Posted on October 24, 2019

In his speeches and public comments, His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Amir of Qatar, has routinely stressed the importance of investing in human development. As citizens and residents form one of Qatar’s most valuable resources, it is imperative to provide the skills necessary to prepare the digital transformation of the economy and enable them to contribute to future development.

Out of its strategic vision of the Qatar National Vision 2030, the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MoTC) has for years been implementing initiatives and programs aimed at building an integrated digital society and enhancing the digital skills of the Qatari people. The aim is to enable people of all social categories to contribute to the country’s economic and cultural development through safe and efficient use of technology, and provide the Qatari market with a qualified labor force capable of implementing and dealing with smart city solutions. These efforts started in 2014, when the ministry (then the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology - ictQATAR) launched the digital inclusion strategy to reach out to all sectors of society through a carefully thought-out program of digital awareness, secure access to modern technology, and necessary training and support for all members of society.

Through its “digital inclusion” strategy, the ministry sought to reach out to those at risk of digital exclusion through awareness, access, training and support.  The strategy identified six categories of people at risk of digital exclusion: Non-working Qatari women and women with low ICT skills; school dropouts/students who did not progress to higher education/young people with low ICT skills; small communities outside Doha; elders and retirees; people with special needs; and low-skilled  laborers/domestic workers and service staff. Under this initiative, women were provided with a set of basic skills to enable them to use ICT. The initiative also increased women’s awareness of social media as a channel to promote small businesses, raised awareness of e-government services such as the Hukoomi portal, and improved women’s ability to access those services online.

Also, as part of its effort to advance its digital inclusion strategy, the ministry expanded its iParks initiative, which it launched in 2007, to provide free connectivity to visitors of public parks in the country and facilitate their access to the internet. The number of users of these networks has since been on a near-constant increase. The Ministry of Transport and Communications has pursued a large number of programs that promote digital inclusion for migrant workers, the most prominent of which is the 'Better Connections' program, which helps employers provide ICT access by setting up computer halls in workers' residences. The Ministry has also worked with employers to increase training opportunities for workers and develop content in six different languages so that all workers and employees can benefit.

Ministry of Transport and Communications 2 [].jpgToday, we are seeing a clear impact of these programs on the lives of expatriate workers, enabling them to integrate fully into digital society. According to the latest data released by the Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Better Connections program has so far provided more than 16,000 PCs to migrant workers who were trained by 1,000 volunteers in collaboration with several participating employers. To date, some 1,500 ICT halls have been opened at expatriate residences in Qatar as part of the Better Connections program.

The impact of the program on migrant workers has had positive results and has been documented by official and non-official studies. According to the Social and Economic Survey Research Institute (SESRI) at Qatar University, 95 percent of workers involved in the program have seen an improvement in the quality of life in Qatar and 90 percent of them said that ICT halls made their lives easier in Qatar. Further, 99 percent of the respondents said the program made it much easier for them to communicate with friends and family. Also, 99% of the respondents said having an Internet access enables them to stay up to date with the latest news and events in their home countries.

About 98 percent of workers reported that training programs, offered through “Better Connections”, were useful to them. While 95 percent of the users said the program offered a great opportunity to learn new skills, 98 percent leveraged the Internet to enhance communication with important people in their lives. Additionally, 93 percent of the beneficiaries said the program helps them to relax and relieve stress. Additionally 91 percent said "Better Connections" helped them increase their productivity at their workplace.

Another survey by non-profit organization 'Reach Out To Asia (ROTA)', which included 887 digital champions selected from a group of migrant workers to undergo training and then to train their peers, showed that all respondents (100 percent) felt appreciated and respected by their peers as their knowledge doubled and because they were chosen to be champions for digital inclusion. Representatives of the companies (supervisors of the halls) reported positive changes among migrant workers since the start of the program. According to the ROTA study, 99 percent of workers felt appreciated at work as being trained in ICT tools, while 100 percent felt more motivated to acquire new knowledge and improve their skills.

To ensure the sustainability and success of the program, the Ministry of Transport and Communications launched the Green Computer Club initiative in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Higher Education and the Ministry of Municipality and Environment. The initiative set up Green Computer Clubs at secondary schools across Qatar to contribute to the process of refurbishing the computers donated from several entities. After being updated and refurbished, computers are delivered and installed at ICT facilities at workers’ accommodation units countywide with the "Better Connections" program.

The programs and initiatives geared towards the development of the digital society have not overlooked groups of people with disabilities and older persons. The Assistive Technology Center Qatar (MADA), a private, public-benefit institution established in 2010, has contributed to establishing the principles of digital inclusion and the building of a digital community accessible to people with functional limitations and disabilities. At the national level, the MADA Center, being a center of excellence in digital access in Arabic language, has achieved a digital accessibility rate of 94 percent amongst government websites, while Qatar ranks fifth globally on the Digital Accessibility Rights Evaluation Index (DARE).

