Pearl Initiative launches program to boost SME resilience in GCC region

Carla Koffel
Carla Koffel

DUBAI — The Pearl Initiative, a leading Gulf-based non-profit organization promoting a corporate culture of accountability and transparency as a key driver of competitiveness across the region, has launched a three-year program aimed at enhancing the competitiveness of SMEs through a tailored approach to corporate governance that is robust, flexible and simple to adopt.

Seeking to create a community to actively support SME businesses through their planning and implementation stages, the program convenes workshops, training sessions and capacity-building roundtables to discuss tools and strategies with which SMEs can evolve to become mature and agile business enterprises. These events will serve as an educational platform for GCC-based private sector companies, SMEs, incubators and regulators to exchange best practices and know-how on smart implementation of corporate governance and accountability frameworks.

As part of the program’s first phase, the Pearl Initiative rolled out a GCC-wide survey via public opinion portal YouGov. It aims to identify and shed light on how micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the region approach key governance related issues such as decision-making, business development, talent acquisition, and funding.

The findings of this survey, which reached over 1,000 GCC-based SMEs, will be revealed in a comprehensive report highlighting corporate governance practices adopted by SMEs across the Gulf set for release in October 2017. It will highlight trends, gaps, challenges and opportunities for SME growth, ownership and competitiveness in the short and long term. The launch of the report will be followed by executive education and university courses to be delivered across the region, aimed at raising awareness about encouraging SME engagement, and driving dialogue on this subject.

Carla Koffel, Executive Director of the Pearl Initiative, said: “Micro, small and medium organizations have a huge role to play in generating employment and fostering innovation. However, the journey towards profitability and sustainability is often a long one with SME owners facing barriers to consistent and long-term funding, attracting diverse and skilled talent, and establishing a competitive and well-managed business.

“The Pearl Initiative’s SME program aims to support the SME community to build resilient organizations and create a positive market reputations through using the tools of corporate governance, accountability and transparency. It will provide insight and up-to-date, practical and regionally-relevant data on management structures, and uptake of corporate governance among SMEs over the three-year period. Data derived from the surveys we have conducted, will help us design complementary resources and tools to help SMEs implement customized frameworks of governance aligned with their business needs.”

The program has been made possible with the generous sponsorship and support of BMB Group, Crescent Enterprises, and RWE. The Pearl Initiative has also collaborated with Entrepreneur Middle East, Dubai SME, Zubair SEC, Endeavor UAE, Sheraa, Mediaquest, Wamda and Boubyan Bank to implement this program.

Speaking about his personal journey and the importance of such a program, Bilal Ballout, CEO and Founder of the confectionary business BMB Group, said: “When we began as a startup 10 years ago, we went through the various challenges entrepreneurs face till date. Back then, corporate governance was not as widely understood, and was still in its infancy in the region. Looking back at our journey, we realize the significant difference corporate governance could have made to our business, had there been such a supportive, awareness-building initiative at that stage. It would have enhanced our growth curve faster and perhaps further. We encourage all SMEs to participate in the various interactive workshops and panels planned by the Pearl Initiative, and to collectively discuss actionable and sustainable solutions to develop the region’s private sector.”

Ravi Kumar, Executive Director and Chair of the Sustainability Committee at Crescent Enterprises, said: “SMEs constitute the backbone of the region’s economy and play an instrumental role in generating employment. As a partner of the Pearl Initiative, we are proud to support its SME program, which will enhance competitiveness and unlock new opportunities for growth within this crucial sector of the economy.” — SG