BUSINESS COUNCILS

Kuwait 2017 | ECONOMY | B2B

Councils not only provide a business-to-business environment, but are increasingly bringing in skills and programs to help the Kuwaiti economy meets its targets.

Hannelore Graf
HANNELORE GRAF
Chairman
German Business Council Kuwait (GBCK)
Juliet I. Dinkha
JULIET I. DINKHA
Chairwoman
American Business Council-Kuwait (ABCK)

To what extent can you help companies when entering the Kuwaiti market?

Hannelore Graf The most we can do is connect them with the right people and help them with information, i.e. where to go and what to do, but nothing beyond that. We lay a foundation of connections, contacts, networks, experiences, and information, providing a platform. We can also give market information on whether it would be a good market for a company or whether the market might be saturated, and so on. We also have a lot of cultural events, which help create a community, create new contacts, get people acquainted with local culture and people, and mix business and pleasure. We also cooperate and work with SMEs in Kuwait. We had a women's SME conference with people from eight countries from Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. There were also two Kuwaiti female entrepreneurs present, talking about the difficulties they met and their experiences in overcoming those challenges. Those SME conferences will continue, as will other conferences next year. The aim is to motivate Kuwaitis to opt away from public sector jobs and choose the private sector, considering 90% of Kuwaitis are employed in the public sector, only 10% of Germans are employed in the public service, we have a lot of experience in how to meet that challenge for Kuwait.

Juliet I. Dinkha The ABCK is a not-for-profit organization and was developed as a support for Americans doing business here, to help them network, and provide them with an opportunity to meet with the embassy. However, the ABCK's primary mission is to collaborate with American and Kuwaiti businesses. Recently, one of the biggest challenges has been the various legal reforms. One change is that it has become more challenging for American companies to come because there are a lot of legalities regarding sponsorship and licensing. By the time employees get their sponsor and finish their paperwork, they additionally require work visas. Americans used to arrive on a visa and, every six months, they could go to Bahrain and renew it until they got a new visa. Now, Americans can come on a visa, but have to go back to the US for residency. If they go all the way back to the US, employees stay away from their job for 2-3 weeks. Moreover, non-Kuwaitis could have a driver's license for 10 years, but now you can only have it if you have a residency permit. In my opinion, the Kuwaiti government needs to loosen restrictions for certain countries in order to attract more foreign companies.

What have been some of your key developments over the past year?

HG We have introduced the new GBCK website and directory, and we also have a larger board that can take care of many more subjects than before. Our business contacts have been developing between the Swiss, German, Austrian, and Kuwaiti community, both socially and in terms of business. We have a new German ambassador, and he has been very active and enthusiastic about working with the GBCK. We work closely with the US, Australian, UK, Indian, Canadian, French, and other business councils. We hold joint events and cooperate closely in many areas, which also benefits the Kuwaiti business community. We also have very close relations with other chambers of commerce in the GCC. In Kuwait we also have the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), which is here to help cooperate with the Kuwaiti Public Authority for Applied Education, mainly in the area of vocational training, to be able to ensure there is sufficient trained personnel to deal with foreign companies, German or other. The GIZ is located in Kuwait but it is for the whole region.

JD We have just revamped our website and hired a social media coordinator and an event planner on a part-time basis. I was appointed as the new Chairwoman in June 2016, but I have already hired two employees, changed the office, and come up with a sophisticated strategy to invite more corporations and change the benefits. In this regard, one of the ABCK's biggest benefits is that we offer a network through which our members can get more business. For instance, we already organize events in association with the US Embassy and are further looking to collaborate with other organizations such as the American Women's League, Canadian, and British organizations. It is an American organization, and we do not want to lose sight of our members, who are mainly from the oil and gas sector, but also hotels and IT companies. We do not have any hospitals yet, and I am hoping that we will get some clinics interested in our corporate membership. Essentially, it is all about providing the platform and seeing how we can expand from there.