Interview of the News Headquarters of the Supreme Leader with Dr. Sorena Sattari, the Vice President for Science and Technology Affairs and the President of the National Elites Foundation:
Knowledge-based economy vs. oil-based economy; this is a fight
Knowledge-based economy vs. oil-based economy; this is a fight
I do not know whether Mr. Sattari is tired of or happy about his work pressure these days aside from his main responsibility, which is improving the scientific move of the country. However, a group of elites and top talents met the Supreme Leader on October 9th, 2019 in Imam Khomeini Hussainia. The day after the visit to the exhibition of knowledge-based companies and top technologies by the Supreme Leader was a great opportunity for this interview. Cooperation was made so well that our sound group was prepared a little later than the entrance of Dr. Sattari to the meeting room on the fifth floor in a building in Ladan Street. This means that I have a chance to thank him for all of his efforts during these years, especially the past two days. In addition, I urged him to express his own role in the progress made in the scientific move of the country regardless of the statements of the Supreme Leader or others. In addition to explaining the bases of “knowledge-based economy” as the main goal of the country in the science and technology field, Sattari objects oil-based economy, import mafia, montage industry, and brain drain.
According to the public relations and information center of the Vice-Presidency for science and technology affairs quoted by the Office for the Preservation and Publication of Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei"s Works;
Immediately after the communication of general policies in the field of science and technology with the Supreme Leader of the Revolution, you emphasized issues such as his dominance over the scientific movement of the country in recent years. He has had a rational and hopeful viewpoint toward science, technology, and knowledge-based field; the same thing that is emphasized in the statement of the second step of the revolution. How do you analyze that?
The fact is that the scientific growth of the country cannot be denied. However, we have to first determine what do we mean when we say scientific growth. Nonetheless, any type of evaluation, such as the number of articles, the number of knowledge-based companies, product sales rate, and high-tech product export, shows the significant growth of Iran in the past few years. However, a special type of development has occurred in recent years, compared to the beginning of the revolution, especially during the past 20 years. The main driver of this issue has been the Supreme Leader since the beginning. My father (the late Brigadier General Sattari, the former commander of the air force) was very active in science and technology fields and domestic production and had many notes about this issue stated by the Supreme Leader. For instance, one of his latest notes was about the achievements of the air force:
“Research in the Air Force has found a solid foundation, and as you know, research itself is the foundation of the advancement of science. When the Armed Forces have emerged from within the knowledge, it must be assured that independence is not just a name and a claim, but a fact and a crystallization. I clearly see this phenomenon in the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force and I appreciate the work of those involved in this area, the commander of the Islamic Republic of Iran Air Force, who is a science and research enthusiast, the Jihad and self-sufficiency Joint Chiefs of Staff, which is the first center that promoted self-belief, and all of those involved in this progress. The important thing is to realize that the work is just started and nothing is ended. In addition, we must believe that sky is the limit.” (May 22nd, 1994)
This is related to when there was a small number of universities and students and a few numbers of achievements, academic disciplines and ranks existed. In this field, the emphasis made by the Supreme Leader and putting pressure on the authorities led to significant growth. However, a slightly ignored section has been the ecosystem that helps you turn knowledge into products and turning economy into sales and export. This is what we extremely emphasize in the Vice-Presidency and we think that no scientific advancement will be achieved if this does not happen. In terms of scientific advancement, we have reached the 15th global rank, and this type of enhancement does not come with government money. Therefore, the private sector must fund research projects, patent registrations, and article publications.
Exactly in which areas have you invested the most in recent years?
The question of scientific progress alone is impracticable unless the economy becomes involved. From day one, we have emphasized the importance of the ecosystem. Money is not important. Unfortunately, we consider everything to be depending on money since still cling on the oil-based economy. Most of us think that occupation, knowledge, technology, and economy depend on money. Nonetheless, we must realize that money is not the answer. Financial Resources is the fifth or sixth priority of a knowledge-based economy and the type of financial resource is also very important; the money must not come from the government sector. With government money, we can only provide the infrastructure to do so, otherwise this whole ecosystem will be formed in the private sector.
Well, in this ecosystem, we are talking about the fact that the human resource is the first base of the knowledge-based economy. We have an abundant human resource and we are considered an extraordinary country in this field. In fact, we have 34 million youth, 4.5 million of whom are students. More than 12 million youth have academic educations. However, this human resource is still not efficient for the knowledge-based economy. It means that a series of translators are needed to inject this human resource into the knowledge-based economy. This translation is carried out in innovation centers, science and technology parks, growth centers, and startups. From the viewpoint of the Vice-Presidency, the developed startups turn into knowledge-based companies and can solve industry problems. We believe that startups are where people are made. It means that they can attract academic people and create people who can establish companies and interact with the market. Therefore, the main role of startups is providing human resources for the ecosystem of knowledge-based economy.
