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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Daily Newspaper published by GPPC Doha, Qatar.
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 Peter Alagos
Peter Alagos
Peter Alagos reports on Business and general news for Gulf Times. He is a Kapampangan journalist with a writing career of almost 30 years. His photographs have been published in several books, including a book on the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo eruption launched by former Philippine president Fidel V. Ramos. Peter has also taught journalism in two universities.
Khalifa al-Haroon, the founder and CEO of Store974 and ILoveQatar.net.
Business
Esports, gaming help forge career frontiers for Qatar’s youth

Esports, including gaming, can open multiple career paths for young people who are looking to explore or immerse themselves in this fast-growing industry.In Qatar, gaming and the esports industry have steadily evolved over the years, according to Khalifa al-Haroon, the founder and CEO of Store974 and ILoveQatar.net, who noted that this LNG-rich Gulf nation “has always been a country of gamers.”Speaking to Gulf Times in an exclusive interview, al-Haroon said some of the factors that contributed to the growth of these industries in Qatar include a young and tech-savvy population, robust government support and investment, collaborations with international gaming companies and events, and the emergence of different groups and roles in the gaming community.“I definitely see that we have been evolving. Today, there are more groups in all shapes and forms that are starting to develop in the country, which include not just gamers and esports players, but people investing in hardware or those who want to become content creators, game designers, storytellers, TV scriptwriters, or movie producers, as well as people wanting to be announcers for esports events, among others. That’s the beauty of this medium,” al-Haroon explained.However, esports and gaming are not only a source of entertainment, but also a platform for learning, innovation, and collaboration in Qatar’s education sector, underscored al-Haroon, citing Store 974’s partnership with the International School of London (ISL) to include esports in its curriculum.Al-Haroon explains the motivation behind Store 974’s tie-ups with educational institutions to offer esports and gaming courses, saying it is part of his vision to be as inclusive as possible for everyone, regardless of age, ability, or nationality.“Just as you would have physical athletes that represent a school, now there are digital athletes, as well. But then you also have individuals that might want to be involved in becoming game developers one day,” he noted.Similarly, al-Haroon said his mission is to educate the public about the benefits and opportunities of gaming and to prepare the country for the digital economy.“Educating parents that gaming is so much more than just a waste of time is crucial. It’s about encouraging kids that they can pursue a professional career in something that they are passionate about.“But then they also have to be trained and developed to understand that being a professional esports athlete requires more playing skills. You also need social and communication skills, as well as to be presentable and business savvy, so that’s why it was very important for us to make sure that we get the schools involved because whether we like it or not, the world is going to evolve into a hyper-digital economy. And we need to make sure that everyone in the country is prepared,” he pointed out.Citing an experience that Store 974 had while working with a specific institution, al-Haroon said they discovered that gaming played a key role in helping children overcome certain social challenges, such as the difficulty of physically interacting and participating in team-based activities.“When we gave them virtual reality glasses, the children who typically would not talk to each other physically had started engaging and talking to each other digitally. They’re sitting in the same room, but because they feel like they’re in a virtual world, it took away the social anxiety and encouraged them to be slightly open to trying new things,” said al-Haroon, adding that the experience provided a glimpse of how gaming can cater to everyone, especially when utilised as a tool for social interaction and therapy, aside from just entertainment.Al-Haroon also pointed out that Artificial Intelligence (AI) could benefit Qatar’s gaming scene, particularly for players, content creators, and the public and private sectors.“One of the benefits I see is having AI coaches that could review gaming footage and then provide the gamer with advice on areas of improvement. That would be amazing. On content generation, AI can select the best scenes and simplify a creator’s workflow.“Government support will also play a great role whether in attracting companies specialising in AI to set up in Qatar, investing in global firms, encouraging startups to create their own AI solutions, or simply training people on how to utilise AI better and more efficiently,” al-Haroon added.

Khalifa al-Haroon, the founder and CEO of Store974 and ILoveQatar.net.
Business
Esports, gaming help forge career frontiers for Qatar’s youth

Esports, including gaming, can open multiple career paths for young people who are looking to explore or immerse themselves in this fast-growing industry.In Qatar, gaming and the esports industry have steadily evolved over the years, according to Khalifa al-Haroon, the founder and CEO of Store974 and ILoveQatar.net, who noted that this LNG-rich Gulf nation “has always been a country of gamers.”Speaking to Gulf Times in an exclusive interview, al-Haroon said some of the factors that contributed to the growth of these industries in Qatar include a young and tech-savvy population, robust government support and investment, collaborations with international gaming companies and events, and the emergence of different groups and roles in the gaming community.“I definitely see that we have been evolving. Today, there are more groups in all shapes and forms that are starting to develop in the country, which include not just gamers and esports players, but people investing in hardware or those who want to become content creators, game designers, storytellers, TV scriptwriters, or movie producers, as well as people wanting to be announcers for esports events, among others. That’s the beauty of this medium,” al-Haroon explained.However, esports and gaming are not only a source of entertainment, but also a platform for learning, innovation, and collaboration in Qatar’s education sector, underscored al-Haroon, citing Store 974’s partnership with the International School of London (ISL) to include esports in its curriculum.Al-Haroon explains the motivation behind Store 974’s tie-ups with educational institutions to offer esports and gaming courses, saying it is part of his vision to be as inclusive as possible for everyone, regardless of age, ability, or nationality.“Just as you would have physical athletes that represent a school, now there are digital athletes, as well. But then you also have individuals that might want to be involved in becoming game developers one day,” he noted.Similarly, al-Haroon said his mission is to educate the public about the benefits and opportunities of gaming and to prepare the country for the digital economy.“Educating parents that gaming is so much more than just a waste of time is crucial. It’s about encouraging kids that they can pursue a professional career in something that they are passionate about.“But then they also have to be trained and developed to understand that being a professional esports athlete requires more playing skills. You also need social and communication skills, as well as to be presentable and business savvy, so that’s why it was very important for us to make sure that we get the schools involved because whether we like it or not, the world is going to evolve into a hyper-digital economy. And we need to make sure that everyone in the country is prepared,” he pointed out.Citing an experience that Store 974 had while working with a specific institution, al-Haroon said they discovered that gaming played a key role in helping children overcome certain social challenges, such as the difficulty of physically interacting and participating in team-based activities.“When we gave them virtual reality glasses, the children who typically would not talk to each other physically had started engaging and talking to each other digitally. They’re sitting in the same room, but because they feel like they’re in a virtual world, it took away the social anxiety and encouraged them to be slightly open to trying new things,” said al-Haroon, adding that the experience provided a glimpse of how gaming can cater to everyone, especially when utilised as a tool for social interaction and therapy, aside from just entertainment.Al-Haroon also pointed out that Artificial Intelligence (AI) could benefit Qatar’s gaming scene, particularly for players, content creators, and the public and private sectors.“One of the benefits I see is having AI coaches that could review gaming footage and then provide the gamer with advice on areas of improvement. That would be amazing. On content generation, AI can select the best scenes and simplify a creator’s workflow.“Government support will also play a great role whether in attracting companies specialising in AI to set up in Qatar, investing in global firms, encouraging startups to create their own AI solutions, or simply training people on how to utilise AI better and more efficiently,” al-Haroon added.

