Women in Energy: In conversation with Laila Al Hadhrami on her vision for Oman, AI and sustainable cities

27 Feb 2024
Women in Energy: In conversation with Laila Al Hadhrami on her vision for Oman, AI and sustainable cities

Laila Al Hadhrami is the Executive Director - Oman IT Society; Smart Sustainable Cities Advisor. In this interview, she talks about how Oman can leverage AI responsibly but also how every city in the world can become sustainable.

"Collaboration across government, academia, industry, and civil society organizations is critical to fostering coordinated efforts,” she said.

Al Hadhrami is considered a visionary and global futurist leader with over two decades of experience in the government and private sector. She is considered as one of the leaders driving Oman’s vision 2040.

How do you envision Oman in the field of AI?

Aligned with the principles of Oman Vision 2040, which champions sustainability and innovation, I foresee a technologically advanced Oman where artificial intelligence (AI) plays a pivotal role in tackling national challenges and empowering every citizen. By fostering collaboration in research, innovation, and digital inclusivity, Oman has the potential to leverage AI responsibly, thereby unlocking economic growth, optimizing resource utilization, and steering the nation towards a prosperous future. This vision gains further momentum from the recently emphasized national strategy on Digital Economy and AI, underscored in the enlightening address by His Majesty Sultan Haitham Bin Tareq Al Said. Currently at the helm of the Oman IT Society (OITS), a non-profit organization dedicated to nurturing technology and fostering collaboration across various IT sectors, We are committed to realizing this vision by driving initiatives that propel Oman towards technological excellence and inclusive growth. One such initiative driving this vision is the OITS Ambassadors program, which aims to create a smart community of practice. This program builds a network of skilled volunteers who champion AI awareness by conducting free monthly lectures and workshops related to AI and emerging technologies in every city across Oman. This aligns perfectly with my belief in collaborative knowledge sharing and capacity building, making it an initiative I actively support and can potentially contribute to in the future.

What do you think is the most pressing issues in creating awareness about AI in Oman?

Oman's path towards an AI-powered future hinges on tackling crucial awareness challenges. Bridging the knowledge gap is paramount, requiring comprehensive educational initiatives that cater to diverse demographics, from curious students to policymakers. Workshops, seminars, and accessible informational campaigns can demystify AI and empower every citizen with the understanding needed to navigate this evolving landscape.

Access to reliable information remains a concern, particularly in rural areas with limited internet connectivity. Addressing this disparity requires utilizing diverse platforms like public libraries and community centers, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to engage with AI knowledge.

Misconceptions and apprehensions surrounding AI, ranging from job displacement fears to privacy concerns, must be addressed head-on. Transparent communication, readily available factual information, and open dialogue are crucial tools in dispelling myths and building trust in AI technologies. Investing in education and training programs across all levels, from schools to universities and vocational centers, is essential to develop a skilled workforce capable of understanding, developing, and utilizing AI. This talent pipeline is vital for fostering innovation and ensuring Oman's competitive edge in the AI era.

Collaboration across government, academia, industry, and civil society organizations is critical to fostering coordinated efforts. Creating platforms for dialogue, knowledge-sharing, and collaboration can build understanding and garner buy-in for responsible AI development initiatives and policies. By prioritizing these interconnected areas and working together, Oman can empower its citizens and chart a course towards a future where AI serves as a transformative tool for progress and prosperity.

In addressing the challenges of raising awareness about AI in Oman, the Oman IT Society (OITS) Ambassadors program emerges as a vital initiative. Designed to empower individuals passionate about technology, this program serves as a key platform for disseminating accurate information and fostering dialogue about AI's role in society. OITS Ambassadors act as advocates for AI education and awareness, conducting various outreach activities such as workshops, seminars, and community events to engage diverse audiences across the country. By integrating the OITS Ambassadors program into the broader strategy for promoting AI literacy, Oman can effectively address critical issues such as language and cultural barriers. Ambassadors facilitate discussions in multiple languages, ensuring that AI-related information reaches a wider audience, including those in rural areas or with limited internet access. Moreover, the program fosters collaboration with stakeholders from government, academia, industry, and civil society, promoting a comprehensive approach to tackling the challenges of AI awareness in Oman.

What is your vision in pursuing sustainable cities?

