Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman unveiled a new programme for the research, development and innovation (RDI) sector, which aims to add 60 billion riyals ($16bn) to the kingdom's gross domestic product by 2040.
The National Aspirations and Priorities for RDI initiative will entail an annual investment equal to 2.5 per cent of the country's GDP in 2040, creating “high-value” jobs in science and technology, and further strengthening the kingdom's position as the Arab world's biggest economy, Prince Mohammed said, according to a report by the official Saudi Press Agency.
The initiative will serve as the cornerstone for the development of the national strategy for RDI, which will be announced at a later stage.
“Our ambition for Saudi Arabia is to become a global leader in research, development and innovation,” Prince Mohammed said of the plan, which is in line with the objectives of Saudi Vision 2030, the national strategy aimed at diversifying the country's economy and reducing it dependence on oil.
Technology is a strong pillar of the kingdom's Vision 2030 strategy, with Riyadh encouraging entrepreneurship and seeking investments from both local and foreign entities to develop the sector.
The world's top oil exporter is projected to spend about $33bn on ICT development in 2022, according to the International Data Corporation. The sector grew by 8 per cent between 2019 and 2021.
Saudi Arabia recorded the highest growth rate among the world's largest economies in the first quarter of 2022, expanding by an annual 10.4 per cent on the back of the rally in oil prices, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said earlier this month.
Other members of the G20 leading economies averaged 4.5 per cent growth during the period.
The kingdom's economic activity in the first quarter of 2022 was the highest rate of growth in the last 10 years amid increased activity in the oil sector, government data showed.
Saudi Arabia has already taken steps for its new strategy to take off. RDI governance has been restructured and a supreme committee, headed by Prince Mohammed, has been formed to oversee the combined sector, the SPA said.
An RDI authority has also been established to act as an enabler, legislator and regulator, and to develop moonshots, flagship programmes, projects, budget distribution and performance monitoring.
Saudi Arabia aims to attract the “very best” national and international talent, and co-operate and co-invest with major research centres, international and private companies, and non-profits, news agency SPA said. It said start-ups would be prioritised.
The growing ecosystem in the kingdom concluded its best year in terms of venture funding and deals in 2021, growing about fourfold and attracting about $548 million in funding, data platform Magnitt said in its annual report for the kingdom.
That allowed Saudi Arabia to surpass Egypt and rank second in the Mena region in terms of funding last year, it said.
In the energy sector, the plan will result in Riyadh coming up with technology for the production of alternative sources such as green hydrogen, solar and wind.
The industrial sector will be directed to produce technologically advanced and high-value industries, with the mining sector set for further development.
Environmentally friendly technology for water and desalination will also be developed, along with sustainable technology for food production, carbon capture and low-cost electricity generation.
The health vertical will be supported by Saudi Arabia's advanced infrastructure for medical research. The statement said health and wellness remained at the top of national priorities, and the government would address this by providing digital health care to ensure health equity, in addition to exporting biotechnology solutions to the world.
The SPA said the National Aspirations and Priorities for RDI initiative will be followed by “ambitious national programmes to solve major challenges facing the kingdom and the world”.
“The kingdom will warmly welcome the participation of researchers and pioneers in this journey of innovation for the sake of humanity,” it said.