Snoonu Product Marketing Lead Andrew Edward.
Business
'Tapping Qatar’s home-based businesses to grow local economy'

A Qatari startup that offers delivery and e-commerce services has partnered with home-based and micro businesses, providing them with a platform to reach more customers and showcase their products.This partnership also aims to support owners of home-based businesses with their business plans and growth strategies, said Andrew Edward, the Product Marketing Lead of local company Snoonu.The decision to tap into this segment of the market was driven by the commitment of Snoonu’s founder and chief executive, Hamad al-Hajri, to support the local economy and find untapped opportunities, Edward emphasised.Edward explained that al-Hajri, along with his team at Snoonu, noticed a gap where many local businesses, despite being officially registered, lacked a platform to interact with customers and market their products effectively. Snoonu has this ability built-in within its platform thanks to its partnership with Braze. It enables them to segment and personalise interactions with customers which, in turn, can help local businesses do the same.“One of the commitments of al-Hajri is to try to support the local economy and he has this talent of always working with the team in finding these untapped opportunities in the market and determining where it can be better and how he can improve it,” Edward said.As a local startup, Edward noted that Snoonu understands the local context and sees this as an opportunity to support local businesses. “We are confident that our platform will help our audience and the Qatari population engage more with these businesses. Snoonu is aware of what our audience is looking for collaborating with home-based businesses is one way to help them engage with the Snoonu app more,” Edward said.With its quick and large growth, Snoonu is constantly exploring innovative tools like Braze to refine its customer engagement strategies, ensuring the platform remains dynamic and responsive to users' needs.Given the amount of growth experienced by these micro businesses since partnering with Snoonu, Edward stated that he has a positive outlook for home-based businesses in 2024.“I would say my outlook is also positive. So far, home businesses that are in the Snoonu app have been seeing a good amount of growth, and in how they have been marketing their products to a much wider audience,” noted Edward, who lauded the support being provided by the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to small and micro businesses.“The ministry is showing more support in terms of how it wants to collaborate more to increase the growth of these home businesses and helping them understand the next steps they can take,” Edward said.He also stressed that innovation was a key driver for success and that startups and entrepreneurs should always embrace new technologies and stay ahead of the competition. “This would help them meet their user’s needs at the right time and with the best communication, and also help them evolve in their market and future markets,” Edward added.

PayLater co-founder Khalifa al-Haroon.
Business
‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ gaining traction in Qatar, says fintech founder

The Buy Now, Pay Later (BNPL) scheme is opening up new opportunities for both consumers and businesses in Qatar, according to a Doha-based fintech firm specialising in BNPL.BNPL has become an attractive option for consumers, according to Khalifa al-Haroon, who is co-founder of PayLater. Al-Haroon, who is also the founder and CEO of Store974 and ILoveQatar.net, noted that he is optimistic about the future of BNPL in Qatar.“We haven’t even put our product out in the market yet, but we’ve already had almost 300 companies reach out to us,” al-Haroon told Gulf Times in an exclusive interview.Because of the product’s simplicity and usability, al-Haroon said he is confident that PayLater will successfully cater to the needs of consumers and businesses in Qatar. He hopes that it will be instrumental in stimulating the market and give the company the needed foothold to expand in the region.Al-Haroon explained that the company’s goal is to help people buy items within their means, without adding to their debt. He said PayLater allows customers to pay in four instalments over two salary cycles, with zero interest and minimal or no penalty fees.“We’re looking at several objectives, such as being Shariah-compliant, zero-interest, and no penalty fees because our goal is to encourage people to be mindful of their expenses and provide a very simple solution,” he stressed.Al-Haroon also underscored the significance of integration, particularly with organisations like the Qatar Credit Bureau and the Qatar Central Bank to provide quick background checks and big data for financial decisions that will benefit the economy and the country.But implementing BNPL in the country also has its challenges, al-Haroon pointed out. He is hoping that the relevant agencies could address the lack of financial insurance in the country, as well as help streamline the processing time for business licensing.On the other hand, setting up a new business in Qatar “is easier than before,” emphasised al-Haroon, who lauded the Ministry of Commerce and Industry’s efforts to automate and simplify the application process. However, there are still difficulties in working with multiple agencies and institutions that may not understand or support the vision of the entrepreneurs, he also said.Nevertheless, al-Haroon stressed that these challenges do not impede plans to expand other businesses, such as Store974, which is looking to set its footprint in other GCC countries like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. With hopes to spread the business globally, al-Haroon said he is trying to raise QR50mn to take Store974 “to the next level.”“These are the two GCC markets I’m looking at the moment, but specifically Saudi Arabia because the country is focused heavily on esports. And I would love to have Qatar and Saudi Arabia holding hands in the development of esports in the region,” al-Haroon revealed.

