GROWTH FROM WITHIN

Oman 2017 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Khalifa Said Salim Al Abri, former CEO of the Public Authority for SME Development (Riyada), on working closely with the private sector, furthering opportunities for SMEs, and his goals for the next year.

Khalifa Said Salim Al Abri
BIOGRAPHY
Khalifa Said Salim Al Abri is the former CEO of the Public Authority for SME Development (Riyada). He has worked for Oman’s government since 1986 and has held several positions, serving as Director of Arab & International Organizations in the Ministry of Finance and Economy, Director General for Economic Affairs, and Director General for Private Sector Affairs in the Ministry of National Economy. Al Abri previously served as a Board Member at Oman Airport Management Company and Haya Water. He holds a BA in economics from the University of Jordan and a master of science in development management from Glasgow Caledonian University.

How does Riyada use its position to forge partnerships with some of the biggest companies in Oman to offer support for their SMEs?

Riyada has been successful because we work closely with the private sector. We have great relationships with major companies. They are keen to support us in Oman and we highly value these partnerships. Within this framework, we cooperate with public- and private-sector entities that correspond to the services that are set in our mandate. Within our mandate, we are responsible for the registration and database of SMEs, facilitating incubation for SMEs, training and mentoring, marketing and events, media and public relations, and support and development. For each of these services, we sign MoUs with corresponding public- and private-sector entities that offer services in that field as well.

How does Riyada work to facilitate SME development in hotbed investment areas such as Duqm or Sohar?

We are starting to work a great deal with Duqm. There was a major investment opportunities forum in Duqm to link investors to SMEs and to start business relations between the small and big businesses operating there. There have been extensive discussions, and there are huge opportunities for SMEs in Duqm. Since 2013, there has been a government mandate for all government projects to award not less than 10% of their tenders to SMEs. There is close coordination with the Tender Board for this initiative. This is all within the framework to improve the economic ecosystem for SME development. Additionally, we work with the relevant authorities to ensure that governmental units and government-owned companies comply and have an incentive to work toward implementing this process. We also work with free and special economic zones. We started with Duqm, where we are in collaboration with Duqm Special Economic Zone Authority of Duqm (SEZAD) and the National Youth Commission.

What opportunities does Riyada offer to foster growth and further opportunities for local SMEs on the international level?

Having local SMEs participating in various trade fairs and exhibitions is a big opportunity for growth. We have been promoting SMEs to market their products internally and outside of Oman for the past three years. Another way to foster growth is by sending SMEs to international exhibitions that take place outside of Oman, like in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, for example. This helps to build links between SMEs, big companies, and their customers.

As the country looks to diversify its revenue away from oil and gas, can SMEs play a larger role in this effort moving forward?

SMEs are definitely a part of achieving this goal, and they are one of the pillars to achieving new growth in Oman. Part of our vision is to make sure that we provide job opportunities for SMEs and increase the contributions of SMEs toward the national economy. For example, we have around 1,000 people a year benefiting from our training services. We have an annual award in which we recognize Omani entrepreneurs who are role models in the area of SME development. These awardees help us promote SMEs as contributors to the economy and sources of job creation. We also have 24 incubated businesses here with us in Riyada. Since we were established in 2013, we have seen over 7,000 Omanis officially registered as business owners. This is important because this number was in the hundreds when we started. Overall, we have registered around 20,000 SMEs in our database.

What are some of your targets at Riyada over the next 12 months?

Our target is to continue facilitating four types of access to SMEs: access to innovative ideas, resources, growth, and markets. This not only contributes to their economic growth, but also to the overall balanced progress of the nation. We hope to see more Omanis setting up SMEs or working for SMEs. Lastly, we expect SMEs to continue playing a big role in the economic diversification efforts of Oman.