Striv­ing for Change

Oman Fo­rum 2017 made a strong pitch to nur­ture SMEs, de­velop en­trepreneur­ship and cre­ate em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties for Oma­nis. A re­view:

Oil and Gas - - EVENT -

Oman Fo­rum 2017 was held on De­cem­ber 20, 2017 at Sher­a­ton Oman. HE Ab­dul­lah Al Salmi, Ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dent, Cap­i­tal Mar­ket Au­thor­ity was the chief guest and HE Rashid Ahmed Al Shamsi, Deputy Chair­man, Ma­jlis Al Shura, was the guest of hon­our. wThe Fo­rum is an an­nual Ara­bic de­bate or­gan­ised by the lead­ing Ara­bic busi­ness mag­a­zine Alam alIk­ti­saad Wal A’mal (AIWA), pub­lished by United Me­dia Ser­vices (UMS). The Oman Fo­rum brought to­gether a broad spec­trum of stake­hold­ers, to share per­spec­tives and ideas on job cre­ation and sus­tain­abil­ity of SMEs.

The 2017 edi­tion com­prised two panel dis­cus­sions on sus­tain­abil­ity and sur­vival of SMEs and job cre­ation and skill de­vel­op­ment. The event looked at how SMEs could stay re­silient and sur­vive in the cur­rent eco­nomic sce­nario and take on new op­por­tu­ni­ties aimed at mo­ti­vat­ing and in­spir­ing en­trepreneurs, es­pe­cially in the back­drop of the Sul­tanate plan­ning to cre­ate 25,000 jobs for Oma­nis.

Sheikh Salah Hi­lal Al Maawali, CEO, SME De­vel­op­ment Fund set the stage for an an­i­mated dis­cus­sion with his key-note ad­dress. Four­teen in­sti­tu­tions are cur­rently sup­ported by the SME De­vel­op­ment Fund, Al Maawali said adding that there are no mag­i­cal or in­stant so­lu­tions to the chal­lenges faced by SMEs. Team work is es­sen­tial and the gov­ern­ment must fa­cil­i­tate the SMEs with re­sources.

Large cor­po­rate houses should give the SMEs at least sub con­tracts to en­able them to sus­tain and flour­ish in the mar­ket. He stressed that large firms in the pri­vate sec­tor should al­lo­cate 10 per cent of their projects to SMEs. The SME De­vel­op­ment Fund has tai­lored a set of prod­ucts that are spe­cially de­signed to pro­vide SMEs with flex­i­ble fund­ing to meet their needs, he added. Sheikh Al Maawali said that com­mer­cial banks, which are un­able to achieve a min­i­mum lend­ing of 5 per cent to SMEs should be pe­nalised. Banks should grab the op­por­tu­nity by ex­tend­ing lend­ing to the SME sec­tor, which con­sti­tutes 90 per cent of the cor­po­rate sec­tor in Oman,” he said.

Falah Al Lawati, Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment Leader, EY Oman in his pre­sen­ta­tion said that ed­u­ca­tion plays a vi­tal part in SME de­vel­op­ment. Ed­u­ca­tional strate­gies should fo­cus on ev­ery mar­ket sec­tor. Peo­ple need to be re­ally fast in terms of in­no­va­tion as there is some­thing new in the mar­ket ev­ery day. Omani ex­per­tise has en­hanced due to the growth in ed­u­ca­tion, he said. SMEs must use KPIs (Key Per­for­mance In­di­ca­tor) as a mea­sur­ing tool to an­a­lyse the busi­ness out­comes and ROI

of the com­pany. Sami Al Has­san, Gen­eral Man­ager, GroFin in­formed that as per their study, 65 per cent of the projects by SMEs lacked suit­able HSE stan­dards; 40 per cent of SME projects are not com­pat­i­ble with gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tions, 70 per cent do not have ac­count­ing stan­dards and 40-50 per cent of SMEs cap­i­tal is at risk. GroFin, he said helps and sup­ports en­trepreneurs by pro­vid­ing them with var­i­ous mech­a­nisms.

Ishraq Al Sh­eryani, CEO, High Am­bi­tion Cen­tre in his pre­sen­ta­tion on SME-a suc­cess story, said that he strug­gled with a debt of RO60,000, re­jec­tions and mul­ti­ple prob­lems start­ing the High Am­bi­tion Cen­tre in 2012 with RO500. The busi­ness will close 2017 with RO500,000 in rev­enues. “En­trepreneur­ship is dif­fi­cult, but pos­si­ble,” he added.