HSBC Qatar CEO Abdul Hakeem Mostafawi.
Business
HSBC Qatar marks 70 years of growth and partnership

HSBC Qatar is marking its 70th anniversary by reflecting on seven decades of pioneering milestones, contributions to the nation’s economic development, and a symbiotic partnership that has fuelled growth for Qatar and the global financial institution.In an exclusive interview with Gulf Times, HSBC Qatar CEO Abdul Hakeem Mostafawi elaborated on the key achievements over the past 70 years that transformed the bank into a dominant force combining local expertise with worldwide connectivity.“Our growth story in Qatar is aligned directly to the country’s economic transformation, which has been shaped by visionary leadership – both in government and institutions, such as the Qatar Central Bank,” Mostafawi stated.HSBC was one of the first international banks locally incorporated when it received its license in March 1954, said Mostafawi, emphasising that it didn’t take long for HSBC to start racking up an extensive list of pioneering firsts and milestones.Many of the bank’s achievements are the product of combining local expertise and global connections to deliver unique banking solutions, Mostafawi explained, adding that this includes installing Qatar’s first ATM in 1986, setting off the nation’s digital banking journey.Other key milestones include introducing electronic banking for corporates (1987), opening Qatar’s first custody services (1998), acting as lead manager for the government's debut Islamic sukuk issuance (2004), launching the country’s first investment banking platform and introducing Institutional Fund Services (2005), and opening a digitally-focused branch in Msheireb (2020). More recently, HSBC has emerged as a thought leader in cutting-edge areas like digital tokenisation and generative AI applications for banking.Throughout its 70-year presence, HSBC has played a pivotal role in catalysing Qatar’s economic rise and diversification agenda. “We have supported the public and private sectors to grow with the country's ambitions, especially focusing on economic diversification,” Mostafawi said.He said HSBC helped government entities identify and invest in international opportunities outside the oil and gas sectors through pioneering investment banking services. The bank was also the first to provide custody services, facilitating foreign investment inflows.HSBC’s advisory expertise was instrumental in major transactions like Industries Qatar's historic IPO in 2009 – then the nation’s largest. “We were the adviser on that milestone IPO on the Qatar Stock Exchange,” noted Mostafawi.Today, Mostafawi said HSBC is at the forefront of Qatar’s sustainable finance drive as it transitions to a more sustainable economy: “We play a leading role in the transition to net zero by providing expert advice and supporting customers in their transition journeys. This includes establishing sustainable finance frameworks for stakeholders.”The bank’s strategic priorities align with Qatar National Vision 2030 across the economic, human, environmental and social development pillars.Economically, HSBC continues attracting foreign investors, supporting multinationals’ growth in Qatar, and identifying international investment opportunities for local entities to aid diversification.On the human development front, the bank is deeply invested in upskilling Qatari talent, with nationals comprising 37% of its workforce. Its employee policies, such as hybrid work models, are industry-leading for work-life balance.Environmentally, HSBC is the go-to thought leader for ESG and green finance solutions. “We are frequently represented at major conferences like COP28, Bloomberg’s Qatar Financial Market Forum, and the Qatar Foundation’s Earthna Summit 2023 to share our expertise. The bank has pioneered green lending in Qatar across various initiatives,” Mostafawi said.HSBC’s social development impact is through corporate sustainability activities like financial literacy programmes and volunteering as a responsible corporate citizen.Looking ahead, Mostafawi sees HSBC’s primary role as Qatar’s preeminent trade finance bank bridging local businesses with cross-border trade and supply chain solutions. We offer a full suite of products including sophisticated solutions to support the country’s economic diversification into high-growth sectors like renewable energy, tourism, healthcare, and education," he said.He said HSBC has already supported prominent Qatari family business groups in acquiring European real estate, establishing regional operations, and investing in major renewable projects abroad by connecting them with global opportunities.Mostafawi noted that HSBC aims to open up a world of opportunity for clients, which becomes a reality when they are connected to international growth prospects through digital channels.He said HSBC became the first bank globally to enable straight-through digital processing for bank guarantees issued to a Qatari client via its cutting-edge trade finance platform. Another key offering is HSBC’s market-leading securities services that give international investors access to investment prospects in Qatar’s rapidly developing capital markets.As HSBC Qatar commemorates its 70th anniversary in Qatar, Mostafawi said: “HSBC has been supporting Qatar for 70 years, providing local expertise and global connections to help customers grow their wealth. We are committed to opening up a world of opportunity for customers with international banking needs and ambitions to grow and prosper internationally.“We have the heritage and expertise, clients and connectivity, scale and successes, strength in sustainability, the people and the values that we are proud to deploy in the service of our Qatar and its people every day.”

HE the Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohamed bin Ali al-Mannai. PICTURE: Shaji Kayamkulam
Business
Digital transformation of Qatar SMEs at the forefront, says minister

