Dr Talal Abu-Ghazaleh, the 75-year-old former Palestinian refugee who founded the Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Organisation (TAG-Org) 40 years ago and still chairs it, says it has outgrown his original conception as an Arab multinational. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: When Jordanian businessman of Palestinian origin Talal Abu Ghazaleh entered a search for his name on the internet, he was shocked to find his birthplace mentioned as Tel Aviv.

Abu Ghazaleh was born in the Palestinian city of Jaffa, which Israel occupied in the 1948 war, but his efforts to correct the mistake online were rejected.

Being a successful businessman, he thought of a better idea – an idea that had been brewing in his mind for a while. He could think of a number of reasons for putting it into action but his interest in the internet was perhaps the clincher.

He felt the need for “correct geography and history” if he were to download his own encyclopedia from the internet.

“We want correct facts,” Abu Ghazaleh told Gulf News in an interview from Amman, the headquarters of his chain of companies, Tag-Org.

“Let us have another content environment. We are not refusing wrong content, we want another point of view to be displayed,” he added.

That quest set the ball rolling for Tagipedia, a free online Arabic encyclopaedia that is expected to be launched by the year end with a million entries.

To Abu Ghazaleh, the upcoming $10-million (Dh36.7 million) project is “the 29th company” in a business empire he started building in the early seventies. The project will be also entirely self-financed – a fact that the self-made businessman prides himself in.

Born on April 22, 1938 in Jaffa, Abu Ghazaleh had to move at the age of 10 to the Lebanese village of Ghazziyah, like many Palestinian refugees in 1948. But the difficult circumstances didn’t stop him from pursuing his dreams.

Qualifying for a full scholarship in the late 1950s, he pursued his higher education at the American University of Beirut (AUB), one of the most reputable higher education institutions in the Middle East.

After graduation, he took up his first job in an audit firm. In 1970, while attending an intellectual property conference in San Francisco, Abu Ghazaleh decided to pursue a career in the field of intellectual property rights.

This perhaps explains the setting up in 1973 of the tycoon’s first business venture, Abu Ghazaleh Company (Tagco), simultaneously with Abu Ghazaleh Intellectual Property (Agip). The enterprises specialised in accounting and intellectual property respectively.

Shortly afterwards, a third company specialising in consulting was also set up and the early successes paved the way for 25 more companies in the later years – all under the umbrella of Tag-Org (Talal Abu Ghazaleh Organisation). Today, Tagco is among the top global players in auditing, and Abu Ghazaleh’s translation company is the biggest of its kind in the world.

Over the years, Tag-Org, which today has 80 offices worldwide, has also diversified its operations. It now includes sectors like education, information technology, management, translation and legal services.

Noting the variety of sectors his companies are active in, Abu Ghazaleh threw light on the new project. “We have all the requirements needed in-house, so we don’t need partners.

The group itself is a group of professionals with different disciplines, and therefore, everything was developed in-house,” he said highlighting the resources at Tagipedia’s disposal.

However, Tagipedia is not open for additions like other online encyclopaedia. Asked whether this will limit access and hinder the project’s expansion and development in terms of visitors, Abu Ghazaleh said “yes it would” but is quick to point out that “50 per cent of the content [available at present] or more is useless information – so it is difficult to differentiate what is viable, correct, authentic and original, and what is not”.

“This is a completely new concept,” he says of Tagipedia. “One of the principles we adhere to adamantly is that there is no politics, no religion and no personal bias.”

Abu Ghazaleh has been recognised with scores of prestigious awards from around the world. The first of those honours was the ‘Decoration of Independence of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan’ way back in 1967.

For now, Abu Ghazaleh is engrossed in his latest project. “It should be useful… what I want is a useful database that avoids any abuse, of institutions, persons, religions and political systems – only data that is useful for a study by a student, for a researcher.”

Information included in the new Arabic online encyclopedia is expected to go through a rigid process of vetting and layers of “data collectors and reviewers” to ensure that all aspects are properly sourced, verified and comply with the organisation’s rules.

Asked about potential competition, Abu Ghazaleh has a generous view. “I would like to see many search engines doing that and [even] better than us,” he says. He is well aware of the challenges though: a project like Tagipedia isn’t practicable without a knowledge organisation to support it and the ability to sustain itself over time.