TAKING THE LEAD

Oman 2016 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Khalifa Said Salim Al Abri, CEO of Riyada, Public Authority for SME Development, on the authority's current programs, sectors of interest, and how to fill the skills gap.

Khalifa Said Salim Al Abri
BIOGRAPHY
Khalifa Said Salim Al Abri, CEO of Riyada, the Public Authority for SME Development, holds a BA in Economics from the University of Jordan and a Master of Science in Development Management from Glasgow Caledonian University. He has worked for Oman's Government since 1986 and has held several positions, where he served as Director of Arab & International Organizations in the Ministry of Finance and Economy, and then as Director General for Economic Affairs and later Director General for Private Sector Affairs in the Ministry of National Economy.

How does the authority position itself in the Omani economy, and what is your focus, particularly for this year?

The authority provides many support programs such as trainings, exhibitions, incubation, and awards. The themes of the trainings are, for example, how to establish a business, business management, accounting, and marketing. We also organize specialized courses on hygiene, health, and safety, among others. On top of this, we assist in technical issues related to project management and execution. The authority also facilitates finding solutions when issues arise between SMEs and government authorities, larger companies, and banks, of course within its legal mandate and capacity only. At the end of 2014, we established an incubator. We have currently around 13 incubatees out of 23 offices available in the incubator. Our plan is to have the operation up to 100% at the end of 2015, and to have a process in place by which we can assess how incubatees are benefitting from our services to improve ourselves. Riyada signed a contract to run the existing incubator with the National Business Center (NBC), which has the necessary experience and knowledge in this field.

What are the sectors of interest in terms of start-ups, and which sectors are the authority's priorities at the moment?

For now, we are focusing in services mainly and studying the ways to establish specialized incubators. We are discussing with the concerned Government Authorities the formation of agricultural and industrial incubators. We hope some projects will materialize by the end of this year.

In terms of skilled labor, what are the current gaps existing, and what is the role of SMEs in filling those gaps?

Gaps exist, but we see many initiatives in Oman to eliminate or at least reduce those gaps. A key part of the authority's role is to equip Omanis with the necessary skill-set so they can establish their own businesses. We focus on providing assistance to small businesses to grow as well as new graduates from high schools and universities to implement their business ideas and establish their own enterprises. At the start, Omanization levels are lower for new businesses. After they have established themselves over time, there will be a gradual Omanization program introduced.

What sort of opportunities will present themselves in the next few years for SMEs, and in which areas does the authority anticipate their growth?

There are certain sectors that we are in and will be focusing on over the next five years; specifically tourism and logistics. There are huge opportunities for SMEs in logistics. There are major opportunities in business linked to transport, clustered around the major national railway projects. Companies in the railway sector are already working on strategies to create opportunities for SMEs. The tourism sector also presents many opportunities for SME establishment and growth. The idea is to link the SMEs to the sectors on which the government is currently focused.

What are your expectations for the coming year, as well as your longer-term outlook for SMEs?

There is a focus on the importance of SMEs in Oman, and it will be one of the key elements to achieve the shift from oil and achieve economic diversification. Many government authorities agree that SMEs will play a major role in this. There is huge potential for SMEs to grow in Oman in the next five years and beyond.