Brunei Darussalam’s information and communications technology (ICT) sector has been given a significant boost with the launch of a new programme that will provide budding entrepreneurs in the field with access to funding, technical support and mentoring, and help meet the objective of developing the Sultanate into a knowledge-based economy.
Mobile phone operator DST announced in July that it was setting up a fund to provide seed equity for ICT entrepreneurs. With an initial capital of BN$1.5m ($1.2m), the Future Fund is the first step of a strategy to accelerate the growth of the ICT industry in Brunei Darussalam, said DST’s CEO, Idris T Vasi.
“This is one initiative, but based on discussions with various partners in the country, we expect to develop other programmes where DST can spark more growth in the ICT industry,” Vasi said.
According to a recent study, this support is needed if Brunei Darussalam is to develop a knowledge-based economy underpinned by a strong ICT sector: the Sultanate slid 27 rungs on the 2011 Global Innovation Index (GII), an internationally recognised measure of the level of innovation in global economies and its input to economic growth and prosperity.
This year, Brunei Darussalam came in 75th out of the 125 countries covered in the survey, down from 48th in 2010. The country’s ranking was lowered in part by its below average performance in the creative output sub-category, which covers ICT and business-model creation, as well as creative goods and services exports.
Hui Kwok Leong, the director of ICT incubator iCentre, believes that Brunei Darussalam will rebound quickly on GII rankings as new support programmes start up. Given that many new schemes such as the Future Fund – in which the iCentre will be playing a leading role through its technical and mentoring capacity – have only recently been launched, they did not fall into the assessment period for the latest GII survey, Hui said. With the benefits of these new programmes flowing into the ICT community, Hui said he expected the Sultanate’s ranking for the coming year to “improve substantially”.
While Brunei Darussalam’s rating did fall in terms of scientific and creative output, a steady improvement in the country’s ICT infrastructure will stimulate the development of new products and services and consequently its GII ranking, he told local media in early August.
“If you look at the research and development aspect, Brunei Darussalam ranked very low compared to other countries, but Brunei Darussalam actually ranked high on ICT infrastructure and access,” Hui said. “This is an ideal technology platform for Brunei Darussalam given its high ICT penetration.”
While providing support for those already active in the ICT sector, the Sultanate is also adopting a bottom-up strategy to boost its innovation ranking and its standing as an ICT-savvy nation. While it will ramp up investments to support entrepreneurs and strengthen its infrastructure backbone, the government has targeted improving the education system and integrating ICT into almost all facets of the schooling process as the best way to develop an awareness of advanced technology and open the door to its economic potential.
The cornerstone to this approach is e-Hijrah, an execution and implementation plan designed to establish ICT use throughout the education system. According to Australian educationalist Ron Lake, if fully implemented, the e-Hijrah plan will put the Sultanate at the forefront of ICT education.
“If Brunei Darussalam can implement that, along with the new curriculum ideas you have in SPN21 (Sistem Pendidikan Negara Abad Ke-21, The National Education System for the 21st Century), you will lead the world,” he told local media in mid-July while attending an training seminar as part of the e-Hijrah project. “If you can produce documents like that and you’ve actually got a vision for 2035, that’s the start of it because you must have a vision of what you want your communities and young people to look like.”
It will take time for the full effects of the e-Hijrah project to be felt in the economy, with the scheme still being developed and implemented. Assuming all goes to plan, in years to come Brunei Darussalam will have a highly educated, capable and ICT-aware wave of young adults entering the business world, many of who will be looking to utilise their skills via the support programmes now available to parlay their education into innovative entrepreneurial success.