Monday, February 23, 2009

Origin Oman Goes Poolside

Origin Oman, the government-run buy local campaign was a premier supporter of the recent British School Muscat (BSM) Swim Meet. According to David Rogers, BSM’s Head Swim Coach, the meet attracted over 175 entries from swimmers across Muscat as well as members of the Oman National Youth Development Swim Team.

Coach Rogers went on to say: “This was a major accomplishment for us, the squad has been training very hard and Thursday saw us come up against some very stiff competition and the team produced a number of outstanding performances. We were particularly thrilled to welcome the Oman National Youth Development Swim Team who added real value to this important swim meet. We also welcomed Origin Oman’s support. I’ve attended a number of the campaign’s initiatives and I think the concept of buy local is absolutely fantastic. We were delighted to help the campaign get its message out to a diverse and truly international audience.”

“Sport embodies the performance culture values of the Origin Oman campaign. Dedication, focus and the desire to win are some of the attributes intrinsic to success in promoting local businesses,” comments Ibtisam Al Faruji, Origin Oman’s Marketing Director. Al Faruji added: “Our involvement in the recent BSM Swim Meet gave us an opportunity to demonstrate Origin Oman’s commitment to the health, safety and wellbeing of young people by encouraging involvement and participation in sport in general and swimming in particular.”

While buy local campaigns have been around for generations, the idea behind Origin Oman is to get people to think more about where their Rials are being spent and what it means to the sultanate from an economic, community and environmental angle to buy locally made goods and services. “We’re constantly looking for new opportunities to introduce consumers, businesses and government agencies to locally made goods,” said Al Faruji, “Indeed, premier local sporting events like the BSM Swim Meet provide us with an excellent outlet for brand exposure to an audience that will definitely appreciate the relevance and importance of buying local,” says the Origin Oman Marketing Director.

Spending cash in the sultanate does not only support the shop or producer selling the items, the benefits touch livelihoods much further along the line. Given the current global economic situation the Origin Oman team wants people to make more effort to support local manufacturers and producers. “If we don’t support local businesses one day they won’t be there – at the moment we’re spoilt for choice,” says Hamida Al Balushi, Origin Oman Co-ordinator.

In general, business owners see buy-local campaigns as an easy sell. According to Al Faruji: “The Omani public and here I’m referring to people of all nationalities, is highly receptive to the message, and even if many people may not initially consider whether they’re buying locally made goods and services, all it takes is a gentle reminder for them to change their spending habits. In this regard, the Origin Oman branding at the BSM Swim Meet caused quite a stir and it’s great that youngsters got to know about the campaign.”

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Digital Divide in Schools

Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM) will launch its first Digital Nation seminar of 2009 on Monday 23 February at the Grand Hyatt Hotel and the topic of discussion is Technology, Education and the Youth.

“We believe a new type of digital divide is fast developing in Omani society. This is the division between the parallel worlds of learning at home and learning in the classroom,” suggests Mohammed Al Maskari, KOM’s Director General.

According to the KOM Director General, rows of students sitting in front of a whiteboard is outmoded for teaching and learning in the 21st century. Without cutting-edge technology, the classroom is out of touch with its students and is unable to adequately prepare them for their futures.

Technology is a prerequisite for teaching and learning in today's schools. In its absence, schools are failing to make the most of their most valuable resource: the experience, skills and interests of their own students. “The complex and more important challenge facing us is not putting technology into schools, it’s about bringing the golden nuggets of out-of-school learning, into the classroom. Today, the majority of young people use new media as tools to make their lives easier and strengthening their existing friendship networks. And that almost all are now involved in creative production, from uploading to editing photos to building and maintaining websites,” says Ibtisam Al Faruji, KOM’s Marketing Director.

It is vital that the Omani classroom does not ignore and alienate these sophisticated learners, but incorporates the positive aspects of individuals' private experience with technology into the more formal learning process.

