‘Pump Money Into Research’

RIYADH: A panel of distinguished speakers at the Global Competitiveness Forum (GCF) in Riyadh on Tuesday called for creating a conducive economic environment to sustain research across the world at a time Saudi brands are emerging on domestic and international markets.

The panel also discussed how innovative capabilities can be developed, how they will impact economic growth and sustainability, and how they will shape the world in different ways during the 21st century.

The focus was also on the National Commercial Bank (NCB), the National Petrochemical Industrial Company (NPIC) and Marafiq, which were named as the three winners of the 2010 King Khaled Responsible Competitiveness Awards at the forum.

The awards recognize outstanding achievement in integrating social and environmental goals into business performance. A total of 80 companies, with an estimated combined turnover of over $73 billion, participated in the 2010 award contest, making it a responsible business initiative in the Kingdom and the Arab world.

“The NCB, NPIC and Marafiq stand out among this year’s entrants for bold leadership, effective management systems and creative teamwork,” said Amr Al-Dabbagh, chief of Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA).

These firms are outstanding in their ability to integrate social and environmental concerns into all of their operations, said Al-Dabbagh, adding that there is a need to do more to make the Kingdom’s business entities on par with their international counterparts. There is also a need to inculcate social responsibility and incorporate traits of competitiveness, he added.

In a related development, Riyadh Gov. Prince Salman received on Tuesday Jeffrey Immelt, chairman and CEO of General Electric. During their meeting Prince Salman and Immelt reviewed General Electric’s charted activities in health care and industrial domains in Saudi Arabia in addition to local contents of technology and training as well as hiring Saudi youths.

“General Electric has a substantial presence in the Gulf states, especially in the Kingdom, where we are handling several projects,” said Immelt, after the meeting.

Speaking on the sidelines of the forum, Martin Broughton, chairman of British Airways, called for tackling problems like “slow economic growth, rise of oil prices and financing problems.”

Several Nobel Prize laureates also underscored the importance of creating a suitable environment for economic growth. They called for creating a social environment that understands the importance of research conducted by scientists and institutions across the world.

Allocating more money for scientists and extending support to their studies and research are essential, said Kristy Ellen Duncan, a Nobel Prize laureate and professor of health studies at the University of Toronto.

Robert Richardson, another Nobel laureate, highlighted “the importance of training and scholarly works with the required financial investment will boost research works that will serve the entire world.”

Paul Polman, CEO of consumer goods group Unilever, said innovations would bring changes in the lives of people, while pledging to support such initiatives.

Speaking about the Unilever operations in the Middle East and across the world, Polman said he does not expect major cost cuts in the year 2010. Asked if Unilever would have to cut costs in 2010 to maintain the performance of 2009, Polman said, “We will have to continue running the company with discipline but don’t expect any major announcements in 2010.”

In November, the Anglo-Dutch firm reported an increase in third-quarter underlying volume sales and pledged its turnaround under Polman would continue into the fourth quarter and 2010.

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