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Abu Dhabi's Khalifa Fund reworked loan obligations of businesses it had extended support to, and even helped out on their rental obligations. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Dubai: Abu Dhabi’s Khalifa Fund is calling in some heavy disruptors to help out local startups and their entrepreneurs.

There’s one such alliance with Facebook, for the ‘She Means Business’ programme and where women-owned ventures will have access to training on the best ways to optimize their reach via the social media platform.

Another initiative that’s getting such support is the ‘e-Empower’, where the Fund has roped in Amazon. Startup owners will get to tap interactive e-learning content, online seller benefits and increased market exposure through the e-tailer. For full measure, the Fund also has noon offer its perspective in the same programme.

The intention is to “help small businesses thrive in the digital economy,” said Mubarak Al Amri, Executive Director of Outreach Management at Khalifa Fund.

“Plans have not been halted by the pandemic. During the past eight months, the Fund adapted to the change, digitalized all services, and was able to implement the business continuity plan.

“We continued the development of initiatives and financial support to ensure UAE SMEs are prepared to adapt to the requirements that have been presented by COVID-19.”

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Help where it counts most

On the financial side, the Fund has done its fair bit… and then some. It came up with deferred loan instalments for three months, and where possible, allowed restructuring on the loan exposures. And if the support business wanted one, the Fund also allowed a loan reallocation, which meant transfer from “one financial item to another”.

“SMEs have acquired additional support financial support through secure incentives, discounts and waivers,” said Amro. “Additionally, we increased our training programmes and conducted them virtually, so that SMEs could explore how to adapt to climate of the current market.”

A bit of indirect help

Reworking the terms and conditions on its funding programmes wasn’t the only succour the entity went in for. Under “non-financial support”, the Fund helped out with the rent negotiations involving their partners. There was “online business counselling and group consultancy sessions, virtual business monitoring and directories to all federal and local government support incentives,” the official added.

“As an organisation that is mandated to support SMEs, Khalifa Fund took a proactive approach to evaluating the short and long-term impact of the pandemic, which we brought out in a May report.

“The findings shed light on sectors most likely to face high-, medium -and low-business disruption; as well as sectors which could take advantage of the new market opportunities.”

Khalifa Fund took a proactive approach to evaluating the short and long-term impact of the pandemic. We expect the UAE’s SME sector will have the capability to perform to its pre-COVID-19 potential

- Mubarak Al Amri, Executive Director of Outreach Management, Khalifa Fund

Most likely candidates

Local businesses with the least exposure to US or European markets could be the best picks for a turnaround to happen as soon as the local economy picks up steam. But they will still have to make do with “significantly reduced revenue compared to 2019”.

“The UAE will continue, and most likely increase, investment into the healthcare industry, food security, and tech,” he added. “Businesses will return to standard operations gradually before being fully operational. Sectors such as sport, leisure, entertainment, tourism, travel and retail will need additional time to recover before they begin to recoup losses.

“Consumers will act with caution [and] creating an impact on various sectors. The SME sector will face challenges post-COVID-19; some companies who were able to mitigate the impact will be able to adapt more immediately than those who are suffering from reduced staff, clients and cashflow.”

What the Khalifa Fund has rolled out
* The SME Rating, which aids Khalifa Fund counselors in helping these businesses improve on their ranking based on service levels, quality of products and market competitiveness.

* The ‘Franchise Initiative’, which helps entrepreneurs expand their business by franchising locally and outside.

* It also introduced ‘e-Empower’, an initiative that supports Abu Dhabi-based SMEs by providing interactive e-learning content, online-seller benefits and increased market exposure on Amazon and noon.

* The 'She Means Business' venture is a collaboration with Facebook.