The digital transformation of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Qatar is one of the core programmes implemented by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT).Speaking to the media on the concluding day of Web Summit Qatar 2024, HE the Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohamed bin Ali al-Mannai underscored the role of SMEs as the backbone of the economy.Al-Mannai underscored the need to provide SMEs with “the right digital tools” and “the right digital transformation approach,” along with a wide range of government support in the digital transformation domain, one of the MCIT’s major programmes under the Digital Agenda 2030.Aside from the MCIT’s support for SMEs, al-Mannai also lauded the Investment Promotion Agency Qatar (Invest Qatar) for launching ‘Startup Qatar’ ahead of the Web Summit. The initiative is a one-stop online platform catering to all business requirements and serving as the single comprehensive national resource for information, support, and opportunities offered to startups.The minister also lauded Sheikh Jassim bin Mansour bin Jabor al-Thani, the director of the Government Communications Office (GCO) and Organising Committee chairman of Web Summit Qatar 2024, for a successful collaboration with Web Summit under the leadership of its CEO, Katherine Maher.Al-Mannai said Web Summit Qatar 2024 provided content to create more events and showcase the country’s capability in events management, but it also attracted thousands of startups to the country.The event also opened opportunities for entrepreneurs and innovators in the GCC and the Middle East to network with their peers abroad and learn more about the international entrepreneurship ecosystem.“Our co-operation with Web Summit enabled us to provide a global platform from Qatar for innovators, entrepreneurs, and startups from our region and beyond. We are also happy to see that many companies are coming from Africa and other parts of the region, demonstrating that the target set from the beginning was well achieved with the representation of more than a thousand startups,” al-Mannai pointed out.Earlier on the sidelines of Web Summit Qatar 2024, al-Mannai spoke during a fireside chat titled ‘Qatar’s Plan for a Digital Future’ and underscored the significance of the Digital Agenda 2030 in promoting a knowledge-based digital economy and boosting digital transformation across industries.Al-Mannai also highlighted the role of SMEs in the success of Web Summit Qatar 2024 and the role of both SMEs and the private sector in bolstering the national digital economy.

HE the Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohamed bin Ali bin Mohamed al-Mannai during the fireside chat at Web Summit Qatar 2024. PICTURE: Shaji Kayamkulam.
Qatar
Govt to support digital innovation in pvt sector

HE the Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohamed bin Ali al-Mannai has ensured that the government will support the private sector in driving Qatar’s digital economy.The minister made the statement during a fireside chat with Euronews bureau chief and business presenter Guy Shone on ‘Qatar’s Plan for a Digital Future’ held on the sidelines of Web Summit Qatar 2024 Thursday.During the fireside chat, the minister also focused on the key developments in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector and the outlines for the digital innovation plan in Qatar for the next five years.Al-Mannai underscored the significance of the Digital Agenda 2030 in promoting a knowledge-based digital economy and boosting digital transformation across industries and highlighted the role of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the success of Web Summit Qatar 2024 and the role of both SMEs and the private sector in bolstering the national digital economy.Al-Mannai said, “Certainly, the digital economy is not driven by the government alone. It is primarily private-sector driven. Therefore, our relationships are built around co-operation with the private sector.“In the national digital agenda, we provide direction about our goals so that they can support us in achieving them. The delivery of the national agenda doesn’t depend solely on the government, but it relies heavily on the private sector and individuals with talent to help us achieve our targets.”The minister further said, “Therefore, the success or failure depends on three elements: the government, the private sector, and the individuals and talents that will help us achieve the set of targets for the national digital agenda...as part of the government, my role is to ensure the private sector that we’ve got your back, and we are here to help.”

(From left) Snoonu founder and CEO Hamad al-Hajri; Soumaya Ben Beya Dridje, junior partner, Rasmal Ventures; and panel moderator, Guy Shone, the bureau chief and business presenter at Euronews. PICTURE: Shaji Kayamkulam
Qatar
Qatar is ‘a haven’ for startups, says local tech expert

Qatar’s advanced educational system, robust economy, and premium customer base are collective factors that make the country “a haven” for local and international startups, according to Qatari tech startup official.Snoonu founder and CEO Hamad al-Hajri made the statement Wednesday during Web Summit Qatar 2024’s ‘Secrets of the Qatari Tech Ecosystem’ panel discussion, where he was joined by Soumaya Ben Beya Dridje, junior partner, Rasmal Ventures, and panel moderator, Guy Shone, the bureau chief and business presenter at Euronews.Citing international and local top-tier universities at Education City, al-Hajri emphasised the importance of the country’s education system and the talent it produces. He said Qatar’s graduates possess the appetite, hustle, and drive to become successful – a core value that universities in the country share.Al-Hajri noted that Snoonu’s local understanding of the market or the “founder’s factor” gives it the edge over its competitors. He also described Qatar as “a unique market,” having almost 10 customer segments. “And for each customer segment, you need a different value proposition and a different business model,” he explained.According to al-Hajri, the next six years will be exciting for Qatar as it transitions from a traditional economy to a knowledge-based, innovation-driven economy.Al-Hajri also said Qatar has a favourable legal framework, vibrant ecosystem, and most importantly, the recently announced $1bn venture capital (VC) Fund of Funds of the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), which makes Qatar a promising launch pad for startups and entrepreneurs worldwide.Beya Dridje emphasised that the QIA’s $1bn fund-to-fund programme is a powerful indicator that Qatar is determined to attract foreign talent and international startups. It also sends a strong signal that encourages entrepreneurs, investors, and ecosystem players to be part of a robust regional ecosystem.“Being part of the ecosystem now is having the opportunity to shape it and to be part of its builders,” she said.While each region has its distinct ecosystem due to its unique characteristics and resources, Beya Dridje said the tech ecosystem in Qatar should be “uniquely Qatari.”“Qatar will also have its stamp as an ecosystem,” she pointed out, adding that Qatar could be an “interesting destination” for sports tech, as well as for energy tech.

(From left) Mohamed al-Sowaidi, Khaled Talhouni, Noor Sweid, and Zachary Karabell, on Web Summit Qatar 2024's centre stage. PICTURE: Web Summit Qatar.
Qatar
Qatar a competitive hub for fund-to-fund programmes

Qatar, which recently launched its first venture capital (VC) Fund of Funds, has the edge to foster a conducive environment for funds eyeing the Middle East region, an official of Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) has said.Speaking at one of Web Summit Qatar 2024’s panel discussion on ‘The role of Middle Eastern Funds in the Global Economy’, Mohamed al-Sowaidi, QIA’s chief investment officer – Americas, said the QIA’s $1bn investment in international and regional venture capital funds to support entrepreneurs both here and abroad underlines Qatar’s attractiveness as a destination for international funds.“We announced a sizable commitment, a $1bn commitment for fund-to-funds programme to focus on funds that want to establish a presence in the Middle East, and we believe Qatar is quite competitive for that,” al-Sowaidi said, referring to the pronouncement made by HE the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani during Web Summit Qatar 2024’s Opening Night.During the discussion, which was moderated by Time contributor Zachary Karabell, al-Sowaidi was joined by Khaled Talhouni, managing partner, Nuwa Capital, and Noor Sweid, founder and managing partner, Global Ventures.Sweid highlighted the region’s strong growth, young population, and high digital penetration as key factors that also make it attractive for investment. Meanwhile, Talhouni expressed optimism on the underlying macro trends that are driving the region between demographics, overall economic diversification, liberalisation of regional economies, as well as improvements in the regulatory environment.

