GWC Forum 2023: The future is bright for MSMEs in Qatar

November 19, 2023

The third annual GWC Forum, titled ‘Fostering Legacy – Empowering MSMEs in the Digital Era’, was a major success, attracting a high-level audience of experts from government, the private sector, and academia from Qatar and the region.

The event was held over two days in strategic partnership with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI) and QNB Group. Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) was the research partner, while Oxford Business Group was the intelligence partner, and Q-Live was the gift partner.

Ahead of the forum, GWC and Qatar Development Bank (QDB) announced a cooperation agreement with which will see the entities work together to support MSMEs in Qatar.

The hybrid forum, which was moderated by Al Jazeera Network’s Senior News Anchor, Emily Angwin, and streamed live on YouTube, featured keynote speeches, panel sessions, and workshops. Delegates explored the legacy of the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 and discussed how Qatar’s enterprising spirit will inspire growth across the region as the nation builds towards National Vision 2030.

Ranjeev Menon, Group CEO, GWC, said: “This is an exciting time for MSMEs in Qatar. As we work towards Qatar National Vision 2030, we are seeing strong growth and expansion as the country prioritises the development of the private sector.”

Events like the GWC Forum highlight the important role MSMEs are playing in boosting local and regional economies as businesses continue to leverage Qatar’s successful hosting of the FIFA World Cup and position themselves to support future mega events. This year’s forum shone a light on innovation, digital growth, and the potential of AI to supercharge businesses and help them achieve new heights.

Menon continued: “I would like to thank our strategic partners for their unwavering support. By continuing to work together, we will provide a strong foundation for MSMEs to flourish.”

The event kicked off with a keynote speech from Dr Hamad Mejegheer, Executive Director of Advisory & Incubation, QDB. Dr Hamad spoke about the landscape for MSMEs and outlined the various financial and advisory products QDB has developed to support enterprises in Qatar.

Dr Hamad said: “Qatar’s journey in hosting the FIFA World Cup was nothing short of remarkable – transforming a sporting tournament into a cultural event that resonated globally and left a lasting impact on our country that accelerated the growth of our entrepreneurship eco-system.”

The first panel session, titled ‘Enabling Growth’, explored the impact of the FIFA World Cup on regional growth and sustainability, with particular focus on empowering MSMEs through sustainable logistics, the circular economy, education, and attracting foreign investment for long-term prosperity. Contributors included Syed Maaz, GWC; Dr Christos Anagnostopoulos, HBKU; Eng. Salim Al Thuhli, Khazaen; and Joelle Yazbeck, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia.

Syed Maaz, Chief Business Development Officer, GWC, said: “The World Cup was a major milestone for Qatar and GWC. Qatar delivered the best-ever World Cup – and GWC delivered a strong backbone logistical support. There was not a single failure or incident. During 2022, we also saw the launch of Al Wukair Logistics Park, which was a significant milestone in the country’s vision to create a diversified economy, opening the door for MSMEs to participate. Historically, Qatar has been an importer of goods – but now MSMEs are being creative and developing opportunities to supply and provide various activities, and we are proud to be part of this ecosystem.”

Dr. Christos Anagnostopoulos, Assistant Professor in Sport Management, HBKU, said: “In 2027, we have the Basketball World Cup, then the Asian Games in 2030, and of course, the Asian Cup in two months’ time. There remains an appetite for these sporting events across Qatar and the region.”

Eng. Salim Al Thuhli, CEO, Khazaen Economic City, spoke in detail about the economic development zone, which is strategically located on the Muscat-Batinah Expressway, in the most densely populated part of the country. “Khazaen is a big city and has become part of greater Muscat. It is only 30 minutes from the airport and close to highways, seaports, and borders with both the UAE and Saudi Arabia, which opens different markets to MSMEs. About 80% of the Omani population is located within a two-hour drive of this strategic location.”

Joelle Yazbeck, Regional Coordinator, ICC ESCWA, said: “The World Cup not only reinforced digitisation – it also extended beyond e-commerce to include data collection and data analytics. We witnessed that through access devices supported by QR codes and digital platforms collecting data. These strengths are here to stay and will gain more momentum with time. MSMEs will have to learn to embrace digital technology and leverage data collection and data analytics to better understand their customers and improve their experiences to the point where they will eventually be able to make better decisions and enable growth. When we look at the diversification from an oil economy to a knowledge economy, we need to realise that data is the new oil – and you must know how to leverage this.”

The second panel session, titled ‘Digital MSMEs’, explored tech and innovation to boost MSMEs in the digital era, leveraging AI, exceptional customer experiences, and e-procurement for better service, increased sales, and operational efficiency, leading to prosperity in the digital landscape. Contributors included Jawaher Al Khuzaei, GWC; Aysha Al Romaihi, QDB; and Mohammed Al Delaimi, SkipCash.

Jawaher Al Khuzaei, Chief Marketing Officer, GWC, said: “AI is not a new thing – it was a term coined in 1957 and has been developing ever since. Nowadays, it’s affecting every industry. In marketing, it is affecting social media and digital media – people are using Chat GPT to enhance content. Research that might have taken two hours now takes seconds. AI is also helping in terms of targeting the right audience. AI when combined with data analytics – if you put them both together – this is the future.”

Aysha Al Romaihi, Manager of Special Programmes, Qatar Development Bank, said: “We encourage entrepreneurs to adopt technology and digitise their businesses as much as possible. We also have a strong ecosystem to help digital start-ups, including sport tech, fintech, and fashion. Sponix Tech is one of our success stories. They were part of the 2022 World Cup as they provided solutions to international broadcast channels – and they are a major inspiration to other companies in Qatar.”

Meanwhile, Mohammed Al Delaimi, Founder and Managing Director, SkipCash, outlined why his business is dedicated to supporting MSMEs. “We focus on MSMEs because they are underserved by the banks. A simple solution – like a payment gateway or link – usually takes two months to create but with us, it’s created on the same day. Also, as MSMEs are so active, they give us a lot of feedback, which helps us to continually update and improve our platform. After two years, we are working with almost 1,000 MSMEs, helping them grow. We are also starting to see bigger enterprises approaching us, along with government entities.”

On day two of the forum, the ‘Future Ready MSME Workshop’ presented a strategic approach for businesses preparing to navigate upcoming challenges effectively. Following a keynote speech from GWC, HBKU delivered a data-rich and interactive workshop focused on the opportunities and challenges facing MSMEs.

Click here to watch the GWC Forum 2023 on YouTube.

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