Oman is a young nation. Yes, it does have a history that spans thousands of years, but its population is rather young.
Nearly 1.5 million of Oman’s 4.6 million-strong population – or about a third – are between the ages of 15 and 30 and are among the first to fully witness and experience the impact of modern-day development in the Sultanate.
This section of the population is probably among the first that has had to deal with the twin challenges of keeping abreast with the latest global developments, while also keeping Oman’s traditions alive.
Businesses are among those that need to deal with this challenge on an almost constant basis. The arrival of high-speed internet means that both Omani nationals as well as foreign residents in the country will expect the businesses with which they deal regularly to meet their requirements to not only know about the latest trends across the world, but actually incorporate them into their work as well.
Businesses, on the other hand, need to not just include these practices in their day-to-day operations, but ensure that they use them in a manner that both meets the needs of the community, as well as keeping their sensitivities and traditions in mind.
Global trends and behaviours, in addition, are not just static occurrences, but are continuously shifting, changing and evolving over time, often unpredictably and suddenly. Behaviour that is considered ‘in’ today may be looked on with disdain tomorrow, and it’s hard to predict when or even if this does happen. Local business owners have to always keep an ear out for the way the winds of trending change are blowing, and that’s not an easy thing to do.
With that in mind, however, there are several up-and-coming, young Omanis with businesses of their own that have not only managed to walk the fine line that fuses tradition and technology but are actually thriving by merging the two together.
For this issue of T Weekly, we spoke to five young Omanis who’ve successfully blended modern technology and trends to meet the needs of their customers, while observing the traditions that have been handed down to them over the generations.
Food and hospitality – Nadia Salim Al Aufi, founder, Nad’s Bakery
Baking has always been a passion for Nadia, who initially began her business out of own kitchen at home.
It was the first step towards her dream of setting up her very own café, where people would spend time catching up with each other, while savouring her delicious treats which contained a secret ingredient – love.
She recently took a giant leap in that direction when she opened her own bake store at Laha Mall in Al Khoudh, where she not only now sells her own cakes, brownies, cookies and other lip-smacking goodies, but also bakes batches to sell to other cafes, hotels and restaurants.
“I always had a passion for baking, and when I’d made some goodies for friends at home, they really loved it and I decided to pursue this full-time,” said Nadia, who previously worked at a leading bank in Oman before deciding to follow her passion. “Some of my colleagues said it wasn’t a good time to quit my job, but others gave me their support and said it was a good decision because it’s a difficult one to make.
She added: “I was very excited when I met my first customer because they gave me a big order, which was for a wedding. They were very happy with what I gave them. The most important thing I’ve learned is that you need to have patience in this business, because you will face many different kinds of customers, and you need to learn to handle all of them. Qualities, such as dedication, hard work and honesty are also particularly important because only then will your customers trust you.”
Although Nadia is normally up early in the morning and continues working late into the evenings, the hard work and sacrifices she makes is totally worth it, because she is following her passion and really enjoys what she does.
While she has not wavered when it has come to persevering and working hard, especially when her business had just begun, a big source of support for Nadia was her parents, who continued to support and encourage their daughter in making her business a success, although they were fully aware of the sacrifices she was making and the challenges she was likely to face.
Western-style baked goods aside, Nad’s Bakery also specialises in traditional Arabic sweets, as well as savoury treats such as focaccia and sourdough bread. Her cafe dream is now close to taking shape, with Nadia having recently introduced afternoon tea sessions at her shop in Laha Mall.
“From the beginning, I’ve always wanted to have my own specific business,” revealed Nadia Al Aufi to T Weekly. “In a day, I make more than 200 cakes and cookies, because I have more than 100 customers, as well as cafes that often ask me to supply to them. I wanted to have my own café and was looking for a place to set up a shop of my own.
“The feedback from my customers is that they are always very happy with my goodies, and that gives me the incentive to continue my baking,” she added. “I buy my chocolate from Master Chef, because they have the best, and my other ingredients are from Carrefour and Lulu. It might be expensive, but for good results, you need to buy the materials that are worth it.”