Oman Oil Com­pany was the strate­gic part­ner of the Fo­rum. The event was pow­ered by Ge­n­e­sis (OTE Group). SME De­vel­op­ment Fund was the As­so­ciate Part­ner. The sup­port part­ners in­cluded Shell Oman, Bet­ter Homes, In­stOG, GroFin, San­dan, Taageer Fi­nance, OMIFCO and Takatuf Petro­fac Oman (TPO). Times of Oman and Shabiba were the Me­dia part­ners along with Oman Eco­nomic Re­view. Oman Print­ers and Sta­tion­ers was the print part­ner.

Two panel dis­cus­sions were con­ducted in Oman Fo­rum 2017. The ses­sions were mod­er­ated by noted TV jour­nal­ist Yusuf Al Hooti. The first panel ses­sion fo­cused on the sub­ject – “Sus­tain­abil­ity and Sur­vival of SMEs,” and the panelists in­cluded Sheikh Salah Hi­lal Al Maawali, CEO of SME De­vel­op­ment Fund, Khalid bin Al Safi Al Hu­raibi, Act­ing CEO, Riyada, Ahmed Al Hooti, Mem­ber of OCCI board and Head of the SME Com­mit­tee, Said Al Rashdi, CEO, San­dan De­vel­op­ment, Ishaq Al Sh­eryani, CEO, High Am­bi­tion Cen­tre and Said Al Sarhani, Head of Sup­ply Chain Man­age­ment, Oman Oil Com­pany. Sheikh Salah Hi­lal Al Maawali said fi­nance com­pa­nies must pro­vide SMEs with op­por­tu­ni­ties and fund the youth. There are ini­tial hard­ships in ac­quir­ing a con­tract; but hard­work and con­fi­dence is key. Khalid bin Al Safi Al Hu­raibi said, “We are try­ing our best to en­hance the com­pet­i­tive­ness of small and medium en­ter­prises so that they can ex­port their prod­ucts. We en­cour­age them to en­ter into part­ner­ships with for­eign com­pa­nies.” Riyada en­cour­ages SMEs to form clus­ters. SMEs, he said should de­velop ca­pa­bil­ity to com­pete in the in­ter­na­tional mar­ket. “SMEs should be in­de­pen­dent and not

overde­pen­dent on the gov­ern­ment. The Gov­ern­ment can­not be ex­pected to sup­port all the time.”

Said Al Rashdi said that op­por­tu­ni­ties ex­ists for SMEs. En­trepreneurs must be mo­ti­vated to strive for suc­cess. The road is not easy but it is not in­sur­mount­able, he said. Ahmed Al Hooti, Mem­ber of the OCCI Board and Head of the SMEs Com­mit­tee said, “Cor­po­rates in Oman con­tinue to play a vi­tal role in sup­port­ing small and medium com­pa­nies. How­ever SMEs need to equip them­selves by de­vel­op­ing the skill sets and of­fer­ing the ser­vices cater­ing to the mar­ket.”

Said Al Sarhani, said, “When we ask con­trac­tors to give 10 per cent of their con­tracts to SMEs they ask us to pro­vide them with a list of SMEs, their ex­per­tise, con­tact de­tails and so on in English. There is a need to cre­ate a plat­form for SMEs de­tail­ing stan­dards and pre­req­ui­sites, he said. In­ter­na­tional firms do not al­lo­cate 10 per cent of their con­tracts to SMEs as there are no le­gal penal­ties for big cor­po­rates. Sub­sidised cost­ings pro­vided to SMEs causes them not to col­lab­o­rate with MNCs. This is one of the ma­jor flaws in the SME sec­tor.

Prior to the se­cond panel ses­sion, Glen Meek, Gen­eral Man­ager, Bet­ter Homes in his pre­sen­ta­tion on Smart of­fices for SMEs, said that smart of­fices help in de­vel­op­ing SMEs. The smart of­fice set up by the com­pany in Mus­cat uses so­lar power and max­i­mum glass us­age for nat­u­ral day light. Staff re­ten­tion is key to any busi­ness par­tic­u­larly SMEs. They are key as­sets to the com­pany.

