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ICT Forum 2004 at Dead Sea : Jordan connects

Under the patronage of His Majesty King Abdallah II, the Jordan ICT Forum 2004 was held this week on September 14 and 15, 2004, in HM King Hussein Conference Center at the Dead Sea. The Forum, attended by stakeholders in ICT from inside and outside Jordan, has become the Middle East’s largest ICT forum.

Its aim this year is to set the agenda for the future development and growth of the region’s ICT markets. The event kicked off with some welcoming words from Scott Shuster, moderator of the Jordan ICT Forum, who introduced Marwan Juma, chairman of the Information Technology Association (Int@j). Juma welcomed all attendees and spoke of the important role of ICT in our region. “We believe ICT can be a catalyst for positive change in the region.

ICT companies must start addressing our region as one, with very similar demographics, culture, language and needs. We aim for this Forum to kickstart the process of cooperation and partnership,” Juma said. Speaking about Jordan’s ICT achievements, he went on to say, “Our industry has grown threefold in the last four years, from $100 million to $300 million.”

On a lighter note, Juma told a story of an incident that occurred at the first meeting between His Majesty and global IT leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos, held in 2000.

At the time, Minister of Planning Dr Basem Awadallah explained to John Chambers, CEO of CISCO, how the telecom sector would develop in Jordan and how Jordan Telecom would be privatized. Juma said, “Mr Chambers leaned over to me and whispered ‘Do you buy that’?” This small remark, said Juma, made it crystal clear to the Jordanian delegation that it wouldn’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and that action does speak louder than words.

Then, praising Chambers, Juma went on to say, “Over the past four years, you have shown unrelenting support for His Majesty’s efforts, and have followed through with deeds and not only words. By patronizing and launching the Jordan Education Initiative, by partnering with Rubicon in creating the e-Math Curriculum and the recent CISCO Technical Support Organization launched with Estarta, you have shown a model of partnership that can be formed when a young and ambitious country gets its act together.

On behalf of all my Jordanian colleagues present here, we are truly grateful for your vision, commitment and courage.” He also praised Dr Fawaz Al Zu’bi, the Minister of ICT, saying that he was “a driving force behind much of the change we see today”. The next speaker was Al Zu’bi himself, who said that over “the next two days we will share with you our progress and solicit more of your ideas for the road ahead.” “This forum is all about partnership. About teamwork to accomplish common goals,” he added. “Our King presented us with a challenge: How can Jordan harness the power of ICT to thrive.

What can we do as a country? What can we collectively create that could be unique and valuable and how can we share this value with others?” To do so, the minister continued, “We realized that our efforts must be sustainable. We immediately understood that government had to take immediate charge of transforming itself. So we changed the law, and created a strong ICT ministry and strong regulatory body, clearly separating their roles.” Al Zu’bi explained how the government drafted a national ICT policy, the first of its kind in the region and articulated a clear, national strategic plan translating policies into measurable and quantifiable steps that the nation would take with full accountability. “We made sure that our process was inclusive, that no one was excluded from having a contributing role. [The] government further understood its critical role in driving change as a facilitator, enabler and accelerator.”

Discussing the development stages of the plan Al Zu’bi focused on the importance of education, developing the economy and creating the environment to attract investments. “We also understood that there could be no real success if we did not allow our private sector to flourish and take the lead,” he continued, while stressing on the importance of strategic partnerships. “The change process we have embarked on is irreversible. Technology adoption is all around us. In government, in the private sector, in our educational institutions and community, and even in homes,” the minister added.

Afterwards, Chambers spoke as the Forum’s keynote speaker. He re-affirmed CISCO’s commitment to Jordan, and after an overview of global and regional ICT facts and figures, he outlined a model for ICT growth. “I believe that information technology, combined with education, innovation and support of government will determine where the jobs of the future go,” Chambers said. “Productivity will not start to take off, even though computer technology has been here for decades, until you begin to enable it through a networked architecture and until you begin the change that underlies the flow of information through the business and governmental process,” he added. “We will also talk about market transformations and the importance of gains made in terms of creating jobs and directions,” he added.

Towards the end of his address, Chambers introduced His Majesty King Abdallah, saying that he had met most of the world’s leaders, but that His Majesty had a unique understanding of ICT. Upon taking the podium, His Majesty commented on what has been achieved so far, adding that the “challenges are tremendous and we have a long road ahead, regardless of what we have achieved in charting policies, in capacity building and in the efforts we have exerted that have made a difference in various sectors in Jordan, particularly in IT and education sectors.” What is being done here in Jordan and in the region “is for our children and our children’s children,” His Majesty affirmed.

The second day of the Information and Communications Technology Forum focused on the issues of youth and education. Minister of Education Dr Khaled Touqan reviewed progress achieved by Jordan in the education field, pointing at Jordan’s educational vision and the role of technology in enabling the Kingdom to reach this vision and invest in this sector.

Minister of Higher Education Isam Za’balawi touched on Jordan’s strategy to develop IT at Jordanian universities. He also noted the importance of the recently introduced national network linking universities and the need to use this network in the best manner. A number of participants also spoke during the session in which they focused on education as well as the importance of developing this sector.

The Jordan ICT Forum ran for two days, with specialized sessions given by a panel of top-notch speakers, covering topics like “Defining Routes of Regional Opportunity”, “Connectivity for Regional Growth”, “Regional Synergies for a Global Offering”, “Value Generation in the Arab World”, “Investing in the Future: Vision for Education” and “Building a Youth Dialogue for Innovation.”

Amman,09 27 2004
Zeid Nasser
The Daily Star
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