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Gulf Countries invest in ICT, forseeing a post-oil economy

"Since 2002, Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have pooled in a substantial amount of their financial resources to diversify from oil dependent to knowledge-based economies. GCC countries have announced plans to invest around USD180 billion by 2012 in Information Communication Technology (ICT) to fuel their socio-economic growth and diversification. More than 400 major IT and telecom projects were announced and executed across the six GCC states between 2009 and 2010.The governments are channelling this investment which will aid in developing a skilled and technologically savvy human resource pool in the future.

"The GCC nation‟s ICT spending has resulted in the emergence of numerous ICT dedicated parks, beginning with Dubai Internet City in 2002, followed by Dubai Silicon Oasis, Qatar Science and Technology Park, Oman's Knowledge Oasis Muscat, Centre of Excellence for Applied Research and Training in Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Science Park and recently, Dubai Techno Park. 5 more ICT parks have been announced since 2010. Saudi Arabia is projected to invest almost 50 percent of the total projected GCC‟s ICT investment, to the tune of USD 89 billion....

"....Arabian Business Survey 2008 declared that skilled labor shortage was crippling GCC business. Expatriates make up 65 to 70 per cent of the entire workforce in the GCC countries. Around 48 per cent of Saudi nationals below 25 years of age, and 31 percent below 30 are unemployed. Saudi authorities are aiming to create 160,000 jobs annually, as part of efforts to reduce the unemployment rate to 5.5 per cent by 2014. ICT will play an important part in this effort.

"For example 68 per cent of the unemployed in Bahrain and 69 per cent in Kuwait only have a high school diploma or less. Knowledge incubation projects are successfully underway in Qatar and the UAE, where universities have set up satellite campuses in Science and ICT parks. For example, Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP) is home to several R&D intensive companies that have chosen the QST Park for its access to several international and national universities in the region, namely Carnegie Mellon in Qatar, Texas A&M in Qatar, Weill Cornell in Qatar, Sidra Medical Research Centre, Qatar National Research Fund, University of Qatar and College of North Atlantic."

Implications from SFG:

"Although 93 per cent of ICT parks are coming up in or near a major city, the ICT expansion has great potential for social and economic development in remote areas as well. For instance, Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC), Saudi Arabia‟s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) regulator has set up a Universal Services Fund (USF) to the tune of USD 10.7 million to provide communication services to people living in remote areas such as Al Jouf, Jazan and other Northern parts of the country. This project could potentially benefit about 500 small towns and villages of the Kingdom mostly unconnected with mobile phone or Internet services. USF through a regional service provider, Zain, will deliver services to people living in those areas by expanding the network and establishing new sites to ensure high quality in data and voice services. The people living in these regions will likely benefit from the government‟s internet-based socio-economic development initiatives in governance, education and health sectors once they are connected.

"The GCC countries have made a dynamic initiative to become ICT-enhanced economies. They are investing in creating ICT parks for both international and national companies to expand, while creating new trade policies to aid the industry‟s growth. The nations are investing in research and knowledge incubation to help their citizens become ICT-skilled and thus more competitive in the job market. They are also extending ICT-preparedness to under-served areas of the country. Continued progress and completion of their projected ICT growth will help GCC nations to meet their current and future socio- development needs."

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Sources:

The Strategic Foresight Group, Middle-East Edition, May 2011, page 11-13: http://newsletters.clearsignals.org/SFG-ME_May2011.pdf#page=11

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Zain Saudi Arabia to connect people living in remote Saudi towns and villages. http://www.yahind.com/zain-saudi-arabia-to-connect-people-living-in-remote-saudi-towns- villages_5644.html