With Nadia having worked hard to establish a successful business, T Weekly couldn’t help but ask her what her parents thought of her business now.
“My parents asked me why I was tiring myself out even when I had a good job,” recalled Nadia. “But then they saw that this was my passion, they saw how happy this made me. Now, if my parents want to host a party, they turn to me to provide the sweets!”
It’s been hard work so far, but Nadia is proud of her achievements and is looking forward to the future.
Deliveries and logistics – Faris Al Juma, co-founder, Anawen
Until very recently, getting things delivered to your home, if you lived in Oman, was a rather tough ordeal. To some, it still is.
Faris Al Juma and his twin brother Al Harith Al Juma and their friend Saif Al Essai set up Anawen (Arabic for ‘addresses’), to help solve this precise problem. The app aimed to provide delivery companies, restaurants and commercial stores in Oman with the accurate location of customers who had placed delivery orders with them.
“Due to the fact that there isn’t a unified postal system in Oman yet, and the struggle we face when we order anything to be delivered, we decided it was time for us to work on a fix,” said Faris. “Rather than depending on a post code or some random word, we thought a customer will always use their phone to make an order so let’s link their phone number to their address. What makes Anawen special is that a business can find out the customers GPS location only by knowing their phone number.”
The app is currently available in both English and Arabic, and Faris and his team are always studying the market to see if a third language needs to be introduced to Anawen. There are nearly two million foreign nationals in Oman and some of them do struggle when it comes to communicating in either language. “We don’t have plans to start it in a third language just yet, but if the market requires it, then we will definitely go ahead and implement it, because if and when we do need this in another language, then it is just a simple matter of translating what we already have.”
Anawen also allows people to store multiple address within the app. For example, if a person wants furniture delivered to his home in the evening, he can assign that delivery to his home address. However, he might fancy lunch at his office, and can instruct the restaurant to deliver it there.
He added: “We have now established phase two of the Anawen app. The app now has a complete delivery management system where the company in question can track their drivers and see where they are and whether they are following the correct route, because it is important that the deliveries reach people on time.”
Faris went on to say: “In addition, if a company has multiple drivers, then they can use this app to track all of them, assign them their orders, and see if they are taking the correct routes as mentioned on the app. At the same time, customers can also track their orders and where their drivers are, because it is important for them also to receive their orders on time.”
While this app might make deliveries a lot easier than they had previously been – cases of giving directions using a nearby tree or roundabout as a landmark to a driver who may not speak the same language as you have surely decreased - Anawen is quite clear in its objective. The app exists to help customers benefit from companies, and not the other way around.
Privacy is at the centre of Anawen’s operations, and customer’s addresses are only shared with companies once they have given their permission. Given that the Omani way of life places a high value on privacy, customers who do not wish their address to be available all the time have the option to share their address as a one-off that will be communicated to the delivery company and then disappear.
“We know that people in Oman value their privacy,” said Faris. “You can enable the app to access your location, but if you are uncomfortable doing that, then you can share your address in the form of a one-time pop up notification, which will show up on the company or driver’s screen once and then disappear. If you want an alternative to that, you are always welcome to share your address through the app via an SMS. People would like to maintain their privacy and our app does take that into consideration.”
Education and technology – Yumna Al Sharji, founder, Atoms Labs
The reasons behind students sometimes struggling to submit top quality assignments on time are several.
Some students, for example, may not be able to understand the subject matter well. Others may have the right idea, but may not be able to convert these into practical uses, or develop these into working models that find applications in the real-world
There might also be students who draw inspiration from ideas that may find success elsewhere but need to be modified to work in the long-term in local markets. A prototype of a hydro-electric plant that’s been developed by a student in Germany may do really well in Europe, for example, but that might need to be modified into a solar power plant if it is to be successful in Oman. The science for both projects might be the same, but the technology needs tweaking.
