Startup of the Week: OneNation: The app that aims to break down language barriers worldwide

Updated 29 April 2019
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Startup of the Week: OneNation: The app that aims to break down language barriers worldwide

  • OneNation has 90 translators who are proficient in different languages

JEDDAH: Today, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are household names worldwide, with people of all ages using them to stay connected to friends and loved ones.

All these platforms and relevant apps were developed in the West, but in the last few years experts from the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, have come up with their own apps.

One such app is OneNation, co-founded by Saudi IT expert Dr. Mohammed Al-Zahrani and five others.

It works like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, but its competitive advantage is that its instant translation engine allows a user to communicate with anyone worldwide in his or her language, without the need for a common tongue. 

The idea came four years ago when Al-Zahrani was doing his postgraduate studies in Malaysia.

He found that communication with his colleagues from other nationalities was limited, and that the language barrier was hindering their ability to get to know one another.

“I had many friends from other countries such as Korea, China, Russia, Albania and the US. We used to play football together, but we communicated with each other using very basic English. This limited use of a common language did not allow us to have deeper conversations about politics, economics, religion and other topics,” Al-Zahrani told Arab News.

OneNation users have their own profile and timeline, and can text others in private chats. Everything appears to the user in his or her account’s default language, regardless of other users’ language. 

The app was officially launched eight months ago. “Although we haven’t done any marketing yet, we have 4,000 users now,” said Al-Zahrani. 

The app supports 20 languages. “We pay Google to use their translation engine. However, we have our own algorithms that we developed to enhance the quality and accuracy of the translation between Arabic and different languages,” he said.

In addition, OneNation has 90 translators who are proficient in different languages, contribute to the translation engine and deal with users’ suggestions for better translation.

Al-Zahrani said any user proficient in two or more languages can provide suggestions that will be sent to translators to deal with.

In the future, “we could also have built our own translation engine” that can compete with Google’s, he added.

“I want to have our own successful Arab social media app, where we can also have some privacy in our data instead of having it all stored in Silicon Valley,” said Al-Zahrani, who hopes to receive government support and investment.

He has a bachelor’s degree in computer sciences from Umm Al-Qura University, a master’s in information technology management, and a Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Technology in Malaysia.

He is the director of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center at Taif University, and an assistant professor of computer science at the same university. His partners who helped him develop “OneNation” include Dr. Abdullah Bagasa, Dr. Abdullah Kadasa and Dr. Saleh Al-Jamaan.


Bassam Ghulman, deputy minister at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah

Updated 40 min 28 sec ago
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Bassam Ghulman, deputy minister at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah

Bassam Ghulman has been deputy minister for transportation affairs at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah since February 2018.

Previously, he was general manager of the Haramain High-Speed Rail Project, which links the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah.

He was also a professor of contracts and construction project management at Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah.

He first joined the university as an assistant lecturer in 1994, and held several positions there, including head of the civil engineering department.

Ghulman serves as vice chairman of the board of the Saudi Council of Engineers. He was an adviser to the secretary of Makkah, having first joined the municipality there as an assistant civil engineer in 1991.

Ghulman holds a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Umm Al-Qura University. He earned his master’s and Ph.D. in civil engineering from the University of Oklahoma in the US.

He has participated in local, regional and international events and conferences, and has published numerous academic papers and books.

Ghulman is a member of several government committees, including the advisory board for development in the Makkah region.

He recently met with members of the transport sector at the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah to discuss early preparations for this year’s season.

Ghulman said the meeting was in line with the ministry’s vision to improve and develop services to transport pilgrims to holy sites.