Nurturing a Knowledge Economy in Qatar

Content from the Brookings Doha Center is now archived. In September 2021, after 14 years of impactful partnership, Brookings and the Brookings Doha Center announced that they were ending their affiliation. The Brookings Doha Center is now the Middle East Council on Global Affairs, a separate public policy institution based in Qatar.

Knowledge, as it is applied in entrepreneurship, research, and product design, is one of the key sources of sustained growth in the global economy. The advancement of a knowledge economy is a central feature of developed and developing countries alike. Innovation, along with rising investment in “intangible” assets, such as research and development (R&D) and information and communication technologies, has become ever more important as a driver of growth. Zamila Bunglawala explores whether Qatar – a country highly dependent on its oil and gas revenues – can innovate, diversify, and ultimately reach its aim of creating a knowledge economy.

Recommendations for the Qatari government and public institutions:

  • Looking to the Small Business Innovation
    Research program in the United States as a
    model, the Qatari government should help
    to generate demand for research that is then
    transformed into viable businesses through
    public procurement initiatives.
    The Small
    Business Innovation Research program allocates
    2.5 percent of the total research budgets
    of all federal agencies with budgets over $100
    million to contracts or grants for small businesses.
    The Qatari government could set a similar
    target of funds from research budgets to be
    allocated to small businesses.
  • Prizes should be granted for business ventures
    and innovations.
    The National Business
    Plan “Al Fikra” competition offers a useful
    model for incentivizing entrepreneurial
    ideas. The competition allows undergraduate
    and graduate students, as well as professionals,
    to present business plans to a consortium
    of higher education institutions and business
    development groups, who then help convert the
    best ideas into viable businesses by providing
    advice and funding.35 Public institutions, such
    as the Ministry of Business and Trade, Enterprise
    Qatar, and the Ministry of Higher Education
    should now take similar action. In so doing,
    risk-taking behavior will be encouraged
    and entrepreneurs rewarded early on in the innovation
    process, encouraging them to continue
    taking risks. Additionally, national prizes would
    add to the prestige associated with innovation
    and business development and therefore grant
    greater cultural acceptance. The National Business
    Plan competition, launched in 2011, is the
    first of its kind to seek to reward innovative ideas,
    rather than only final products. Such projects
    should be emulated.
  • Enterprise Qatar should provide financial
    incentives for Qatar’s equity funds and venture
    capital entities to invest in and provide
    financial support for SMEs.
    This will increase
    small and fledgling businesses’ access to funding,
    through private or public-private equity
    funds, enabling entrepreneurs to advance their
    projects and ideas.

Recommendations to Qatari schools and universities:

  • Schools and universities in Qatar can help
    foster a culture of business development and
    risk-taking by ensuring that these skills are
    taught as an integral part of the educational
    This, in turn, will encourage more
    students to become involved in business and
    eventually contribute to the transfer of knowledge.
    By adding such classes, a new generation
    of Qataris will be more likely to venture into the
    private sector, thus contributing to the development of a knowledge economy.
  • Universities should expand the incubation
    role currently offered by QSTP for technology
    innovation, through which students
    can gain access to the support of Enterprise
    Qatar, Silatech, as well as QSTP.
    In this way,
    a stronger link can be forged between education
    and business creation. Business incubation
    by universities will help subsidize risk-taking,
    thereby reducing risk aversion. It will also help
    foster an environment in which universities
    and students are willing to adopt new ways of
    learning through a combination of research,
    education, and business creation. Universities
    should therefore provide institutional support
    to young people with viable business ideas by
    absorbing the initial start-up costs and risks as
    well as providing infrastructure support. By
    doing so, institutions of higher education can
    enable real projects to be designed and implemented
    by students, within universities, in their
    early stages.
  • Qatar’s education system, from the primary
    school to university level, needs to support
    and meet the requirements of its economy
    to ensure immediate and long-term stability
    and growth.
    A comprehensive reform program
    of how schools and universities in Qatar can
    meet the government’s objectives for a knowledge
    economy, as outlined in the National
    Development Strategy and Qatar National Vision
    2030, should be undertaken. Courses emphasizing
    cognitive problem-solving, creative
    thinking, and vocational and technical skills
    should be emphasized.

Recommendations for the private sector in Qatar:

  • Qatar’s private sector can aid in the development
    of the knowledge economy by
    improving access to finance.
    The QCCI and
    QBA should lobby financial institutions in Qatar
    to increase bank lending for local enterprises
    from the current 0.5 percent to the current
    non-GCC level of 13 percent, and the World
    Bank target rate of 21 percent for SMEs.
  • The QCCI and QBA, working in conjunction
    with Enterprise Qatar and similar organizations,
    should draw up a new regulatory
    framework to increase transparency and
    banking competitiveness in financial lending
    to SMEs.
    In this way, subsidized bank lending
    can be effectively monitored and evaluated
    to ensure that it facilitates the establishment of
    new businesses and new growth for existing

Recommendations for international organizations:

  • Drawing from the Tunis Declaration, the
    World Bank, through its Education for
    Knowledge Economy program, can provide
    Qatar with direct support, guidance, and
    expertise to advise on improving the Qatari
    education system.
    The Bank and similar organizations
    can also help ensure that networks
    of innovation and knowledge economy experts
    are made known and available to Qatar. This
    support will help Qatar further advance its
    knowledge economy by increasing the skills
    levels of the workforce, guiding local businesses,
    and ensuring positive movement toward
    meeting the World Bank target of 21 percent
    bank lending for SMEs.