Rekha Pillai, PhD, Director, Programs, QNRF, explains how Qatar is creating world-class innovation in research culture and capacity through the development of new funding programs to engage researchers, extending collaboration beyond the country’s boundaries.
Before joining Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF), you worked across a variety of sectors. How are these experiences shaping your current role?
It feels as though my past work has been in preparation for this role. My research and education is in operations research, where I used advanced analytical methods to analyze complex and dynamic enterprises and systems.
My career has followed a multidisciplinary, cross-sector research, and development (R&D) path. I have worked in many roles as researcher, teacher, mentor, innovator, and leader, to pioneer the development of mathematical models and analytical techniques for holistic evaluations of infrastructure development, scientific and technical (S&T) investments, and impact assessments, to achieve sustainability, accelerate innovation, and support evidence-based decisions.
QNRF is in a truly unique position as a national R&D funding agency. Through QNRF’s investments in research, education, and innovation can become catalysts in unlocking a lasting and sustainable spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship in Qatar to drive the nation’s transition to a knowledge-based economy. QNRF inspires research institutes to excel, and to create partnerships and collaborations to build on their capabilities. QNRF can be the catalyst to build and accelerate Qatar’s research and innovation ecosystem.
A staple aspect of Qatar National Vision 2030 is the creation of a knowledge-based economy. From your viewpoint, how is QNRF helping to achieve this?
Creating a knowledge-based economy requires the development of high-caliber researchers, innovators, and entrepreneurs, as well creating the right ecosystem for them to flourish. Innovation is critical to addressing Qatar’s ‘grand challenges’ and forging an inclusive, sustainable growth strategy for the nation. QNRF invests in individuals and their great ideas. Just as importantly, it helps establish a safe environment for individuals and institutions to collaborate, innovate, and experiment.
Knowledge and innovation come from people and their ideas, so QNRF is designing both R&D and education investment programs. QNRF encourages and invites the best minds from around the globe to collaborate with Qatari researchers and institutions through its programs, in order to accelerate innovation and enshrine a culture of collaboration, while addressing barriers that traditionally prevent this from being achieved.
I believe that filling gaps, complementing institutional and intramural R&D funding, and creating programs that cover the R&D and innovation life cycle - from discovery to development to innovation, to deployment - is of prime importance.
Collaboration is increasingly a key theme of modern research, and you mention the need for all institutions to work together in meeting the need for innovation. How do you envisage this being put into practice?
Collaboration has the potential to shorten aspects such as development time, market adoption, and deployment, and, therefore, impact. Many of the challenges we identify in Qatar are also regional and global challenges. Given all the competing needs, addressing these challenges will require priorities to be sharply focused on outcomes, and the efficient use of all available resources. We are looking to all manner of collaboration at individual, institutional and international levels in order to leverage ideas, capabilities, and investments.
To achieve the ambitious goal of transitioning into a knowledge-based economy, we will have to create or adopt a hybrid, collaborative innovation framework, based on flexibility, efficiency, and inclusivity, which is Qatar-based and focused. We have to integrate R&D processes and engage innovators and entrepreneurs at grassroots levels to develop global innovation networks to accelerate the pace of scientific discovery to transform them into practical solutions.
At QNRF we are building a collaborative research investment strategy to foster interdisciplinary, cross-sector, international R&D collaborations, as well as to mentor students in research, with the best researchers from different institutions within Qatar and internationally.
Why should Qatar tackle society’s big challenges?
Qatar’s grand challenges are also, in many ways, global grand challenges. Knowledge and services created in Qatar will benefit regional and global communities and address global market needs. To achieve this, we need to forge relations to accelerate research through strategic collaboration.
Collaboratively tackling global challenges will make possible the creation of centers of excellence and use of the best talent globally, supporting talent circulation, efficient use of global resources, and accelerated research, development, and deployment.
Story originally published by the Qatar Foundation