Interview: Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi
How is Sharjah looking to increase the competitiveness of its business environment?
SHEIKHA BODOUR BINT SULTAN AL QASAMI: The emirate’s successful economic diversification strategy is the result of both strong vision and economic discipline. Going forward, we will focus on more fast-growing areas such as boosting the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) and start-up segments. We have recognised the importance of operating dedicated and specialised free zones. These allow established companies, SMEs and new start-ups the opportunity to develop their businesses within a community committed to their growth and expansion, both within the UAE and other parts of the MENA region. Sharjah is currently home to more than 55,000 SMEs. The emirate’s two largest free zones – Hamriyah Free Zone Authority and Sharjah International Airport Free Zone – host more than 13,000 companies and SMEs from more than 150 countries across multiple industrial sectors, with expansion projects under way in both zones.
We recognise the importance of innovation as the bedrock to business growth, and this is why we encourage such a culture by creating and advancing organisations dedicated to promoting entrepreneurship. These include Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre, Sharjah Business Women Council, NAMA Women Advancement Establishment and Ruwad Establishment.
To what extent will the growth of SMEs and start-ups in the emirate contribute to the development of emerging industries?
SHEIKHA BODOUR: Sharjah is looking to become the SME and start-up capital of the region. The SME segment contributes 60% of the nation’s federal non-oil GDP – a figure that the UAE Ministry of Economy is aiming to raise to 70% by 2021 at a time when the country’s economy is moving away from being primarily oil-based and rapidly diversifying into new and innovative sectors. Ever-advancing technology and the advent of the fourth industrial revolution will play an increasing role in small businesses’ contribution to the economy. As with any sector in any market, competition inevitably leads to innovation and Sharjah is striving towards a cutting-edge economy, where all of our businesses are encouraged to review, research and develop their operational practices and products.
As part of those incentives for small and medium-sized tech companies, the government of Sharjah recently announced it will award 10% of all digital transformation projects to start-ups and SMEs. The Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation (RTI) Park free zone at the American University of Sharjah, for example, is providing a platform for innovative start-ups as well as established companies to either enter or expand into the region, bringing not just innovation, but also the creation of new job opportunities.
In which ways can the emirate promote local innovation and entrepreneurship?
SHEIKHA BODOUR: Innovation is the new currency, and it is fuelling growth across many economies globally, including Sharjah. The environment, tourism, health care and logistics are among the strongest advantages and attractive sectors for entrepreneurs. We seek to accelerate the building of an innovation-based society through achieving excellence in digital transformation in the government sector.
The emirate is working to digitally integrate all of its services, communications and offerings to ensure maximum outreach to investors across the world, and streamlining its processes to ensure optimum service delivery. In this context we want to empower our citizens by transforming Sharjah into a fully smart city by implementing a comprehensive internet of things transformation. The emirate’s commitment to the digitalisation of its economic, social and cultural affairs constitutes part of its comprehensive strategy to ensure ongoing sustainable development in the UAE.
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