Web Summit CEO Katherine Maher. PICTURE: Stephen McCarthy/Web Summit Qatar via Sportsfile
Qatar
Strong focus on women in tech at Web Summit Qatar

Web Summit Qatar, the first in the country and the region, recorded an impressive participation of women during the event, according to Web Summit CEO Katherine Maher.Speaking at a press conference Tuesday, Maher said: “37% of our attendees are women and 30% are female speakers, two figures that we’re quite proud of. As you know, in all of our global events, we have a strong focus on women and technology and seek to always continue to improve those ratios towards gender parity.”One in three startups participating in the startup programme has a woman on the founding team, Maher emphasised. Also, the Women in Tech Lounge will welcome organisations, including Women of Qatar and Women Techmakers, along with thousands of women in tech attendees from all over the world.According to Maher, Web Summit had anticipated about 7,500 attendees this year. However, 15,453 attendees from 118 countries gathered at the event, which will run until February 29 at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre (DECC).She said Web Summit Qatar is “the largest gathering of startups in the Middle East” with 1,043 startups from 81 countries showcasing their vision to attendees on the event floor. Ten percent of attending startups come from Qatar, while 20% come from Africa, and 50% from the wider Mena region.As many as 401 investors from 46 countries and some of the largest funds in the world have attended the event to explore investment opportunities in one of the fastest-growing markets in the world and to meet the next generation of startups.Maher also thanked His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, who toured the venue and met some of the partners and several participating startups. Similarly, Maher lauded Qatar’s $1bn investment in both international and regional venture capital funds, which was announced by HE the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani during Web Summit Qatar’s opening night.“The first-ever venture capital funds programme is meant to foster innovation in the startup ecosystem and to attract international VCs and startups to the GCC. As His Excellency emphasised, technological innovation is rapidly advancing and it is our collective duty to ensure that this progress continues to serve the greater good by balancing innovation with ethical principles and guiding progress with moral wisdom for the benefit of all,” Maher said.

(From left) Sachin Dev Duggal, Mohamed al-Hardan and Julia Sieger during the session Tuesday. PICTURE: Web Summit Qatar
Qatar
Creativity, critical thinking stressed amid AI growth

Creativity, critical thinking and adaptability are some of the key factors that both companies and employees should prioritise amid rapid technological advancements, such as automation and Artificial Intelligence (AI).This was revealed Tuesday during Web Summit Qatar’s first talk titled ‘The AI Moment’, which featured Mohamed al-Hardan, head of Tech at Qatar Investment Authority (QIA); and Sachin Dev Duggal, founder and chief wizard at Builder.ai.The discussion, which was moderated by France 24 presenter and journalist Julia Sieger, included topics, such as the impact of AI on employment and how it is expected to automate tasks of certain jobs.According to al-Hardan, structural unemployment may occur in the next decade across the globe as AI is going to further automation and the development of robotics. This also puts the gig economy at risk, he further pointed out.While repetitive tasks could be replaced by AI, al-Hardan emphasised the need for humans to evolve and the need to focus on creativity and “on EQ as opposed to IQ.”“I think jobs are at risk, but not all jobs are at risk. Humans will evolve around the evolution of AI. And I think those that are unable and are not capable of evolving will be left behind,” al-Hardan noted.Duggal, meanwhile, underscored the potential of AI to replace certain tasks and elaborated on the common misconceptions about tasks, jobs and careers, emphasising that these are “very different atomic units of work.”He said the world is “re-entering the DaVinci era,” where polymaths, creativity and critical thinking are more valuable than just having STEM skills.Asked if AI should be regulated, al-Hardan said regulators could face potential issues considering that AI is a rapidly evolving technology and that regulations could limit the further development of Artificial Intelligence.On Builder.ai’s $250mn Series D funding, which was led by QIA, al-Hardan lauded the company’s ability to reduce the cost and the time required to ship an application.“Just as Space X reduces the cost of accessing space, Builder.ai is reducing the cost for entrepreneurs, enterprises and founders to access the digital economy,” al-Hardan explained.From a due diligence perspective, al-Hardan noted that QIA is confident that Builder.ai genuinely utilises Artificial Intelligence, unlike other companies that claim to specialise in AI.

Web Summit Qatar 2024 Organising Committee Chairman Sheikh Jassim Bin Mansour Bin Jabor Al-Thani And Web Summit CEO Katherine Maher During A Press Conference Thursday. PICTURE: Thajudheen
Qatar
PM to address opening session of Web Summit on February 26 