According to MADA's 2018 annual report, in terms of education, the Center has provided 1236 IT solutions for students with disabilities, trained and accredited 40 teachers and specialists as super users of assistive technology (AT), developed three major AT stations, and developed seven AT educational solutions within the MADA Innovation Program. The report also pointed out that the center developed 234 specialist training programs and provided 46 AT school kits. The Center also supported 2251 students with disabilities to access quality education, while the number of teachers and specialists trained was about 4026.

It is evident from all these initiatives and achievements that Qatar continues to evolve regionally and internationally in building an integrated digital society. This is evidenced by the fact that Qatar is ranked 27th globally in the “Global Information Technology Report” published by the World Economic Forum and the INSEAD Business School 2016.

According to the Global Competitiveness Report 2019, published annually by the World Economic Forum (WEF), which covers 140 countries around the world, Qatar ranked eighth globally in the pillar of ICT readiness. It also ranked first in the world index of Internet users and the penetration of high-speed Internet services (broadband). The latest data issued by the Ministry on Qatar's progress in the use of the Internet indicates that 95 percent of Qataris were able to use the internet in 2017 against 85 percent in 2013, while 95.8% of households had an Internet connection. Some research has shown that Qatari community members spend an average of about 45 hours per week on the Internet, nearly twice as much as their peers in other countries.

Her Excellency Reem Al Mansoori, Assistant Undersecretary for Digital Society Development Affairs at the Ministry of Transport and Communications said: “The Ministry of Transport and Communications is keen to equip and prepare Qatari society and raise awareness and assist in adopting the latest technologies. This is part of the Ministry's commitment to creating an integrated digital society with equal access to technology by providing as many opportunities as possible to enhance ICT readiness and participation in building a knowledge-based economy.”

“We are committed to ensuring the building of a safe and intelligent society while the country implements the TASMU Smart Qatar initiative. To this end, the Ministry is working with its strategic partners in the public and private sectors to equip the entire population of Qatar with the skills and capabilities to help them use ICT tools safely and effectively. This is done through the continuous introduction and implementation of programs and initiatives that contribute to raising technological awareness among members of the society," Al Mansouri added.

In conjunction with the growing use of the Internet and social media platforms in the country, the Ministry continues its intensive efforts to raise awareness of cybersecurity. This is being achieved through the rollout of programs, initiatives and campaigns aimed at raising awareness of Internet safety and expanding Internet penetration among the various segments of Qatari society, most notably the cyber safety learning program (Haseen) and the "Ammen Taslam" campaign. Initiatives also include the "Guide to Ethical Responsibility in a Digital World" and the "SafeSpace" platform to help parents and teachers to protect children online, as well as online safety workshops in collaboration with a number of government ministries and institutions.

As part of the Smart Qatar drive and the Ministry of Transport and Communications' efforts to develop its own programs and initiatives, the Ministry has given startups and entrepreneurs utmost importance as a nucleus of solutions and applications to facilitate access to technology. Simultaneously, the Ministry is strengthening its strategic partnerships with other ministries and key investors in the communications and technology sector through initiatives such as the Digital Incubation Center, which managed during the period from 2013 to June 2019 to train 1162 entrepreneurs, and provide 402 jobs through incubated companies since its establishment.

The Ministry also launched the 'Digital Transformation of SMEs' program to enable startups in the country to use technology, thus supporting their digital transformation, and promoting awareness of the benefits of using digital solutions and modern technology in the business sector, serving more than 5,000 companies by the end of 2019.

To help young businessmen and women, entrepreneurs and innovators keep abreast of the rapid development of the digital landscape, the Ministry of Transport and Communications has dedicated a set of activities and events to support entrepreneurship and innovation at the Qatar Information Technology and Communication Conference and Exhibition (QITCOM) held on a 25,000-square-meter space at the National Convention Center. This will be done through the Entrepreneurship Zone, which will include 5 major platforms that combine diverse digital areas: Make the Deal, the Idea Camp, Code Camp, Startups Zone, and the Innovation Theater, all designed to help young entrepreneurs transform their innovative ideas into viable projects, and offer incubation programs that will promote and develop new projects.

In its fifth edition, which will be held from October 29 to November 1, QITCOM will be held under the slogan "Safe, Smart Cities" with the participation of more than 100 speakers and 412 local and international exhibitors and startups to date and about 300 entrepreneurs and innovators. The conference will witness the signing and launch of about 200 new initiatives, partnerships and agreements for the development of the digital society aimed at supporting the plans to create an innovative and sustainable digital society in Qatar. The high-profile event will also see the inking of many contracts and commercial deals for the most prominent projects of the country. During the conference, the latest digital initiatives will be announced and multiple agreements with international companies will be signed. Furthermore, QITCOM will provide an avenue to showcase the many investment opportunities available in the Qatari market.