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

Updated 29 April 2019

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.


G20 ready to limit effects of coronavirus on global economy, Saudi finance minister

Updated 10 min 36 sec ago

G20 ready to limit effects of coronavirus on global economy, Saudi finance minister

  • G20 will continue to take joint action to strengthen international co-operation and frameworks
  • Finance ministers agree measures to tackle global problems, coronavirus

RIYADH: The meeting of G20 finance ministers and central bank governors ended in Saudi Arabia with a determination to tackle pressing global concerns such as geopolitical and trade confrontations, as well as the challenge of the coronavirus outbreak.
The official communique — hammered out among the G20 policy-makers gathered in Riyadh over two days of discussions — said that global economic growth was expected to pick up “modestly” this year and next, on signs of improving financial conditions and some signs of easing trade tensions.
“However, global economic growth remains slow, and downside risks to the outlook persist, inching those arising from geopolitical and remaining trade tensions, and policy uncertainty. We will enhance global risk monitoring, including the recent outbreak of COVID-19 (coronavirus). We stand ready to take further action to address those risks,” the communique said.

On so-called “trade wars” between the US and China — which was not represented at the Riyadh meeting because of the outbreak — the communiqué said: “We will continue to take joint action to strengthen international co-operation and frameworks, and also reaffirm our commitments on exchange rates.”
There was general agreement by the ministers on measures on infrastructure investment, technology development, and plans to boost domestic capital markets across the world, especially in emerging and developing countries.
But a note of caution was also sounded in several areas.The G20 finance ministers said that “we are facing a global landscape that is being rapidly transformed by economic, social, environmental, technological and demographic changes.”
Apart from that mention of the environment, there was little attention given to the contentious issue of climate change. Towards the end of the communique, the ministers and governors said: “The financial stability board (of the G20) is examining the financial stability implications of climate change.”
The finance ministers’ gathering is the first formal event in preparation for the summit of world leaders that will take place in Saudi Arabia in November, with the three key aims of empowering people, safeguarding the planet and shaping new frontiers in technology and innovation.
The international taxation system was an area of focus at the finance ministers meeting, with some countries threatening a controversial digital tax. The communique said that “we continue to support tax capacity building in developing countries,” and called on all countries to sign multilateral agreements on tax matters. “We remain committed to the full, timely and consistent implementation of the agreed financial reforms,” it added.
Other big themes of the financial G20 meeting included inclusion of youth and women in the financial process. “We support the emphasis on digital financial inclusion of under-served groups, especially youth, women and small businesses,” the communique said.
There was also strong support for the work of the global Financial Action Task Force in combating money laundering and terrorism finance. “We reiterate our strong commitment to tackle all sources, techniques and channels of these threats,” the G20 ministers said, also backing measures to tackle the financing of nuclear proliferation. “We ask the FATF to remain vigilant with respect to emerging financial technologies that may allow for new methods of illicit financing,” it added.