The Qatar-America Institute (QAI) has launched a new initiative, the Expert Voices Series. The initiative is envisioned as a medium for encouraging broader and more diverse conversations between Qatari experts and/or experts on Qatar with U.S.-based leaders in business, academia and politics.
In an effort to diversify outreach beyond the traditional East Coast hubs of Washington, D.C. and New York, QAI sought to initiate new channels of engagement with the key West Coast hubs of San Francisco and Los Angeles. With a population of 39.5 million and a GDP of $2.7 trillion – the fifth largest economy in the world – California (CA) was QAI’s natural choice for a first foray to the West Coast. The state boasts some of the world’s premier academic institutions and science labs, as well as America’s motion picture industry (Hollywood).
Silicon Valley in California’s Bay Area is the global capital for hi-tech innovation and entrepreneurship; the co-location of a critical mass of venture capital investors and a talent pool of unparalleled depth and quality has produced some of the world’s most valuable companies. California’s industrial origins in defense and aerospace remain integral to the state’s research and development (R&D) nexus and economic export composition.
Dr. Khalid Al-Ali – Qatari Tech Entrepreneur and Former NASA Specialist
The first participant in QAI’s Expert Voices Series was Dr. Khalid Al-Ali, a Qatari technology entrepreneur and Co-Founder and Executive Chairman of Senseta, a Silicon Valley-based data analytics firm.
In the field of aeronautics and exploration technology, Dr. Al-Ali spent 10 years in NASA’s Ames Research Center and Jet Propulsion Laboratories. Dr. Al-Ali was also the CEO of the Qatar Science and Technology Park (QSTP), Qatar’s premier business “free zone” dedicated to the development of market-ready tech products
Having earned his PhD at UC Berkeley and worked at NASA and DARPA-administered labs, Dr. Al-Ali has made California his second home both professionally and personally. He is uniquely well positioned to provide a nuanced outlook of promising and fertile areas of collaboration between Qatari entities and the State of California.
California Engagement Snapshot
QAI hosted Dr. Al-Ali in Northern California, where he featured as a speaker on a panel, “Technology Trends in Emerging Markets,” at Stanford University’s inaugural MENA Forum. As the CEO of tech firm, which has created knowledge-intensive jobs in both Silicon Valley and Doha, Dr. Al-Ali spoke about Qatar’s commitment to increasing its GDP contribution to R&D that forms the basis of commercially successful tech-enabled products.
On the panel, Dr. Al-Ali spoke about his experience leading the complex negotiations that brought two of the seven U.S. universities that have established full degree-granting campuses in Doha’s Education City. With his appointment as the first CEO of QSTP, he spoke of the vision to “capture the intellectual property from the academic institutions and providing a finance bridge from QSTP to create value from knowledge.” Dr. Al-Ali spoke of his leadership role on national steering committees that have shaped Qatar’s technology policy and articulated Qatar’s vision of integrating its industry with the research and higher education infrastructure that it has been investing massive resources to develop.
On the sidelines of the Stanford MENA Forum, Dr. Al-Ali held meetings with Research Fellows at the Hoover Institution, a leading American think tank, to discuss potential partnerships between Hoover Fellows and research institutes in Qatar, such as the Qatar Computing Research Institute and the Qatari Energy and Environment Institute.
Similar consultations were held with Distinguished Fellows at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Affairs, with a specific focus on food security and energy markets and with the Stanford’s Program on Energy and Sustainable Development.
UCLA’s Center for Middle East Development (CMED) hosted QAI and Dr. Al-Ali at the university’s Faculty Club for discussions that will reinforce UCLA’s already deep ties with Qatar. CMED is UCLA’s dedicated center for Middle East expertise and, for many years, has partnered with Qatar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to host an annual conference in Qatar under the banner of “Enriching the Economic Future of the Middle East.”
RAND Corporation Santa Monica
At the RAND Corporation’s Santa Monica headquarters, Dr. Al-Ali gave remarks on “Qatar’s Economic Diversification and Tech/Innovation Policy” to a select group of researchers, followed by an engaging Q&A session under Chatham House rules. He highlighted the nexus approach of linking Qatar’s universities with government-backed funding mechanisms, such as Qatar Development Bank (QDB) and QSTP. He emphasized that enabling the private sector through access to credit and business incubators will facilitate the creation of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that will help Qatar diversify its economy away from hydrocarbons.
Though the RAND Corporation no longer maintains an office in Doha, it remains an important strategic partner to many Qatari institutions who rely on RAND for research and advisory support.
The Larta Institute defines itself as providing a “mesh network” of mentorship resources, expertise, funding and connections to patient capital. In that sense, Larta is an Institute and not in the mold of traditional Bay Area “accelerators” that tend to be a source of one-time funding, office space for a limited time, and a scattered feedback loop.
Larta recognizes the fiercely competitive space of emerging technology start-ups and instead seeks to support nascent tech companies in every step of their lab to market transition. This starts with pairing companies with Principal Advisors who are experienced practitioners in both academia and industry. Larta is organized around the four pillars of Feed, Fuel, Heal and Innovation, with long-standing partnerships with the federal research funding arms of the National Institute of Health, Department of Energy and United States Department of Agriculture.
QAI and Dr. Ali had a very positive meeting with the Larta leadership. QAI expressed enthusiasm for converging some of Larta’s internationally renowned experience with Qatar’s efforts to cultivate its own organic “mesh network” of business enablers. This will help advance the Qatar National Vision 2030, which prioritizes economic diversification and human capital development.
The Pacific Council on International Policy
The Pacific Council is the West Coast’s premier member-based public diplomacy institute. It has hosted sitting U.S. Secretaries of State, Members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, former presidents, and the list could go on.
The Pacific Council hosted a lunch in their LA headquarters in honor of Dr. Khalid Al-Ali. The lunch was well attended by Pacific Council members who hail from diverse industries: financial services, aviation, law enforcement, defense, academia and literature.
Dr. Al-Ali offered some remarks on Qatar’s journey from seeking partners in the 1960s to finance and provide the technology for a world-leading LNG industry, to its current investment-led boom in human capital development and a sovereign wealth fund with a global and diversified portfolio of assets. Under Chatham House rules, Dr. Al-Ali fielded many thought-provoking questions about Qatar’s role in international affairs, its sporting ambitions and engagement with the U.S.