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Vice President for Science and Technology Affairs:

The innovation of the youth will win the economy battle

The innovation of the youth will win the economy battle

The weekly “Javan Magazine” interviews the vice president for science and technology affairs on its 710th issue. In this interview, Sattari explains the importance of passing from raw selling, position of creative youth and entrepreneurs and opening of new doors to the economy of the country with the help of startups.

According to the public relations and information center of the Vice-Presidency for science and technology affairs, he explained the phenomenon of “brain drain” and provided some facts on the topic:

Along with soccer players, singers and actors, the prominent activists in the field of information technology and the world of technology are among the celebrities of the world. In fact, all of their moves are covered by the news. Why is that? Because our future world will be made by computers and artificial intelligence, information technology, and communication. Even our current world is made by these notions.

Therefore, it is natural that the role-makers of such a space are among the celebrations of our time. Nevertheless, this phenomenon has yet to occur in Iran. It is no surprise that the founders of Snap, Tapsi, and Digikala have attracted the attention of the media, social networks and the public. This has also happened for managers in the world of information technology and communication. The vice president for science and technology affairs and the president of the national elites foundation, Sattari has attracted the attention of the media and the public. First of all, he has a great managerial background. Second of all, he is the son of Shahid Sattari, one of the most important martyrs of Iran-Iraq war. Third of all, he precisely knows about the world of the youth and has a unique name; an old and original Iranian name. He is currently 47. He received the 30th rank in the national university entrance exam and studied at Sharif University. He has shined in his own field and has left positive impacts. We have the opportunity to interview this reputable manager.

*How was your youth and university period?

We are children of war; I was eight when the war ended. I knew about anything that happened in headquarters and everyone would ask me about air bases and pilots. I am the oral history of that time. It was a difficult time. Not all people have childhood experiences like us. I was born in the 70s and felt war closely. I received the 30th rank in the university entrance exam in 1990 and started my education at Sharif University. After graduation, I attended the exam for MSc and was ranked second. My father became a martyr during my first semester as a graduate. After that, I had to leave my education and go to Naft.

* Were you 22 years old when your father became a martyr?

Most people were very young at that time, but I understood my father and often accompanied him. He had unique characteristics, which is why I always think of him. My father became a martyr at the age of 46, and his most important characteristic was putting everything he had on his mind into action. For example, let us look at Operation Dawn 8; he believed in the operation and reviewed its details many times. My father was trained in the United States and knew exactly what he wanted to do. I was assigned a job in the first platforms reconstructed by Iranians after the war and was working in Asaluyeh during 1997-2000. However, I left the job in Asaluyeh in 2001.

*It seems that your father was more athletic than yourself. Is that true?

He exercised but had no time for other works. He increased his level of activity after a stroke. He mostly played tennis and did water skiing. I do the same sports. However, I play ping pong more than tennis. It was more recreational than professional. I played soccer during childhood.

* What is your favorite leisure activity?

Only work. I sometimes go to the cinema and theater mostly at the latest hours. I cannot even go shopping these days.

* Are you talking about the perspective of the economy of resistance?

No, I mean when a person wants to spend some time with his family, he must at least have three-four hours, which is not possible for me. I mostly emphasize on eating dinner as a family and I cook dinner for the family once a week.

* What do you make?

Whatever you want. I believe that food preparation must not become a routine. It should not be just Iranian traditional foods and we must try foods from other countries such as China and Thailand. These foods cannot be compared to the food made by our mothers and their taste is universal.

* What do you think of failure?

What do you mean? 

* It is believed that Mr. Sattari has failed some of his courses.

(Laughing) Yes, I was always the top students in university. Because of my father’s death, I had to make a trip. I went to an Omreh trip, which is why I failed a semester. I would never ask my professors to improve my score, but I did it in that semester and was turned down by professors. It became crystal clear for me that students might encounter problems. Nevertheless, we experienced chaos because of my father’s death. When he was alive, no one was allowed to come to our house. After his martyrdom, many people came and go and there were many controversies. An airplane had crashed and everything was turned upside down.

*When did you become a faculty member?

When I received my PhD, I went to the oil industry research center and became a faculty member at Sharif University in 2008.

*Speaking of which, what do think of the economy of oil?

