COVID-19 Propels the World Into Tomorrow

By Dr. Bandar Hajjar,
President of the Islamic Development Bank

I recently participated in the virtual Extraordinary Meeting of OIC Health Ministers on the COVID-19 pandemic. The statements of the ministers and heads of participating international organisations, including Islamic Development Bank (ISDB), focused on the efforts exerted by all participating parties to contain the consequences of the pandemic and protect human lives.

The IsDB Group has launched a US$2.3 billion aid package for member countries and Muslim communities in non-member countries. This includes three tracks: addressing the pandemic, recovering from it, and resuming normal life, with aid covering the immediate short, medium, and long terms. 

IsDB is focusing on the core of the problem - the health aspect. The economic repercussions, albeit crucial, are only symptoms or consequences of the disease. In contrast, the critical challenge that must be addressed is to create a vaccine for the virus and to support health systems towards safeguarding lives.

To tackle this issue, our latest “call for innovation” has challenged scientists, innovators, research centres, universities and entrepreneurs to present trailblazing projects to address the COVID-19 pandemic and mitigate its economic and social repercussions using 4IR technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, big data, robots, and 3D printing. The ideas should be directed towards: monitoring and curbing the spreading of the virus; improving disease surveillance systems; patient care; innovative systems for medical supply chain management; robust medical supply search engines; new technology for the design of biotechnology laboratories; development of low-cost rapid tests and screening methods for early detection, diagnostic, treatment and prevention solutions; and capacity building and enhancement for operational bodies providing healthcare services.

Pioneering ideas and projects are to be submitted through the Engage global platform. IsDB will fund suggested projects through the Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) Transform Fund, which we established in 2018 with an initial capital of US$500 million, to which IsDB and the Islamic Solidarity Fund for Development contributed US$100 million each. IsDB is working on mobilising the rest from member and non-member countries and international institutions worldwide.

IsDB's interest in STI stems from two key considerations: firstly our mission to improve people's lives, realise their aspirations and make an impact and difference in their lives, which can be achieved through innovation and applies to individuals, institutions and countries. Secondly, our belief that science, technology, and innovation are the main drivers of economic growth, job creation, and finding solutions to the issues of development issues around the world. This is particularly pertinent in the developing world, with the emergence of a new generation of entrepreneurs leading development to greater heights.

In 2017, IsDB established a comprehensive STI department with three main goals: 

  1. Encourage innovators to realise their dreams and build their future, which is the future of their societies and their countries within our member countries. Allah has endowed them with creative intellectual abilities, but they need all forms of support;
  2. Mainstream innovation in all IsDB business activities to enhance performance efficiency and reduce costs;
  3. Assist member countries in building a comprehensive STI system that includes institutions, strategies, policies and procedures and in replicating successful experiences from other countries. 

To realise these goals, IsDB established the following mechanisms:

  • Engage, the global innovation platform through which innovators can submit their projects; 
  • The US$500-million Transform Fund, to fund innovators at various stages of their projects and for individual and institutional capacity-building; 
  • An intellectual property unit to assist innovators in obtaining intellectual property rights; 
  • An academy for training and development for innovators; and 
  • A scientific council comprising scientists and SDG experts to guide IsDB towards addressing future requirements.

IsDB had launched the second edition of the Call for Innovation on April 1, 2019 through the Engage platform and received over 5,000 applications from 173 countries worldwide.

The projects presented covered the following SDGs:

  • SDG2: Zero Hunger; SDG3: Good Health and Wellbeing
  • SDG4: Quality Education 
  • SDG6: Clean Water, SDG7: Affordable and Clean Energy
  • SDG9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

I believe that COVID-19 has propelled the world into tomorrow,. Tomorrow means STI, which saves time, effort, and resources, translating into better lives and livelihoods for all people. Such is development.