The Sultanate of Oman has struggled a great deal in the past year due to a decline in oil prices, much like the other nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council. In 2015, Oman’s revenues decreased by more than 50 percent, and the nation expects the 2016 deficit to soar to nearly $9 billion. Despite the dire situation, it appears that the people of Oman are more than willing to step up and pursue their own dreams while contributing to the continued growth of the nation. Part of the bold spirit of the Omanis is due to the nation’s growing entrepreneurial community. Omani entrepreneurs are confident that they can bring their ideas to life and change the future of Oman for the better.
Only a few years ago, Oman received a lot of negative attention for its shortcomings in supporting the nascent entrepreneurial ecosystem. The country was viewed as one of the most challenging markets in the Middle East to start a business due to both its restrictive policies and relatively small population. The situation began to change after Oman hosted the 2013 SME Development Symposium, an event that focused on how to accelerate entrepreneurial growth in the country. The symposium led to the development of Riyada, an organization with a mandate to aid the development of small- and medium-sized businesses.
Riyada — Providing Logistic Support for Omani Entrepreneurs
While Riyada has only operated for a few years, its chief executive officer, Khalifa Said Al Abri, says that it has already accomplished a number of its goals to make the market friendlier to startups. However, a lot of work remains to be done. Riyada understands that it needs to establish a true culture of entrepreneurship in the country in order to create lasting change. While cultural change takes more than a couple years, a number of young citizens are already expressing increased interest in establishing their own businesses, which was not the case before Riyada began operations. In 2013, 323 Omanis registered new businesses. Last year, the number skyrocketed to 4,300.
The growth of entrepreneurship is coming at an important time when the country needs to diversify its income to become more resistant to fluctuations in the oil market. According to the International Labor Organization, unemployment in Oman has risen to 7.17%. By promoting entrepreneurship as a legitimate employment option, the country can drive this number down while creating interests outside of oil. Entrepreneurs have a number of exciting markets to focus on, ranging from tourism and logistics to technology and food. Even His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said al Said has voiced his support for entrepreneurship. In fact, the symposium that led to the creation of Riyada was held at his behest.
The SME Development Symposium also led to the creation of the Al Raffd Fund, which offers financial support to individuals starting their own businesses. Entrepreneurs can turn to Riyada for training and advisory services and the Al Raffd Fund once they have a defined idea with proven potential. The two organizations often work in concert to remove the hurdles faced by Omani entrepreneurs. In addition to removing the administrative roadblocks that complicate the process, both organizations are trying to change the country’s perspective on entrepreneurship. Traditional views continue to discourage people from starting their own companies, although this is slowly changing as evidenced by the jump in the number of newly registered companies.
Encouraging Achievement with the Riyada Entrepreneurship Awards
In the current environment, Omani entrepreneurs still have to contend with a number of obstacles, yet the rewards are greater today than they were in the past. People with drive and passion have access to opportunities in unprecedented ways, not to mention the potential to reap major financial rewards. In order to increase the rewards available, Riyada established the Entrepreneurship Awards. The awards bring success stories to the public eye, which in turn encourage the government and other organizations to create new policies in support of start-ups. Through the awards, Riyada recognizes not just great entrepreneurs, but also the government authorities and financial institutions that that have made their success possible.
The year 2015 was the first time that the Entrepreneurship Awards were held. In total, 13 awards were given out. They were selected from a pool of nearly 600 applications that were received. In January, Riyada held the second installment and gave out 21 awards at a gala ceremony that celebrated achievements and looked toward the sustained success of the award recipients. Winners receive more than money and a trophy, as Riyada provides continued hands-on support. The post-awards program is intensive. After working diligently to identify and address any gaps in the existing model, winners can showcase their organizations to Riyada’s partners.
Organizations such as Riyada and the Al Raffd Fund provide incredible opportunities for individuals in Oman who wish to start their own businesses and who have done a great deal to bring entrepreneurship into the mainstream. The changes are essential to the future of the nation and the region, which can no longer rely completely on oil for its income. Entrepreneurship has a great deal of promise for reviving economies hurt by falling oil prices in Oman and other nations throughout the Middle East.