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A Saudi Arabian company has announced it will give US$1 million each year to support Arab scientists whose research could bring new innovations to market.

The Abdul Latif Jameel (ALJ) Company's announcement, made last month at a forum on investing in technology held in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, represents the first time an Arab business has offered to support science financially in this way.

According to the Saudi newspaper Ashark Al-Awsat, the Arab Science and Technology Foundation, a non-governmental organisation that aims to boost Arab science, will administer the fund.

The foundation's president, Abdalla Alnajar, said the fund would be used to support research in biotechnology, herbal medicine, energy, water desalination and information and communication technologies, among others.

The ALJ Company's US$1 million will be divided into 20 non-returnable grants, which researchers from Arab countries will be able to apply for through the company's Community Services Programs website.

"This is a step on the long, hard road to solving the financial crisis limiting scientific research in the Arab world," says Tarek Saif, an environmental biotechnologist at Egypt's National Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries.

According to Saif, only ten per cent of research and development funding in Arab countries comes from the private sector.

He says funding for scientific research in the Arab world should be based on a "governmental push and private sector pull" approach as in developed countries such as Japan, where the private sector is responsible for about 80 per cent of investment in research and development.

Last month's Jeddah forum, which was organised by the Arab Science and Technology Foundation and funded by the Islamic Development Bank and the ALJ Company, addressed the lack of private support for science in the Arab world.

The forum called on Arab governments, the Arab League, Gulf Cooperation Council and Organisation of the Islamic Conference to reactivate the region's former passion for science and technology by setting up a joint venture capital fund and encouraging private-public partnerships.

Participants at the forum also asked the Arab Science and Technology Foundation to set up an online and print directory of Arab scientists and the technologies they are researching. 

The directory would improve links between industry and research institutions, and encourage financial support to convert concepts into marketable products.

More than 400 entrepreneurs, scientists, economists, investors, investment banks and venture capital funds interested in investing in the technology sector attended the Jeddah forum.