The Business Year

Khalifa Said Salim Al Abri

OMAN - Economy

From SME to You

CEO, Public Authority for SMEs Development (Riyada)

Bio

Khalifa Said Salim Al Abri, CEO of the Public Authority for SME Development (Riyada), 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, including 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. Al Abri participated in strategic privatization efforts including serving previously as a board member in Oman Airport Management Company and Haya Water.

"Riyada has been successful because we work closely with the private sector."

How would you assess the progress of Riyada’s multifaceted business incubation centers?

Incubation and business centers are the main technical assistance services we provide as the government authority responsible for ensuring a nurturing SMEs ecosystem in the Sultanate. Our services include SMEs registrations, support and development, mentorship and training, media, easing regulations monitoring and evaluation, marketing, and events. As for government incubators there are three; one is in Riyada, which is the centerpiece, one is in SAS, and one is at the National Business Center. We also have private centers like the Zubair Business Center, Ajyal, The CELL, and youth co-working spaces such as The Lounge. There are a total of five incubators in Oman now, but we plan to expand and encourage the private sector to enter this business, because it is one of the tools that assists SME development in the early stages. These are all part of the SME ecosystem. The opening of the SAS mobile applications center means we have reached a satisfactory level in the areas of pre-incubation services, which include improving access to viable business ideas and plans for SMEs. The fact that there is a diverse number of incubators run by the government and the private sector is another good indication for Oman. In the future, we hope to have mixed-use incubators and accelerators as well. One of our roles within Riyada is to facilitate public- and private-sector partners to diversify the services offered in incubation services to SMEs. The mobile application services are a part of this, and they are also an indication that we are moving from generalization to specialization. We are hoping to see more incubators in logistics and in other sectors more relevant to development plans as well.

What was the reason behind removing the OMR150,000 capital requirement to start a business in Oman, and what effects will this removal have?

This is one of the government’s initiatives to make the business environment easier to enter and to encourage businesses to start their business in Oman. This initiative makes the SME ecosystem friendlier in Oman, which in turn attracts more business. This is all part of the direction of the government.

Do you expect to see a sharp rise of SMEs since the removal of this requirement?

The amount of SMEs has steadily increased since 2013. The idea is to establish the authorities to help and encourage small businesses and others to start their own businesses. We believe with this focus the number will increase this year and in many to come.

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 good relationships with major companies like PDO, Microsoft, and BP. 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 is Riyada working to facilitate SME development in hot bed investment areas in Oman, such as Duqm or Sohar?

We are starting to work a lot with Duqm. There was recently 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 port for this initiative. This is all within the framework to improve the economic ecosystem for SME development. Additionally, we work with relevant authorities like the Ministry of Finance and the Tender Board to ensure that governmental units and government-owned companies comply and have an incentive to work toward implementing this process. We are also working with the free and special economic zones. We started with Duqm where we are in collaboration with Duqm Special Economic Zone Authory of Duqm (SEZAD) and the National Youth Commission (NYC). We are also collaborating with national and multinational companies Salalah companies as well. Riyada has a total of four branches including our main office in the Governorate of Muscat, a branch in Sohar that interacts directly with public and private stakeholders in that area, a branch that is working with stakeholders in Dhofar, and a branch working in Sur.

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 we 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 we believe they are one of the pillars to achieving new growth in Oman. Part of our vision is to make sure that we are providing job opportunities for SMEs and raising 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 that are here with us in Riyada. Since we were established in 2013, we have seen over 7000 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 already 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: innovative ideas, resources, growth, and markets. SMEs not only contribute to economic growth, but also to the overall balanced progress of the nation. We hope to see more Omanis working as SME owners or working for SMEs. Lastly, we expect SMEs to continue playing a big role in the economic diversification efforts of Oman.

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