National Innovation System is reaping the low-hanging fruits of 2020

Muscat: The Research Council (TRC) has reaffirmed the harmony between the vison of the National Innovation Strategy (NIS) with the Oman Vision 2040, reinforced by a political will and continuous institutional integration, which has resulted in various initiatives in all fields, and is evident through its innovations, institutions and efforts.

As research and development are some of the main components of the innovation system, TRC has also updated the National Strategy for Research and Development (NSRD) 2040 to align with the Oman Vision 2040’s perspective that research leads to the development of a knowledge-based society and capable national cadres, which focuses on transferring knowledge into economic revenue.

Dr Sharifa bint Hamoud al Harthy (pictured), Director of the National Innovation Strategy (NIS) at TRC, explains, “The completion of the first stage of the NIS in the Sultanate has enabled us to reap the low-hanging fruits, in the form of focusing on activating existing national initiatives, strengthening interactive relationships between institutions of knowledge and innovation, strengthening relationships with technical and financial supporters, and strengthening relationships with the users of intellectual and scientific production to establish a solid and fully-fledged national system and active circles that lead to the second stage, which is the stage of sustainable empowerment of innovation circles and actors in all components of the national system, starting from 2021.”

Therefore, it has become important to shed light on what has been achieved in the reaping the low-hanging fruits stage. Moving forward, innovation has become a main focus of the Oman 2040 vision, with the vision of the NIS to place the Sultanate among the top 20 countries in the Global Innovation Index by 2040.

Dr Sharifa further elaborated, “One of the most significant components of the NIS is the existence of political will, which was clearly represented through the speech of His Majesty Sultan Haitham bin Tarik, stating that that research and innovation should be at the top of the national priorities. Moreover, His Majesty’s directives to review relevant legislation, relevant laws and the structure of the administrative organization are highly important to the NIS, as it will encourage the building of a competitive national economy based on knowledge and innovation.” Dr. Sharifa added that the Sultanate’s indicators in the Global Innovation Report have improved, through the issuance of a number of possible laws, including the Foreign Investment Law, the Bankruptcy and Insolvency Law, the Privatization Law and the Partnership between Public and Private Sector Law.

‘Comprehensive Digital Service’ initiative

Dr Sharifa also addressed the technical and communication role in enabling innovation, as it is one of the indicators that contribute to achieving a knowledge-based economy and achieving the goals of the NIS. She stated that the expansion of the broadband network and comprehensive digital services, which emerged as a result of the initiatives taken during this stage, has been achieved after the government harnessed the various efforts and financial capabilities to implement the ‘Comprehensive Digital Service’ initiative, with the aim of covering all regions of the Sultanate with communications and internet services via satellite during 2020, in addition to strengthening the networks to provide high-speed communication services, especially in remote areas. This initiative was established in cooperation between the Ministry of Technology and Communications, Oman Telecommunications Company (Omantel), the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, and local telecommunications companies.

Furthermore, the role of the Omani Satellite Company will enhance the Sultanate’s position in the world reports, and will contribute effectively to enabling the digital platforms launched by the Ministry of Education to promote distance learning. It is also expected to enable the digital initiatives of the Ministry of Higher Education, Sultan Qaboos University, and the Ministry of Manpower, represented in the technical and vocational colleges by providing education and distance learning for all students in all governorates of the Sultanate. It is also hoped that a third telecommunications service provider will be included at the beginning of 2021, which will work to reduce the prices of telecommunications services, and enable the integration of the next stage towards a digital Oman and smart services in all sectors. Additionally, TRC is contributing to the rise of the status of the digital world in Oman through a number of programs affiliated with TRC, in collaboration with relevant partners, such as Omantel, Oman Research and Education Network (OMREN), Oman Virtual Science Library (Masader), and Oman Research Repository (Shuaa).

National Innovative Capabilities

Commenting on the national innovation capabilities, Dr Sharifa said, “With regard to the enabling of linkages between digital applications and innovation-related activities for the sake of developing innovative services and products, the past few days have demonstrated the ability of the Omani youth and national cadres to innovate and develop a number of digital applications in several areas, especially during the current global crisis caused by the COVID-19 virus. In collaboration with the Oman Technology Fund (OTF) and the institutions concerned with the development of SMEs and start-ups, a number of applications and innovations have been launched to combat this crisis as follows;

The ‘dakhterclinic’, which is an application launched by Omani doctors for providing specialized online medical consultations by specialist doctors for emergencies.

  1. The ‘Wareedco’ platform, which has been designed to offer medicine home delivery to the elderly people in a bid to avoid infection with COVID-19.
  2. The smart platforms ‘behar_market’ and ‘Athmar’. These platforms have been launched with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, and Muscat Municipality to convert auctions in the Central Fish Market to online ones.

  3. The smart platform ‘Fastmovers’ that has been tailored for ordering refrigerated trucks for transporting fish and vegetables from central markets.

  4. The distance-learning platform ‘easy’, which offers distance-learning services.

  5. The ‘Igtimaati’ application that provides the video conferencing service.

  6. The use of unmanned aircrafts (drones) to sterilize Omani neighborhoods, cities and villages by Muscat Municipality.

  7. The use of unmanned aircrafts (drones) for comprehensive investigation and remote examination of heat temperatures for individuals suspected of COVID-19 infection.

