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[ISLAMABAD] Ambitious proposals to put innovation at the heart of research efforts across the Islamic world were approved by science leaders from member countries of the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) last week (11–13 January).

More than 100 leaders from 24 international science and technology (S&T) institutions, along with 26 science ministers, endorsed a set of goals to promote scientific innovation.

These include boosting the science and research activities of the private sector and the higher education system, and promoting science to the public. Other plans involve a push for more technology parks, innovation entrepreneurship, venture capital and legal reforms to support innovation.

"Development is possible only through science," said Atta-ur-Rahman, Pakistan's former science minister and coordinator general of the OIC's Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH), which organised the meeting. "So we have decided [to seek] to increase the role of S&T in the national policies of the member countries and also at the regional level.

And Bakhytzhan Zhumagulov, Kazakhstan's education and science minister, said: "The wider gaps of research and development spending between different Muslim countries show that only a collective approach can address the issue of under-development in most of the OIC nations".

The proposed measures will be overseen by the newly formed Science Technology and Innovation Organization, which was officially approved in June and endorsed at last week's meeting, which "will bring about the culture of innovation in S&T and research in OIC member countries," said Atta-ur-Rahman.

The organisation will act as an implementing arm of COMSTECH and its main activities, such as creating centres of excellence and promoting scientific mobility, will be promoted through a proposed Muslim World Technology Investment Fund.

The STIO has produced a long list of programmes and projects for which its member countries have approved a budget of US$70 million in June, but, so far, only Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Syria have pledged to contribute annually US$5 million each.

Even their financial commitments, however, have not arrived, even though 90 per cent of the donated funds would be spent within donor's borders.

COMSTECH itself, which has so far been funded by voluntary contributions, continues to face financial problems, the meeting heard.

"Most of the member countries do not give anything [to COMSTECH] and the ones that do give so little that it cannot buy even a small second-hand car," Atta-ur-Rahman told the meeting, which did not find a solution, although Pakistan and Saudi Arabia pledged to increase their annual contributions.

Pakistan, which is the largest contributor, plans to double its contribution to US$2 million, and Saudi Arabia from US$100,000 to US$250,000.

The meeting also proposed that the existing national commissions and science-related parliamentary committees should be activated to promote the culture of S&T innovation.

A meeting in August will conduct a policy review and draw up proposed action plans for all OIC member countries.