17th Apr 2012
Sustainability is a buzz word we have become very familiar with in the last decade or so. It is liberally used by both media and governments to describe the future or point us in the right direction. En mass we became accustomed to it in our day-to-day lives.
But sustainability is so much more than a fancy word – it is a complex concept , a purpose and a way of life. If implemented successfully, it brings prosperity and long term stability in a well-rounded society. However, so far the most thriving sustainable initiatives have been small-scale. It is therefore commendable that the Qatar government is determined to achieve positive results with their National Vision 2030, which is to encompass the whole country.
Qatar’s Knowledge Economy
Human resources are amongst the most important ones to consider in achieving sustainability so what are the high-level demographics for Qatar?
Qatar is a small state with a population of around 2 million people.
More than half the current population is made up of laborers. These people (mostly men) are brought here, under contract to assist in building projects and development work. Generally they come here because work is scarce in their home countries and, by leaving their families behind, and working for a time in a foreign land, they are able to improve their future opportunities at home.
Of the remainder of the population, around 800,000 people, less than half are native Qataris who hold privileged positions in society and are able to share in the wealth that oil and gas reserves have provided. The remainder are people from all over the world holding jobs that allow them to establish homes, bring up families, educate their children and so on.
Qatar’s National Vision includes, amongst other things, the wise investment in its people (citizens) so that all can participate fully in economic, social, and political life. The National Vision also recognizes the need to balance this investment in its own people by attracting qualified expatriate workers in all fields and thereby making up for shortages of local labor.
Another key-focus of the National Vision, and one which reflects economic planning in many other countries, is the development of “a knowledge based economy characterized by innovation”.
One key industry in a knowledge-economy is the healthcare sector. More than ever this sector is dependent upon information. Good healthcare is supported by good information and improvements in healthcare continue to come from the knowledge that we gain from information well-exploited through effective research.
Most notably for me, this avenue is being pursued in Qatar through the development of the Qatar Foundation, the SIDRA Medical and Research Center, and the investment, statewide, in improving healthcare facilities and resources. These ventures, aligned with a growing higher education and research sector are cornerstones of the Qatari ambition to develop a world-leading, knowledge based economy.
Competing for Scarce Resources
In some fields of endeavor the competition for skills and experience world-wide is intense. It poses a very real threat to Qatar’s ability to develop a leadership capability in healthcare and healthcare research. In particular this challenge is evident in the competition for IT and informatics personnel in Qatar.
There are multiple large IT system initiatives currently underway in Qatar.
Each of the biggest IT initiatives is being supported by large multi-national companies and various smaller firms involved in recruitment and short-term staffing.
The problem is that the nature of this support is project-based, which is to say it is focused on fixed-term contracts which will bring skills and talent to Qatar for the term of the contract but which offers no longevity or sustainability guarantee to this nation. It is reasonable to expect that multi-national companies do not have passion about the (development and sustainability) future of Qatar.
In ventures such as these IT initiatives the skills that are needed are those that are scarce and highly in demand in knowledge economies. These skills always include, to a greater degree, people with the talent to make information technology relevant and useful to workers, who are generally not technology oriented but, rather, who are focused more on people then pure technology.
Knowledge-industry undertakings also demand people with skills to work with information. The sort of people who can “drive value” from information, exploit it, and recognize its deficiencies and the remedial action needed to continuously improve the quality and quantity of this resource.
These talents are rare and they are not solely developed through training and education but, rather, through a fortuitous mixture of experience, education and realization of the potential for information and technology to make a difference.
It is true that we have entered the “information-age”. This age is fundamentally different to the industrial-age from whence we came. The winners in this new age will be the stakeholders who recognize the scale and nature of difference and the potential to cater-to and work with it.
For sustainability to become a reality for Qatar we must look at our supply chain for skilled resources and think about how much of the demand could be met from local people through some forethought and planning.
Continuing to “buy” talent from overseas is practical only while the nation is able, and willing, to offer something that these people cannot get at home. At the moment this “something”, in most cases, comes down to money.
True sustainability will come when we no longer buying scarce resources and, instead, grow our own.
There is no shortage of “local” people looking for opportunity, advancement and long-term security. These people often have a stake-holding in the country for other reasons, some are Qataris, some have family here, have been to University here, or simply come from somewhere close by.
These local people include graduates from local universities, children of expatriates looking to start their careers, graduates from other countries, particularly the Asian subcontinent and Africa. Many of them have the raw talent and the drive to achieve. They have the potential to enrich Qatar’s talent pool to support local knowledge sector industries and share their skills with the world. In terms of sustainability, what is the comparative long-term value of people who have a local stake-holding and want to build a life and long-term future here?
The organization I work for, malomatia, has a real, long-term commitment to Qatar and sustainability. My vision, and one we are pursuing at malomatia, is to overcome the dependence on short-term recruitment, to build a pool of talented individuals who share our vision and want to work with us to develop local people who can compete with the best from anywhere in the world.
We also anticipate that local organizations and Qatari companies recognize and support us in a spirit of partnership for Qatar.
It may be a stretch, but if we work together for Qatar; in three to five years we can not only have enough local resource to sustain the various IT and informatics initiatives but we, in Qatar, may be exporting talent to the world.
Qatar could be the source for the best trained and experienced informatics resources anywhere.
Through ventures such as this, ventures that focus on developing and enhancing the human capital in Qatar, the country will continue to thrive and to grow and may very well achieve the vision painted for 2030.