Interview: Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa

What changes has Tamkeen undergone that reflect its core vision and principles, and how will its success be monitored?

SHAIKH MOHAMMED BIN ESSA AL KHALIFA: After extensive consultations with our stakeholders and the public, 2015 saw a year of transition for Tamkeen, with a shift towards a customer-oriented model. We aim to create comprehensive support solutions that cater to the two main groups we serve: individuals and businesses. Each group has been subdivided into a further three segments based on developmental stages. For individuals, these stages are students, job seekers and employees, and for businesses they are start-ups, growth and maturity. Our goal is to help our customers progress from one stage to the next.

Another important shift is Tamkeen’s move towards automation. Flagship programmes such as the Enterprise Support and Professional Certifications Scheme now boast online portals through which customers can apply and track their applications. Through this support, Tamkeen provides customised solutions to fit each business, while at the same time encouraging more planning.

Tamkeen’s success will be measured by examining the impact it has on its customers, such as how many businesses have branched out into exports or have opened offices in foreign markets. In the case of individuals, part of the success is measured by determining how many Bahrainis have become professionally certified and thus more employable or have increased their wages – and by how much.

In your opinion, which segment requires the most support, and how can the private sector help?

SHAIKH MOHAMMED: All segments are important because each one constitutes an integral component of labour market reform and private sector development. That said, further promotion of an entrepreneurial culture and facilitation of the establishment of more start-ups is a key focus area for Tamkeen, as a thriving entrepreneurial culture is one of the cornerstones of sustainable economic development. The private sector’s support in areas such as the provision of valuable seed money for entrepreneurs, or support in the creation of incubators to help start-ups in that first initial critical period, is absolutely crucial.

Tamkeen’s Enterprise Finance Programme facilitates this by connecting businesses and financial institutions, giving businesses access to low-cost finance from local partner banks while reducing the risk to the banks. To date, the programme has served over 6000 businesses, 98% of which are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Beyond this, the programme has introduced and institutionalised the concept of SME financing within the market. Banks view SMEs as an untapped opportunity and they have begun to focus on it more, with many even creating SME-specific departments.

What strategies has Tamkeen developed to further the advancement of women?

SHAIKH MOHAMMED: Tamkeen has worked diligently to create opportunities for Bahraini women to succeed as part of its wider role to support Bahrainis and local businesses. Whether as entrepreneurs, employees, or job seekers, women comprise around 35% of the total Bahraini workforce, and it is vital for Tamkeen to continue to focus on this area.

Riyadat Mall, which was launched in cooperation with the Supreme Council for Women and the Bahrain Development Bank, is the first business incubator in the region exclusively for businesswomen. Other Tamkeen initiatives include facilitating micro-loans for female-owned businesses and productive families, awarding grants to a great variety of start-ups, and providing training on basic work skills to enable Bahraini women to find gainful employment.