What percentage of people do you currently cover?
It might be 10% of the academic space. For example, we have currently entered the humanities field, where several universities such as Alame’ Tabtabaei University are pioneers. There was a debate about how the humanities should establish companies and the number of kids that enter this space must be significantly increased. We must expand innovation areas in cities. This is what has happened at Sharif University of Technology, where the private sector has made investments. Today, we have two innovation factories in Tehran and another three will be opened until the end of the year. We will soon create similar centers in Mashhad and Shiraz. These are places for training academic forces to be prepared for economic work.
According to this path and based on the circle drawn, the statements and motivations of the Supreme Leader are considered a positive sign for the public. In your opinion, what is the role of the Supreme Leader in this area?
During the six years of my activity, we have defended some laws, lack of existence of which would prevent us from doing our job. For instance, while the law to support knowledge-based companies was established in 2008, it was not implemented until our round and all of its approval processes have been guided by the Supreme Leader. For example, the Supreme Leader believes that he forced the government to create the Vice-Presidency for science and technology affairs. While the former governments were supposed to do this, the law was executed in the ninth government. The national elites foundation was formed the same way. In other words, both the Vice-Presidency and the national elites foundation have been established owing to the wisdom of the Supreme Leader. This move and the set of laws we have at the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution, such as the elite comprehensive strategic document that he mentioned in his speech at the meeting and is related to 2012 are of paramount importance. The statute of the national elites foundation and many other issues such as the establishment of nanotechnology, biotechnology, stem cells, and aerospace headquarters has occurred by the order of the Supreme Leader. The support made by the Supreme Leader extremely helped us, especially in the law-making field. In fact, this has been the basis of developments, meaning that all of the tax, customs, and military training exemptions are ordered by the Supreme Leader. We can give in-service training exemptions to those working in startups. People who must perform military training in the company they are recruited by. This has been impossible in the history of Iran and no permission was ever given in this field. However, in such a country that is adequately supported by its leader, some employees do not cooperate and avoid giving permissions to courses. Therefore, we must fight with them. During this meeting, I told the Supreme Leader that this is the fight of the youth who want to develop the knowledge-based economy and deal with the culture of oil-based economy.
One of the ideas of the Supreme Leader, which has been followed up for several years, is developing the national development fund or foreign exchange reserves. However, we hear that small amounts of money have been allocated to the science and technology and research field from this fund. How do you work with this fund and do you seriously consider this center in the cycle?
We have received help from the fund a lot these years. For instance, the fund injected for the establishment of the national science fund was three thousand billion tomans provided by the aforementioned fund. All of these have occurred by the order of the Supreme Leader. When I was appointed, the fund had little money. Since the first year, we have received 200-300 million dollars from the fund every year until reaching three thousand billion tomans. All of these occurred by the order of the Supreme Leader.
Recently, we have been able to use the resources of the development fund and we hope that the same will happen in the next year. However, we know that the next year will be very difficult. These sources are mostly spent on infrastructures.
One of the wishes of the Supreme Leader is closing the oil wells and supplying resources in the country through the wealth created by science and industry and other productive parts of our economy. How do you assess the last decade? If we are to present a realistic perspective now, when can we reach this ideal point?
Despite the sanctions against Iran, we are moving toward reaching a position in this area. We have no raw-material selling in a knowledge-based economy. Raw-selling is not just in oil industry and we must prevent this type of selling in other areas such as agriculture. However, raw selling will reduce gradually. It means that when you produce steel, you should not import steel anymore. Steel-making means that the mine is separated from raw-selling and you are producing steel from the mine. This applies to oil field as well. We are talking about selling raw oil and the fact that we can prevent this type of selling. We can produce many things from oil. Different refineries exist and different phenomena occur in the metro chemical industry, all of which together form the oil-conversion industries. Oil is essentially a type of industry, and it must move toward the elimination of raw selling. Today, the authorities have realized that the country cannot be properly managed by selling raw materials. Why are so many academic graduates are unemployed? Because our universities have been formed based on a western model and our educational content and teaching method is related to another society. University acts like oil-based economy, meaning that it receives money from the government and teaches something that does not help the society. This syllabus and content are not suitable for our society and have come from another place and its output will not help our culture and community. Its correction is also related to the market and community. Universities must correct their syllabus and teach something that would make a connection between society and culture. I am mainly concerned with correcting the ecosystem. Raw-selling can be eliminated since value added in knowledge is what we need. The fact that we must eliminate raw selling is not something to neglect.
With regard to the role of humanities, how can this area join the knowledge-based trend? What are your solutions to this issue?
