Tamkeen – The Transitional Phase

His Excellency Shaikh Mohammed bin Essa Al Khalifa, the Chairman and Acting Chief Executive of Tamkeen spoke about Tamkeen, Bahrain’s entrepreneurship scene, and its future.

Thank you for this opportunity sir, it’s truly an honour to interview you. First, can you tell us what are Tamkeen’s biggest challenges?

Tamkeen is a service-oriented organisation that aims to serve the private sector, so being able to adapt to the rapidly growing and ever changing needs of the private sector I would say is our biggest challenge. When we first started, we were focused more on reaching the largest number of people within the private sector. Today, we are focusing on the quality of our services. Those we serve have higher expectations than they did when we first started, and what we are working very hard to achieve is exceeding those expectations.

Another challenge we continuously face is what KPIs must we put to measure the impact our support schemes have on those we serve. Our focus is on how we support the businesses we serve and the effectiveness of our programmes, but how do you measure it? For example, we need to know what impact a small, highly profitable Bahraini company, supported by Tamkeen, has on the economy. Do they have other objectives? Are they employing Bahraini citizens? Each market is unique, and each sector has different needs, which makes this among our biggest challenges.

In the end, there will always be challenges in what we are doing. Challenges however, expose to you opportunities to do things better and smarter the next time around.

From a visionary perspective, do you think Tamkeen will always be there to support businesses or is Tamkeen a part of a transitional phase that Bahrain’s economy is going through?

In my opinion, Tamkeen is not part of a transitional phase to support the economy. Tamkeen is the transitional phase. Tamkeen services the private sector and adapts to their needs. If the private sector requires certain types of programmes, then those are the programmes we will aim to provide. Through our many programmes, we are working on figuring out the ways in which we transform a small business into a medium-sized business and a medium-sized business into a larger organisation. A small business ought to have the support it needs to become a regional player in this field.

Today, anyone can start a company. The challenge lays in how said company can grow and thrive. All businesses can make money, only a few can make a difference, here or beyond. We are more than confident that Tamkeen is staying. Through dealing with and helping out the thousands of businesses over the years, be it within our community or abroad, we know we played a positive role within the economy and on those working in it.

This is evident by the increasing demand for our programmes from businesses and Bahrainis alike. With more than 98,000 beneficiaries (60,000+ Bahrainis and 38,000+ businesses) served as of end of 2013, we feel that our future looks brighter than we expected.

What was your biggest challenge as Tamkeen’s chairman?

My biggest challenge as a chairman is communication. The ideas behind Tamkeen are brilliant, however, we were not able to reach out to the private sector in the most effective way possible.

Tamkeen’s working methodology was not around its customers, this is something we, including myself, as chairman, are working on. We need to reach our customers better. Their convenience is our success. One of our plans include opening up several branches as communication and service channels with our customers. Up until recently, Tamkeen was in one building and those who required our services had to make the trip to visit us.

It always comes to mind what Michael Eisner of Disney used to say. He believes that everyone working at Disney is a cast member, and everyone is putting on a show. We, at Tamkeen, should be the same. We are all customer service officers, we all serve the private sector, and this needs to be communicated throughout the organisation as a whole.

What has been the feedback from the public on the Customer Service Centre in Seef Mall and are there plans for other branches?

We have received positive feedback so far. However, the service centre in Seef Mall is not all that we have planned. We currently have 16 Tamkeen Ambassadors, with hopes of having 40 during 2014. Tamkeen Ambassadors help in taking Tamkeen to where people are, from the ‘majlis’ to the ‘village’, to people in their homes. We’re also working on opening up service centre branches in Sitra and Riffa this year as part of our plans to have a centre in every governorate.

A while back, I saw Tamkeen being a part of every home. Today, I see that this is the case. Now it’s time to fine-tune our services’ effectiveness, along with the quality of our programmes. This new phase will surely help the private sector a lot more. According to the Ministry of Industry & Commerce, we currently have 70,000 commercial registrations in Bahrain. We want to push that to thousands more!

Working with businesses all this time, what have you learned about people or entrepreneurs in particular? What are they like?

I learned that it is impossible to please everyone. The least one can do is respect and listen to other people’s opinions. This is basic, yet vital. It is something we ought to work on, while taking the initiative to educate others on what’s available to them and what is best for their businesses. This keeps us true to our mandate.

Why do you think the world market lacks Bahraini brands when we have brands from all over the world in Bahrain?

I don’t think this is the case. There are a large number of businesses we serve that offer high quality products and services to clients and customers all across the GCC and the Arab world. That being said however, the world’s market, in whole, definitely presents a largely untapped opportunity for Bahraini brands.

Do you think Bahraini businesses are just copying one another since funding has become more convenient with the fortunate help of Tamkeen?

I do not believe that is absolutely true. Perhaps to some extent, just not fully. When it happens, it speaks of people’s worry of taking risks in venturing into uncharted territory though.

With Tamkeen’s support, whether be it through our financing programmes or through the entrepreneurial culture we aim to foster through our youth-oriented programmes, we are seeing people becoming bolder and more innovative with their ideas. This is definitely something positive. We’re also glad to see more women willing to venture into the business world.

We’ve seen some multinational corporations, with capital exceeding Bahrain’s GDP, benefiting from Tamkeen’s funds. What do you think of this?

Companies in Bahrain, large or small, are eligible for Tamkeen’s programmes. Tamkeen is for everyone. Our funding comes from the private sector and is pumped back into the private sector this way. Large corporations benefiting from Tamkeen’s funds support the efforts of the EDB in attracting investors that could potentially create jobs for Bahrainis. We encourage that.

If Tamkeen decides to stop all its financial support programmes, who do you think would be hurt the most? What do you think will happen?

The category that would be hurt the most are SMEs. This category of businesses have traditionally faced challenges in getting loans to finance their growth and development. Tamkeen put an end to that through its Enterprise Finance Scheme, it was the schemes main goal ever since its inception.

If that were to happen for any reason however, I do not believe banks will cut off funding to SMEs altogether. They have witnessed the value in funding SMEs and cutting that would be wasteful. In fact, most banks have dedicated staff now that help serve this segment of the market.

We observed a huge increase in the number of businesses that cater to those who are in need for marketing services when utilising Tamkeen’s marketing scheme. Do you think this drastic increase is healthy?

Marketing your business properly is vital to your business’s success. Having more companies that cater to the marketing needs of new businesses is healthy. It helps drive the economy and help in creating jobs for Bahrainis. However, the concern is not with quantity, however with quality.

If companies are setting up to exclusively benefit from the businesses who use Tamkeen’s ‘Tasweeq’ scheme, then that is not a sound or sustainable business model. The businesses we serve through our programmes need to do their research and figure out the quality of services the marketing companies offer beforehand to ensure quality deliverables.

What piece of advice do you have for local aspiring entrepreneurs?

Think big. I believe that an individual has two paths after completing his or her education; Should one get a full-time job in the government sector with a starting salary of BD 300 and maybe, just maybe, BD 1,200 in 20 years? Or perhaps chart his or her own path and destiny? Sure, the latter option can be exhausting but today’s opportunities are limitless. The world is open, do not limit yourself to the Bahraini market; Innovate. Cupcakes work, but only to an extent!

Tamkeen encourages people to be bold and take the entrepreneurial path. However, I must stress, that you must study your surroundings, the market around you, before starting your business; not just do what others are doing. Do it your own way, have your own voice, and follow your dreams. Also, I urge everyone to take advantage of the programmes Tamkeen provides.

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This interview was originally published and conducted by Startup MGZN here: [Link]

Photo Credit : Ali Alriffai