HE the Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim al-Thani will address the opening session of the four-day Web Summit Qatar 2024 on February 26 at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre (DECC). He will be joined by other key speakers, including Emmy-winning South African comedian Trevor Noah, Bollywood actress and singer Nora Fatehi, WPP CEO Mark Read, Whoop CEO Will Ahmed, astronaut and Deep Space Initiative founder Sara Sabry, Replit co-founder and CEO Amjad Masad. This was announced by Sheikh Jassim bin Mansour bin Jabor alThani, the chairman of Web Summit Qatar 2024 Organising Committee, in the presence of Web Summit CEO Katherine Maher at a press conference Thursday. For the first time, Qatar will be hosting Web Summit, the world’s largest technology conference, wherein the Prime Minister will take the centre stage to discuss Qatar’s growing tech ecosystem, and how technological developments can be used for the benefit of all humanity across the globe. According to Sheikh Jassim, 12,000 participants are expected to attend the summit but the Organising Committee is anticipating that the numbers would exceed “20,000” by the end of the event, which is Web Summit’s fi rst soldout edition in the region. The event, running until February 29, will welcome the largest and most globally diverse cohort of startups to ever gather in the region – more than 1,000 startups from 80 countries, alongside over 500 investors and LPs from around the world seeking investment opportunities in the region. The startups and partnership programmes sold out four weeks before the event.The top themes during the summit are entrepreneurship, venture capital, Artifi cial Intelligence, energy, advertising and marketing, space exploration, and fi ntech, while a wide range of topics will be discussed by a distinguished panel of speakers and industry experts at the event. Maher emphasised that the Web Summit comes out of a tradition of supporting and elevating startups that are representative of what is new and most exciting in the world of technology. She noted that the event will witness the participation of more than 1,000 startups, which is twice the number that was expected.“In fact, of those start-ups, 50% or around 500 will be attending from the broader Middle East, 10% are attending from Qatar, 30% are women-founded start-ups, and 10% are what we consider impact start-ups, that is, start-ups with a focus on improving the world and the lives of those around us. And about one-fifth or 20% of those start-ups are coming from Africa,” Maher explained, adding that gender diversity and representation “is tremendously important to us,” especially in the summit’s Women in Tech programme.She said, “The technology sector as a whole has historically been dominated more by male participants, and yet we recognise the incredible opportunity that technology affords women to participate in the economy and society, and to address very real needs across our commercial, economic, and social interests. Women in Tech is a flagship initiative of Web Summit.”Maher added: “We’re very much committed to this programme as a way of addressing improving gender ratio and participation in all of our events. And our Women in Tech programme this year is incredibly well attended. We have strong participation from across Qatar, the Middle East, and internationally, and in fact that programme, where we offer incentives for tickets for female participants in technology, sold out.”

Sheikh Jassim bin Mansour bin Jabor al-Thani, chairman of Web Summit Qatar 2024 Organising Committee. PICTURES: Thajudheen
Business
Qatar’s startup sector to gain from upcoming Web Summit

Local startups that would be participating in the first-ever Web Summit Qatar are expected to benefit from the exchange of ideas and expertise with their international counterparts during the highly anticipated “world’s largest technology conference.”This was revealed by Sheikh Jassim bin Mansour bin Jabor al-Thani, the chairman of Web Summit Qatar 2024 Organising Committee, who, along with Web Summit CEO Katherine Maher, recently met with the media to discuss the latest developments of the event, which is slated from February 26 to 29 at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre (DECC).Addressing questions from reporters, Sheikh Jassim said there is an equal number of participating startups from Qatar and from around the globe. He noted that the interaction between these startups would result in the exchange of ideas and expertise, even as he urged local startups to maximise the networking opportunities during the summit.“We want these local firms to benefit from the experiences of foreign companies attending the Web Summit; this would provide them a glimpse and a forward vision of what is going on outside the country,” Sheikh Jassim pointed out.He emphasised that the Organising Committee is anticipating a year-on-year increase in the number of participants of Web Summit Qatar, adding that bigger and more companies will be attending future Web Summits here with a focus on startups.“This is why the Organising Committee and Web Summit want to have substantial attendance and participation from local startups to give them the opportunity to meet investors and discover opportunities outside the country, as well,” Sheikh Jassim added.Similarly, Maher emphasised that Web Summit events around the world tend to have a “tremendously positive impact” on both the market and the entrepreneurial activity in areas that are hosting the event.“Since we’ve started hosting Web Summit in Lisbon, the city of Lisbon and the country of Portugal have become a very attractive destination for startups – not just in Portugal in terms of entrepreneurs who are starting their own companies, but also in terms of attracting international talent to partake in the country’s environment for a startup ecosystem,” Maher explained.She added: “At this point, a number of what are known as unicorns are companies that are valued at more than a billion dollars and an increase in economic activity around those events, so we’re very excited that this is very much what we anticipate happening here in Doha, as well.“And we know that Qatar has been incredibly supportive of putting in place the conditions to enable Qatari startups to be more successful and numerous, but also to attract others from overseas to ensure that Qatar is the home for those startups.”

Yasser Dhouib
Qatar
Canadian firms keen to tap Qatari AI market

As many as 25 Canadian firms are expected to participate in the upcoming Web Summit Qatar, which is seen as a platform to explore, exchange, and open opportunities for collaboration in different tech-related sectors.Yasser Dhouib, executive director of the Canadian-Qatari Business Forum (CQBF), told Gulf Times that the participating Canadian firms are specialising in the fields of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and high technology, among other industries. The summit will be held at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center (DECC) from February 26 to 29.Dhouib noted that the CQBF delegation is “a diverse mix of startups, visionary investors,” and established businesses that are keen to explore “the untapped potential on both sides of the partnership.”He said the delegation is set to make a significant mark at Web Summit Qatar, which serves as “a pivotal moment” for CQBF, “marking the beginning of its journey to facilitate robust business connections between Canada and Qatar.”Dhouib said: “The forum’s participation in Web Summit Qatar is certainly an important opportunity to in bring several Canadian companies to the country for a full-fledged outreach in the Qatari business market and beyond the region. It demonstrates how CQBF can catalyse growth. From technology to healthcare, energy to finance, the forum envisions a comprehensive collaboration that transcends industries.”He emphasised that Canadian companies are keen to open up to more promising markets in Asia and the Gulf region, “here many opportunities are awaiting the Canadian label and technology.”According to Dhouib, the global flavour of the Web Summit is seen as a channel for “promising prospects” between Canada and Qatar considering that the event is seen as “the world’s largest gathering” for new technologies of the future, “which would certainly create an impact on how the business environment is going to change radically.”“The CQBF is ready to offer networking and expertise in the country to get both Canadian and Qatari entrepreneurs to meet and exchange what’s best for their businesses.“Of course, this entails challenges but also opportunities that should bind both countries, which are leaders in their respective regions and are interesting role models for many nations. AI and high technology will carry for the next years the interest of many business leaders and young entrepreneurs for the new shaping of an intelligent economy,” he pointed out.Dhouib stressed that CQBF “places a strong emphasis” on talent development by connecting aspiring individuals with seasoned Canadian entrepreneurs. He noted that this focus on mentorship and collaboration aims to propel innovation and create a sustainable business landscape.He said, “Canada and Qatar share a longstanding relationship built on mutual respect and cooperation. Recognising the untapped potential for economic collaboration, CQBF emerges as a bridge between the two nations, poised to unlock a new era of bilateral trade and investment opportunities. The forum aims to foster a thriving ecosystem where Canadian and Qatari businesses can seamlessly connect, collaborate, and prosper.“CQBF aims to provide a platform for Canadian businesses to secure contracts in Qatar and explore export opportunities. Simultaneously, it opens doors for Qatari enterprises to expand their footprint in the Canadian market.”

