Interview: Sheikh Khalifa bin Jassim bin Mohammed Al Thani

In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, which sectors offer the best potential to accelerate economic diversification?

SHEIKH KHALIFA BIN JASSIM BIN MOHAMMED AL THANI: Many sectors have seen significant growth during the pandemic, including industry. Qatar attracted QR293bn ($80.3bn) in investment in 2020 and had 835 operational factories as of 2022. Similarly, efforts to increase food security have grown. Food security is a top priority for Qatar and is one of the main pillars of sustainable development under Qatar National Vision 2030. Apart from these two areas, sectors most likely to accelerate the country’s economic diversification are construction, tourism and hospitality, ICT, retail and real estate.

What can Qatar do to further support the growth of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)?

AL THANI: SMEs are the backbone of any economy, and they are important drivers of economic diversification and GDP growth. SMEs represent 97% of registered private sector companies in Qatar, and account for some 15-17% of non-oil GDP.

Various initiatives have been launched to support these companies, including funding programmes through governmental institutions and guarantee mechanisms such as Al Dhameen. The country also has several incubation programmes targeting SMEs and start-ups. To further boost SME performance, it is essential to encourage banks to offer solutions suitable for entrepreneurs who seek to expand their business or launch a new one. Enacting legislation to protect, promote and empower SMEs will be instrumental in this regard, alongside services to facilitate the launch of businesses and to provide training services, consultations, orientation and incubation opportunities for entrepreneurs.

One of Qatar Chamber’s main priorities is to help SMEs compete in the national economy. To this end, it has hosted three editions of the SMEs Conference and shared best practices from foreign partners. The chamber also supports entrepreneurs and owners of family businesses by promoting their products through exhibitions, foremost of which is the Made in Qatar expo. Elsewhere, a partnership with Qatar University and Qatar Development Bank (QDB) resulted in an initiative called Ma’an – which means “together” – to support entrepreneurs. Through this initiative four editions of the Best Innovative Ideas of Entrepreneurs competition were held to offer support for the most forward-thinking start-ups. The SMEs Excellence List Award was another partnership with QDB in which 50 high-achieving enterprises from the local private sector are recognised. The chamber works closely with the government to enable private companies to participate more fully in projects being implemented across sectors in Qatar.

To what extent is the greater emphasis on environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards globally reflected in the local business community?

AL THANI: ESG standards have gained attention in business communities around the world, and for good reason. Strong ESG practices can help companies improve their reputation, increase competitiveness and attract investment. Other benefits include boosting revenue by raising productivity and reducing costs, protecting shareholder value, creating opportunities for growth and innovation, retaining talent and setting the foundations for long-term success. Businesses with effective ESG policies can contribute to safeguarding the environment and improving society, all the while enhancing their own performance.

The growing focus on ESG standards is compatible with Qatar’s development and diversification strategies. Promoting ESG among investors, companies and the wider business community will contribute to the realisation of the economic, human and environmental goals laid out in Qatar National Vision 2030.