An Interview with His Excellency Sheikh Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani: Education and the Qatar Foundation

Jun 28, 2011 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico

His Excellency Sheikh Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani


His Excellentcy Sheikh Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thanni is Chairman of WISE, Qatar Foundation, Chairman and member of the Jury, Qatar. He is also Vice President, Education, at Qatar Foundation where he is leading the evolution of an international consortium of elite universities into an integrated centre of academic excellence. Dr Al-Thani is also Chairman of the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE), the leading global forum for innovative practice in education (

The World Economic Forum recently named Dr Al-Thani a Young Global Leader for his regional role in education reform and innovation. In 2010 Dr Al-Thani co-organized a Ministerial Colloquium on Quality of Education in the Arab World which committed 17 Arab states to a common evaluation system of basic education.

Among a diverse range of education-related initiatives, Dr Al-Thani is a board member of the Qatar Leadership Centre, an initiative of His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, Heir Apparent of the State of Qatar. Dr Al-Thani is a member of Qatar’s Supreme Education Council, which oversees reform at the K-12 level. He heads the project to build Qatar Foundation’s Central Library, which will house one of the largest collections in the Arab world.

He serves on the Executive Council of the World Digital Library at the Library of Congress in Washington, and on the Governing Board of the UNESCO Institute for Lifelong Learning in Hamburg. Dr Abdulla has been named to the Board of Trustees of the American University of Beirut; he also serves as a member of the Board of Advisers of the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy of Rice University in Houston. He is a Board Member of the Palestine Happy Child Center which promotes the welfare of traumatized children.

After receiving his doctorate in Civil Engineering from the University of Southampton (UK), Dr Al-Thani taught engineering at Qatar University; he now serves on the Board of Trustees.

Dr Al-Thani is a board member of Nakilat, the national gas shipping company and a vital link in the LNG supply chain for the State of Qatar.

1. How did you first get involved with Qatar Foundation?

I have always been passionate about education as I believe it is the main challenge for the 21st century. I was very honoured when Qatar Foundation Chairperson Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser appointed me Vice President, Education, in 2005 and subsequently asked me to be President of the new Hamad Bin Khalifa University, which partners with elite universities from the USA and Europe to create a center of excellence in learning, teaching and research.

I became Chairman of the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE) – an initiative of Qatar Foundation – when it was founded in 2009.

I am conscious of the immense responsibilities attached to these posts due to the major issues facing education around the globe. I also believe in Qatar’s role as a leader in innovative education and research. Qatar Foundation is committed to educating rising generations to the highest world standards, and it is turning Qatar into a producer of knowledge through the research being conducted at Hamad Bin Khalifa University.

2. As chairman of WISE, what do you see as your primary function or mission?

As Chairman of WISE I am responsible for our global strategy and for ensuring that our choices are aligned with the core mission of WISE – improving lives by fostering innovation in education. I am also in charge of developing the initiative and I play an active role in enlarging and enhancing the WISE community around the world. I am constantly looking for new strategies which will enable WISE to meet current and future challenges in all fields of education.

Generally speaking, the mission of WISE is to accelerate human development through education. WISE aims to transform education by fostering innovations at all levels of education, everywhere. We have created a platform that facilitates dialogue and sharing of best practices. We encourage our network of global education leaders to think differently in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

3. I appreciate your past efforts to raise education to the top of the global agenda. What are some of your upcoming projects?

WISE has never been so active, and 2011 is a highly important year for us as we are involved in major new projects driven by the WISE community.

We recently launched the WISE Prize for Education, the world’s first major Prize to reward an individual, or a team, for an outstanding, world-class contribution to education. The Laureate’s achievements should have had a significant, lasting impact upon education at any level, and should demonstrate an inspiring and visionary approach.

Nominations have now been submitted and over the summer the Jury will examine the 15 final nominations, pre-selected by a committee responsible for screening all submissions. The name of the winner, who will receive a specially designed gold medal and an award of $500,000, will be announced at the WISE 2011 Summit.

We are also working on a WISE publication to celebrate innovative, on-the-ground educational projects from all regions of the world, which will be presented during the WISE Summit in Doha from 1-3 November.

And we are in the process of creating a new web platform for WISE. This interactive portal will host in-depth information and provide a collaborative discussion forum for the entire WISE community. It will be launched at the end of June.

4. What are the current challenges facing education at Qatar Foundation and, more specifically, the WISE initiative?

When you take a look at what is going on in the world today it is clear that the need for innovation in education has never been so urgent. This means we need to think bigger and show more determination in our quest to bring innovation to the field of education. We also need to ensure that best practices in education are shared and adapted to different regions and cultures in the most effective ways.

We also believe education has not been given the recognition and consideration it deserves, yet it is fundamental to social development, peace and prosperity. Education is the most sustainable form of investment we can make. Our challenge at Qatar Foundation, and more specifically at WISE, is to promote this vision across the globe.

5. It seems that, across the world, parents are concerned about children with special needs. Does WISE speak to those needs?

WISE covers many subjects within the field of education, including special needs.

We dedicated a WISE session to special needs education, for approximately 250 people. It was led by four speakers who covered topics including teaching traumatized children in Palestine; new learning tools and technologies which empower ‘non-standard’ learners and people with disabilities; social justice and inclusion. The conference enabled global networking on special needs and was an opportunity to exchange knowledge, so that education in general can learn from advances in this sector.

We intend to keep this as one of our core topics for future debates.

6) How has WISE used the Internet to promote its ideals and its ideas?

The Internet is essential to WISE as it connects a community currently consisting of over 7,000 members from over 100 countries. Our new web platform will offer interactive tools to our community who will enrich our content and reinforce our position as a major content provider

The Internet is also of strategic importance to us as it extends the annual WISE Summit experience to many more people, all year round. This includes high-level networking, sharing of ideas and experience, and acting as a lightning rod for inspiration.

7) You have been named as a « Young Global Leader » by the World Economic Forum. What are your personal goals and objectives for the next few years?

The Young Global Leaders are known for introducing innovative initiatives in many areas and I look forward to being a part of their global collaboration network

I am currently heading a project to build Qatar Foundation’s national library, which will house one of the largest collections in the Arab world. Schools, universities, research institutes, and various community organisations in Qatar will have access to its resources. It will offer a rich collection of print and digital resources, together with state-of-the-art technological facilities.

8. How could those who are interested in learning more about Qatar Foundation and about WISE find out more? Do you have a web site or published materials?

I am also working to ensure the success of WISE in 2011 and the years to come. This means ensuring that good ideas have a real-world impact and can benefit the lives of as many people as possible.

The best way is to sign up for our newsletter at the bottom of our home page. We are making as much material available online as possible – sharing information is a major priority for WISE. Our web site currently provides the latest news from WISE together with over 200 videos, press releases, web documentaries, and information on the WISE initiative and Summits. It also contains links to the WISE Prize site, the WISE Awards blog and social networks. The site is regularly updated so that our community can have the latest from WISE when they need it.

Qatar Foundation also has a web site.

Published material on Qatar Foundation and WISE may also be obtained by contacting our team at

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