British Ambassador to Lebanon Hugo Shorter announced today £2.5 million ($3.2 million) towards a new International Research Centre (IRC) in Lebanon. Ambassador Shorter was speaking live at the ArabNet Beirut conference, held under the patronage of H.E. President General Michel Aoun.
The International Research Centre will act as the bridge between the abundant knowledge capability in Lebanese universities and the global tech industry, partnered with GREAT British Universities. It aims to position Lebanon as the Middle East’s R&D hub, acting as a catalyst for economic growth, stability and job creation and a gateway between east and west.
The IRC will serve as a portal for multinational and local companies of all sizes to undertake research and develop new solutions in these areas through a collaborative environment where commercial gain can be achieved for all. The IRC’s first project, a collaboration between the Lebanese University and the Geneva-based CERN European Laboratory for Particle Physics, amongst others, is already underway. The collaboration aims to produce the world’s first Fiber Optic Sensors System designed to measure parameters such as temperature, humidity, concentration of pesticides, fertilizers and enzymes in the soil of cultivated fields. This will empower farmers by allowing irrigation that will result in water saving and increased crop yield, and cut the cost of watering farmer’s fields from $500 per hectare to under $80 per hectare.
Hugo Shorter, British Ambassador to Lebanon, said:
The Tech Hub is not about taking the most talented to global markets. It is about bringing global markets to them. It is about returning Lebanon to being the gateway to the MENA region, a bridge between East and West as it always was. Lebanon’s people are its most coveted resource. This partnership, the UK Lebanon Tech Hub, is about harnessing the potential of that resource. This partnership is about creating 25,000 jobs in Lebanon by 2025’ The UK is not just supporting Lebanon’s security and stability, but it’s leading the way in investing in Lebanon’s prosperity too.
Nicolas Sehnaoui, Chairman of the UK Lebanon Tech Hub, said:
Lebanon’s real strength is in its brain power, reflected in its world-class education and its stellar diaspora. The hub’s R&D centre will bridge Lebanon’s academic strengths and knowledge capabilities with the global industry. Retaining our best talents is a game changer for our economy. Investing in our talents will harness their enormous potential to turn Lebanon into a globally recognized innovation hub all while creating jobs for our youth.
From the very beginning of the UK-Lebanon Tech Hub under two years ago, the British Embassy Beirut has been closely involved, providing the expertise, matched talents and helped Lebanese entrepreneurs expand their footprint in global markets through London and the British ecosystem. With new technological approaches to traditional sectors we can find innovative solutions to help bring people out of poverty, create a more inclusive society, and enable economic growth.
The International Research Centre is a key recommendation of the recent flagship report by the UK Lebanon Tech Hub, which outlines a plan to create 25,000 jobs by 2025. The report’s findings followed the examination of Lebanon’s knowledge economy, mapping its strengths and weaknesses, assessing global trends, and comparing its ecosystem development experiences with countries of a similar profile.
The UK Lebanon Tech Hub (UKLTH) is a joint initiative by Banque du Liban, Lebanon’s Central Bank, and the UK government through the British Embassy in Beirut. It aims to support the growth of the knowledge economy in Lebanon through the development of tech companies in the country and create opportunities for the brightest Lebanese talent to access international markets.
The report acknowledges the Banque Du Liban’s (BDL) considerable funding and support, particularly through its 331 initiative, which made available $400 million to encourage banks to invest in the knowledge economy through direct investments or venture capital funds. Under the scheme, the Lebanese Central Bank guarantees 75 per cent of investments made by commercial banks.
The Bank Du Liban’s (BDL) is a legal public entity enjoying financial and administrative autonomy. It is not subject to the administrative and management rules and controls applicable to the public sector.
The BDL is entrusted with the general mission of safeguarding Lebanon’s national currency in order to ensure the basis for sustained social and economic growth.
For three consecutive years, the BDL has introduced stimulus packages – roughly at USD 1 billion each – to support housing, education, renewable energy projects, innovative projects, R&D ventures, entrepreneurship and other productive sectors. These stimulus programs have contributed around 50% of real GDP growth estimated at 2% in both 2014 and 2015 by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
To further bolster growth, the BDL issued Circular 331 in August 2013 as another unconventional intervention to invest in Lebanon’s knowledge economy.
Circular 331 is aimed at enabling the country’s highly skilled human capital to develop more successful businesses, create new employment opportunities, expand the country’s GDP, and ensure sustainable development. This circular encourages Lebanese banks to invest in the equity capital of start-ups, incubators, accelerators and other companies working in the knowledge economy. The scheme makes available around USD $400 million to support creativity and innovation. This offers Lebanon’s knowledge sector unprecedented funding, which banks have committed to through venture capital funds or by investing directly in start-ups.
Lebanon’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is developing fast, which is demonstrated by the Lebanon ICT sector’s eight per cent annual growth over the last five years and the expansion of the market to USD 400 Million by 2015, according to a recent report by the UK Lebanon Tech Hub. This has helped position Lebanon in the Top 20 entrepreneurial nations of the world in 2015 (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor). At the same time, Lebanon has many universities with dedicated research policies. Based on the most recent QS University Rankings, Lebanon had three universities in the top 20 universities of the Arab region, including the American University of Beirut which ranked in second place.