Unfortunately, the current generation of decision-makers, from teachers and parents to civil servants, are all at a serious disadvantage. “We see the world from a very different perspective to the new generation, which doesn’t recall a time without the instant answers of the Internet or the immediate communication of mobile phones,” says Al Maskari. Yet, it is these decision-makers who will shape the way that technology is used in the Omani classroom. There needs to be a realization that to bridge the divide between formal and informal learning between home and school, decision-makers will have to develop strategies with the active involvement of students. “This is why we’ve put education, technology and the youth on this year’s Digital Nation agenda. It’s an incredibly important issue and one that needs to be discussed,” adds Al Maskari.

Working in collaboration with young people is the only way to find solutions that are in tune with reality. We should not miss out on the valuable resource that this generation provides us with - their experience, skills and interest. “Indeed, we must recognize the potential technology has to transform learning and to enable both the teacher and student. We need to accept the rapid change in behaviour that technology has brought, to embrace it and use it to foster and encourage a stronger and more vibrant learning environment,” remarks Al Maskari.

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Omani Consumers Crave the Authentic

There are huge benefits for all of us in sourcing goods and services from local businesses wherever possible. By supporting one another, we increase the amount of money available for companies to purchase further local services - a really smart way of working.

But do you buy local? “Of course we buy Omani goods and services.” This is the response most us give when asked about our support of local firms. But is this the reality?

On closer inspection, we find that there’s still a lot of groundwork to be done in shifting these supportive attitudes into real and sustained action.

Let’s test this theory through a simple experiment. Are your clothes and furniture from a design house based in Milan, Paris, London or New York? Do you holiday or shop in Dubai? Or do you invest offshore? If you’ve answered yes to two or more of these questions, you may need to reassess your Origin Oman principles.

This is the challenge for Origin Oman, a government-run campaign aimed at supporting the purchase of quality, Oman-made goods and services. “We need to create an environment that fosters pride in locally produced goods and services which in turn increases demand for Oman-made goods and services," says Hilal Al Ahsani, CEO Public Establishment for Industrial Estates.

“The significance of a buy-local campaign is not only national pride and the positive, feel-good relationships it encourages, more importantly it develops a healthy, sustained economic environment that helps create jobs here in Oman,” continues Al Ahsani. The state of a country’s economy is always instrumental in directing a nation’s overall mood and attitude. “A strong economy usually plays well into sustained national pride. It’s a continuous circle which feeds positively into all aspects of our national status.”

The good news is that Omanis, both living in the sultanate and abroad, have an opportunity to make a difference. Everyone can make the choice to buy locally-produced goods and services. “After just 12 months of launching the Origin Oman campaign to local consumers, over 80% of those surveyed in December 2008 support the campaign and its related activities,” smiles Ibtisam al Faruji, Marketing Director of Origin Oman. “We need to maximise this advantage point and convert it into action while our awareness levels are so high. This blazing success is testament to the need for such a campaign and its inherent benefits to Oman and our economy,” argues the campaign’s Marketing Director.

According to Zuhair Al Zadjali, Origin Oman Campaign Co-ordinator, government is ploughing a lot of time and effort into the Origin Oman campaign to promote locally made goods and services. Over the past 12 months the campaign has launched a website (, carried out print and radio advertising, recorded promotional films and organized a series of high profile initiatives.

Businesses who have already signed up to the Origin Oman campaign have urged others to follow their lead. S. Gopalan, CEO, Reem Batteries and a recent winner of His Majesty's Cup for the Best Five Factories, said: “Signing up to the campaign shows a commitment to supporting the local economy. The government has always been highly supportive of small, local businesses but through the Origin Oman campaign has recently become more hands-on, which can only be a good thing.”

Karim Rahemtulla, MD of KOM-based Infocomm said: “It's a campaign that's helping promote local businesses which are incredibly unique. In tough economic times like this, buying local goods is a sure way to get quality products, at a fair price, while knowing that you are also supporting sustainable community and environmental development that impacts all of us positively in the long-run.

Shopper and long-term Muscat resident, Kinda Helmi says: “Shoppers increasingly want to know the source of their food, how it's produced and where it comes from - in other words, the story behind their food.” Kinda went on to explain that: “Buying locally produced goods supports the entire supply chain, from the farmer through to the ad agency who designs the packaging to the guy who stacks the supermarket shelves. Local firms are the lifeblood of our economy and society and they can only gain by working together. I wish this initiative every success.”