To help engineering students overcome these concerns and try to assist them with any challenges they might face, Yumna Al Sharji set up Atoms Labs, a workshop and laboratory that provides three main functions.
“Atoms Labs is our start-up for supporting students and entrepreneurs in building tech in the 4th industrial revolution era and we do that by providing three services,” said Yumna, speaking to T Weekly. “The first is an online store for internet of things components that students and start-ups might need. Secondly, we have a lab with all the equipment that students might need for electric and programming projects.
“The third is a service in which we help students decide on a project and implement it, in case they become stuck with one of the related aspects of their work,” she added.
While Yumna has set monthly rates for those who need to use the lab to work on their projects, the charges for helping students with their projects are hourly. However, both of these rates are very affordable for those who require services from Atoms Labs.
Having always been interested in technology, and recognising that tech would continue to have more and more influence over the way in which work is done across many sectors of the economy, be they office jobs, manufacturing plants or transportation, just to name a few, Yumna realised that this lab would provide practical knowledge of technology to people who preferred to gain knowledge through the concept of learning by doing.
In addition, it would also help address any theoretical concerns that people had about technology. Given that it is now such a big part of our lives, it is only natural that we must understand it, even if we don’t choose to fully embrace it.
“When we began, people would tell me to give up because, as a new graduate, this might ruin my chance to find a job more easily,” said Yumna to T Weekly. “People kept sending me job offers and openings. My parents, however, supported me in this. My advice is to have a clear plan before you start any business and start a budget so that you don’t face financial difficulties.
She went on to say: “We work 12 hours every day, from seven to seven, and design things on our own. We began with simple things, such as business cards, the website, and old projects with which students wanted help. Our first issue was customers having difficulties with online payments, which is why we teamed up with a company specialising in that.
She added: “I am extremely interested in the Internet of Things. With the number of ideas I have, I felt that I needed to share my experience with people and my advice for people is to follow their passion without worrying about the need for huge funds. You don’t need large amounts of money to begin something. What you need is an idea and a start.”
Architecture and filmmaking – Haitham Al Busafi, co-founder, BusafiVisuals
Have you seen the ‘Omani Product – Our First Choice’ logo? It’s the green, circular one that uses concentric circles to spell out the word ‘Omani’ in Arabic and is often found on shopping bags across supermarkets and department stores in the country.
That seed of an idea was designed by Haitham Al Busafi when he was just a child and has today taken root in the form of BusafiVisuals, a company that specialises in creating visual content for companies in Oman.
While the company does create digital media content such as live-action and animation videos for companies, Haitham’s real passion is taking content beyond what exists in nature, and chooses to merge content that is filmed in a natural environment with computer-generated graphics to create augmented reality films so that the audience can have a better understanding of the message that particular video wishes to communicate.
Haitham formed BusafiVisuals with his brothers Taha, Marwan and Muntaser. The youngest of them, Muntaser was previously commissioned by French jewellers Van Cleef & Arpels to do a series of animated shorts to promote their brand, and Haitham himself is one of the country’s first virtual reality artists and sees the digital realm as a canvas with unlimited possibilities.
“BusafiVisuals started in 2013, and we’ve been around for almost seven years now!” said Haitham, speaking to T Weekly. “We are an experienced, highly skilled and talented team focused on creating unusual imaginative experiences, memorable brands and authentic storytelling with an extremely global, extremely local attitude utilising cutting edge technology.
“I would like to say that we earned the trust of Oman’s most demanding corporations to provide integrated media services such as film, commercials and animation production, photography, branding, content creation, and social media management and monitoring,” he added. “We have created some of Oman’s most iconic brands, including the Oman Vision 2040 brand, the symbol of the Omani Product – ‘Origin Oman” and branding of the Omani Photographic Society.”
A qualified architect, Haitham is also the co-founder of BusafiArch, which fuses modern building styles with traditional Omani architecture to create works that are seldom seen elsewhere. Haitham and his brothers contribute to both companies from their offices in Shatti Al Qurum.