Dr Musafiri: Together, we will forge pathways that are resilient to climate change, strive for carbon neutrality, and encourage innovation in green economics.
Qatar
Rwanda holds business forum; celebrates National Day at Expo 2023 Doha

The Horticultural Expo 2023 Doha (Expo 2023 Doha) has provided Rwanda with an opportunity to engage with “new, like-minded partners” who champion the “green agenda”, according to the country’s Agriculture and Animal Resources Minister Dr Ildephonse Musafiri.The minister, who made the statement during the “Rwanda National Day & Business Forum” held recently at Expo 2023 Doha, added: “Together, we will forge pathways that are resilient to climate change, strive for carbon neutrality, and encourage innovation in green economics.”In a speech, Expo 2023 Doha commissioner-general Bader bin Omar al-Dafa said that Rwanda’s participation in the expo will foster mutual relationships in fields like agricultural and trade investment, civil, aviation, logistic services, and financial services, as well as opportunities to explore other areas of co-operation.“On a multilateral framework level, Expo 2023 Doha provides the public-private sector a platform for advertisement and marketing of Rwanda’s investment opportunities like mining, real estate development, touristic facilities, technologies, and communication,” he said. “I hope that Rwanda will reach its goals by participating in Expo 2023 Doha because its distinctive, brilliant pavilion is a message of strong unwavering message for its milestones.”The forum was graced by the presence of HE the Minister of Environment and Climate Change Dr Abdullah bin Abdulaziz bin Turki al-Subaie, HE the Minister of Municipality Abdullah bin Hamad bin Abdullah al-Attiya, HE the Director of the Department of Protocol Ibrahim Yousif Fakhro, Expo 2023 Doha secretary-general Mohamed Ali al-Khouri, and Rwandan ambassador Igor Marara.Highlights of the event included a panel discussion on *A Conversation on Sustainable Resilient Food Systems & Sustainable Production*, featuring the speakers Torba Market & Torba Farm co-founder Fatma Ali al-Khater, LuLu Group International operations manager Simon Alexander, Rwanda National Agricultural Export Development Board chief executive Claude Bizimana, and Baladna head of communications and sustainability Francis Higgins.It was moderated by Food Action Alliance executive director Adam Gerstenmier.Presentations were delivered by Snoonu founder and chief executive Hamad al-Hajri, who spoke on *Technology & Agribusiness: A fruitful enabler* and Khaled al-Rayes, who discussed *Spotlight: My Rwanda Journey.

Johnny Archer addressing the seminar Wednesday. PICTURE: Shaji Kayamkulam
Qatar
Transparency, robust regulations key to boost property investments

Promoting an environment of transparency and well-defined regulatory policies will play a crucial role in attracting real estate investments into Qatar, an executive of Cushman and Wakefield has said.Johnny Archer, head of Consulting and Research at Cushman and Wakefield, made the statement Wednesday during the firm’s regular real estate ‘Breakfast Seminar’, where he was joined by other speakers Edd Brookes, GM & head of Middle East, and Mairead Hughes, Country Manager Qatar, Oman & Kuwait, RICS.Archer lauded the recent measures implemented by the Qatari government, such as the online real estate platform, the establishment of a new Real Estate Regulatory Authority, and the inaugural meeting of Qatar Chamber’s Real Estate Committee.He emphasised that a transparent and well-regulated market is imperative in attracting real estate investment. "Qatar’s real estate market adjusts and matures following years of strong growth ahead of the World Cup, and receiving advice from real estate professionals has never been more important.”Discussing the firm’s ‘Q4 Real Estate Market Review’, Archer pointed out that recent months have seen increased activity in the government sector."We understand that in excess of 70,000sqm of office space across West Bay and Msheireb has either been leased or is under offer to various government entities. These transactions will see the availability of vacant office space in West Bay reduce to approximately 15%, while overall availability in the prime office districts of Msheireb, Lusail, and West Bay is approximately 21%."The fall in availability in recent years is reflective of a number of large-scale leases by government entities or the oil and gas sector. This includes the vast Abdullah Bin Hamad Al Attiyah District, occupied in its entirety by Qatar Energy."According to Archer, “The current oversupply of office space in Qatar will continue to be a drag on office rent. The supply of purpose-built office accommodation in Qatar has reached approximately 5.4mn sq m in 2024 with an estimated 1.3mn to 1.4mn sqm of vacant space available.”Archer said new apartment buildings have attracted strong demand from residents looking to upgrade. This demand means that many new buildings in good locations often reach full occupancy “within three months,” he noted.“While tourist arrivals have increased significantly, occupancy rates fell from 58% in H1 2022 to 53%, due largely to an increase in hotel room supply over that period. Between June 2022 and June 2023, the supply of hotel rooms increased by 27% to 38,754."While the unprecedented increase in supply in the approach to the World Cup has put pressure on performance metrics, ADRs remained stable at QR425 for the first six months of the year. Over the second half of the year, figures from the Planning and Statistics Authority showed that occupancy rates remained stable between 52% and 58% with a spike to 66% in October.On the retail market, Archer added: “Some of Qatar’s main malls have indicated that footfall and spending have remained consistent this year. The increase in supply over recent years has, however, seen both footfall and occupancy drop in some of Doha’s older malls, as properties compete for a finite number of retailers and F&B operators. While there is an increasing disparity between malls, Cushman and Wakefield estimate that there is now an overall vacancy rate of more than 20% (by unit) in Qatar’s 20 largest malls.“Retail mall managers have reported the noticeable impact that international geopolitics has had in Q4. A number of international brands have seen a downturn in trade due to the war in Gaza. It is unclear what impact geopolitics and associated consumer behaviour will have on Qatar’s retail market in 2024.”