This a type of thinking and is not related to oil. I tried to fight this way of thinking since the beginning. Foreigners want us to sell oil and import products. They think that this type of country is very good and neglect the fact that this type of economy cannot be based on elites. We import the production line of a specific brand and sell products to people for 20-30 years without any innovation. It is no use if the production line is not created by ourselves. I believe that they are factory and not an industry to produce innovation. We cannot maintain the country with raw selling. In the past, oil money would worth something. You would sell oil and import drugs. Today, you cannot rule a country with these issues. A county must be managed by knowledge, innovation, and creativity. The economic status of the country cannot be governed by this type of thinking. Any type of work in the areas of agriculture, metal and mine is worth nothing without creating value added. Raw selling should generally be eliminated because they do not have added value.

*This factory and innovation reminded me of the “innovation factory”, could you please explain more?

Yes, it is a new idea with the participation of the private sector. A new model for the development of creativity in the community and science and technology parks. We have no interference in that area and only its infrastructure is government-made (land, water, and electricity). Two factories have been established in Tehran. We did not reach consensus in all universities (e.g., Tehran University). The science park of Sharif University has been established for two-three years. Our friends must know that development cannot be made by government money.

*It is said that Dr. Sattari uses English words. Just now, you used words such as detail. Does it remind you of something?

Yes, this is not good and once a government official asked me not to use English words and use Persian words. I talk very fast and it came from Mr. Hadad Adel during the cultural revolution council meeting.

*Could you explain about brain drain?

Contradictory discussions exist on this issue. During the first period, we did not want to use statistics. However, we used statistics to show the bizarre statistics on brain drain in Iran. I believe that it is a unique current and needs assessment is required since fake statistics are observed in this field. I do not say that we have no emigration or our graduates have not traveled abroad for education, but I say that these statistics are false.

Some people trust these statistics and make policies according to them. One person says that the international monetary fund introduced Iran as the first rank of brain drain in the world in 2009, and more than 150-180 thousand young people exit Iran every year. I can show 20-30 dissertations written based on these statistics. Meanwhile, the mentioned report does not exist at all. Every year, the international emigration organization announces the emigration statistics, according to which we are not the first country with the highest brain drain rate. However, the fact that we do not receive immigrants is not good. 

*Is one of the causes the lack of teaching courses in English at a bachelor’s degree level?

This is an issue, but emigration does not only include education. There are different types of emigration. However, it is wrong to use these statistics for policy-making and limit foreign scholarships. I do not believe that our children must receive scholarships, but a foundation must be laid for them to come back.

*Have you been able to return them?

This is what we have followed up in the national elites foundation in the past few years. Those who provide these statistics overlook some issues; we had 170 thousand students at the beginning of the revolution and 100 thousand students were studying outside Iran, meaning that more than 30% of students were outside the country, and 56 thousand students were in the United States. In 1979, Iran had the most number of students in the United States.

Today, there are 350 thousand Chinese students in the United States, and 12 thousand students from Iran are in this country. This number has decreased due to Trump’s policies. Saudi Arabia has six times as many students and South Korea eight times as many students in the United States. Our total student population is 53,000 and we have four and a half million students in Iran. Why was there no brain drain before the evolution and now we have brain drain? What are we talking about?

*Exactly, what are we talking about? What is the brain drain?

First, we must define the term. It is not translated into escape and is a journalistic term. If the meaning is emigration of educated people, the complete statistics of the topic are published by the United Nations. We must first adjust the definitions and statistics. We refer to international statistics in the foundation. The quality of those who emigrate to other countries is high, but its quantity is not concerning. In addition, we must motivate our children to study abroad but come back after graduation.

*Do you encourage students to study in top Asian universities?

For instance, China is a newly emerged power and has produced articles in the field of engineering three times higher than the United States. We have negotiated with this country and have concluded several agreements with China, Russia, and some other countries and have followed up joint projects, where we invest a maximum value of $50,000 for each project and receive the same amount. It means that everything is 50-50. Our policy is very similar to China. They say why do we need to pay the education cost of students when the United States is willing to do so? However, the Chinese work on the return policy, which is a concern for America. Trump says it is of no use, they use our knowledge and return to their country. The United States’ system is to distribute whatever it has, which is not the policy of Trump. Using the same policy, we have been able to return 300-400 students to the country and recruit them in startups.

*Obviously, you deal with the youth most of the time. Have you recruited young people in the Vice-Presidency?

The majority of our deputies are young and the mean age of the employees is 36 years.

*You are serious involved in the occupation area as well, meaning that you deal with the startup field.

The ecosystem is being formed. What is the meaning of oil independence? It means that while spending money on an area leads to occupation formation, an ecosystem must be created so that the private sector could invest in new businesses. Take a look at Tehran’s outskirts; the government has created a forest. It means that if a tree is dry, the government will have to pay for irrigation to grow the tree again. This applies to ecosystem formation, which leads to the reviviscence of the country.