Lina Hus­sein, Head of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and So­cial Im­pact, Zubair SEC in her pre­sen­ta­tion, said that there were 27,923 reg­is­tered SMEs in Oman con­tribut­ing to 15-20 per cent of the GDP as on June 2017. She fur­ther said that 70 per cent of SME own­ers are less than 35 years of age re­flect­ing a lack of ex­pe­ri­ence and pro­fes­sion­al­ism. Ac­cord­ing to NCSI, there is a 32 per cent de­cline in SMEs in Oman. SMEs face a lot of bar­ri­ers such as lack of sup­port ser­vices, ac­cess to high costs of fi­nance and lim­ited avail­abil­ity of skilled staff or ex­pe­ri­enced man­agers. The ecosys­tem must strengthen and unify the SME sup­port as a sin­gle en­tity, de­velop en­tre­pre­neur­ial cur­ricu­lum and sim­plify the regis­tra­tion process of SMEs. Job cre­ation and skill de­vel­op­ment was the topic for dis­cus­sion at the se­cond panel ses­sion.

The panelists in­cluded HE Dr. Saleh Bin Said Al Masan, Head of Eco­nomic and Fi­nan­cial Com­mit­tee, Ma­jlis Al Shura, Mo­hammed Bin Has­san Al Ansi, Head of the Com­mit­tee on HR De­vel­op­ment and Labour Mar­ket, OCCI, Si­mon Karam, Di­rec­tor, Al Sa­rooj Con­struc­tion, Aqil Al Ajmi, Se­nior Con­sul­tant for As­sess­ment at Takatuf and Ab­dul Qader Al Sa­yari, Gen­eral Man­ager (Sup­port Ser­vices), Oman Ship­ping Com­pany.

Speak­ing at the ses­sion, Dr. Saleh bin Said Masan said there is in­com­pat­i­bil­ity be­tween the de­mands of the job mar­ket and the qual­i­fi­ca­tions of Omani grad­u­ates

and this gap needs to be bridged. Late pay­ment of dues and the ad­verse eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion has led to job losses and pres­sure on SMEs, he said. The pri­vate sec­tor has about 1.8 mil­lion em­ploy­ees out of which only 200,000 are Oma­nis. There is im­proper mech­a­nism of sub­sti­tu­tion. “We should ob­serve the suc­cess­ful sec­tors in the mar­ket such as Fi­nance, Health, Oil and Gas and adapt their strate­gies,” he said. Si­mon Karam said that econ­omy cre­ates jobs and SMEs and not vice versa. There should be a cen­tralised gov­er­nance and es­tab­lished train­ing in­sti­tutes for cor­po­rate train­ing.

Mo­hammed Bin Has­san Al Ansi said, “Today al­most all big­ger projects are be­ing awarded to for­eign com­pa­nies. We re­quire more pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ship to sup­port the SMEs, and the pri­vate sec­tor needs to be given more con­sid­er­a­tion.”

Aqil Al Ajmi said “Oman­i­sa­tion is still in its in­fancy. There is a no­tice­able lack in the num­ber of mid-level Omani pro­fes­sion­als in var­i­ous com­pa­nies.”

Ab­dul Qader Al Sa­yari said there ex­ists a huge gap be­tween the skillsets of the Omani grad­u­ates and the ac­tual re­quire­ments in the job mar­ket. Oman­iza­tion in the pri­vate sec­tor is only 11 per cent. In or­der to cre­ate an at­trac­tive en­vi­ron­ment for work, we have to cre­ate an at­trac­tive en­vi­ron­ment for in­vest­ment. 70 per cent of the job seek­ers in the mar­ket are women, who are col­lege grad­u­ates and diploma hold­ers. “We need to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment for cre­ation of jobs for Oma­nis.”

“Oman Fo­rum’s pri­mary ob­jec­tive is to pro­mote thought lead­er­ship and fa­cil­i­tate a live pub­lic dis­cus­sion in Ara­bic on the chal­lenges and op­por­tu­ni­ties fac­ing the econ­omy and so­ci­ety. The 2017 Fo­rum brings key rep­re­sen­ta­tives from di­verse sec­tors face-to-face to share their views and lay out a con­crete roadmap for en­ter­prises to take on chal­lenges aris­ing out of a fast chang­ing eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment,” said Khal­fan Al Rahbi, Ed­i­tor-in-chief of Alam al-Ik­ti­saad Wal A’mal (AIWA) in his wel­come ad­dress.

Sami Al Has­san GM, GroFin

Lina Hus­sein, Head of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and So­cial Im­pact, Zubair SEC

Glen Meek GM, Bet­ter Homes

Sheikh Salah Hi­lal Al Maawali CEO, SME De­vel­op­ment Fund

Yusuf Al Hooti Mod­er­a­tor

Falah Al Lawati Busi­ness De­vel­op­ment Leader, EY Oman

Khal­fan Al Rahbi Ed­i­tor-in-chief of Alam al-Ik­ti­saad Wal A’mal (AIWA)

Ishaq Al Sh­eryani CEO, High Am­bi­tion Cen­tre

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