Preparing UAE for the post-oil era

Preparing UAE for the post-oil era

Abu Dhabi - The Sandooq Al Watan was established in last April to help transform the country's oil economy to a sustainable knowledge-based one.

By Sherouk Zakaria

Published: Mon 26 Mar 2018, 9:00 PM

Last updated: Mon 26 Mar 2018, 11:16 PM

In a small office in Abu Dhabi sits six young Emiratis working tirelessly to prepare the nation for the post-oil era by nurturing national talent and promoting social enterprises.
Chaired by Lt.-Gen Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, the national fund Sandooq Al Watan was established in last April to help transform the country's oil economy to a sustainable knowledge-based one for future generations, through developing human capital, fostering innovation and supporting research and development.
In one year, Sandooq Al Watan collected half a billion (Dh510 million) and an additional 210 million dirhams in promised contributions from over 70 businessmen, who gave a minimum of Dh1 million each, dedicated to Emirati entrepreneurs and the private sector to boost social entrepreneurship and nurture UAE youth.
Through different initiatives and programmes, the fund, hugely supported by a community of businessmen and individuals, aims to teach over 1,000 Emirati children coding, support over 50 Emirati researchers in applied scientific fields, support 10 innovative high-tech Emirati startups and identify and nurture 500 gifted individuals under 18.
Recently, the team has launched Emirati coder programme to prepare a future generation able to work with Artificial Intelligence and Big Data that will lead the future. The first national platform,, was also launched to keep record of and support researchers over the UAE in applied scientific fields.
But for Mohamed Taj Aldeen Al Qadhi, director-general of Sandooq Al Watan, the big ambition and challenge takes up to 50 years of work.
"Our mandate is about preparing the UAE for its biggest challenge: The post-oil era. For this, we need to complement government and private sector efforts to empower young talents," said Al Qadhi about Sandooq Al Watan that works with the private sector to create a platform that motivates the youth.
"To achieve our goals, we need to focus on innovation, policy development and human capital, which require us to be active for the next 20-30 years to achieve such a long term vision."
Because of its reliance on donations, Al Qadhi said sustainability and efficiency in planning are key factors to Sandooq Al Watan's project-focused approach. The model of Sandooq Al Watan is built on an endowment fund, which makes sure that donations received are not used, but invested in a low risk environment that yields a stable return of 4-5 per cent.
"This means our budget isn't the half a billion we receive, but only 4-5 per cent of that amount that we get to work within a year to make sure that in 30 years' time, we still have steady cash flow to implement programmes," said Al Qadhi.
"The nature of our funding relies on finishing projects without touching a dime of donations we get. The fact that our funding is different, our long-term horizon is sustainable and the money is spent efficiently makes this initiative unique in concept," he added.
Impact measurement will also be put in place to evaluate the efficiency of projects in the country to improve or change programmes.

Filling the gaps efficiently

Sandooq Al Watan projects and initiatives come to solve duplicated efforts in the UAE to fill certain gaps. To solve the waste of resources, Al Qadhi said Sandooq Al Watan plays a strategic position of filling gaps needed to be filled efficiently.
The fund identified four gaps and it'll work to address through partnerships with private and government sectors: Two in innovation and two in human capital.
Sandooq Al Watan 2020 strategy focuses on four key areas: Supporting talent, providing career guidance for talented young nationals, encouraging SMEs that wield positive social impact and supporting applied research and innovation.
"There's not enough research and development being done, for example. We need to have high impact elements in human capital and innovation that don't replicate what is already being done."

Sandooq Al Watan: A Social Initiative

2020 strategy focuses on four key areas
> Supporting talent
> Providing career guidance for talented young nationals
>Encouraging SMEs that wield positive social impact
>Supporting applied research and innovation
Short term target
> Teach 1000 Emirati children coding
> Support over 50 Emirati researchers in applied scientific fields
> Support 10 Innovative high tech Emirati start ups
> Identify and nurture 500 gifted individuals

Long term target

> Prepare nation for post-oil era by nurturing national talent, promoting social enterprises to transform UAE into a knowledge-based nation

