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[CAIRO] The United States has launched a fund to facilitate private sector investments and promote technological development in countries of the Organisation of The Islamic Conference (OIC).

The Global Technology and Innovation Fund (GTIF) was launched by the US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) on 23 October. It will provide US$25–150 million for a range of projects. Submissions will continue until the end of the month (November), with final selections announced in June 2010.

GTIF is the latest step in fulfilling US President Barack Obama's promise to help achieve technological development in Muslim-majority countries, made in a landmark speech in Egypt on 4 June (see Obama vows to boost science ties with Muslim world)

"The initiative can catalyse the creation of private investment funds that in turn can promote technological innovation in a region of the world that can benefit from the stimulus," John Daly, a former USAID science official, told SciDev.Net.

Eligible projects would advance economic opportunities and create jobs in areas like IT, education, telecommunications, and clean technology.

The reaction among the Islamic scientific community has been mixed.

Sadallah Boubaker-Khaled, professor of mathematics at the National University in Algiers, Algeria, thinks "it is a face-lift to improve [the] US image".

He says the lack of innovation in OIC countries means they are not yet ready for technology and knowledge transfer. "It is a political and economic game that ends up benefiting US companies by giving them access to the huge Islamic market [by] using a local partner."

OPIC will fund up to 33 per cent of the proposed projects. The rest of the money will be raised locally through private investors. This may prove a challenge — 22 of the UN-ranked least developed countries (there are 49 in total) are members of OIC.

"Private investors … will of course be looking for the best places to put their money. Sometimes those places will be found in poor countries but sometimes they will be in more affluent countries," explains Daly.

Hilmi Salem, consultant at the Applied Research Institute of Jerusalem, is concerned the fund may not affect the region positively.

"A monitoring and evaluating system needs to be set-up to keep a close eye on the real impact of this fund on the ground and to provide guidelines to avoid any negative impacts at political, socioeconomic and developmental levels."

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