We have some basic issues in humanities and the Vice-Presidency has entered the field a little late. This model must have been developed so that we could enter the field of humanities. Any humanities research center and school that I visited, they showed me a library in the place. It means that they wanted to show me their achievements. We saw that there is a library filled with books and theses known as their databank. They believed that they could write books like that but what is the use of these books when there are poverty and robbery in society. It is not right to talk about the penetration of western culture into the country and how to avoid them, and then produce toys based on their culture? You can all these books but it does not help us. This is where the importance of commercialization of humanities comes to mind.
When we talk about the commercialization of humanities, we must eventually provide a product to people. Some parts of the field of humanities are directly involved in these areas. For instance, we see the fight of cloth designing companies in the market and on the streets and we do not see the fight of philosophers or university professors. If a Barbie comes to the market, it means that the company tries to hamper our culture. If a type of fashion comes from the western companies, it means that a company has produced this cloth model but we have failed to commercialize it.
Why does not this happen in the field of carpets or handicrafts? Since we have a rich culture in these areas. Our handicrafts are in fact the commercialization of the same culture we relied on for many years. The culture used and purchased by people and transferred from generation to the next generation. When you want to show an Iranian house, it has a carpet on the floor and Khatam work in another place. These are the manifestations of our culture. However, we have philosophical discussions and theories and books about these products as well.
We must be able to commercialize humanities. How? We can do this in the field of clothes, computer games, websites, and content production. When a website such as Aparat that is a Farsi website becomes one of the top 100 sites of the world, it means that we have developed Farsi language. When we are ranked ninth in the field of the Internet, it means that we have greatly advanced in this area. However, the world thinks that we have the 16th and not the 9th rank. These are the value added in the field of humanities. In fact, humanities are the same content production occurring in this section. In this part, humanities become a money maker and a commercial area.
Another part that is indirect, but more than 60% of a company"s success depends on it, is human resource management in economics. It is mainly defined in the human resources debate that a company must have these principles in order to grow. We have many startups in legal areas. For instance, Dr. Ghasemi, who met the Supreme Leader, has a very successful startup in the legal field. They have done a nice thing, where anyone can write their own contract online. They can create any type of contract, whether sales or technology purchasing contracts, and we have seriously entered the field.
· During the meeting with elites, the Supreme Leader emphasized that some cultural currents have an unrealistic view of the scientific advancements of the country. It means that they neither understand the progress elements nor believe that effective steps have been taken in this field. How much does this culture hurt the elite culture? What are the solutions to the foundation for this issue?
Oil culture tells us that we are not getting anywhere. It has a long history and is in the elite phase and in the culture of ordinary people. When people see a young man on the street, they first look at his pocket, look at his car, the house where he lives and who his father is. Then that is what we are talking about in the elite field right now. When we talk about venture capital, we see the power in the person and invest in him.
Another area that can greatly revolutionize this field is the issue of innovation. I think innovation is the greatest divine gift and blessing that God has given only to man. Innovation mixes many things. In the defense field, if we want to build tanks and airplanes, we cannot achieve them right now, although our progress has been great. However, you see somebody making a drone or a quadcopter that no one, no radar, and defense system can see and target because innovation has been made in the area.
Innovation does this with systems, and that"s what it is. Innovation means the same shortcuts that the Supreme Leader always refers to. If we have an innovative community, the art of innovation is to find unusual ways to solve problems, and we can even develop those ways. If we are now very advanced in the new sciences like nano and stem cells, it is because of these shortcuts, because these are new sciences and have never been in human hands before.
How can these new sciences help to believe the scientific growth in society?
When we are fourth or fifth in the world in nanoscience, or we have so many good companies in stem cells and in bio that make so many drugs and so many good ecosystems, when people see that we make 98% of our own drugs and equipment, it becomes the same belief. Of course, in many cases, we get exhausted. When we talk, they say you have inefficient automotive industry, what else can you say? Well the problem with our cars is that we avoided becoming a car maker and having an auto industry from day one. We went got sanctioned, we started to work with the Chinese. If there were no sanctions, we would have worked with the French! They would make us an assembly line, and we would have troubles at key points in the automotive industry during sanctions.
Have you been able to create a connection between problematic areas of the industry and the knowledge section?
