Specialists aiming for Silicon Valley of the Middle East on Jordan's map

By Samir Ghawi – JoTempo

AMMAN – Local executives and officials from the private and public sectors are putting Jordan’s information and communication technology (ICT) sector into high gear.

Majed Sifri, chief executive officer of Optimiza, told JoTempo in an interview that several specialists are now working to further strengthen Jordan’s position as a regional ICT hub and, ultimately, brand the Kingdom as the Silicon Valley of the Middle East.

He maintained that Jordan, in its Arab domain, remains in a unique and superior situation with high advantages, brushing aside Israel’s foothold in these surroundings.

The Optimiza chief said leveraging the Jordanians abroad would also be on the cards to augment the Kingdom’s IT capabilities and reverse an undesirable tendency among start ups and higher skilled professionals to seek better opportunities in places like Dubai.

Sifri described previous historical endeavours at enhancing Jordan’s ICT sector as positive and underlined the 1999 Reach Initiative as a strategy that put forward the vision of His Majesty King Abdullah and engaged good players.

“A momentum was created and work is now underway to re-galvanise the process which was dampened on-and-off by regional political and economic developments,” he said.

He added that the current sluggish economic environment should not be a deterrent to moving ahead with preparations for future opportunities.

“The present situation calls for maintaining the drive and growing the capabilities in order to be at the forefront when business deals arise,” Sifri elaborated.majid-sifri-jotempo1

Noting that, historically, Optimiza’s IT exports covered Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, he admitted that regional turbulence halted operations in many of those countries.

He did not expect regional business for the ICT sector to pick up anytime soon and mentioned selectivity as the path for future operations.

Sifri revealed that a committee headed by ICT Minister Majd Shweikeh, and comprising of several of the sector’s leading thought leaders including Optimiza Vice Chairman Karim Kawar, former minister Marwan Jumaa, and Bashar Hawambdeh, board chairman of intaj, the Information and Communications Technology Association of Jordan, are readying a Reach 2025 programme to be launched in spring 2016.

Sifri commended Shweikeh as a very active and highly ambitious minister who wants to make a difference and also valued the resolve of the other members of the Reach committee.

He described Reach 2025 as a ten-year plan over three phases that aim in the first place to formulate an enabling environment in terms of infrastructure, legislation and government support.

“A process was recently initiated with an announcement that the government intends to lower the income and sales tax on the IT sector in order to encourage growth and exports,” the Optimiza chief indicated.

Another pillar of the programme aims at developing and growing the sector’s products and innovations with adequate financial support.1majid-sifri-jotempo

The access to capital and finance will be another related pillar, Sifri said, although he described the IT as a business that generates sizeable employment and exports without requiring significant capital investment.

In this context, he underlined the importance of start-ups and venture capital as drivers of growth and development mentioning them as other components of the Reach 2025 programme.

Developing the human capital requires cooperation with the universities and coming up with academic and practical courses to enable the graduates to meet the needs of the labour market

The last two pillars under examination by the committee are export and human capital development.

“Developing the human capital requires cooperation with the universities and coming up with academic and practical courses to enable the graduates to meet the needs of the labour market,” the Optimiza chief indicated.

As for export development, Sifri pointed to exhibitions, such as GITEX and Arab Health, where Jordanian IT pavilions can prove effective to showcase the Kingdom’s achievements.

According to Sifri, Jordan’s second largest importer of ICT goods and services is the United states attributing much of the exports to animation, modeling, and simulation products.

He cited statistics that calculated ICT’s contribution to the gross domestic product at approximately $2 billion, of which $1.5 billion are derived from telecom related business.