We are talking about the entrepreneurship ecosystem, which does not include government money for job creation. A job formed by government money is like a forest planted by hands around Tehran, where there is no innovation and competition. The government is responsible for creating an ecosystem that runs by itself. No one knew about startups when we came to the field and everyone would laugh when we talked about it. We warned that startups cannot be established with loans, which would confuse them since they believed that no job can be formed without a loan. Instead of investing in gold and currency, the private sector must invest in the youth. Fortunately, this has almost occurred in the county.

*You work with young people, who say that you act differently with them. How do you define the difference of generations?

I believe that the generation changes every two-three years. However, most principles of belief and patriotism are equal in these generations. However, when I was in university, I felt that I deal with a new generation every two-three years. The youth must realize that nothing good comes for free. The oil economy is this form of economy. Anyone must advance based on their work, self-confidence, and innovation. Some people only focus on receiving a degree and leaving the university. Others seek to build their future in the university and focus on innovation.

*Do you believe in credentialism?

Yes, credentialism is born due to the oil economy. The government system defines the income level for people with master’s degrees, which is not the case for startups. I have solved the problems of activists in the field of conscription and they can spend this time working in a knowledge-based company. What is the reason for that? The reason is that certificates are not important at all. What do you assess in a young person? His money? His parents? Or his ability to make something in the next three-four years? These need a rich culture in the field of entrepreneurship. It is notable that we had this culture but it was ruined by oil economy.

*Would you be as successful as you are now without the brand of Sharif University?

I am honored to study at Sharif University at all levels (BSc, MSc, Ph.D., and faculty member). Few people have been able to do that. The reality is that university brand is not important in startup field. In fact, the environment is important for growth.

*Would you tell us the story of some of the students returned to Iran by your efforts?

“Armandehi” in Café Bazar was a Sharif student. He left his master’s degree but now works with 22 thousand programmers in Café Bazar. The main brain of Tapsi is “Hamid Mahini”, who I saw in New York. He is now a professor at the University of Tehran. “Homayoun Hatami” returned from Stanford University, and Tajeddin, founder of “Achareh” came back from Sanford University.

I was with many of these people at the beginning of their work. No successful startup was made by government loans and investment. Most of these individuals generated money by selling their cars.

* It seems that the topic has been welcomed by Dr. Rouhani, who has pointed out this notion on the government delegation meeting?

Yes, the traditional economy has put a barrier on the path of the youth. However, activists of the field must realize that the traditional economy will lose to the youth. Instead of fighting, they must find a way to use youth and invest in them.

*Does this problem exist in the government as well?

Yes. We have had problems in the urban transportation field for four years.

* It seems that you have solved the problem of Snap and Tapsi, is that true?

That is true. We have recently signed an agreement on this issue. Currently, we have a large rent (several million dollars) in intercity transport, and those who use information rent can be easily eliminated. We are serious about this topic and they know about it. For instance, our banking system is a traditional one, and there will be no banks in the future. Today, banks buy fintech instead of establishing a new branch. This is an ecosystem that the traditional system must know about and be accompanied with. Otherwise, they will not be successful. Uber has recently bought the “Karim” taxi system in Dubai with a value of three billion dollars, which is not half of Snap.

*What area are you focusing on right now?

 Our main focus is on technology startups. We have successful companies in the fields of stem cells and aerospace. In addition, about 90% of our activities are in the ICT field. We are unique in the field of biotechnology and have the largest regional companies. I think that even the Russian lack the level of knowledge we have in this field.

* You have used the term elite a lot. What is your definition of the successful elite?

We call no one elite, rather we call them top talents. An elite is a person who affects the community with their entrepreneurship. I have repeatedly stated that we owe all of our success to this nation, which does not need us, otherwise, it would not live for four-five thousand years. The history of Iran shows that it has survived the worsts in its lifetime and it does not depend on our existence. In fact, we depend on it and have put our burden on it. We owe it. Our country has always protected us.

*Do you believe that a person who creates something to the benefit of the public but has been ranked last in the university entrance exam is more elite that a person who is ranked first but creates nothing to the benefit of the people?

Exactly. Some of them might even damage us. Being ranked first means you are still at the beginning of the path. This is one of our problems at Sharif University. Many were shocked when they first entered the university. They thought that everyone would be at their service. However, they have to realize that they must build their lives with their efforts.






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