“This is a fast-moving industry and when it comes to new technologies and advancements in visual content creation tools, we encourage our team to experiment,” he explained. “As a result, two of our experiments manifested into a couple of VR experiences for clients in the oil and gas and real-estate sector. We believe that tech helps us to compete in these tough economic times. Harnessing the best software and hardware, it enables our experienced and skilled team to deliver projects in a short time.”
Haitham added: “Everyone is connected these days and they see creative content from all over the world! Oman is a country of youth, and they demand creative and high-quality multimedia content. My team always says,” we are extremely global, yet extremely local!” What do we mean by this? The level of creativity and technical expertise we invest in every project is exceptional and up to global standards. The ideas of the commercials and the visual content we create always plays on the nuances of the Omani culture and the expat community living in Oman.”
He said that when it came to working with major corporations in Oman, their teams were multinational, and this created a welcome challenge for them to communicate messages to employees as well as their clients and stakeholders. “There is a cultural sensitivity that we must adopt, and we also must look from the perspective of locals, expats and the international audience when creating content for such corporations. We have fun and enjoy work, of course, we do face challenges, but our creative team is young, so they want to push through and be better.”
Tourism – Ali Mohammadi, founder, OmanTripper
Oman’s untamed natural beauty, contrasting landscapes and friendly and tolerant people have made it a hidden gem for tourists in recent years.
It’s not a gem, though, that’s going to stay hidden for much longer: Oman’s government is actively promoting the country as a tourist destination and wants it to become a sparkling attraction for the world to see.
Tourists who come to the country are often surprised by the honest and genuine nature of the country and its people, and that is the cornerstone of what makes tourism in Oman so unique, compared to some of the other countries in the region.
Often, the first people tourists interact with are tour guides in Oman, many of whom have gained a reputation for being humble people who go out of their way to make sure that those who come to the country have a great time, one that they can share with others in the hopes that more people come here to make fond memories of the place.
Ali Mohammadi is one such guide. The founder of travel blog OmanTripper, Ali is a registered tour guide who balances his full-time job with taking tourists to experience what Oman has to offer. OmanTripper contains vivid descriptions and plenty of photos of several places across Oman and provides a genuine Omani perspective on them.
“I want to convert this into a place that acts as a community for other tour guides in Oman, so that they can freelance and take visitors to the many wonderful places we have in our country. If I do have time to explore new places, I often do this on the weekend,” he explained. “It is the only time I have, and sometimes, there are others who want to explore these places with me, so I ask them to come along for free.
Ali went on to add: “I don’t want to charge people for my services because until I do this as a full-time job, I do not think it is fair to charge them to see my country”.
Ali set up this blog while searching for places to explore in Oman and realised that online resources to find these places were scanty. In the beginning, he’d go to places that friends recommended or places he’d heard of, which contributed to the growth of the blog. This, coupled with his passion for photography and wanting to spread the word about what Oman had so that the world can come and see it, made him decide to start this blog.
“There are so many places here, such as Wadi Tiwi, Misfah Al Arbaeen, Jabal Akhdar, Wadi Sha’ab, the Wakan Village, Musandam and Salalah that are just not like other places in the Middle East and we need to be doing more to make these places easy to access for everyone,” said Ali Mohammadi, speaking to T Weekly. “I try to go on a trip every other weekend and I can never quite catch up on writing about the places I’ve been to.
“Hikes are also some of the more challenging things we’ve embarked on, especially if it’s like a 10-hour hike in the summer,” he explained. “The ultimate goal is to document all the hiking trails in Oman, both the official and the unofficial ones. I recently started organising tours for people, and it only happened because I got so many inquiries through the website. People would often mistake the website for a business and emailed to ask if I could arrange something. I’m a licensed guide in Oman, so I can give customised tours, and prepare itineraries for others. The ultimate goal is to get it to an organic hiking tour company. Oman is a treasure that we have, that a lot of people really appreciate. So, the better we maintain it, the better it is for us.” – [email protected]