In 2014, the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) launched its first office in Bahrain (the first in the Middle East), declaring the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as one of India’s most important trade partners that will also encourage Indian investments into the region. Since then, bilaterally, India has enjoyed close and multifaceted ties with Bahrain, through regular exchange of high-level visits and extensive business events, especially in the areas of financial and technological advancements.
Creating a tech-driven economy
The recent endeavor to strengthen Bahrain’s ties with the global community, including India was the Bahrain Tech Week held earlier in October, which brought together innovators and global experts both in the government, private-sector entities and startupsto explore how digital innovations will revolutionize industries across the GCC. Organized by Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB) in partnership with Tamkeen, the week-long event included major conferences and workshops hosted by global organizations, such as, Amazon Web Services, Huawei, Web Summit and MIT.
Dr Simon Galpin, Managing Director, of the Bahrain Economic Development Board, commented: “Digital transformation has a vital role to play in the future of the region’s economy – whether that is creating new roles such as data analysts or new types of companies in areas such as IoT and cloud computing. The transformation to a digital economy will have a positive influence as it creates more opportunities by enabling entrepreneurship and innovation to disrupt all current industries as well as creating new sectors like industry 4.0 and FinTech.”
Bahrain has seen a significant shift in the prominence of tech-driven industries over the past year, with the growth of the Bahrain FinTech ecosystem, the establishment of a $100m Fund of Funds to help fund start-ups across the Middle East. The number of startups in the country has grown at a compound annual growth rate of almost 50 percent over the past three years, as per the EDB data.
Several initiatives were announced during Bahrain Tech Week including a new scheme by Tamkeen that covers the cost of hyperscale cloud computing services for the first 18 months with the aim of enhancing the efficiency and productivity of businesses, SMEs and startups operating in Bahrain. Tamkeen also announced the launch of Minimum Viable Product (MVP) scheme aimed at financially supporting start-ups for the development, design and testing of a first product.
One such successful startup owner, Amjad Puliyali, co-founder of online grocery delivery startup GetBaqala (Baqala means grocery in Arabic), was inspired to setup grocery delivering after his years living and working in Bangalore.
“With mobile adoption shooting up across the globe and in markets like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, one of the things that struck us was people are looking for grocery delivery services in these markets. In 2016, online grocery delivery has been a nascent market in this region. So we saw an opportunity here and EDB has a vital role in supporting and assisting startups like ours,” Puliyali asserted, adding that GetBaqala wanted to focus on hyperlocal market, considering now there are bigger competition like Amazon.
Driving digital innovation
Tamkeen supports Bahrainis across various sectors in developing the right skills to drive digital innovation. The body has also launched a new scheme that covers the cost of more than 120 cloud computing services offered by AWS.
“Technological advancements and digital communication are deeply impacting the global economy, driving marketplace development and supporting robust economic growth,” said Dr. Ebrahim Mohammed Janahi, Chief Executive Officer, Tamkeen.
He added, “Tamkeen plays an important role in driving forward a national culture of innovation and productivity, and helping enterprises and individuals unlock the potential of emerging sectors and new job opportunities.”
The region also launched has the largest FinTech hub called Bahrain FinTech Bay to support fintech startups which is booming. To further give an impetus to this, it is creating a framework to introduce more new and existing Indian technology firms to the Kingdom. For FinTech startups, Bahrain also presents a regulatory sandbox (a test bed for entrepreneurs to experiment their business for initial few months).
“For the sector to reach its full potential, however,” Galpin said, “it is vital for people in the GCC to be able to draw on and inform the broader global debate. Bahrain Tech Week 2018 was a fantastic opportunity to bring together regional innovators with some of the world’s leading experts in their fields and I want to thank all the organizers, speakers and participants who made it a success.”
Record investments in Bahrain
According to official records, Bahrain EDB has attracted a record number of investments as businesses from around the world continue to look to Bahrain to access the opportunities in the $1.5tn Gulf economy. In the first nine months of 2018, FDI inflows increased by 138% when compared to the same period of last year. This year, Bahrain EDB has already attracted a total of 76 companies, accounting for an investment of $810m, breaking the 2017 record of 71 companies, and a total investment of $733m.
The FDI attracted in the first nine months of 2018 was more than five times of the total attracted in 2015. Investments in 2018 are expected to generate more than 4,200 jobs over the coming three years, of which more than 1,100 will be high quality jobs, in sectors such as ICT, tourism, real estate, education and healthcare, besides, manufacturing and logistics.
There is also an increased job opportunities in various sectors in the country, including finance, retail, manufacturing and currently technology-enabled sectors. ONEGCC, a Bahraini-based online job search platform is focusing on unique talent across the region. Co-Founder and CEO of ONEGCC Alharith Alatawi is helping GCC citizens find the right job opportunities. “We are looking at more engineering graduates, data experts, coders and programmers,” he said, adding that the company is using analytics and AI to match the right opportunities based on the skills.”
Khalid Al Rumaihi, Chief Executive, Bahrain Economic Development Board, said, “We continue to see strong interest towards the GCC opportunity – and our unique Team Bahrain approach provides the means to unlocking these opportunities. The region’s potential is rising with solid investments and a growing number of high-quality jobs for Bahrainis.
“However, while we are excited by this success, we will continue to look towards new initiatives to enhance FDI even further. The Kingdom is introducing a number of key regulatory reforms in the coming months, which will ensure the Kingdom remains competitive and business friendly.”
A big boost for Indian Enterprise
A large number of Indian businesses have already established operations in Bahrain as part of accessing the wider Gulf market, which is expected to reach $2 trillion by 2020. Further 3,50000 Indian nationals, the largest expatriate community in Bahrain, and more than 3000 Indian-owned or joint ventures have been contributing to the development of Bahrain till date.
Some of the leading Indian companies with offices or facilities in Bahrain include, Tata Consultancy Services, Tech Mahindra, First Flight Couriers Ltd, KIMS, JBF Industries, Chemco, Canara Bank, ICICI Bank, Bank of Baroda, and State Bank of India. TheEDB India office – with a presence in both New Delhi and Mumbai – provides assistance to potential investors who are looking to invest in the Kingdom.
Bahrain’s visa policy enables residents of India to apply for electronic visas and to be able to spend longer periods of time in Bahrain, as part of the Kingdom’s commitment to bilateral ties between the two countries. It is little wonder then that Bahrain is becoming an important partner for India in the Gulf region and Indian technocrats can see extensive potential in the region in the days to come.