In Oman, big players in the oil and gas industry make up the biggest chunk of GDP, while the country is particularly desperate to diversify its economy. In order to do so, the government has put forward its “Vision 2020” plan and entrepreneurs such as Qais Al Khonji – whose EOR (Enhanced Oil Recovery) Lab Services company is the first of its kind in Oman – are of paramount importance with their contribution to achieve the goals set in the plan. Mr. Al Khonji has received several awards for his contribution to the development of entrepreneurship in his country, including International Entrepreneur of the Year Oman Award.
Al Khonji has been advocating for years to promote angel investment in Oman; he wants to help local SMEs grow through additional funding. He believes that SMEs could play a greater role if adequately supported, suggesting either the government or the private sector must take up such an initiative. “I have tried to promote the concept and create a platform that could help local SMEs grow. The idea is fairly new and not yet accepted by the culture. However, there are a few examples that have turned into success stories at “local level”, he said. Al Khonji has been lobbying with the government to pay greater attention when it comes to supporting young entrepreneurs in several key sectors. Though oil and gas remain central for state revenues, the government is trying to diversify its source of income, focusing also on tourism and mining. “There is still a long way to go, and the government should encourage SMEs in other sectors by easing up the laws and create more platforms for them”, he argues.
Mr. Al Khonji has also strongly supported innovation in his country by playing an instrumental role in getting entrepreneurship into schools as a subject as part of the national curriculum. At just 38, rather than pursuing his family’s business, Mr. Qais decided to go his own way leveraging his entrepreneurial skills and becoming a successful entrepreneur. He has proved himself and now wants to inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs to follow in his footsteps and he is particularly vocal about it. Although the government has already funded programmes for entrepreneurship aimed at college students, Mr. Al Khonji says it’s not yet sufficient “the ministry of education has been working on it, but for some reason or another it hasn’t been implemented yet. The problem is that they might see risks in adopting a new system”. He notes at the moment there are two options for young graduates in Oman job-wise, “most of them think of having a fixed income and a government job is seen as a priority, while working for the private sector is a second option for most”. This has been exacerbated by the government through its “Omanization programme” aimed at encouraging large corporations and public sector bodies to hire Omanis instead of foreigners, but Al Khonji insists entrepreneurship is a substantial way to create employment, jobs and skills for the younger generation to face up to the challenge.