This year, and especially with the help of the Supreme Leader, we are dealing with sanctions. We have seriously entered the food field and other reliable areas. For example, we think we produce chicken ourselves. Yes, we produce more chicken than we need, but why bother when prices are not fixed? Because you have a production line designed for poultry production, which is the same as a car production line. You bring the one-day-old chick from England, and the technology and the work are not ours at all. In order for the chick to become a chicken within four months and reach a certain weight, it needs food that is not relevant to our farming system. Well, we import all this. Then, they say that the chicken might get sick and we want a vaccine, and the vaccines are all imported. Then what are you doing and have done? You add poultry farms, but when you want a livestock vaccine, such a research institute that has been responsible for producing vaccines and medicines for a hundred years, stands against this scientific move itself. Unfortunately, organized networks have an influence on imports everywhere, because there is nothing better for foreigners than selling oil and importing products. The same thing Hillary Clinton said in an election speech three years ago that we expect the Middle East countries to sell their oil and import our products. These networks have been formed, and even in the centers whose job it is to make us needless in this area and to consume government money and pay their researchers, they have not yet produced much. No one ever asked them what you were doing.
Today we have no worries about the field of medicine and have an active ecosystem. The Ministry of Health has worked very well with us. As for the Ministry of Agriculture Jihad, this is going to be very difficult despite all the support that Mr. Hojati gives and who is deeply committed to internalization. Unfortunately, organized networks in the field of import are very active in the field of vaccines and medicines. It is not just the issue of livestock and poultry; all areas of agriculture are involved in this problem and the numbers of imports are terrible. You may not know that we import $400 million worth of poisons annually. Numbers are heavy, while we can easily replace them. One of the reasons that many poisons are used in products, for example, is the import and export networks that actually fight even health.
Anyway, this is a struggle that must take shape. To fight, we need to increase our numbers. When we have enough people in medicine, from Novo Nordisk Denmark to so many companies in Germany, cannot deal with us, and we are at the stage that we can export our products. Well this cycle has become endemic. Yesterday, I told in the presence of the Supreme Leader that we have zero export of human resources in the field of drugs since the ecosystem has been shaped and the private sector has invested in people. So in many areas, if this cycle is formed and companies grow, they can counter those imported mafia networks.
You pointed out the issue of the exit of elites. It has been a while since you have introduced good statistics on the reverse trend of return of elites to the country, which are very hopeful. Have we been able to make a reverse trend?
We used to explain this very strongly at one time, but something that happened as a problem for the country is a brain drain, and I know it is an organized move. A network is injecting this into our society. Of course we do not deny that, as in all other societies, we have the exit of the elite. For example, since the creation of United Europe, one of the highest rates of brain drain in Eastern Europe has occurred. Germany and France have both benefited greatly because they have bought both their companies and their banks and their elite.
Immigration is a global phenomenon, and they really announce this statistics with so much nerve, and they repeat it with quotes from a number of centers and sources. For example, they say that the IMF has reported that our country has the highest rate of brain drain. Meanwhile, there is no such report at all. They say this enough to be accepted the same elite and elite part of society. These are the things that bother us.
We were looking for real migration statistics. At Sharif University, a section has been created to observe this issue. Of course not with our help. We also monitor this area every two years at the National Elite Foundation. Our recent monitoring shows that this number is significantly decreasing. Of course, this does not mean that the whole migration is declining, but the type of migration is moving towards investment and job migration and is coming out of that scientific state.
Of course, according to our overall immigration statistics and the United Nations statistics each year, we are not one of the world"s 20-30 countries in the immigration debate. We are basically among those countries that are neither sending nor receiving immigrants. However, that does not mean that we do not have immigration right now or that we should not be sensitive about it.
During this time, wherever I hear a misconception about immigration, for example, at a conference, I look closely and find that person and ask him to tell us what document and source he HAD. After all, most of these people are either scientists or educated, and an educated person should not speak without a source.
We often find that they have no answer to this. Then, we press them very seriously to either deny it or tell us its source. Of course, it is our weaknesses and that of the Iranian Census Bureau that should provide immigration statistics such as population statistics. We have had many discussions with people and they have problems to solve, such as some statistics they do not give and others are statistics for us, but these are the main statistics in the country that need to happen.
The fact is that we do not have a large number of emigrants in quantitative terms compared to foreign countries. Our overall migration statistics are between 32-40 thousand people a year, and we at the foundation are fully observing where they are going and what their visas are.
Suppose we had the 56000 students in the United States at the beginning of the revolution and had formed the largest foreign student colony in this country. In 1977, the largest student colony in the United States was the Iranians. Now, our rating is between 12 and 15. China has 350 thousand students in the US, and now Mr. Trump has decreased this number to 300 thousand. Saudi Arabia has five times as many students in the United States. Korea has seven-eight times more students than us. Then some people make strange claims about it!
I do not deny this phenomenon but I do not believe this number they are talking about. In addition, the quality of the exited elites is high. Therefore, we focus on returning them to the country. Over the past three years, we have returned 1400-1500 people to the country. In addition, six-seven thousand people have used our facilities and have created educational workshops. Most of these people are recruited by companies and startups. Contrary to what is imagined about recruitment of universities, only 400 faculty members have been added in the last three years.