Bahrain, India's gateway to the Gulf

Dharmi Magdani, Regional Director - India, Bahrain Economic Development BoardBahrain and India enjoy astrong historical and cultural tie, not least around a quarter of our population are from India. This makes Bahrain the natural choice for India as the gateway to the Gulf. And no more so than now – as the Fourth Industrial Revolution dramatically increases the size of opportunities available to us.
This gathering pace of technological change has presented new set of challenges for policy makers in both our countries. It is more important than ever that we create tech-friendly eco systems through action.Some of this is easily within our control likereducing bureaucracy and moving to e-Governance. Others that bring about social changes,are more complex to achieve, such as fostering a strong academic base or encouraging greater diversity of talent, and more women in the workforce.
But,action, is just as important as these changes. Creating an entrepreneurial environment and easy access to funding for start-ups, reducing the pain points around ecommerce, and embracing open banking, crowdfunding, and cryptocurrencies including training on digital and data skills. Above all, developing entrepreneurial ecosystems to go into the cloud.
Our role at Bahrain’s Economic Development Board (EDB) goes far beyond investment promotion to diversify the economy – we help businesses beyond the set-up process. Our aim is to help identify and connect sector-specific opportunities within the entire GCC market. All of this will be further supported by the second edition of our Gateway Gulf Investor Forum, which next takes place in March 2020.

We work with entities across the public and private sector to help achieve this – it’s what we call Team Bahrain! A client-focused approach that responds quickly to opportunities as the environment evolves. A real example of this unique approach is Bahrain Fintech Bay (BFB), the largest FinTech hub in the Middle East,similar to the Mumbai Fintech Hub.
BFB is a gateway for the whole GCC region - the most dynamic and diverse FinTech network in the Middle East.

Launched in 2017, the Central Bank of Bahrain’s FinTech Regulatory Sandboxprovides a sympathetic, pro-business environment to trial new products and services. This has created opportunities in closely related fields where India has skills. Areas such as cybersecurity, payments, robo-advisory, insuretech and cross border remittances. Indeed, Belfrics - the Indian cryptocurrency exchange platform, has been accepted to the sandbox and is now honing its platform from offices in Bahrain FinTech Bay.
Most importantly, Bahrain’s Cloud First commitment has attracted the first Amazon Web Services (AWS) data centre in the region. A game-changer for tech-based innovation and start-ups.Already, more than 2,500 people have signed up for the AWS Educate training programme, helping to accelerate cloud-related learning.

As a most established financial centre of the GCC region that is expected to be valued at USD 2 trillion by 2020, Bahrain boasts the largest concentration of financial institutions. The Central Bank of Bahrain is continuously introducing initiatives to provide the right mix of policies and products to enhance the quality and competitiveness of financial sector services. This clubbed with initiatives by Government of Bahrain will make it the Gulf’s centre for innovation and finance. The Indian financial services industry already has a large presence in the Kingdom of Bahrain with names like Bank of Baroda,ICICI Bank, Karvy, etc. and is growing further.

With all these positive developments, it is no surprise there are already thriving international partnerships between India and Bahrain. We like to call it “The Bahrain-India Business Corridor” and it is hugely productive, with the latest figures showing that the value of bilateral trade is over $1bn.Last December, the EDB signed an MOU with the Government of Maharashtra to provide a framework for cooperation on the promotion of FinTech in their respective markets. In fact, earlier in March, the EDB India office facilitated an Indian delegation of technology entrepreneurs to Startup Bahrain Week. The visit included 22 start-ups comprising of 32 entrepreneurs where they connected with the startup ecosystem and stakeholders in Bahrain.

Strategically located at the heart of a $1.5 trillion GCC market, Bahrain is the natural gateway to the Gulf region which makes accessibility and entry into any middle east market (whether by land, sea, or air) fast and practical. With just a 25 km causeway to Saudi Arabia, the region’s largest economy, and the fastest clearance time in the GCC at the Khalifa Bin Salman Port. The cost of running a business in Bahrain is approximately 30% lower than other GCC countries. Availability of financial sector skill makes it easier for Indian and global technology companies to operate successfully in this space. The potential for Indian companies in the Middle East is enormous, and Bahrain is your tech savvy gateway.