Sh. Hesham Al-Khalifa: Decades of Experience as the Definitive Cutting-Edge Model of Our Time


Sheikh Hesham M. Al-Khalifa, one of the most deeply qualified and experienced voices around, believes in the entrepreneur—ALL entrepreneurs. And that’s you!

Could you please tell our readers about your role at Bahrain Development Bank?

I am deputy general manager and head of the Development Services Division. My role is to lead the division toward attainment of our mission, which is to foster an entrepreneurial, innovative, and enterprising society. I also actively participate in the many programs and support services we offer, with a focus on mentoring entrepreneurs at various stages of the business cycle.

Development Services highlights the importance of developing a national economy driven by the private sector, through our core objective and mandate of supporting entrepreneurs and SMEs in Bahrain. The Development Services Division aims to provide a holistic ecosystem for entrepreneurs through its sub-units and departments, including our business advisory and Rowad Subsidiaries.

What is Rowad, and what does it do on the part of Bahrain Development Bank?

The Rowad program is a comprehensive platform designed to assist and empower entrepreneurs in starting their businesses. It supports entrepreneurs, from the earliest stages of conceptualization all the way through to scaling and growth. The program resides on the pillars of coaching, training, incubation, funding, and mentoring, offering entrepreneurs a holistic platform of products and services. The Rowad program also benefits clients who are not necessarily BDB financing beneficiaries.

Rowad recently launched a new brand and comprehensive website for its entrepreneurs and beneficiaries. Would you mind telling us more about that?

Rowad’s new website was designed as a solution to provide entrepreneurs with easy accessibility to all the tools they require, in line with global technological trends. The advancement of technology has reflected the importance of a premier online presence for any organization.


What makes Bahrain special and advantageous in terms of entrepreneurs starting their businesses here?

Bahrain is ideal as a test market for new project ideas or ventures. Its market size allows the entrepreneur access to clientele, and the ability to obtain direct feedback with regard to the feasibility of their idea. Bahrain’s location and network within the region make it a great launch pad for expanding to other countries.

Furthermore, Bahrain holds various trade agreements which can be very useful to entrepreneurs who plan to export. Let us not forget the support programs and grants offered by SME support organizations, such as BDB and Tamkeen, which really aid entrepreneurs in starting their businesses.

Bahrain is also known for the human-capital talent residing on our small island. Size is not the only determinant for the success of business, but what is really great for entrepreneurs is to obtain real-life, test-market experience for their startup before investing further into new markets. This comes along with the fact that startup costs are, for the most part, more reasonable than in neighboring countries.

Bahrain has roots in a long and prevailing history of entrepreneurship. Do you see that reflected in today’s generation of entrepreneurs?

I do. Entrepreneurs nowadays are purpose-driven, and eager to follow their dreams. They realize opportunities, and they go after them. They are also extremely resourceful in taking advantage of the various opportunities available to them in the market. Entrepreneurship is, after all, in our DNA. It is the responsibility of organizations like BDB to help nourish and uncover this hidden trait.

Any startups in Bahrain that Rowad or yourself find very promising and interesting? Something your team is super proud of?

We find all entrepreneurs promising. Although the entrepreneurial culture in Bahrain has been accentuated over the last decade, it is still not always the easiest decision to make; and for us, those who take that step show promise because they are bold enough to follow their passion.

Our team is proud to be able to witness the growth and success of entrepreneurs in Bahrain. We are proud to be a part of their entrepreneurial journey, and to be able to assist them in reaching success.

Do you feel Bahraini startups always ask for too much money when they’re first starting up?

I think startups will ask for what they need. It is all relevant to the project or idea. Honestly, if a startup can get more money from an investor, why shouldn’t they? They will need it, eventually.

What makes the Rowad team special? What secret makes them work well together and achieve great results?

The Rowad Team is special because of their entrepreneurial spirit, mindset, and team culture. The members of the Rowad Team are all passionate about helping entrepreneurs succeed, and it’s the team spirit that brings them all together. They are a team of entrepreneurs who help entrepreneurs!

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Who’s your role model? Is there someone you’ve learned the most from?

My role model is my grandfather, may God rest his soul in peace. He taught me to always do the best I can, given the circumstances, and that the rest is up to Almighty God. He taught me that resilience and patience are the keys to being able to go through any situation.


What is something most people don’t know about you?

Most people do not know that my career in entrepreneurship started in the early 90s, and that I contributed to the development of the Bahrain-Arab model endorsed by UNIDO as the best model for entrepreneurship. It is used in over 42 countries worldwide. This model stipulates that every entrepreneur requires training, advisory, and incubation. Within my role at BDB, we further enhanced its concepts within the context of the Rowad model.

What are two different words that describe Bahraini entrepreneurs? 

Eager and purpose-driven.

Do you feel that Bahraini entrepreneurs have difficulty thinking outside the box?

Entrepreneurs, Bahraini or not, do not have trouble thinking outside of the box. They are, after all, creative, innovative minds, and are very resourceful!

“Challenge the known, embrace the unknown, and don’t let perfectionism delay you.” —Hesham M. Al-Khalifa

This is also available in Arabic if you'd like.

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