Interview: Adnan A Shihab-Eldin

What regulatory changes need to be made to transform Kuwait into a knowledge-based society?

ADNAN A SHIHAB-ELDIN: Kuwait has always welcomed the idea of incorporating science and technology into its economic development. Over the last 50 years, many institutions have been given ample opportunities to do so. The Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research, Kuwait University, and KFAS were established in 1960. Volatile growth over the years has slowed the natural implementation of science and technology into the economy, and up until recently, there was no concrete mechanism to facilitate the process. There was a period of rapid growth, a disruption from the invasion, and slow steady growth thereafter. However, the environment has always been ideal, and despite a period of extreme hardship, it has been able to restructure in a way that is still able support a knowledge-based society. We are hopeful that the recent changes that have taken place economically and politically will only compliment this. There are many new government initiatives that are rapidly being introduced which have a lot of promise, and KFAS has structured its strategy to compliment these initiatives. We have identified the need to develop a strong advocacy for science in education and scientific culture, enhance and integrate R&D capacity in Kuwaiti scientific institutions, and to encourage science, technology and innovation in our society. That said, our new major area of focus is to assist the private sector to enhance science, technology and management capacity, and meet the challenges of competiveness in a future knowledge-driven society. Our role is to act as a catalyst and an enabler to the private sector and to assist them in building science and technology competencies.

In what ways can the private sector be encouraged to participate in scientific research programmes?

SHIHAB-ELDIN: It is no secret that Kuwait is on an unsustainable path if we continue to rely on government expenditure to drive economic growth. This has been a perennial issue; how do you encourage the private sector to play a greater role in the economy? As we see it, the private companies need to acquire scientific and technological capabilities in the company to complement the National Development Plan and assist in economic diversification. This is a challenge that must be taken on by the companies themselves, but KFAS has a variety of instruments to and we have a variety of instruments to help expedite the process. This goal is of utmost importance because the private sector must grow if the country is to move away from its reliance on oil and oil revenues.

What Kuwait-specific challenges do you face funding and implementing R&D initiatives?

SHIHAB-ELDIN: The number-one challenge is to work with the private sector to help them realise that their long-term survival and profitability depends on it. If they recognise that their future viability depends on building their research and development capacity, then funding becomes a much smaller hurdle. Especially in an environment where government funding will begin to diminish, it is becoming more important than ever to invest now in building internal science and technology capacity. Once they realise this, they will change their short-term profit-driven mentality to become long-term investment oriented.

What do you consider to be the priorities to increase the scientific and technical capacities of the country? What sectors will benefit the most?

SHIHAB-ELDIN: We are placing huge importance on developing the science and maths subjects within our core education institutions. This is ultimately the role of the government, but our role is to focus attention on the importance of building this capacity. Therefore, we are helping to create an environment where future generations can improve their knowledge and skills, to come up with innovative and entrepreneurial ideas that contribute to the advancement of the economy.