Muscat: Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are the lifeline of any economy. Just a dream to own a business is not enough; nurturing a growing business needs responsibility. Innovation, ownership ability and capability, creating employment, and accessing legal and financial aid for a business start-up are vital to enhance the scope of the SME sector in Oman.
Governments, associations and large private companies have set up various centres, programmes and funds with an aim to facilitate the development of SMEs.
Education programmes focussing on inculcating entrepreneurship goals in young minds is the first step towards creating awareness and knowledge about enhancing the sector.
One of these leading initiatives is the Fund for Development of Youth Projects, known as "Sharakah", which was established by a Royal Decree in 1998 and shows the on-going commitment and support of the government to entrepreneurs.
Sharakah's mission is to offer financial support and guidance to the SMEs, help build local entrepreneurial capacity, advocate policies related to the SME sector and spread more awareness about entrepreneurship.
Since its establishment, Shara-kah has been working hard to achieve its main objectives, namely supporting Oman's Vision 2020 to diversify the economy, encouraging the creation of SMEs, developing the entrepreneurial capacity of Omanis, assisting in creating sustainable SMEs, and creating job opportunities for the locals.
Sharakah values the importance of exchanging expertise with peers from the region and therefore ensures it remains a part of any SME-related regional event. In 2010, Sharakah was awarded the Special SME Finance Award during the Mediterranean Awards for Global Excellence in Islamic Finance held in Malta.
Further, Sharakah's General Manager Abdullah Al Jufaili has been a member of the Advisory Committee for the Annual ME SME Forum held in Abu Dhabi, UAE for the past two years.
In 2012, Sharakah participated in the 8th INSME annual meeting in South Korea. INSME, which stands for International Network for Small and Medium Enterprises, is a non-profit association which strives to stimulate transitional cooperation and public-private partnership in the field of innovation and technology transfers to the SMEs.
Al Jufaili, INSME member, delivered a presentation on the "Role of social media in promoting and supporting SMEs".
In 2008 and 2009, Sharakah collaborated with Intilaaqah for their Annual Intilaaqah Awards by providing an investment of OMR10,000 to encourage young Omani entrepreneurs who want to establish or expand their businesses.
The investment amount was given to the winners of the awards.
Since its inception, Sharakah has supported many start-ups and business owners in different regions, from different sectors.
The objective is to ensure sustainability of the businesses it supports and creating employment opportunities.
The majority of the projects — 39 — thus supported are in the Governorate of Muscat, five in the Governorate of Al Batinah South, three in the Governorate of Al Buraimi, six in the Governorate of Al Dakhiliyah, seven in the Governorate of Dhofar, one in the Governorate of Al Wusta and two projects in the Governorate of Al Sharqiyah South.
Sharakah's role goes beyond financing. Till date, Sharakah has provided support to more than 70 projects.
Three of these projects have paid off the loan amount and are continuing to grow. In 2008, seven projects were funded. In 2009, Sharakah funded five projects, and in 2011, the amount sanctioned for such projects was OMR491,679. These projects have created 26 additional job opportunities in the market. In 2010, Sharakah funded eight projects in different fields while 10 were funded in 2012.
"This year we have targeted a minimum of 12 projects with an investment of OMR660,000. We have already invested O