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Team Bahrain: A successful model of private-public collaboration

Economic DevelopmentInvestmentRegulation

It’s a moment to savour here at the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB), as Bahrain is named Global Best to Invest Per Capita in the Mac Conway Awards for the third year running. Conway’s Best to Invest rankings are determined by the level of capital investment in each country, along with performance on key international indices published by organisations such as the World Bank, WEF and UNDP.

The rankings also saw EDB included in the list of Top Investment Promotion Agencies (IPAs) for 2018 – one of only four agencies from the region. Selection criteria included access to recent investors, investor confidentiality and after-care services.

This recognition reflects Bahrain’s outstanding FDI performance. FDI grew by 114% in 2017, marking the highest growth rate in the GCC, and a testament to the bold reforms underway to continue leading the pack as an investment destination.

Bahrain’s track record as a business-friendly environment is decades-old. Home to the Gulf’s longest established financial services sector, the Kingdom has always stood out as one of the region’s most liberal economies with 100% foreign ownership allowed for most businesses.

The economic transformation underway across the GCC today was in many ways foreshadowed by reforms undertaken by Bahrain many years ago. Well before many other Gulf governments, we took the tough decisions to invest in key growth sectors and open them up to competition. The result is that Bahrain is now the region’s most diversified economy, with non-oil sectors contributing 80% of GDP.

At the heart of that success is the understanding that it takes a unified effort by government, in dialogue with business, to create an environment in which wealth creators can thrive. We call it our Team Bahrain approach.

Team Bahrain is about Bahrain’s agile government working together and with the private sector to create bespoke solutions for investors and entrepreneurs looking to base their activities in the Kingdom.

The results were on full display at May’s inaugural Gateway Gulf investor forum in Manama, where projects worth $26 billion were showcased across a range of sectors including technology, real estate, tourism, housing, power, water, transport, public works and manufacturing. Privatisation and diversification were the central themes, and numerous speakers singled out Bahrain as being at the forefront of those two key regional trends.

But that doesn’t mean we rest on our laurels. Just as an ethos of dynamic private-public collaboration doesn’t happen overnight, it takes continuous interaction between experts in every field to maintain our position and ensure we keep setting the trends that others follow.

The Team Bahrain approach applies whether it’s a large multinational looking to invest or a startup with a bold idea needing a supportive environment.

Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) decision last year to base its first Middle East region in Bahrain was evidence of the Team Bahrain philosophy in action. The Kingdom’s business-centred approach and ability to make things happen – including the successful introduction of a Cloud First Policy across government – were decisive in AWS’s landmark investment, which will deliver enormous benefits to technology- and data-driven businesses across the region.

As Teresa Carlson, Vice President, Worldwide Public Sector at AWS, said at Gateway Gulf: “We go into regions for the long term, and we chose Bahrain because of the process in place for creating the right environment.”

Similarly, this year numerous different branches of the government worked successfully together to ensure that Mondelez was able to establish its sixth global mega-plant in Bahrain – leading to the adoption of their slogan “Ocean to Oreos”. The $90 million, 250,000 square metre ‘factory of the future’ has a capacity of nearly 45,000 tons per year and serves as a hub for exports to the Gulf, the Levant and Africa.

Government initiatives have also been at the heart of the creation of the ideal ecosystem for startups and smaller businesses – under the umbrella of StartUp Bahrain. Last year, the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) launched a regulatory sandbox, allowing new products to be tested for a defined period free of the normal regulations before being introduced to the wider market. In February this year, EDB and Singapore’s FinTech Consortium collaborated to launch Bahrain FinTech Bay (BFB), the MENA region’s largest dedicated FinTech hub.

In a further boost to Bahrain’s startups, Gateway Gulf saw the launch of the $100 million Al Waha Fund of Funds by the Bahrain Development Bank (BDB), which will invest in venture capital funds with a presence in the Kingdom, injecting even more capital into our booming local ecosystem.

All of this adds up to a very exciting time for private enterprise in Bahrain – both large and small, international and domestic. For Bahrain to be attracting its current rate of investments even as global FDI flows fell 23% last year is the surest sign to investors that we are open for business, and that our way of thinking is in tune with theirs.

HE Khalid Al Rumaihi

Chief Executive, Bahrain Economic Development Board