How do you expect the COVID-19 outbreak to impact the Omani business environment in the medium term?
PANKAJ KHIMJI The COVID-19 outbreak is a once-in-a-century crisis, though digital platforms allow for better information and awareness today. The pandemic will lead to massive changes to business, social interactions, and the ways we perceive and receive entertainment. Not only will working remotely be the new paradigm through live streaming and videoconferencing, but there will also be a resource glut, from a transport, people, and space point of view. Real estate will also be impacted heavily, with second homes and office spaces becoming redundant. Overall, from May until end of 2020, there will be a huge adjustment curve for all organizations. The focus will be on preserving supply chains to ensure food security, specifically approaching the issue from an accessibility standpoint.
What is the key to promoting entrepreneurship in Oman?
NAILESH KHIMJI We have always believed that the spirit of entrepreneurship needs to be instilled right from an early age because that is when children start developing a perspective and a world view. It is important that they see entrepreneurship as a way of life and not as an opportunity reserved only for specific people. There needs to be a major shift in the way people think. Education should not be just about job prospects, but also about creating opportunities for start-ups, businesses, and ideas. Investment in science and technology will be critical in determining the future of any economy. With that in mind, we will be building capabilities to help develop a collaborative, scientific mindset. To that end, we established the Eshraqa Entrepreneurship Academy (EEA), which has long been associated with Riyada and the National Business Center (NBC). The academy trains, coaches, and mentors new and existing start-ups, SMEs, and microbusinesses. From the onset, our mission has been to promote and promote entrepreneurship among young Omanis through training workshops, lectures, coaching, and mentorship programs.
What are some of the major trends that the Omani economy will witness in the coming future in regard to SMEs and sectors slated for development?
PK The Omani economy will witness an evolution that will happen through downsizing, consolidation, and mergers. Acquisitions remain unlikely, and distribution will be a new popular vertical among companies. 3PL and 4PL will also be popular for companies in the distribution business. Outsourcing and offshoring will be the new paradigm for players to run their operations, opening up opportunities for SMEs. Food, fisheries, and general agricultural value addition represents a huge opportunity for Oman to invest seriously. These sectors need to be more efficient under a production point of view, catering to specific markets with specific products, such as ready-to-eat, which is increasingly popular in supermarkets. Speed and convenience will be crucial in the products of the future.
What led to the establishment of a STEMA Centre, and what will be its main implications for the Omani youth?
NK The path to progress has always been determined by the way the youth is brought up in a country. We identified grassroots development as the way forward in terms of nation building. If we are able to instill a scientific mentality from an early age, our students will be able to think critically, analyze, and explore new horizons. Ultimately, society will benefit. A more STEM-proficient generation can help carry our country forward. New medical discoveries, better infrastructure, advancement in science and technology, and many more possibilities await us if we can prepare ourselves accordingly. Countries such as Singapore and Japan have robust STEM education systems in place, and we can see the advancements they are making. Hopefully, these countries will inspire us to help our students create a glorious future. We have added arts to STEM learning in order to not limit its scope and ensure the inclusion of those interested in allied and non-scientific fields as well.