In pursuit of sustainable cities, my vision is rooted in the belief that community empowerment is key to driving sustainability. I firmly advocate that sustainable urban development can only thrive when communities are actively engaged and equipped with the knowledge and tools to shape their own cities. To realize this vision, my efforts are focused on cultivating sustainable awareness within communities, empowering individuals to actively participate in the planning and implementation of initiatives that promote environmental stewardship and social equity.

By fostering a culture of sustainable awareness, communities can become catalysts for positive change, driving innovation and collaboration towards shared environmental and social goals. Through educational outreach, inclusive dialogue, and capacity-building initiatives, my aim is to empower residents with the knowledge and skills needed to make informed decisions and contribute meaningfully to the sustainable development of their cities. I firmly believe that when communities are empowered to take ownership of their urban environments, they become agents of change, driving the adoption of sustainable practices and fostering resilient, thriving cities for present and future generations. My hometown Nizwa is one of the great examples that will elaborate more about it in the next question. 

Can the Arab world have sustainable cities? if yes, how?

Every City around the world should be sustainable and this is no more a choice but a right for individuals. Each city must cultivate its own identity, shaped by its community, ensuring that its development aligns with their primary needs, fostering a sense of happiness, safety, and stability. We must carefully study successful initiatives implemented in other cities worldwide, drawing valuable lessons from their experiences. However, blindly replicating the same methodologies is ill-advised, as each city possesses a distinct history, geography, and societal ideology.

As an illustration from the Sultanate of Oman, consider the city of Nizwa, one of the country's major urban centers. Nizwa is renowned for its rich historical heritage, epitomized by its iconic castle and bustling central market, serving both Nizwa residents and those from neighboring cities. The city also boasts a collection of ancient clay houses. After these old houses were abandoned by their inhabitants, challenges arose, such as their occupation by unauthorized individuals, causing anxiety among residents and hindering the area's overall stability. In response, the community embarked on a remarkable initiative, transforming these houses into heritage inns, revitalizing the city's economy and generating employment opportunities for local residents. By embracing its "heritage character," Nizwa has established itself as a sustainable city, aligning with the Vision 2040's goal of transforming Oman's cities into sustainable hubs, each with its unique identity shaped by its location, culture, history, and, most importantly, its residents.

To successfully transition to smart cities, countries should prioritize the following:

  1. Governance of Smart Cities: Clearly define the roles and responsibilities of entities managing and leading smart city projects. Smart city initiatives require collaboration among multiple stakeholders, necessitating a comprehensive governance framework.
  2. Evaluation Standards for Smart Cities: Establish evaluation standards based on smart city governance principles to foster continuous development. These standards encourage cities to compete in implementing projects according to established timelines and provide a superior quality of life for their residents.
  3. Funding and Investment Strategies for Smart City Projects: Secure funding for smart city projects, which can be a significant challenge. Explore alternative funding mechanisms, such as public-private partnerships, to reduce government expenditures and attract global investment.
  4. Knowledge Sharing and Exchange of Experiences: Learn from the experiences of countries that have successfully implemented smart city projects. Successful smart cities can serve as models for others, fostering knowledge transfer and accelerating progress.
  5. Capacity Building and Innovation: Continuously invest in capacity building and innovation to ensure that those involved in smart city projects possess the necessary skills and knowledge to keep pace with technological advancements.
  6. Community Engagement in City Planning: Actively involve the community in the planning and implementation of smart city projects to ensure that their needs and priorities are addressed. Smart cities should be designed to enhance the well-being and prosperity of their residents.
  7. Pilot Projects and Lessons Learned: Implement pilot projects in controlled environments to test new technologies and approaches, providing valuable lessons that can be applied to wider rollouts. Embrace failures as learning opportunities to refine and improve future projects.

By adopting these strategies and adhering to these essential standards, countries and cities can effectively transition to smart cities, enhancing the quality of life for their residents while promoting sustainable development and economic growth.


Laila Al Hadhrami and many others will be speaking at Middle East Energy, the region's most anticipated energy event is all set to be back with its 49th edition, running from the 16th to the 18th of April 2024 at Dubai World Trade Centre.

The flagship energy event of the year will be the epicenter of opportunities for energy professionals from all over the world! And keeping in line with COP28, Middle East Energy 2024 will be bigger, better, and more focused on sectors that will cater to your energy needs.

This year Middle East Energy advocates how renewable energy, energy storage and digitalization are key to optimizing the region’s power ecosystem and ensuring self-sufficiency. Register now!

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