INITIATING schemes to support and promote Bahraini Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) will be the focus of an entrepreneur contesting the upcoming election of the country’s main business body.
Bahraini Khalil Al Qaheri is the first businessman to declare his candidacy for next February’s polls to elect the new 18-member board of the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI).
The 30-year-old, who runs Stradico consultancy firm and Ibdaa Hub Training Centre, told the GDN that he will also look into developing programmes provided by the BCCI.
“SMEs are one of the most important sources of public income for the local economy,” said Mr Al Qaheri.
“My aim is to work on providing financial facilities for small projects through programmes and funds financed by large and medium companies, supervised by the chamber.
“I also have plans to conduct periodic events in Gulf countries under the auspices of the BCCI, if elected, with support of other (board) members. These activities will provide opportunities for the promotion of Bahraini SMEs abroad and will target different sectors according to the products and services provided by the participating companies.
“Tapping into the potential of SMEs is a big opportunity for Bahrain as it will help the national economy and the chamber as such. This will free the chamber from depending on the government for everything. This will also help the chamber focus more on economic activities in the country.
“The effects of the 2011 political crisis perhaps ran until 2014. Subsequently, we also had the oil price crisis, but now it is time to move on.”
Last year the BCCI witnessed a major restructuring of its board with Ahmed Bin Hindi and Abdulhakeem Al Shammary replacing Nabeel Kanoo and Khalid Al Amin on its seven-member executive committee.
In July last year the BCCI board also passed a vote of no-confidence against its former chief executive and voted to replace him with Dr Khalid Al Ruwaihi.
In February this year board member Othman Al Rayes also resigned alleging the role of BCCI chairman Khalid Almoayed had been hijacked by other members and general body resolutions on membership fees were bypassed.
After last year’s board reshuffle Mr Almoayed tendered his resignation, citing frustration at alleged interference by the Industry, Commerce and Tourism Ministry, but the board rejected his resignation.
Mr Al Qaheri said the chamber should refocus its energy on attracting investment to Bahrain and exporting local expertise.
“Saudi Arabia has announced its plans to invest BD10 billion in various infrastructure and construction projects early next year in Dammam and Alkhobar – these places are across the border and just half an hour’s drive from Bahrain,” he explained.
“As a team, the BCCI should focus on these projects and find ways for Bahrain to penetrate into that market.
“A list of Bahraini projects looking for Gulf or global partnerships should be prepared and we could establish permanent representation centres for the chamber in the GCC and with countries that share strong economic alliances with Bahrain.
“These centres can provide full information, clarify services and advantages and facilitate the initiation of investment transactions in Bahrain, and also support Bahraini investors outside the country.”
He also said he planned to set up a centre for studies on start-ups and SMEs in Bahrain.
“On an average we have 3,000 graduates with business management degrees and all of them aim for managerial positions – this is impossible unless we help them focus on start-ups,” he said.
“SMEs and start-ups these days are lacking in quality and they are ending up as visa sellers.
“My election manifesto includes a proposal to establish a centre for studies on the provision of basic information for start-ups and SMEs.
“Providing periodic courses for university students to enhance their entrepreneurship concepts, while ensuring strategic partnerships with universities is yet another project.
“These proposals are aimed to defend my belief that there is a need to strengthen the role of Bahraini business incubators to attract emerging Gulf companies.
“I believe these are viable practical programmes that would provide real solutions to the commercial sectors in Bahrain – away from the bureaucracy and complexities which affect businesses in the country.”
Mr Al Qaheri, who has three children with his wife and business partner Mariam Ali Shaikh, said he was prepared to partner with other entrepreneurs to push his manifesto during campaigning.
“I announced my plan early so that I could have discussions on my electoral programmes, which I believe will help to enrich and develop it into a business plan that could be integrated into our economy,” he added.
“I don’t want to be part of big business groups, but if there are others who share the same interests I am open to be part of such a group.”