According to Al Zadjali, consumer interest in the truly different, the obscure, the undiscovered and the authentic is on the rise. These new status symbols thrive on not being well known or easily spotted. “They don't tell a story themselves, but require their owners to recount the story,” explains Al Zadjali.

“Our research suggests that local consumers will increasingly end up purchasing the ingredients for a story, turning local brands into story suppliers instead of the currently en vogue practice of coming up with stories about brands. Suffice to say, the local aspect of these story ingredients is going to be very prominent,” predicts the Origin Oman Campaign Co-ordinator.

The Origin Oman Marketing Team is not predicting the end of globalization and their campaign will not save incompetent, uncompetitive Omani producers from innovative, global competitors. Indeed, to further downplay its importance, remember that trends rarely apply to all consumers. Origin Oman is no exception to the rule. Some consumers will not care at all about the origins of their purchases, will feel no need to sacrifice money or time for the environment, or have no interest in sharing stories with others. And when it comes to local versus global, never forget that globalization has brought consumers plenty of delights and excitement.

“What Origin Oman does provide local eager and creative marketers with,” says Al Faruji “is a fantastic source of inspiration: those consumers who are interested in something with a sense of place, the local, the storied, want local businesses to bring them innovative new goods, services and experiences that appeal to those desires.”

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Tabreed Oman Cools Knowledge Oasis Muscat

Climate change is the greatest environmental challenge that we face and the scientific consensus and growing political will to address the issue is slowly but surely changing the global context in which business operates. Moving to a low carbon economy not only addresses an environmental imperative, it makes business sense.

In a response to, and part of this change, Knowledge Oasis Muscat (KOM) has signed a contract with Tabreed Oman, the Middle East’s award-winning district cooling pioneer to provide district cooling for three buildings on the Rusayl-based technology park.

According to Eng. Musallam Al Hadifi, Business Development Manager, Tabreed Oman: “We’ve been at the forefront of the cooling industry for almost a decade and in 2007 alone provided cooling services to 473 buildings covering a total of 149.9 million square feet across the GCC as well as the wider Middle East. Signing today’s contract with KOM is a landmark event for us. We’re delighted to be working alongside a partner who understands the cutting edge technology Tabreed Oman offers as well as the considerable environmental benefits this brings to the Park’s many hi-tech tenants and the Rusayl area.”

Over the past five years, District cooling systems distribute chilled water or other media to multiple buildings for air-conditioning and significantly reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions - otherwise known as greenhouse gases. It has been estimated that for every 10,000 tonnes of district cooling provided the amount of carbon dioxide emissions are reduced by 14,700 tonnes annually.

Global energy experts suggest that 75% of the energy used across the Gulf is for cooling purposes. By using district cooling, KOM expects to reduce its electricity bill by 30%. “Tabreed Oman’s cooling solutions will help us reduce both our capital investment and operating expenses,” says Hilal Al Ahsani, PEIE's CEO. By using district cooling, KOM expects to reduce substantially the electrical energy used by its tenants. “Tabreed Oman’s providing our tenants with the latest green technology – one that puts the environment first,” smiles Al Ahsani.

Mohammed Al Maskari, Director General, KOM said: “Our partnership with Tabreed Oman emphasizes the importance we place on providing a more efficient infrastructure network to our growing number of tenants on KOM. We’re delighted to be able to offer technology that has such strong environmental credentials. Indeed, I firmly believe today’s signing is a very important step and one that will help businesses around Oman focus on environmental issues.”

District cooling, suggests Al Hadifi, can be a key strategy for accomplishing an economical and environmentally sound phasing out of harmful refrigerants. “Our district cooling systems use ozone-friendly refrigerants and are better able to control the emissions of whatever refrigerant is used. It’s marvelous to see a government-run technology park embrace this ground breaking technology,” said Al Hadifi.

“I understand that some commentators have used the deteriorating global economic circumstances to argue that tackling climate change through the transition to a low-carbon economy is a luxury item; saying it’s too expensive and that it could damage national competitiveness. This is an understandable view but, in my opinion, it’s short-sighted,” says Al Maskari.

