Entrepreneurship in Oman: A life-style choice or a challenging occupation?

Posted: November 21, 2015 by pauljayburns in Entrepreneurship Articles, Entrepreneurship policy, Start-up
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I am a regular visitor to Oman and I am working with two PhD students on aspects of entrepreneurship in the country. This is the second of two invited posts about entrepreneurship on the topic.

As an Arab women moving to England to pursue my PhD research on ‘women’s entrepreneurship in Oman’, everything seemed different, even the literature on women’s entrepreneurship. I could not relate to the notion of ‘women’s entrepreneurship’ or the experiences of western women starting a business; I am not the only one. Scholars claim that most of the theory and research on the topic represent the perspective of ‘white, middle class males, living in a capitalist economy and an individualistic culture*’. It neglects gender and the cultural and social contexts of other ethnic groups. Arab Gulf countries are generally wealthy because of their oil revenues and women therefore do not need to work for money. What is more, women are not a homogeneous group, nor are the societies they exist in. For example, having a child might be considered as personal choice in most western countries, but it is a social obligation for women in the Arab Gulf countries.

Despite being given equal opportunities for education, employment and wages when His Majesty the Sultan of Oman came to power in 1970, speaking about women in the Arab world is a sensitive issue, because of the social norms and cultural taboos surrounding them. These often impede women’s actual participation in economic, social, and political spheres, although Oman was one of the first Arab countries to appoint women into powerful positions as government ministers and ambassadors. Despite high educational attainment (for example, 90% of students in higher education abroad in 2013 were women), unemployment among Omani women is high (representing 64% of job seekers in 2012).

The government recently introduced national policies to promote entrepreneurship to solve increasing unemployment in Oman, particularly among the young. Established in 2013, the Public Authority for Small and Medium Enterprise (PASMED) offers support, training, coaching and in some cases funding for new ventures and an increasing number of women started to become entrepreneurs after this date. Indeed, the term ‘entrepreneur’ was only introduced into Omani law in 2013. Omani nationals wanting to start a business now have two options:

  1. As in many other Arab countries, they register as a businessman or woman with the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. They can then remain employed, but can also start a business with a non-Omani partner running it full-time; or
  2. They can register as an ‘entrepreneur’ and qualify for PASMED support. However, if they do this they are obliged to leave any other employment, and become self-employed owner-managers or partners with other Omani nationals. (In Gulf countries expatriates are not allowed to start a business without a local sponsor or partner.)

Based on my interviews with Omani women registered as ‘entrepreneurs’, entrepreneurship is not seen as a competitive struggle, dealing with risk and uncertainties – the traditional western view. It is seen more as a life-style choice – a ‘feminine’ occupation undertaken for pleasure rather than financial gain when you have retired or have become financially well-established. In these circumstances women ‘entrepreneurs’ in Oman are unlikely to be the engine-room of economic growth and PASMED support may be needed across a broader spectrum than just ‘entrepreneurs’.

Hadil Al-Moosa, PhD student at the University of Bedfordshire, UK

*Jones, S. (2012) ‘Gendered Discourses of Entrepreneurship in Uk Higher Education: The Fictive Entrepreneur and the Fictive Student’, International Small Business Journal 32(3) p.237-258

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Comments
  1. fatma84 says:

    Dear Professor,

    I really enjoyed to read this article regarding “Entrepreneurship in Oman”. as you mention, Oman government try to make self-employment an attractive option for unemployed. I wish Government of Oman will achieve that on 2040 vision.

    Best Regards,
    Fatma

    Like

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