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HomeSpotlightTowards Creating Career Opportunities: Interview with Pakiza Abdulrahman

Towards Creating Career Opportunities: Interview with Pakiza Abdulrahman

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Bahrain Economic Development Board is an investment promotion agency chaired by His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, the Crown Prince, Deputy Supreme Commander, First Deputy Prime Minister, and Chairman of the Economic Development Board, that aims to attract investment into the Kingdom with a strategic focus on creating career opportunities that are in line with Bahrain economic vision 2030.

The EDB works very closely with different stakeholders in the Kingdom, such as regulators, funding agencies, incubators, accelerators, and academia to build a thriving startup ecosystem that helps nurture and grow digital startups to global markets.

Pakiza Abdulrahman, Head of Startups at the Bahrain Economic Development Board details the initiatives of her Department for the progressive future of the Kingdom.

Can you give a brief on the Startup Bahrain initiative?

Startup Bahrain, a headband initiative was brought to play in 2016, and it serves as a national platform for connecting different stakeholders that are supporting startups in the Kingdom. It serves as a one-stop-shop for entrepreneurs and startups wanting to find out more about what’s going on in Bahrain.

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That being said and through my capacity as head of startups, we’ve been working closely with entrepreneurs, as they go through their journey, and trying to pin the dots as they say.

What are the key achievements of this initiative so far?

Since its inception, the startup ecosystem has been growing very rapidly. We look at innovative solutions that can disrupt industries or that bring in a new efficient and collaborative way to tackle a specific challenge. These are the kinds of startups we aspire to have in Bahrain and to help expand into global markets.

According to the Global Startup Ecosystem Report 2020, not only has Bahrain been recognised as the world’s top five fastest-growing ecosystems but also the top 15 for the availability of talent. Similarly, last year, Enterprise Agility Awards 2019 named Bahrain the winner of the Digital Startup Hub of the Year award, which recognises Bahrain’s fast-growing, highly-connected and pro-business hub with technology at its heart – enabling startups to test, innovate and scale quickly. This achievement represents the considerable efforts that have been made by all players in the ecosystem to set Bahrain an ideal location for startups regionally and globally.

Are you satisfied with what you have achieved so far with Startup Bahrain?

On a personal note, I’m absolutely delighted and thrilled. I feel honoured every day to be working closely with startups, and with the brilliant minds of their founders to build this exceptional platform together.

It is tough to measure success, but for me, there are three measures which I find important. Firstly, is when startups are able to expand internationally. Secondly, is when Bahraini members of the ecosystem are recognised and get called to participate as speakers in international events as subject matter experts. Finally, and most importantly, when we see strong collaborations between corporates and startups working together hand in hand to solve pressing challenges, as well as having international accelerators, come and base themselves here to serve the MENA region from Bahrain.

We work closely with different government agencies and we attend many of the events and workshops and listen to the entrepreneurs’ feedback. We try to build this ecosystem hand in hand with everyone to ensure that it’s sustainable and in line with global benchmarks.

A lot of discussions are happening around future jobs and future technologies. Many say that the future jobs will be totally different from what we see today. What is your input on this topic?

The outbreak of the coronavirus has really transformed the job market, as we know it. With physical distancing and working from home and having to rely on technology in so many aspects of our life, we are seeing a fast emerging trend in Bahrain, which is the gig economy.

Just for those who aren’t familiar with the terminology, the gig economy is basically a way to provide a new way for people to earn income. It’s where you share your specific skills. There’s a subtle difference between a freelancer economy and the gig economy. The freelancer usually is a person who works with a client for a few weeks or months, whereas the Gigsters, as they’re known, are normally providing small jobs. Like converting a PDF to word, for example, to fix a quick website issue, to code specific elements of your app.

That task usually is completed in a very short space of time. So with time being of an essence and the need for specific skills, we are noticing a huge reliance on the gigs economy. That brings in a lot of opportunities for people in Bahrain than the traditional jobs.

There is a platform called gigs.majra.me that focuses on gigs opportunities in Bahrain and from different countries as well.

I’ve also noticed a lot of opportunities for sharing skills. So with fitness coaches, yoga instructors, and people with different talents now share their skills on digital platforms and earn a basic steady income, like subscription fees.

Some of the applications that are picking up very fast here in Bahrain are at maximize.bh and evergo.

These are just a few of the platforms that are allowing people to grow their skillset from talented others who are sharing their knowledge through either exclusive sessions or workshops. It makes it very easy for an individual to learn new skills through these sessions with experts.

From what I see, the sharing economy is opening up these opportunities to people and they don’t have to worry about the technology behind this.

Are there any plans and trends being affected by COVID-19?

COVID-19 has accelerated discussions around tech adoption in different industries. It increased the reliance on the importance of having startups and digital platforms connect our day-to-day business with each other.

Bahrain’s great ICT infrastructure, along with the presence of 5G and the highest mobile penetration rates in the region has allowed for the quick adoption of technology in different sectors.

In terms of trends, I’ve seen the rise of interest in Alrawi, which was an audible Arabic audiobook platform that helps you listen to eBooks on the go. The Ministry of Education has transformed most, if not all of the curriculum online, and made it accessible to public and private schools in Bahrain. We have also seen a company called ‘The Platform’ which created and manufactured small sensors that plugged into Palm trees to help farmers detect the red willow to save the farm.

How do you describe the performance of accelerators and incubators during the current economic slowdown and what would be the impact of the pandemic over the startups if they were not part of these incubators?

Accelerators and incubators, basically, are the cradles of ideas. You go to incubators with an idea, and then you use their help to set up your company. They provide you services such as company formation. They provide you a dedicated desk space, introduce you to industry stakeholders and mentors. There are around 28 homegrown incubators in Bahrain, licensed by the Ministry of Industry & Commerce.

The accelerators are organisations that provide funding programs. They provide fast access to funding, fast access to industry, and regulators and help you grow into global markets. There are many programs out there that really help the entrepreneur stay on the right track, help them grow into different international markets, provide them with opportunities for funding, opportunities of learning skills, and a new way of building their companies faster.

How could one benefit from the startup Bahrain and the startup ecosystem in Bahrain?

This is fairly easy and straightforward. First of all, I would definitely tell them to sign up, to start-up Bahrain’s monthly newsletter by email which summarises and showcases everything that’s happening in the Kingdom such as events, community collaborations, an accelerator program, access to incubators, etc. They can also follow us on social media where we run multiple sessions and share content that connects like-minded people and promotes different events, as well as, run workshops for different international opportunities.

The startups can also get perks from different corporates that have signed up with startup Bahrain. For example, AWS credits, Zoho perks, and NBB are just some of our strategic partners.

This is a collective effort of different stakeholders from the public and private sectors, incubators, accelerators, and different funding agencies in Bahrain. We look forward to connecting with startups that would like to take advantage of what Bahrain has to offer and tap into the Middle East market.

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