Dr Sharifa al Harthy added, “The Ministry of Commerce and Industry is preparing a comprehensive national strategy for the development of an intellectual property system that is powered by smart electronic services. They are also providing special support to students by offering them a reduction of 90% on the patent application fees, which has contributed to the encouragement of the youth to register their patents. This approach is expected to enhance the indicators of innovation outputs of the Sultanate in international reports. With regard to the strengthening of the innovation system through the utilization of the high-quality infrastructure of the Sultanate, the Omani logistics system has revealed that the Sultanate, with its strategic location, has great potential to achieve a remarkable transition through the ASYAD Group, who are making efforts in the integration of the systems of ports, airports, and the world class road networks, to achieve the desired progress in the performance of these systems in international reports. This will eventually contribute to making the Sultanate a global logistics hub, with direct access to 40 countries around World.

The Ministry of Manpower initiated an innovation unit aimed at establishing an integrative relationship between the innovation support entities within and outside the ministry. The ministry also launched the Ministry of Manpower’s Innovation Award, under the slogan ‘Innovation: Partnership and Sustainability’. It also organized the ‘Oman Open Data Competition’, with the slogan of ‘We innovate with Data’, in order to generate more marketable ideas and establish start-ups.”

With the support received from the Public Authority for Privatization and Partnership (PAPP), TRC, represented by the Innovation Park Muscat (IPM)’s prototyping center ‘Makers Oman’, which is the first of its kind in Oman, managed to enable a number of Omani youth to convert a diving mask into a respirator mask for Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) patients, using 3D modelling technology. The mask has been tested with specialists at the Royal Hospital and proved to be a success. Through the use of the 3D modelling technology, the Makers Oman team also managed to produce locally engineered items, including a uniquely designed hands-free door opening and a face shield that is designed to strengthen the capabilities of Oman’s frontline healthcare workers when dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. The IPM’s prototyping center has also developed a digital artificial ventilator to fight the virus by simulating the ventilation systems approved in the Sultanate’s government hospitals.

TRC’s Smart City Platform, in collaboration with the Supreme Council for Planning, Muscat Municipality and Information Technology Authority (ITA), launched a competition for Omani youth to combat the pandemic by designing smart solutions to contain the spread of the virus within Omani society.

The winning projects of this competition were the application ‘Es-hah’ for faster epidemiological investigation, using a satellite tracking system; the application of ‘Oman faces Corona’, which includes an introductory platform on COVID-19 and ways to prevent it; while the third winning application was named ‘Khallona Nehjaa’, which has been developed to assist the concerned authorities in following up with and monitoring COVID-19 patients and those in home and institutional quarantine.

Meanwhile, the National System for Research and Technological Innovation of TRC offered the necessary technical and financial support for a number of higher education institutions to enable them to establish their own Technology Transfer Offices (TTO)s, and encourage students to register their patents and help to ease this process.

Empowerment of Startups

Empowerment of the startups has seen remarkable progress, with Oman achieving a continuous increase in the number of startups, especially those specialized in digital technology and applications, whether through the Smart City Platform, or through the Program of Transforming Graduation Projects into Start-ups ‘Upgrade’. Other examples of startups that are on the rise are those within the Agriculture and Fisheries Sector, such as the start-up specialized in the production of Omani rose water, and the start-ups using drones to pollinate palm trees in the ‘One Million Date Palm Trees’ project, which is run through the cooperation between the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, support funds, and the Public Authority for SME Development (Riyada).

Another prime example of the growing number of start-ups is the knowledge-based and innovation-based start-ups, such as ‘Antotech’ and the Innovation Factory. A number of initiatives have also been launched to link the industry to academia, including the Industrial Innovation Center and EJAAD, which is the membership-based virtual collaborative platform launched by TRC, the Ministry of Oil and Gas and Petroleum Development Oman (PDO), where industry, academia and government can interact and engage in energy-related research and innovation activities. EJAAD has successfully so far linked 45 institutions including private companies, as well as government and private higher education institutions, in order to reach effective scientific and research solutions for addressing the challenges faced by the private sector.

Support funds that finance start-ups, including Oman Technology Fund (OTF) and Innovation Development Oman Holding (IDO), an equity-based venture capital firm offered by the government of Oman to support youth projects, have contributed towards raising Oman’s ranking on the Early Stage Venture Deals indicator, with the Sultanate reaching the fourth position in the region of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Competing with other funds from the MENA region, OTF has been ranked first place regionally on the Early Stage Venture Deals indicator in 2020, which is a proof that decision makers have become more convinced of the importance of investing in innovation and supporting entrepreneurs who produce innovative technology solutions. There are also some private sector funds that provide support for start-ups, such as Phase Ventures, which has national and global investments in the field of energy.

Dr Sharifa al Harthy, Director of the NIS project at TRC, added, “As research and development are key elements of the innovation system, The Research Council has updated the National Strategy for Research and Development (NSRD) 2040, aligning with Oman Vision 2040’s vision of scientific research that leads to a knowledge society and competitive national capabilities, which are able to transform knowledge into wealth.”

The presented initiatives, launched programs and set legislations affirmed the completion of the National Innovation System, which is known as a network of relationships and interconnections between all institutions and communities related to innovation, including the government and private sectors, the academic sector and the civil society institutions.

Dr Sharifa concluded, “We appeal to all institutions and relevant entities to harmonize their innovation related efforts that will eventually contribute towards enhancing the Sultanate’s ranking on the world’s map of innovation and competitiveness. The global indexes concerned with innovation and competitiveness have been taken into consideration within the Oman Vision 2040 to meet the aspirations of the Omani people.” Dr Sharifa stressed that when the political will of the country shares the same vision and ambitions of the actors in the national innovation system, great outcomes, such as the goals of sustainable social and economic development of the country, can be achieved.

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