Four gaps to address

In human capital:
1-Identifying gifted individuals: Gap - no registry or database that lists talented or gifted Emirati individuals
2-Career Guidance: Gap - no platform to make sure students pursue careers they're passionate about and address labor market issues in UAE
In Innovation:
3-Research and Development: Gap - the UAE spends 0.8 per cent of its national income on research and development. There's low numbers of Emirati inventors and researchers (lack of funding)
4-Innovative entrepreneurship: Gap - more support needed for high-tech startups to create the future Emirati Tesla or Google
Human capital development: Finding gifted individuals
The first gap identified was finding gifted Emirati individuals.
"One gifted individual can change the world, not only the UAE. Studies show that if gifted individuals aren't nurtured at a young age, their talent is lost," said Al Qadhi.
Due to the lack of coordinated national programme to identify gifted individuals in the UAE, Sandooq Al Watan aims to create a registry in collaboration with different entities to identify and nurture 500 gifted individuals under 18.
"Creating registry inspires other entities to create tailored programmes that nurture gifted individuals and have access to their talents."
The initiative is working on creating a national system of tests and evaluations to identify gifted individuals. In collaboration with the Ministry of Education, it will screen talented individuals in schools to add them to the database.
Taking up names of top winners in different competitions across the nation and adding to the database will help nurture students with distinguished achievements.
Career guidance: Leading to the right job
Realising the gap of career guidance in the country, Sandooq Al Watan launched its programme named Jesour in last July, in collaboration with Al Bayt Mitwahid, to identify high achieving Emiratis across the UAE universities and place them in internships in private companies.
The programme recently placed 51 university students in private companies, with 49 others to be placed over this year. The interns are given mentoring sessions, workshops and talks to educate them on the benefits of working in the private sector.
The programme is a bid to change attitudes of Emiratis towards the private sector and help guide them to their dream jobs. At the end of the first internship, 95 per cent of 51 students were satisfied with their private sector experience, 62 per cent reported interest in private sector and 35 per cent said they would consider working in the private sector.
"Such internships will support changing attitudes in the long run," said Al Qadhi.
To prepare the young generation for the language of the future Artificial Intelligence and Big Data, Sandooq Al Watan launched Emirati coder programme across the UAE to teach 1,000 Emirati children coding. The fund is also working on creating a platform for high school students to explore different career opportunities available.
Research and development: Supporting Emirati inventors
The UAE currently dedicates 0.8 per cent of its national income to research and development, which is a percentage that needs to be elevated by 2020. Al Qadhi added that there's a clear lack of inventions, with goals to increase the number of patent applications submitted by Emiratis to 50 by 2020.
The goal is to support over 50 Emirati researchers in applied scientific fields, which led the fund to launch, the first national platform that identifies and supports UAE researchers. The registry will help entities contact and fund researchers and allow researchers to apply for their areas of interest to encourage scientific discoveries in various fields.
"The platform will allow us to communicate with every researcher in the UAE openly to make them aware of opportunities available," said Al Qadhi.
The fund will dedicate its efforts to support research in genomes, water scarcity, aerospace and defense.
Al Qadhi said the fund aims to engage number of applied researchers to address challenges, and create products and solutions to real life problems.
"We will dedicate efforts to research in the functional sectors that have an impact on civilian youth, to support technology that can be utilised for civilian purposes," said Al Qadhi.
Innovative entrepreneurship
Through research, the fund aims to support 10 innovative high tech Emirati startups. Our Future initiative was launched to create the next Emirati high-tech innovative companies. The initiative focuses on establishing an ecosystem that will allow the UAE to be home for future companies that create future Emirati Tesla or Google.
"Our Future combines research and development with innovative entrepreneurship to transform ideas to real projects," said Al Qadhi.
The Khalifa Innovation Centre, to be launched by the end of 2018, will provide workspace and financial and administrative support for high-tech projects. Two other innovation centres will also be established to train managers in planning, marketing and design.


The right plan
It is only right for the nation to now look beyond oil and to plan with focus on projects that involve innovation and human capital. It is the forward thinking policy of the UAE that has enabled this country to develop within a short span of time. Planning ahead is a surefire recipe towards building a knowledge-based economy.  

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