THE POWER OF SMALL

Kuwait 2018 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Abdullah Hamad Al-Jouan, Chairman & President of The National Fund for Small & Medium Enterprise Development (National Fund), on increasing support for SMEs, technology overhaul, and sectors with potential.

 Abdullah Hamad Al-Jouan
BIOGRAPHY
Abdullah Hamad Al-Jouan is the Chairman & President of The National Fund for Small & Medium Enterprise Development. Prior to assuming this role, he was the Deputy General Manager for AlJouan Investment Company and the Managing Partner for Finance & Operations at Gusto Food Services Group of Companies. His career in finance and strategic investments allowed him to serve at the Capital Markets Authority, Markaz, and Boubyan Bank. Also, he served in the Steering Committee for First Bahrain Real Estate Development Company, where he represented major shareholders including a sovereign fund and family offices. Al-Jouan holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, Colorado.

How does the National Fund support the economic grid of SMEs and help increase SME participation in the economy?

In 2013, Kuwait's parliament enacted a law that created the National Fund to broaden the scope of promoting and supporting entrepreneurship and SMEs in Kuwait. The National Fund's mandate focuses on access to funds and markets, and on providing training and building capacity, as well as providing land. In addition, the National Fund provides other logistical support, such as operational enhancement, gap analysis, and different kinds of training. It also covers various subsidies that allow entrepreneurs to interact within the economy. All these resources and packages aim to transform Kuwaitis from being public sector employees into either business owners or private-sector employees. The second goal is to find ways to help entrepreneurs and SMEs contribute to the diversification of Kuwait's economy. The third issue is to transfer the necessary knowledge and experience from outside Kuwait into the country. The role of the National Fund within those general terms is to provide the packages that allow entrepreneurs to thrive. For example, the National Fund has had four types of pilot incubation programs. In 2017, we issued bylaws to enable private incubators in Kuwait and we are in the midst of introducing the first cohort program that will be supported by the National Fund, though operated by the private sector.

What is the importance of bringing modern technology to Kuwait?

Technology itself is becoming a huge industry that is overtaking traditional industries. The pillars of those disruptions currently are trends in artificial intelligence and its subsets, which are machine learning and deep learning. These are concepts such as autonomous driving and blockchain, which are disrupting many industries, not just finance. As an international fund, we intend to focus on offering high-quality training programs conducted by the right international providers who can bring their talents to Kuwait and develop the mindset here. We also work with other government agencies in Kuwait to achieve this change. We want to help improve Kuwait's creative and innovation sector, especially in the field of R&D.

In which industries do you see potential for SMEs to claim a larger role?

Different sectors of the country offer excellent prospects for SMEs. One area is agriculture, and our Board of Directors recently approved the National Agriculture Program. We focus on the business side of the equation and are looking at how farms in Kuwait can generate enough income for farmers to be interested in investing further in their operations. We have talked to other agencies, such as the Municipality of Kuwait and the Public Authority of Farms, and they agree with our approach. The National Fund enables every single farm in Kuwait that qualifies to enter the program and give each farm a small workshop space amounting to 1-3% of their farm size while also providing the financing to purchase equipment and set it up. The workshop will be used to convert raw materials into by-products that have a longer shelf life and better positioning in the market. Through one of our linkage programs, these small enterprises could be linked with larger companies that specialize in packaging and distribution to overseas markets under international standards. This program will help create local food security and self-sustainability to some degree, as well as exports. We are doing this program with the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR) as it possesses the necessary technical know-how. Besides agriculture, we are exploring how we can get SMEs into the petrochemicals value chain. A third area is the National Development Program led by the Supreme Council that is focused on the development of Kuwait, for example new buildings, roads, the metro, and other infrastructure. We are working to engage SMEs across different sectors in the development of the national economy.