The Dolce & Gabbana booth at DJWE 2024. PICTURE: Thajudheen.
Qatar
Dolce & Gabbana celebrates DJWE

Dolce & Gabbana is celebrating its participation in the Doha Jewellery and Watches Exhibition (DJWE) 2024 by showcasing a bespoke collection designed exclusively for Alfardan Jewellery.The collection on display at the exhibition, which will run until February 11 at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Centre (DECC), resonates with local preferences and meets the taste of the luxury community in Qatar.In a statement to Gulf Times, Alfonso Dolce, CEO of Dolce & Gabbana, said: “Dolce & Gabbana renews its focus on the watches and jewellery category after 15 years of activity in the sector, a category which Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana care a lot about, because it represents another soul of the value of handmade, bringing to light some of the lost or undervalued artisanal workmanship of Italian goldsmithing, further enhanced thanks to the use of the best quality natural materials and precious stones.“Dolce & Gabbana wants to give creative independence to the watches and jewellery category: for example, in June 2023 the brand opened the first stand-alone boutique in Milan. We are honoured to be guests and partners of the Alfardan family, a leader in the market, and happy to have had the opportunity to participate in the DJWE to offer the unique creations of high jewellery, limited edition jewels, and fine jewellery to an extremely demanding and prepared public, who can appreciate the beauty and the authenticity of these creations.He added: “The local market has already known Dolce & Gabbana fashion for around 25 years, but today bringing the complete experience of the brand to specific and designated environments, such as the DJWE allows us to open new horizons and new dialogues with customers. This partnership allowed us to work together on some dedicated unique pieces: watches that enrich our collection and adapt our product to the desires and tastes of the local market.”Similarly, Dolce & Gabbana’s jewellery and watches collections on showcase at DJWE narrate a unique story, in which the finest Italian goldsmith traditions dialogue with the brand's technical expert craftsmanship and creative strength.Thanks to priceless gems, original shapes and the refined techniques used in their designs, these creations celebrate beauty, art and the love for expertise. From rings to bracelets, and sautoirs to timepieces, the Dolce & Gabbana fine jewellery and watches and the unique creations of the ‘Alta Gioielleria’ (high jewellery) and ‘Alta Orologeria’ (high watchmaking) collections stand out for their extraordinary wealth of craftsmanship, attention to detail, technical excellence, and surprising colour harmonies.On the occasion of this year’s exhibition, Dolce & Gabbana presents some of its most emblematic creations: from the one-off Alta Gioielleria Sicilia necklace, featuring its exceptional 100.10-carat yellow pear-shape diamond, to the Kosmos Invisible Setting watch characterised by the proprietary DG 01.01 calibre assembled by hand by master watchmakers in Geneva and by the precious diamonds adorning the case, dial, crown, and deployant clasp.Rings with delicate dangling charms, earrings, and bracelets with classic shapes or more unusual compositions: the Dolce & Gabbana fine jewellery collections – ‘Devotion’ and ‘Easy Rainbow’, among others – are a dream to wear every day, thanks to its original design that combines the brand’s most iconic codes and a hint of playful irony.

Christophe Ramel, the Middle East Regional Brand Director of Vacheron Constantin. PICTURE: Thajudheen.
Qatar
Vacheron Constantin celebrates history, heritage at DJWE

The 20th edition of the Doha Jewellery and Watches Exhibition (DJWE) stands as a testimony to the robust partnership between Alfardan Jewellery and Vacheron Constantin, which is showcasing its latest collection and services to the Qatari collectors’ community.Speaking to Gulf Times on the sidelines of the exhibition, Christophe Ramel, the Middle East regional brand director of Vacheron Constantin, emphasised that the brand is “a maison for connoisseurs” – for people who appreciate the art and tradition of fine watchmaking and who are part of a select group of “one of not many.”Ramel pointed out that Vacheron Constantin’s production is “very limited” and caters to people who are fond of traditional watchmaking and savoir-faire (know-how). According to Ramel, the brand connects with its clientele on a deeper level by preserving its know-how and values and by catering to their preferences and culture.He said, “Vacheron Constantin values preserving its know-how and its values, and connects with the Qatari collectors’ community, who share the same passion and appreciation for the brand.”With a 269-year history and a proud heritage of watchmaking excellence, innovation, and tradition, Ramel said Vacheron Constantin has been careful at protecting and transmitting its savoir-faire from one watchmaker to another while remaining relevant to today’s clients. The brand has always been creative and pushed for excellence in its products, he noted.Ramel said Vacheron Constantin has preserved the importance of craftsmanship in its maison, such as its handmade straps for collectors, which are on display at DJWE. The straps are made with high-quality materials and techniques, and reflect the brand’s attention to detail and aesthetics, he said, adding that the brand’s Overseas retrograde and the Overseas midsize could also be viewed at Vacheron Constantin’s boot inside the Alfardan Jewellery Pavilion.He said, “The retrograde, is a complication that is very dear to Vacheron Constantin; we have it in our collection for more than 100 years. On the other hand, the midsize watches, with a diameter of around 35mm in steel and pink gold, have a lovely design and an interchangeable straps collection, making them versatile and elegant for both men and ladies.”