According to the KOM Director General the global economy and climate change are linked and the current economic slowdown represents a unique opportunity to use public sector investment to reinvigorate the economy and build the low-carbon infrastructure we need for our long-term prosperity. Signing Monday’s contract with Tabreed Oman underlines KOM’s commitment to developing and supporting a low carbon economy.

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Omani Manufacturers and the Credit Squeeze

Manufacturers across the globe are being hit by the economic slowdown with demand falling, and many in the industry expect trading conditions in 2009 to be among the toughest for two decades.

Ibtisam Al Faruji, Marketing Director, Public Establishment for Industrial Estates (PEIE) and organizer of the Oman Manufacturing Group (OMG) said: “Local manufacturers are understandably worried about possible fall-out from the credit squeeze, but output has remained healthy, and so far few firms are finding that access to finance is hampering prospects for output or investment. Nevertheless, there are some signs that the pace of demand and output growth may edge lower in the coming months.”

Manufacturing is not immune to the impact of sudden changes in economic dynamics and it is important for all manufacturers more than ever to have a strategy to maximize output levels and reduce rising costs. For example, how are manufacturers reducing energy consumption levels? Where are they innovating? And how are they cutting bottom line costs to improve efficiency? “It’s these critical business issues that the 2009 OMG seminar program will be looking at,” remarks Hamida Al Balushi, Origin Oman Campaign Co-ordinator.

The first OMG seminar is scheduled to be held 7:30pm, Monday 9 February at the Grand Hyatt Hotel and the topic for discussion is Oman’s Manufacturing Success: Learning from Your Neighbour.

According to Al Faruji: “The global economy has meant that labour intensive manufacturing is a tough place to be in Oman if there’s no design, innovative, production, marketing or environmental edge. But there are Omani manufacturers with innovative manufacturing processes which compete with the best in a very competitive and difficult global market place and we’ll be highlighting four of those firms on Monday night.”

Most manufacturers have already felt the knock-on effects of the global financial meltdown of recent months, putting firms under intense pressure to reduce costs and improve cash flow – often with fewer resources – while simultaneously managing an increasingly vulnerable supply base. In response to this situation, Monday evening’s OMG seminar will scrutinize four Omani manufacturers who have developed successful products, services and process innovations, analyze where those ideas came from, how setbacks were overcome and how creativity and innovation are fostered within their businesses. The intention is to offer ideas and inspiration to local businesses by learning from the experiences of successful locally-based business innovation leaders.

The line-up of panelists for the free-of-charge OMG event includes: S. Gopalan, CEO, Reem Batteries (pictured); Yousuf Ahmed, CEO, Oman Textiles; Anwar Ali Sultan, Director, W.J. Towell; and Dr. Bhaskar Dutta, CEO, Jazeera Steel Product Company. The moderator for the evening is former Shell Oman Marketing, Managing Director, Nick Pattison.

OMG Moderator, Nick Pattison suggests one of the best ways for manufacturers to combat economic downturn is to understand cost base and compare it to revenue. “When your revenues go up, your costs go up with it. When your revenues start to come down, your costs should come down. The problem is that many businesses allow sales to go down for quite some time before they respond – probably because we’re eternal optimists. If I were a manufacturer, every month I’d want to see the correlation line between costs and income, and they must match.”

Mohammed Al Hosni, Manager of the Knowledge Mine Business Incubator Program and a regular OMG attendee says it’s important for businesses to analyze their business model and risk profile. If you see a problem, or even a potential problem, deal with it immediately. The business start-up expert goes on to say: “Those who deal with it then and there come out of the situation in a better place.”

“The current global economic climate is certainly worrying, although many of our local manufacturers have seen crises come and go, and will have the experience and nous to weather this period of economic instability,” suggests PEIE’s Marketing Director.

“If you’re worried about your business’s ability to survive the economic downturn. Fear not. Attending the 9 February Oman Manufacturing Group will go a long way to helping your company through the tough times,” smiles Al Balushi.

Blog contents copyright © 2006 PEIE