What major initiatives have you been involved with over the past year?
Zubair SEC has always sought to distinguish itself from other companies that offer services to develop SMEs. By looking into what these companies need, we design programs and initiatives that meet those requirements. We started with a direct support program where we invite a number of entrepreneurs from all over Oman to participate and introduce their business plans. Based on this, we go through a process of evaluation and assessment, we conduct an interview, and we identify the best opportunities for them. We provide them with a grant of USD26,000 and mentor them, develop their skills, and support them with marketing, branding, and so on. We have been doing this for the past seven years for over 48 projects, and only three of the companies did not last. We have introduced an initiative where we gather entrepreneurs for a workshop where they can meet mentors, share their challenges, learn about possible solutions, and receive support to grow their business. We cooperate with large corporations because the entrepreneurs also need to promote their business, and we help them get such opportunities. Some of these large companies outsource their services to SMEs, which gives the SMEs sustainable income. SMEs need corporate governance to grow and reach their full potential, which is why we recently introduced the initiative “Know your VAT." We have requested a consultant to provide webinars and educational sessions to SMEs, and we have already hosted a few of those.
What is the importance of SMEs for ensuring food security in Oman, and what is your vision for a more integrated approach when it comes to promoting sustainable food systems?
The agriculture sector is key for Vision 2040, and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is playing a significant role in terms of educating farmers on how to pack, plant, and sell their products. We have partnered with FAO because we can add value based on our experience and our contribution to SMEs. Our most recent collaboration with FAO, the Nutrition Sensitive Value Chain Assessment (NSVCA) project, will provide farmer-based organizations and SMEs access to updated knowledge and data to operate in line with current research and national priorities. Farmer-based organizations and SMEs along the value chain also play a key role in influencing demand and supply through the production, packaging, selling, and marketing of food. Small farmers need someone that can help them with marketing strategies, because otherwise they waste a great deal of effort and money. They need an integrated approach. Successful joint initiatives include assessments, capacity development programs, and dialogue platforms and initiatives. The agriculture sector is no less important than other sectors of the economy.
Is there a need for special policy exemptions when it comes to the SMEs, and of what nature should such incentives be in order to have maximum effect in the long term?
What SMEs in Oman need more is an easing of regulations, thereby allowing them to participate in public tenders, prioritizing their products and services, opening up opportunities within large-scale projects floated by the government, and allocating land to them in various regions across the country to boost cluster industries within industrial estates. There should be a law to regulate SME businesses that should include corporate governance and compliance. In addition, large private-sector companies should outsource part of their contracts to SMEs, subcontract some of their services, and act as mentors to them.
Where do you see space for more FDI in Oman's economy?
Oman is an open market, with updated commercial law so foreign companies can easily do business with 100% ownership. We are a developing country, and most economic sectors need more development and offer great business opportunities. As per Vision 2040, the focus is on four main sectors: logistics, transformative industries, tourism, and agriculture and fisheries. All these sectors have potential for more FDI.