International Finance
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The ‘Tijara’ route of empowering Bahraini SMEs

IFM_Dalal Al Qais
Women entrepreneurs are catalysts for economic growth, and Bahrain acknowledges their critical role in the SME sector’s development

Small and medium-sized enterprises play a pivotal role in driving the economic growth of a country. These dynamic businesses act as a springboard for innovation, job creation and diversification, ultimately propelling the upward GDP swing.

Talking about SMEs and MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, small businesses occupy over 80-90% of the economic landscape, apart from contributing up to 40% of the GDP of several nations in the region. These businesses have also established themselves as “Job Creation Vehicles,” BY averaging between 10% and 40% of all employment.

One such wonderful case study is the Kingdom of Bahrain, which boasts a vibrant SME sector, forming the backbone of its national economy. SMEs make up 93.3% of all commercial registrations, with 81% of these being owned by Bahrainis, 39% owned by women and 23% owned by youth.

In Q2 of 2023, SMEs contributed 34.6% of the Kingdom’s nominal GDP, equating to BHD 1.4 billion. These figures show a sector brimming with potential, which is also reflected in the Government of Bahrain’s mandate to increase the share of SME financing support, as stipulated by the Ministry of Industry and Commerce’s 2022-2026 strategy.

Fuelling Growth Through Digitalisation
Digitalisation, in the 21st century socio-economic order, stands as a powerful tool, enabling businesses to enhance efficiency, reach new markets, and compete on a global scale. Automation can allow business executives to free up their valuable resources for strategic initiatives, while e-commerce platforms and digital marketing can increase their market reach, through the help of technology. Moreover, online engagement tools can help SMEs improve customer experiences and digital platforms can enable entrepreneurs to optimise operations based on data-driven decisions.

Recognising the significance of digitisation, Bahrain Development Bank (BDB) is now offering innovative solutions like Tijara, its acclaimed digital banking platform that simplifies financial management and streamlines business operations.

In 2023, Tijara won the ‘Most Innovative New SME Digital Banking Platform Award’ by International Finance, an honour which highlighted the venture’s focus on harnessing the power of digital innovation to unlock new value for businesses.

Meet Dalal Al Qais: BDB’s Guiding Force
Ms. Dalal Al Qais, who is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of BDB, is a banking veteran, with professional experience spanning over 20 years in the banking and financial industry, while covering areas such as retail, SME, digitisation, as well as risk across conventional, Islamic, and international banks.

Ms. Dalal Al Qais earlier served as Chief Retail Banking Officer for the region at Standard Chartered Bank, apart from donning the role of Chief Retail Banking and Wealth Management Officer at the Bahrain Islamic Bank (BISB).

Since assuming charge at BDB, Ms. Al Qais has steered the bank towards a future marked by innovation and inclusivity. Her leadership at BDB and dedication to the growth of Bahrain’s SME sector have been recognised on the global stage.

In 2023, International Finance honoured BDB’s Tijara online banking platform and Riyadat Women Business Finance Scheme with the ‘Most Innovative New SME Digital Banking Platform’ and ‘Most Innovative SME Financing Programme for Women Empowerment’ awards respectively. At the helm of the Kingdom’s first and only bank dedicated to the SME sector, Ms. Al Qais remains passionate about fostering a thriving economic environment for Bahrain.

Empowering Women: Unlocking Untapped Potential
Women entrepreneurs are catalysts for economic growth, and Bahrain acknowledges their critical role in the SME sector’s development. By actively promoting the economic participation of women, the Kingdom can further strengthen its economic diversification efforts and provide opportunities for female entrepreneurs to showcase innovative solutions, apart from fostering a more dynamic business environment. By continuing to support their success, Bahrain sets a powerful precedent to inspire future generations of women to become entrepreneurial leaders and contribute to the nation’s prosperity.

“BDB promotes women’s participation through initiatives like financial support and capacity-building programmes. One such key endeavour is the Riyadat Women Business Finance Scheme designed to level the playing field for female entrepreneurs by providing them with financial support and resources to grow their ventures. This programme is part of BDB’s ongoing partnership with the Supreme Council for Women and Tamkeen,” Ms. Al Qais told International Finance.

A Future Achieved Through Collaboration
The SME sector in Bahrain is poised to be a key driver of economic diversification and sustainable growth.

“Manifesting the future of this sector, requires all stakeholders to continue their collective efforts and cross-sector collaborations under the #TeamBahrain umbrella, as one unified ecosystem. By doing so, we can successfully navigate the exciting journey ahead and further empower Bahraini SMEs to unlock their full potential,” Ms. Al Qais concluded.

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