technology to Her Highness Sheikha Moza of Qatar, emphasized that establishing Science and Technology parks “is not a real estate play,” it is about “inspiring people to carry out and commercialize research.” “IT” he said, “is an enabler for all sectors.”
Bader Omar Al Dafa, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia ESCWA said “it’s the attitude and the willingness of a society to seek knowledge and carry out research that works. We need a paradigm shift in our social cultures”.
Enabling Innovation & Entrepreneurship through Partnerships
Valerie D’Costa, Program Manager of infoDev, opened the session by discussing the innovation and entrepreneurship eco-system required to enable innovative start-up companies to emerge and grow.
For the panel on “Enabling Innovation and Entrepreneurship through Partnerships”, infoDev invited H.E. Benjamin A. Ntim (Ghana’s Minister of Communication), Dr. Zeinodin (Isfahan Science and Technology Town ISTT, Iran) and Mr. Omer Hamarenh (Manager, iPark, Jordan Hamarneh) to speak about the role of Science Parks to create an environment for research and development with economic value, and to facilitate inward and outward knowledge and technology transfer.
iPark, founded in 2003 in Jordan, received grant funding from infoDev to strengthen their operations. Today they have graduated 12 SMEs, amongst them Breakaway Limited. The company was started by two young government employees who identified a market gap in computer games with locally relevant Arabic content. Over the course of two and a half years, with help of the incubator, Breakaway Limited launched its product – Arabian Lords in the Middle East and became a bestseller in Egypt and UAE.
Dr. Zeinodin presented the case of Iran. The country started with one incubator in 2002, and today the country has 60 incubators. ISTT has been able to achieve tremendous success with its business incubation activities – “normally 60 percent of new firms go out of business after 6 years. Out of the enterprises graduated from the ISTT incubator, 70% are active after 5 years”, he said.
ISTT also received a grant from infoDev to enhance its value added services to incubator clients. Among these activities was a semi-virtual incubator to facilitate incubation services to SMEs in under privileged areas. One of their success stories is Parnian Haft Rang, a handicraft company that expanded from 4 to 60 employees after training in how to use the internet to learn about design trends, to market their products, and to coordinate sales with customers in the larger cities of Shiraz and Isfahan.
Both iPark and ISTT are active members of MENAinc – infoDev’s Regional Network for Business Incubators in the Middle East and North Africa.
The conference, organized with Qatar Foundation and ictQATAR along with intergovernmental, academic and business partners, is intended to raise awareness regarding the potential of ICT-based Knowledge Parks to help create knowledge societies; societies in which technology is harnessed towards the creation, preservation, dissemination and utilization of knowledge for the empowerment of individuals and communities. Knowledge Parks are facilities designed to stimulate ICT research and innovation while fostering enterprise. The conference also aims to contribute to the development of regional policies, guidelines and activities.
Key partners in the event included infoDev, Global Knowledge Partnership (GKP), Asian e-University (AeU), World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA), Commonwealth of Learning (COL), Digital Opportunity Trust, Commission for Women and Information Technology (CWIT), Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Microsoft, Intel, Apple, Inc., Cisco, Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM).
To learn more about infoDev's Business Incubator Network in the Middle East and North Africa visit www.idisc.net/mena.