Knowledge is power

Qatar is leading the region with its ambitions for a knowledge-based economy, with ICT at the heart of its plans. Eliot Beer reports from Doha on how its plans fit into the global push for knowledge parks.

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By  Eliot Beer Published  May 11, 2008

This trend, she said, was opening up more and more opportunities for enterprises in the developed world to make viable use of technology as a business model, and as a social service.

Abdul Rahim gave examples from farmers' co-operatives in India sharing information on crop markets through the internet, to numerous enterprises offering telephony services, by means of a mobile phone and transport, such as taxi or auto rickshaw.

However, these ventures only tap the most basic levels of potential - as Abdul Rahim also noted, a key issue is scaling up the use of ICT and the availability of education to populations.

Much of the detailed discussion across the various seminars and presentations was on how this could be achieved, with speakers outlining their various projects from around the world, and outlining how they had tackled issues such as illiteracy, connectivity, and the role of women - a recurring theme.

Significantly almost none of the participants highlighted funding as a major issue; indeed, many stated - with an understandable degree of frustration - that plenty of capital was available for projects across the globe. In fact the problem is more in locating viable projects to invest in than finding the investors.

This is where knowledge parks can - in theory - play a valuable role in eliminating this disconnect, by acting as hubs not only for high-level research, but also for lower-level dissemination and communication of ideas and contacts.

"All around the world, knowledge parks are emerging in the quest for sustainable growth and economic development to benefit people living in the shadows of prosperity," said Dr Abdul Waheed Khan, assistant director general for communication and information at Unesco, in his opening speech to the conference.

"Knowledge societies are not yet a fact, at least not in much of the world. But by presenting a vision of what such societies might become, we have sought to widen the range of choices and possible actions.

Now, we have to further develop our concept of building knowledge societies and to ultimately translate it into concrete actions," he stated.

Qatar has made a bold start with its plans to establish a knowledge-based economy, and to its credit organisations such as Qatar Foundation and ictQatar are also investing in grass-roots technology, such as laptops for pupils in schools, as well as high-level research.

Developing countries around the world are investing in similar projects as Qatar - although often less ambitious in terms of final aims - but for all of these initiatives, the effects will be a long time in coming.

The challenge around the world will be to spread technology - and so knowledge - out from wealthy enterprises and individuals to organisations and societies that, for lack of ability, opportunity or capital, have not been able to make use of it.

Qatar has thrown down the gauntlet for the Middle East - time will tell how the rest of the region responds.

Next month: ACN's exclusive interview with Unesco's Dr Abdul Waheed Khan.

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