“They are interested in building private-public partnerships,” says David Kenney, executive director of Oregon BEST, the private-public research institution that helps fast-track research projects of Oregon’s universities to the commercial stage. “They don’t have their own expertise, though. They can afford to hire whomever they want to build their buildings. They will hire whomever they think is the best in the world.” Kenney says that is good news for Oregon when the subject is green building because “Oregon has some of the best resources in the world.”
Over the course of the week, the Oregon delegation visited farms in the Qatar desert. They toured the sights of Doha, including Education City, a massive conglomeration of buildings that houses Qatar University as well as programs from Texas A&M, MIT and Carnegie Mellon. PSU could be added to their ranks in the future. “During the trip in May,” says PSU’s Kaiser, “the vice president of academic affairs of Qatar University told me ‘Here’s what I need from you, Marvin. Would you help us develop our sustainability program?’” PSU will submit a proposal this fall to Qatar University that it fund a sustainable urbanism program in that country for three years at a cost of about $2 million. A decision is expected next summer.
Last November, Fahad Al-Attiya came to see for himself what Oregon had to offer and signed a memorandum of understanding with Kulongoski that declared Oregon and Qatar’s intent to work together on agricultural and sustainability issues. It signaled the next chapter of Oregon’s decades-long relationship with Qatar. In April, Qatar and the U.S. also signed an MOU on enhancing global food security.
Another example of future plans is the collaboration around the Oregon Sustainability Center. Kaiser and Pawlowski have approached through intermediaries Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, who oversees the educational Qatar Foundation, to help fund the center and construct a similar one in Doha that could serve as a bridge between Portland and Doha. “Imagine a place where young Qatari and Oregonian women can meet without leaving home,” says Pawlowski, referring to the proposed state-of-the-art video conference room in the center. “They can sit at a table and talk to each other.”
And Oregon State University dean of engineering Ronald Adams has been working with OSU researchers and Eastern Oregon’s agriculture players to develop a pilot farm to be developed in Qatar. OSU researcher Chadi Sayde impressed Al-Thani with his research involving the use of fiber optics for monitoring moisture levels in soil. Echo-based Madison Farms already has experimented with the fiber optics system and is working with OSU on other technologies to be integrated into the pilot farm project. The proposal has been made to the Qatar food security program and awaits approval and funding.
In a future that will be defined by access to technology and food, Qatar hopes to leverage its partnerships with Oregon to help secure the stability of not only its future, but that of its region.
“We want boots on the ground, evidence of experience. Oregon has the natural infrastructure for research,” says David Raboy, chief economist with the Qatar National Food Security Program.
“It is a country with a lot of resources,” says Kaiser. “It’s a country of aspirations, but also of needs. They’re looking for strong partners that can help meet those needs.”